January 10, 2008
That Nice Kristol Boy

It’s possible, perhaps even usual, to be a good writer and a poor thinker. Never having read anything by Bill Kristol, I assumed that literary talent must explain why the New York Times was giving him the most desirable platform in American journalism.

Then his first column came out. Here’s how it began:

Thank you, Senator Obama. You’ve defeated Senator Clinton in Iowa. It looks as if you’re about to beat her in New Hampshire. There will be no Clinton Restoration. A nation turns its grateful eyes to you.

But gratitude for sparing us a third Clinton term only goes so far. Who, inquiring minds want to know, is going to spare us a first Obama term? After all, for all his ability and charm, Barack Obama is still a liberal Democrat. Some of us would much prefer a non-liberal and non-Democratic administration. We don’t want to increase the scope of the nanny state, we don’t want to undo the good done by the appointments of John Roberts and Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court, and we really don’t want to snatch defeat out of the jaws of victory in Iraq.

I won’t waste time on precisely why this is such an awful piece of writing; for that, go here. And I can’t tell you why the Times hired him, except that their stated reason — to give right-left balance to the editorial page — cannot possibly be the real one. A couple of hours poking around the right-wing blogosphere would turn up any number of conservatives who think and write far better than Kristol. And they’d come a lot cheaper.

I suspect Kristol got where he is the same way George W. Bush did: family connections. Kristol’s father is the unspeakable neocon elder Irving Kristol, who was a longtime friend of the unspeakable former editor of the New York Times, the late Abe Rosenthal, whose son, Andrew Rosenthal, became editorial page editor of the Times a year ago.

I have friends, too, and one of them has a friend at the Times, and that friend told my friend who just emailed me “the delicious inside detail that (a) the editors told him, ‘Look, Bill, you actually have to write these by yourself,’ and (b) the copy editors decided to let him… speak in his own voice!”

(Incidentally, since I’ll bet you didn’t know, either — nep•o•tism: mid 17th cent.: from French népotisme, from Italian nepotismo, from nipote “nephew” (with reference to privileges bestowed on the “nephews” of popes, who were in many cases their illegitimate sons).)

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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at January 10, 2008 12:42 PM
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That's certainly not the kind of writing one expects from the NY Times. Unfortunately, they really only have three choices.

A) Unceremoniously fire him for incompetence, which would ordinarily seem prudent. Except that would unleash a furious response from the few who read the NY Times and don't know better as well as the rest of the conservative chorus, especially the ones who do know better but don't care.

B) Spend more money and just hire a ghostwriter for him or have an editor rewrite his columns practically from scratch.

C) Sell the paper for a huge sum to Rupert Murdoch, who will then elevate Kristol to senior editor status.

Posted by: Buck on January 10, 2008 9:39 PM

One some level, it may be cover for Krugman. First, they hired one inane and ineffective conservative brand name (Brooks), but as Krugman continues to increase in effectiveness and importance, NYT needs to be able to assert that they have some editorial balance. What better way than to bring on another well-known but ineffective right-wing gasbag?

Posted by: on January 10, 2008 11:32 PM

I've heard that the newspaper's copyeditors have decided to allow him to "have his voice," which means fix spelling and punctuation but not rewrite or query sentences that make no sense.

Posted by: Joyful Alternative on January 11, 2008 8:47 AM
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