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Friedman's Failures Remain Relevant

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A few months ago I finished work on my second book, which focuses on the failures of the punditry and news media in general, with particular attention paid to the inexplicably influential Thomas Friedman. After having finished the chapter on Friedman (I consider a chapter to be finished when I get tired of writing it), I found myself with a great deal of additional notes on the columnist's past failures. Had I used them all up, the chapter would have been twice as long. Friedman's inability to predict the future or even remember the past is overwhelming to those of us whose attention spans were forged in the information age. This is no slur on the information age, of which I am fond to the point of fanaticism; those who do not take advantage of the internet will likely never know of Friedman's failures in the first place. An attention span is worthless to the extent that one pays attention to the wrong things.

There is so much to mock in Friedman's attempts to understand and convey the world and its workings that even his celebrated foolishness in regards to the Iraq War makes up just a small portion of his mock-worthy output. Certain pundits can be dealt with by one or two bloggers; Friedman's nonsense is such that a great collective effort is required to catalog that mediocrity which The New York Times packages and sells as erudition twice each week. For instance, I am generally at a loss as to where to begin in attempting to convince his fans of his failings, so I have composed the following elevator pitch:

The fellow called on Americans to "keep rootin' for Putin" in 2001, at which point any competent observer could have easily determined that the former KGB agent and FSB black-op mastermind does not deserve any cheering section from a westerly direction. His praises had already been sung by a consortium of Orthodox nationalist fascists and gullible American presidents at that point, with the former cheering harder at each bomb dropped on Grozny and the latter giving him public legitimacy due to the fellow's ownership of some magical trinket blessed in some magical, violence magnet of a city.

Of those things of which the world needed more in 2001, praise for Putin would have been far down on the list of anyone who knew anything about what had already been happening in Russia at that point. One need not have had access to some secret intel on the subject, either; one need only have paid attention to mere wire reports for the last few years to know what the FSB had been up to, what role Putin played in the goings-on in question, what he had done to that chief Russian prosecutor who mistakenly believed that crime among Yeltsin's inner circle warranted investigation, and how Putin's first order of business upon graduating to president was to ensure that the rule of law would never apply to the powerful, excepting those among the powerful whom he could not control.

Friedman kept up his cheering for Putin up until at least 2004, when he proclaimed Russia to be on the right track in terms of democracy, free speech, and the rule of law. It was not until 2007 that Friedman finally got around to noticing that this was all nonsense, explaining to his readers that Russia could no longer even be termed a democracy. This man, Thomas Friedman, is not only a Pulitzer winner; he now sits on the Pulitzer committee itself. If you are curious as to why our republic is in at least a temporary stage of decline, don't look at the politicians or the policy; look at the failure of our media as it stands today, the structure which has made all of this possible. Remember how much effort has been put into deception and misdirection by one nation against another, particularly in times of great international competition, and why such things make for efficient weapons, disinformation being easier to deploy than infantry or missiles; note that the media, improperly structured, can deceive and misdirect the very population to which it caters, not by treasonous intent but rather by incompetence, negligence, and inertia. During World War II, the slogan "Loose lips sink ships" served to remind us that we must in some cases keep the truth to ourselves lest our enemies discover some valuable thing; it could just as easily convey that we must make sure we are not employing Thomas Friedman at the newspaper we inherited from our father, particularly if our name is Arthur Ochs Sulzburger and we are a damned fool. Anyway, it's a long fucking elevator ride. It has to be.

Michael Hastings - who has seen much more of the results of our excursion into Babylon than have most of us - today provides Friedman with a gentle reminder that, no matter what his friends in high places may think of him - and they seem to think very highly of him, being presumably too busy to read his old, hilariously wrong columns - history will not be handing the fellow any awards. He will have to be content with those that he has already received - as well as those he will continue to receive, the universe being an imperfect place.

[Cross-posted from True/Slant]