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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Form Dictates Function

If you are at all interested in journalism, you should check out this New York magazine profile of New York Times columnist David Brooks, and then Jonathan Chait’s comment on the subject.
I couldn’t agree more with Chait’s observation that Brooks is now operating in a format, the op-ed column, that just isn’t suited for him:

Brooks used to be known mainly for his long-form journalism. I doubt anybody read his work and thought, “This man should be writing an op-ed column.” But what happened is that the New York Times needed a conservative who liberals would find amenable, and there were few candidates other than Brooks. The role of New York Times columnist is very prestigious and lucrative, so Brooks obviously felt he couldn’t turn it down. From the perspective of the Times, he’s quite valuable, even though he’s in a role that misuses his considerable talents.

Some of Brooks’ long-form pieces at The Weekly Standard were not only insightful, but very entertaining (my favorite, a piece entitled “How to Become Henry Kissinger,” a hilarious send-up of Washington chattering class culture, has unfortunately vanished from the internet). But that approach is very difficult to pull off in 800-word bursts, much less the television punditry that Brooks engages in. So he’s kind of like a great athlete playing out of position; his mistakes and misperceptions (and I’ve gone after them more than a few times) are all the more maddening because you know he could do better.

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