Thursday, December 08, 2011

Tom Who?

Some of the columnists at the New York Times (think Paul Krugman) are mind-numbingly soporific. Not so Thomas Friedman. With his endless stream of mixed metaphors and gee-whiz happy talk, he is always good for a laugh. And then there are his actual theories: the world is flat (when it is not); the purported inverse correlation between petroleum and liberty; the magical effect of having a McDonald's on not going to war (NOT), and so forth.

In a couple of hilarious Rolling Stone pieces Matt Taibbi has had a go at taking Tom down. Now we have a whole book with that aim: Belén Fernández, The Imperial Messenger: Thomas Friedman at Work (Verso, 2011). Just reading the first fifty pages is an amazing experience; it is hard to believe that one writer could generate so many howlers. Somehow I can't summon the energy to peruse the hundred pages that follow. Fernández has got this bozo covered.

I am not so sure about her larger points. There is much wrong with American journalism today, but Friedman does not, as she suggests, personify it, for he is in a league all his own. Fernández is writing from a left-leaning, anti-imperialist point of view, so she seeks to convict him of familiar sins as viewed from that camp. Yet Friedman is so inconsistent, often shamelessly so, that it is hard to detect any sustained doctrine in the corpus his copious writings.

PS In the book the publisher has made a mistake with the author's first name, writing it Bélen, instead of Belén, with the accent mark correctly placed on the second syllable. The word means "Bethlehem" in Spanish, a fact that (curiously enough) I learned in the third grade by memorizing a Christmas carol in that language. I don't want to play the Schadenfreude card too harshly, but it is curious that leftist publishers like Verso have trouble with the orthography of "third world" languages.



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