Portfolio.com's Jeff Bercovici spoke to Bill Kristol at a luncheon Tuesday to promote IFC's The IFC Media Project (video of the luncheon to come shortly). Bercovici asked Kristol about the status of his New York Times column, which is rumored to be ending when his contract expires next month, and Kristol said he was "ambivalent" about staying on:
"I don't think I've had that conversation yet," he told me.
Okay -- but would he like to have it renewed? "I'm ambivalent. It's been fun. It's a lot of work. I have a lot of things going on. But I haven't really focused on it."
Kristol said he planned to talk to Andy Rosenthal, the Times's editorial-page editor, "soon."
The Huffington Post broke the news last year that Kristol was hired for the Times gig.
The New Yorker's George Packer weighed in this week on the topic of whether Kristol should stay at the Times — in a scathing critique, Packer argues strongly that Kristol's contract with the Times should not be renewed:
It's time for the newspaper to move on. For Pinch Sulzberger and Andy Rosenthal to renew Kristol's one-year contract, in 2009, would be for the Times to reward failure--and look where that got Wall Street and General Motors. It's not just that Kristol isn't another Safire (although an absence of verbal playfulness and wit is a consistent hallmark of the Kristol prose style). It's not just that his views are utterly predictable (if that were firing grounds, close to half the Times columnists would lose their jobs). It's not just that he was fundamentally wrong at least every other week throughout the year (misattributing a quote in his first column, counting Clinton out after Iowa, placing Obama at a Jeremiah Wright sermon that Obama didn't attend, predicting the imminent return of a McCain adviser named Mike Murphy who ended up staying off the campaign, all but predicting a McCain victory, sort of predicting that McCain would oppose the bailout, praising McCain's "suspension" of his campaign as a smart move, preferring fake populism to professional excellence and Joe the Plumber to Horace the Poet, urging Ayers-Wright attack tactics as the way for McCain to win, basically telling McCain to ignore all the advice Kristol had given him throughout the year, but above all, vouching again and again and again, privately and publicly, for Palin as an excellent Vice-Presidential choice). What the hell--it was an unpredictable year.
The real grounds for firing Kristol are that he didn't take his column seriously. In his year on the Op-Ed page, not one memorable sentence, not one provocative thought, not one valuable piece of information appeared under his name. The prose was so limp ("Who, inquiring minds want to know, is going to spare us a first Obama term?") that you had the sense Kristol wrote his column during the commercial breaks of his gig on Fox News Sunday and gave it about the same amount of thought.
In one sense, this mental shallowness and literary poverty come as a surprise from the son of Irving Kristol and Gertrude Himmelfarb, the student of Harvey C. Mansfield, the devotee of Leo Strauss, and the colleague of Robert Kagan, David Brooks, et al. Kristol was never an intellectual--he's always been a Republican strategist with various public platforms, including government office--but under his editorship the Weekly Standard managed to be lively and interesting on a regular basis. By his own account, Kristol is the sort of person who browses through a used bookstore at the Milwaukee airport while waiting for a plane and picks up an old edition of Orwell's essays.