Was it just a few weeks ago that I said most syndicated op-ed columnists are the latest Academy of the Overrated? Yes, I think I did — in comments, anyway. A day doesn’t go by that I don’t look at one of the syndi-teers and think, “Phonin’ it in in your bathrobe, babe.” Shall I make a list? Kathleen Parker, Michelle Malkin, Mona Charen, Mo Dowd, oh but I could go on and on. (If my list tilts right, it’s because there are hardly any liberal syndicated columnists left anymore, and you know it’s true — for every Molly Ivins there are five Ann Coulters, et al. Liberal op-ed editors seek them to “balance” the paper’s own editorials, and conservative op-ed editors seek them to bolster their own opinions (they consider their very existence sufficient “balance” against the OVERWHELMINGLY LIBERAL MEEEEEDIA.
I’m not one of those people who condemns op-ed columnists for a lack of reporting; I don’t read columns to learn new facts about an issue (although a few are always appreciated), I read them to learn a new way of looking at an issue. I want a voice, a point of view, a few well-turned phrases. But when the required “reporting” consists of little more than paying attention to the world, yeah, I get picky. When Michelle Malkin writes a screed condemning Jessica Simpson, the MTV airhead, I finish it not only willing to bet $500 that she’s never once watched the show, but simply aghast that any editor would run it, when it’s pretty clear what she’s winding up to:
Fortunately, parents looking for antidotes to Jessica Simpson syndrome and moron worship by the liberal Hollywood elite can find plenty of female role models in the media with beauty and brains.
Will it surprise you to learn the list that follows consists entirely of Fox News cuties, culminating with none other than chain-smoking bone pile Ann Coulter? What is the possible reaction to this, other than projectile coffee-spitting, followed by overwhelming feelings of contempt?
To be sure, there are lots of reasons this is happening, other than rampant cynicism. Newspapers are shrinking, in size, influence and relevance. If well-informed people once turned to Jack Anderson or Bob Novak or Anthony Lewis to guide their thinking over their morning eggs, they now get the same guidance on the prime-time shout shows. Who can blame an editor who gives a few square inches to Cal Thomas once a week? He’s cheap, he requires no benefits and he doesn’t bitch when he’s trimmed. So he’s boring and predictable and paints by numbers? Who doesn’t, these days?
Was this entry going somewhere? Yes, I think so.
Terry Teachout agrees with me. I don’t entirely share his enthusiasm for “the blogosphere” (a term I loathe), but it’s pretty clear that’s where the mojo is, these days. (There’s an equal amount of boring predictability and by-number painting, but at least it doesn’t cost you anything but time, and you have the satisfaction of knowing the blogger is almost certainly not getting paid for it.) You have to wonder: Why are the paid columnists in the newspaper so blah on the subject of Rush Limbaugh, while the unpaid Greg Beato, driven by nothing more than his curiosity and a quick hand on the search-engine throttle, is so much livelier?
Just a thought. If I were an editor, I know who I’d be waving money at.