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November 13, 2012 2:04 PM   Subscribe

I was of course already familiar with the general characteristics of Friedman’s writing—hubris, clichéd jingoism, Orientalism, favoritism of Israel, self-contradiction, a severe handicap in the realm of metaphor construction, reduction of complex phenomena to simplistic and baseless theories. However, reviewing three decades of his work made it clear just how frightening, as opposed to simply laughable, it was that such a character had accrued three Pulitzer Prizes and risen to the position of journalistic icon at the US newspaper of record.

- Interview in Jadaliyya with Belen Fernandez on her (new to me) book critiquing NYT columnist Thomas Friedman, The Imperial Messenger: Thomas Friedman at Work.

Part of the Counterblasts series from Verso Books, which "aims to revive the tradition of polemical writing inaugurated by Puritan and leveller pamphleteers in the seventeenth century" and "challenge the apologists of Empire and Capital."

Excerpt at Al-Jazeera.

Review in Foreign Policy Journal.

Belen Fernandez is a Contributing Editor to Jacobin Magazine and author of Coffee with Hezbollah.

Friedman critiques on Metafilter: Previously, Previouslier, Atrioslier
posted by Panjandrum (36 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite

 
I was just talking to my Bangladeshi taxi driver about this.
posted by goethean at 2:11 PM on November 13, 2012 [53 favorites]


I hope to have time to read the book in the next Friedman unit or two.
posted by tonycpsu at 2:17 PM on November 13, 2012 [6 favorites]


Maybe if we point all the blowhards at each other the wind will be still.
posted by poe at 2:21 PM on November 13, 2012 [5 favorites]


This looks great. If the book is nearly as scathing as are the reviews, this would be a good read.

It is frightening to read that Friedman himself calls himself "a tourist with an attitude." Jeez. I am curious, now that you mention it, how exactly this assclown became the Empire's megaphone.
posted by kozad at 2:24 PM on November 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


The US newspaper of broken record maybe.
posted by srboisvert at 2:25 PM on November 13, 2012 [4 favorites]


I know I'm going to catch some heat for this, but I thought equating post-Enlightenment Western culture with postmodern reactionary Islam (i.e., "bombing suspected 'militants' with a drone is no better or worse than stoning adulterers in your town square") stopped being fashionable a decade ago.

And even if it is still fashionable, the more important question is: what does it do to improve the interactions between cultures?
posted by anewnadir at 2:30 PM on November 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


I wish Thomas Friedman would change career and start writing/producing pop music. He would have so many catchy and karaoke-ready hits, and every MV becomes a global meme.
posted by fatehunter at 2:33 PM on November 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


At first I couldn't figure out what anyone would write about Friedman that hasn't been done already elsewhere. Even Matt Taibbi, who kind of started the "Thomas Friedman sucks" train, noted recently that this has turned into something of a pile-on. So what does Fernandez add? Well, the shining endorsement from Norman Finklestein on her front page is kind of a giveaway, and she doesn't disappoint.

Friedman is a twit. He's a twit about everything, including Israel. But it seems that Fernandez identifies Friedman's nonsense in relation to Israel as the special bonus factor that merits additional discussion of how bad Friedman sucks. And I guess if you're a leftist polemicist, whatever that's supposed to be, then this is par for the course and you take it for granted that your reader agrees with you that this point is obvious. And boy howdy, it sure does expand the list of publications where articles about you might appear, doesn't it?
posted by 1adam12 at 2:47 PM on November 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Friedman would be the John Cage of pop music since he'd become obsessed with how flat silence looks on his LCD.
posted by basicchannel at 2:49 PM on November 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Mr. Friedman is the US's Colonel Blimp, i.e. mostly gas.
posted by SteveLaudig at 2:56 PM on November 13, 2012


Pretentious overthinking here. People read columnists for entertainment, or perhaps to have something to talk about at boring cocktail parties.

As anyone knows, the best way to do battle with an oppressive worldview is to create a competing one. Simply complaining, albeit using big words, is basically sitting on your ass and complaining.
posted by KokuRyu at 2:56 PM on November 13, 2012


To write a book critical of one whose work you dislike, and that writer is not regarded as one of the best around is, I believe, of little value. Either you like the writer being discussed or you do not or you have certain reservations. But to have to go to another writer to be told that what you are reading is not good seems like taking back roads rather than the highway to get to where you want to be. It is the sort of things we see done by academics. Writer X critiques Writer Y, but both are themselves critics.
posted by Postroad at 2:56 PM on November 13, 2012


KokuRyu: “As anyone knows, the best way to do battle with an oppressive worldview is to create a competing one. Simply complaining, albeit using big words, is basically sitting on your ass and complaining.”

Postroad: “To write a book critical of one whose work you dislike, and that writer is not regarded as one of the best around is, I believe, of little value.”

These are both fair points; and I can't see how anyone can justify wasting the time it would take to write a book about Tom Friedman. However, somehow I didn't realize until now that the man has won the Pulitzer Prize on three separate occasions. Wow. Prizes really don't mean anything anymore.
posted by koeselitz at 3:13 PM on November 13, 2012


Wait, the world isn't flat?

The localized topological neighborhood certainly seems rather flat.
posted by sammyo at 3:21 PM on November 13, 2012


I guess where I'm going with this is that from the standpoint of the news commentary business, Friedman has eaten more testicles and squeezed out more unexpected babies into his mtaphorical [sic] sweatpants than all of the rest of us pundits combined.

Ah, Taibbi.
posted by gottabefunky at 3:28 PM on November 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


and I can't see how anyone can justify wasting the time it would take to write a book about Tom Friedman

Exactly, if his ideas are so wrong, and you know the 'right thing', why not write that?
posted by sammyo at 3:32 PM on November 13, 2012


These links actually raised my opinion of Friedman.

At least he sees that only the US military stands between us and the catastrophic fall in our standard of living which would result from a more rational choice of reserve currency, and fairer and more symmetrical international trading practices in general:
“Indeed, McDonald’s cannot flourish without McDonnell Douglas, the designer of the U.S. Air Force F-15. And the hidden fist that keeps the world safe for Silicon Valley’s technologies to flourish is called the U.S. Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps. And these fighting forces and institutions are paid for by American taxpayer dollars.” (p. 464) [from the Lexus and the Olive Tree, excerpted in the third from last link]
I'm not looking forward to living through the correction when it finally does come, but nothing we can do will stave it off much longer.
posted by jamjam at 3:33 PM on November 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Criticisn Friedman is a bit redundant, these days, isn't it?

A) it's shooting fish, not in a barrel, but rather a thimble.

B) It serves no purpose; people who listen to him, do not listen to you, and vice versa.
posted by smoke at 3:44 PM on November 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


hubris, clichéd jingoism, Orientalism, favoritism of Israel, self-contradiction...

If you add the word "Dickensian" to this, then you win a Pulitzer Prize.
posted by ovvl at 3:49 PM on November 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


The excerpt is pretty underwhelming. Maybe it's because Friedman tends to contradict himself so much that it's hard to build a thesis that you would then systematically attack, or because it doesn't make fun of Friedman like attack books usually do in French.

I mean, that's what I see as the purpose of someone like Bernard-Henri Lévy: to serve as fodder for entertaining takedowns. This attack does not seem very entertaining.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 4:41 PM on November 13, 2012


Exactly, if his ideas are so wrong, and you know the 'right thing', why not write that?

Yes, but he gets to be wrong on the Op-Ed page of the Times, whereas you'd get to be right on page 182 of the Utne Reader, while by shitting on Tom Friedman you can get a bunch of other beard-strokers and trendoids to write about how ooh, look, some asshole's shitting on Tom Friedman in the pages of Foreign Policy, the Economist, Simon Johnshon' blog, etc. Eventually perhaps some murmur or discontent makes its way to a Sulzberger ear and they put him out to pasture.

None of which should be taken as an endorsement of Tom Friedman, by the by; I believe it was in 2003 that I had to stop reading him, lest that one vein in my forehead finally pop.

Personally I feel like Op-Ed columist for the Times ought to be a gig with a time limit. A lengthy one, perhaps: Give 'em five years, say. That ought to be enough for even the most restless intellect to hit the themes they want to hit. Then hook 'em before they start repeating themselves. There's no need for op ed columnist to be a lifetime appointment.
posted by Diablevert at 5:29 PM on November 13, 2012 [7 favorites]




"Low-hanging fruit" indeed...
posted by Skeptic at 6:47 PM on November 13, 2012


Indeed, McDonald’s cannot flourish without McDonnell Douglas, the designer of the U.S. Air Force F-15.

You know what is particularly entertaining about this sentence? The book it comes from ("The Lexus and the olive tree") was published in 1999. McDonnell Douglas (which was infamously badly managed) had ceased to exist two years before (swallowed by Boeing in 1997).
posted by Skeptic at 6:54 PM on November 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


I think of Friedman as the McDonald's of opinion - successful, consistent, and depending on snobbery passable.

in high school i enjoyed the lexus and olive tree. it was informative maybe not the global trap or globization and its discontents but it captured my young imagination and helped me begin to frame and think about these things.

You must start somewhere you can't begin by reading an epa white paper or cbo analysis of carbon cap and trade. providing accessibility is a talent and occassionally his ancedotes are genuinely enlightening.
posted by Shit Parade at 8:17 PM on November 13, 2012


Has there really been so much Friedman bashing that we've actually turned the corner into feeling kind of bad for the guy?

I don't think I can do it.
posted by brennen at 9:30 PM on November 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


I will never forget railing on him for his inane "3 things" trope and then going over to NYT to see that he'd written another "3 things" column.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:41 PM on November 13, 2012


Nobody needs to feel sorry for Tom Friedman, who has made a very nice living being a propagandist for capitalism and neverending wars, but I repeat myself.
posted by MartinWisse at 12:25 AM on November 14, 2012


> Has there really been so much Friedman bashing that we've actually turned the corner into feeling kind of bad for the guy?

Nope, excoriations of Friedman have become their own corpus of literature. Arguments both for and against (so, in practice, against) will continue so long as he has a spot on the op-ed page of the Times.
posted by Panjandrum at 12:40 AM on November 14, 2012


You know what is particularly entertaining about this sentence? The book it comes from ("The Lexus and the olive tree") was published in 1999. McDonnell Douglas (which was infamously badly managed) had ceased to exist two years before (swallowed by Boeing in 1997).
Cool, now I have an example to use when explaining the phrase "not even wrong".

I believe Thomas Friedman exists purely to suppress opposition. In the same way as a politician getting 20 points ahead in the polls causes opposition voters to stay at home I think those opposed to Friedman's world-view* look at his Pulitzer Prizes and his continuing existence and just go "what the fuck is the point, they've won."

*Also known as "The Sane"
posted by fullerine at 12:51 AM on November 14, 2012


I misread the last line as Friedman critiques Metafilter.
posted by humanfont at 4:54 AM on November 14, 2012


However, somehow I didn't realize until now that the man has won the Pulitzer Prize on three separate occasions. Wow. Prizes really don't mean anything anymore.

Oh, it's worse than you think. He was just elected co-chair of the Pulitzer Prize Board.
posted by 3.2.3 at 9:28 AM on November 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


As anyone knows, the best way to do battle with an oppressive worldview is to create a competing one.

There's the wee matter of managing to get your opposing worldview to replace a famous but lame-ass columnist in the most valuable journalistic real estate in the nation. One that still employs David Brooks, yet.
posted by Gelatin at 9:34 AM on November 14, 2012


Following on: The NYT "public editor" recently opined that blogging at the NYT gave Nate Silver credibility, for crying out loud.
posted by Gelatin at 9:39 AM on November 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


1adam12: "Even Matt Taibbi, who kind of started the "Thomas Friedman sucks" train, noted recently that this has turned into something of a pile-on."

A slight change of tune.
posted by tonycpsu at 9:41 AM on November 14, 2012


The school where I work has a featured speaker every fall. And there's a row of posters in a prominent hallway commemorating past speakers. During the interview process, I was pretty excited about this job, but had a moment of unease when I walked past the poster row and saw both Tom Friedman AND David Brooks. I felt like it was one Maureen Dowd away from being a sign that I should drop this and run.

By the way, this fall's featured speakers? James Carville and Mary Matalin talking about civility in political discussions (?!?).

Despite the goofiness in speaker choices, it is a pretty good place to work...
posted by COBRA! at 9:47 AM on November 14, 2012


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