Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The New York Times' columnists are free

In this month's Washington Monthly T. A. Franks examines the phenomenon that is New York Times' columnist Bob Herbert being really boring and unread. Franks, while concluding Herbert is unquestionably boring, still bemoans why people can't bring themselves to read him. Because, while he might cause drowsiness, Herbert is "always right." Franks then steps on the veracity of his claim on Herbert's veracity by admitting, like everyone else, he never reads Bob Herbert.

On most days such industry meta-analysis wouldn't be fodder for the JSB, but today happens to be the day the New York Times freed all their columnists, boring or otherwise, from the tyranny of the paid wall called Times Select.

When parts of the Times' website flipped to the monthly subscription model a few years back, I quickly procured myself a password. It wasn't my password, mind you, and, because of that, when my cookies didn't take (which happens quite often) I would have to retype a password not found in the easily accessible part of my brain. Often, to do this, I would have to call up the word document I had saved the password on.

So despite getting myself in without paying, in this world of instant Internet gratification my entry into the New York Times' walled content had a price. Once I realized this, I was pretty sure I'd never read another of boring Bob Herbert's columns.

Nick Kristof was the next to go. I think it's great that he wants to save all the persecuted child prostitutes in the world. But it would be a lot more interesting and less depressing if he wrote about the sexy exploits of adult prostitutes.

Tom Friedman used to be one of my favorite columnists. But this supposed Middle East expert is always enthusiastically endorsing what some "moderate" he ran into in coffeehouse in Saudi Arabia told him. I think it is safe to say there isn't anywhere in the world where the opinion of the coffeehouse moderate is less relevant than it is in the Middle East. The fact that Friedman fails to grasp this (or at least he did a year or so ago) has made it increasingly impossible for me to risk retrieving a password to read his column.

Paul Krugman, eh, you can write your own Paul Krugman column by remembering the last thing Bush said and figuring out what the exact opposite might be.

So that left David Brooks and Maureen Dowd, among the regulars. But it's hard to write two good columns a week. So I started only reading Brooks if something in the link title suggested Brooks was going make one of those maddeningly over-simplified but clever and fun pop-sociological conclusions involving strip malls, soccer moms and the German philosophers he remembered from college. And I've been only clicking through to Dowd if it seems like she is going to viciously skewer someone who needs a vicious skewering and hasn't already been viciously skewered enough by all the purely web-based snark-throwers Dowd's style has wrought.

Now, as of today, I can read any of the New York Times' columnists without risk of password interruption. But I'm not sure if I am going to. There is a flip-side to that old Joni Mitchell line about not knowing what you've got until it's gone.

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