Sasha Issenberg fact-checks David Brooks
June 28, 2006 3:54 PM   Subscribe

David Brooks gets fact-checked by Sasha Issenberg, who finds that Brooks appears to have invented some of his red-state reporting. ... Brooks acknowledges that all he does is present his readers with the familiar and ask them to recognize it. Why, then, has his particular brand of stereotype-peddling met with such success? From April 2004. Via Brad DeLong.
posted by russilwvong (39 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Hey, have you guys heard about this site where people scan their cats? I just heard about it now!
posted by RakDaddy at 4:04 PM on June 28, 2006

Who is David Brooks and why should I care?
posted by mischief at 4:06 PM on June 28, 2006

But our writer found out he doesn’t check his facts.

All he had to do was to read one of Brooks's fucking columns to find that out. In light of this revelation, I don't know who's lazier, Brooks or the people that are checking his facts.
posted by psmealey at 4:08 PM on June 28, 2006

(I take back my prior comment and aplogize for the lameness.)

But I agree with psmealey: Brooks may try and hide behind his "Hey, I'm just a comic sociologist" schtick, but he's a columnist for the New York Times. I've never understood why the Times didn't bend over backwards to protect its reputation by fact-checking the bejeezus out of everything to cross its desk. Is it a case of institutional grandiosity (as in, "We're the Times, so what we say goes")? Or do the editors just have their heads up their fundaments?
posted by RakDaddy at 4:15 PM on June 28, 2006

Brooks' defenders, like Coulter's (and indeed like Brooks himself in the piece), will no doubt argue that he's a satirist, not to be taken seriously. They'll have the second part right, anyway.
posted by schoolgirl report at 4:16 PM on June 28, 2006

Also, to call Brooks a "public intellectual" elevates Brooks to a stature that even he would embarrass even him, I think. Brooks is more like an amateur social scientist (albeit one with a rather large megaphone) that has no idea how to properly analyze data or draw proper conclusions.
posted by psmealey at 4:16 PM on June 28, 2006

Who is David Brooks and why should I care?

Journalist and public intellectual. Senior editor at the Weekly Standard. Probably best known for his book Bobos in Paradise, a sociological book written in a comic style talking about how the new upper class are "bourgeois bohemians." Has a regular op-ed column in the New York Times.
posted by russilwvong at 4:17 PM on June 28, 2006

even he
posted by psmealey at 4:18 PM on June 28, 2006

This gives me a reason to trot out my favorite McSweeney's article.
posted by SweetJesus at 4:20 PM on June 28, 2006 [1 favorite]

posted by russilwvong at 4:24 PM on June 28, 2006

From SweetJesus' link:
Cheerioians, on the other hand, often eat their cereal entirely unadorned, even with sliced banana or strawberries. They use bowls from Pottery Barn, hold their spoons correctly, and read a major metropolitan newspaper or watch cable news while eating their breakfast cereal.
*chuckles, shaking head*
That is so true...
posted by brundlefly at 4:42 PM on June 28, 2006

When people ask me to name a republican I like, I always say "David Brooks." I don't agree with him on lots of issues, but he's intelligent and capable of engaging in rationale debate over divisive issues.

He's been gradually sliding further to the left over the past few years and I may need to come up with another "one republican I like."
posted by justkevin at 4:42 PM on June 28, 2006

I kinda like Tucker Carlson. Don't agree with him on much, but he seems less likely to accuse people of treason. As far as I've seen, anyway.

It may just be the tie.
posted by brundlefly at 4:46 PM on June 28, 2006

David Brooks is the reason I am glad the Times is making people pay to read the op-ed columns. I sometimes used to click impulsively on his column, read it, and then spend the next fifteen minutes shouting at my computer screen. It is, in fact, Brooks' genial demeanor which makes him inspire my loathing.

In between inaccurate generalizations about the state of American culture, Brooks has said some very racist, sexist, and otherwise offensive things. And he says it all with that stupid smirk on his face, like we are supposed to be fooled into thinking he is just a nice harmless guy.
posted by mai at 5:24 PM on June 28, 2006

Amen, Mal. That's what's always pissed me off about the guy. He basically takes facile (and lazy) stereotypes and attempts, through elevated language, to present them either as major paradigm shifts or else essential truths of our culture. Where I come from, we call that being an asshole.
posted by psmealey at 5:39 PM on June 28, 2006

on the other hand, he's not as bad as Friedman
posted by matteo at 5:40 PM on June 28, 2006

I am so glad someone is finally "deconstructing" the bullshit that fills David Brooks' columns.

Ever since I have been reading Brooks, I have been repulsed by his status obsession. He's a guy who, from the evidence of his columns, gets a rock-hard erection when he hears the name of a prestigious college uttered.
posted by jayder at 5:40 PM on June 28, 2006

Then why do you read it?
posted by smackfu at 5:42 PM on June 28, 2006

I put Brooks in the same class as O'Reilly, Coulter, Russert and Matthews. These no talents will say or do anything as long as there is a chance it will make them more money and/or gain them more popularity, the truth be damned. I've yet to see one of them do anything close to actual reporting. These people aren't fit to write a gossip column much less opine on the important events of the day.
posted by any major dude at 5:50 PM on June 28, 2006

The difference between O'Reilly, Coulter, Russert and Matthews is that Brooks uses his brain to think up novel, rather than merely controversial, things to say. David Brooks has talent. He is intelligent and writes amusing articles that give you something to think about.

Mind you, his attack on Kos seemed to be a bit weird, has he attacked anyone else with the same ferocity?
posted by sien at 6:04 PM on June 28, 2006

Why do I read David Brooks' column? I don't, anymore, because you have to pay to do so.

But I would always read him out of curiosity about his latest insight into the moneyed, well-educated elites that he loves to dry-hump in his essays.

I really loved this critique of Brooks' book, because it exposes how sloppy his thinking is. I remember reading an excerpt from the book Bobos in Paradise and thinking how implausible his examples were. He seems to have read Don Delillo and recycled Delillo's insights in shoddy books fit for lowbrow consumption. It's stupid work.
posted by jayder at 6:05 PM on June 28, 2006

BoBos in Paradise had a very good point, though: that self-described radicals of the 60's and their spawn have jettisoned their inconvenient parts of radicalism and bohemianism (e.g. poverty and political action), but kept the attractive parts, such as sloppy dressing. I cherish his comment to the effect that, if you're going to attend a funeral in a Members Only jacket, you should probably stay home.
posted by QuietDesperation at 6:09 PM on June 28, 2006

I'm suprised Brooks went after Kos when Atrios is the one who really takes after Brooks on a regular basis.
posted by empath at 6:14 PM on June 28, 2006

Ah, to reflect back on the day when fiction was sold as fiction.
posted by clevershark at 6:15 PM on June 28, 2006

Brooks saying he's not dissembling, he's being comical, is the first thing he's ever said that made me laugh.

The man makes Tom Friedman look like a heavyweight.
posted by DenOfSizer at 6:19 PM on June 28, 2006

Bobos in Paradise could never decide if it wanted to be a "serious" bit of sociology or a long-form schtick to amuse the dinner party.

It was as if he really wanted to write something serious and well-researched but just couldn't be bothered to research it well, so he would take a break every other chapter and just make crap up. Fun crap, sure. Around deadline-time he looked at two incomplete works and one book deal and did the math.

I'll admit it didn't stop me from saying "ooh, I do do that! Gosh, it sure is great to finally be rid of this Generation X, Y, Net, Next, crap!"

Nobody ever went hungry justifying the bigotry of self-described elites.
posted by abulafa at 6:29 PM on June 28, 2006

Like when that dirty radical hippie Cheney went to Auschwitz wearing a parka?

Damn him and his 60's values.
posted by bardic at 7:59 PM on June 28, 2006

I don't believe David Brooks is associated with "The Weekly Standard". He's not listed on this page.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 8:01 PM on June 28, 2006

posted by Kwantsar at 8:13 PM on June 28, 2006

I kinda like Tucker Carlson. Don't agree with him on much, but he seems less likely to accuse people of treason.

Tucker Carlson spoke in support of animal welfare rights not too long ago, so I kinda like him too. Count me as a member of the America that values compassion and extends it to all sentient beings, not just humans who believe or shop like me.
posted by chance at 8:19 PM on June 28, 2006 [1 favorite]

Brook is pleasant enough (but it's just shootin' the breeze) with Mark Shields on PBS Lehrer Hour but I don't read his columns.
posted by peacay at 10:00 PM on June 28, 2006

Brooks has never met a cliché he couldn't chew on, swallow, and regurgitate, its glistening "newness" conveniently predigested for the avidly cheeping wingers.
posted by rob511 at 10:13 PM on June 28, 2006

Over and over again, Brooks' response to her is along the lines of "don't you have anything better to do?" Which is a counterproductive comeback, since it means in effect "you actually thought my book and the things I said in it merited careful examination?" Well Dave, if you don't think your book merits a close read, maybe it doesn't merit any kind of read at all.
posted by George_Spiggott at 10:53 PM on June 28, 2006

Wow, why hasn't this gotten more attention? It's the worst to see some commentator or politician totally eviscerated on the facts, and to see it have about zero impact on his influence and reputation.
posted by ibmcginty at 4:48 AM on June 29, 2006

on the other hand, he's not as bad as Friedman

This is an apt comparison. They are both bullshitters, but at least Brooks is readable. Friedman's clunky prose and stutifying "metaphors" are headache-inducing. I saw Friedman on K St. once and I wanted to punch the walrus mustache right off his face.
posted by Falconetti at 7:37 AM on June 29, 2006

By the way, here's the original Atlantic Monthly article that Issenberg fact-checked: One Nation, Slightly Divisible.

If you find it plausible, you might want to read the McSweeney's parody again.

Noam Scheiber defends Brooks in the New Republic; the Daily Howler comments. A couple longer articles on Brooks which mention Issenberg's fact-checking: Michael Kinsley in the New York Times, Nicholas Confessore in the Washington Monthly, David Plotz in Slate.
posted by russilwvong at 8:21 AM on June 29, 2006

He makes exactly the same kinds of erroneous generalizations that are made everyday in MeFi land regarding red states and the south.
posted by Carbolic at 2:45 PM on June 29, 2006

Thanks, russilwvong, for pointing out the Daily Howler piece. I can't believe I had forgotten that site existed --- it is truly some of the best of the web. I loved this passage from the Howler.

How absurd was Brooks’ piece? Because some states were “red” (had voted for Bush), and some states were “blue” (had voted for Gore), Brooks was afraid we might have become two different nations. So he went to see how differently life was being lived in these two different worlds. But as if to offer a cry for help, Brooks never got to the “red states” at all. Instead, he compared life in his home base (Montgomery County, Maryland) with life in the aforementioned Franklin County. Unfortunately, Franklin County is in Pennsylvania—and Pennsylvania is a “blue” state, just like Maryland! In short, Brooks compared life-styles in two blue states to see if we’d become separate red-and-blue countries. Little in his puzzling piece made much more sense than that.

What a lazy, weasely, pathetic little shit David Brooks is.
posted by jayder at 6:18 PM on June 29, 2006

I avoid the NYT like the plague it has become. I had never heard of David Brooks before this post. Based on Sasha Issenberg's article and the little bits of Brook's writing some links led me to, I smell an overpowering odor of the 'happy darky' school of propaganda which has been the centerpiece of attempts to justify American racism and deny its horrible consequences for more than a century.

Brooks does not appear to try to justify racism, except perhaps incidentally -- he is a propagandist in the secret class war which began to be waged in earnest by the Republicans at least as far back as the Reagan administration. What does it matter if the minimum wage is at its lowest point in buying power for decades? Those people can can buy the best dinner in town for less than $20! What does it matter that gas is three dollars a gallon, and the town's last high wage low education jobs just left along with the auto parts factory, and the executives who committed this crime paid themselves bonuses of $50 million as a reward for doing it, and will now turn around and try to steal the worker's pensions by declaring bankruptcy, and the Bush administration, far from impeding them, will do whatever it can to abet the theft? They still have NASCAR, their baseball caps and their patio furniture, don't they? What more does a red-blooded red-state American family need?

Bobos in Paradise, huh? An interesting sort of paradise Brooks and the upper class which has just officially made him a member have created for the Bobos, where they have gas grills but can no longer afford to send their kids to college, and their elderly parents, instead of Social Security, have Wal-Mart to buy, as cheaply as possible, the dog food which is all they can now afford to eat.
posted by jamjam at 8:48 PM on June 29, 2006

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