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The Hacks

November 24, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

Alex Pareene has a brilliant series at Salon on what he calls the War Room Hack Thirty, his “least favorite political commentators, newspaper columnists and constant cable news presences … . Criteria for inclusion included writing the same column every week for 30 years, warmongering, joyless repetition of conventional wisdom, and making bad puns.”

Pareene has revealed his choices one at a time, from #30 to #1, building suspense. I was disappointed when Thomas Friedman turned up at #3. I had him pegged at #1. But he did finish ahead of David Broder, just barely, with Broder at #4. This afternoon, #1 was revealed: Broder’s fellow Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen.

Pareene on Friedman:

He’s a silly, simple-minded man whose success leads a cynic to the conclusion that the world is run by similarly silly, simple-minded men.

Repeat offenses: Conflation of wealth with virtue, horrible jokes, repetition, warmongering, easy generalizations in lieu of research or analysis, cabdriver-on-the-street columns, mixed metaphors, generally awful prose, random capitalization of Certain Words when he’s Trying to Coin a Catchphrase.

On Cohen:

I sometimes ask myself, who is the intended audience of a Richard Cohen column? Who reads a Richard Cohen column and thinks to himself, “Yes, I agree with this”? I don’t write “thinks to herself” because I cannot fathom the existence of a woman who’d respond approvingly to this defense of Clarence Thomas’ vocal appreciation of large breasts. I think Ginni herself would say it does Justice Thomas no favors to have the support of this guy. And what does Cohen leave out of his defense of Thomas? That he was accused of creating a hostile work environment himself, for making inappropriate comments to a 23-year-old editorial aide in the late-1990s.

There’s no subject on which Richard Cohen is not completely inessential. The looming debt crisis? Caused by kids today and their tattoos and hippety-hop music! The financial collapse? Did you know that Richard Cohen went to high school with Ruth Madoff? ‘Cause that’s all he’s got.

Richard Cohen is the worst hack in the country.

At the bottom of Pareene’s list, just squeezing in at #30, is David Brooks, the great generalizer and pop social psychologist. Pareene gets right to his essence:

Brooks is singularly unsuited to be an opinion columnist, because he has no strong beliefs. He shows, rarely, flashes of genuine wit, of critical thinking skills, of acknowledgment of his own ridiculousness. But mostly he just sort of rambles on about kids these days, about how things used to be different, about how the Elites are so out-of-touch.

Occasionally he writes something exceptionally stupid or surprisingly vile, but mostly he just plays his part as a PBS Newshour Conservative.

Repeat offenses: armchair sociology, easy generalizations in lieu of research or analysis, boringness.

Representative quote:

“The magic is not felt by a lot of people. It’s not felt, obviously, by a lot of less educated people, downscale people. They just look at Obama, and they don’t see anything. And so, Obama’s problem is he doesn’t seem like the kind of guy who could go into an Applebee’s salad bar, and people think he fits in naturally there.”

(Note: Applebee’s does not have salad bars.)

Read about all thirty hacks. How do some of these people keep their jobs?

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Categories: Journalism, Politics
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