There is rejoicing that William Kristol was given a pink slip from the Grey Lady. After all, his columns read like they were written by a Weekly Standard copy boy, not a distinguished opinion-maker. But there are more and more murmurs percolating online that Thomas Friedman's column should get the kibosh as well. Not because he went from globalization bible-thumper to born-again environmentalist overnight -- columnists are chameleons, cheerleading for whatever cause is hip that day. Not because his columns involve lazy journalism (i.e. quoting cab drivers), sloppy metaphors (pouring water out of broken vases and such), and a scary reliance on Johns Hopkins' Michael Mandelbaum and an overused quip about how nobody ever washed a rental car (you would think a green zealot like him would plug Zipcar, no?).
Friedman is the worst kind of columnist because he is given tremendous access to the world's business leaders yet he is so utterly pathetic at questioning what they are up to. The Pulitzers on his mantelpiece have gathered dust and it shows. Case in point: When he writes about India as a beacon of innovation, he loves nothing more than to source B. Ramalinga Raju of Satyam Computer Services. But he never lifts up any rocks. Had he done any actual reporting, he would have found that Raju had fleeced his company (and the World Bank) for trillions of rupees. Instead, Friedman, in a typical cheeky column about India's "E2K" energy revolution, applauds the fact that Satyam HQ has a zoo. Wow. Even worse, in his most recent book, he calls Raju "one of the most dynamic business leaders in India." Right. I'm half-surprised he didn't call Merrill Lynch's John Thain "a masterful interior decorator."
Indeed, leaf through the index of any of Friedman's tomes and you will probably find tomorrow's scandal-making CEOs. The question is: Does Friedman know that the folks he interviews to sell his books are crooks and just looks the other way, for fear of giving up his perks and privileged access? If so, then he's a bad reporter, a negligent sycophant who has compromised his duties as a columnist at the paper of record -- and he should be let go.
Of course, making fun of Tom Friedman has become something of a parlor game among bloggers and windbags like myself, an easy and fruitless exercise that will yield no results (let's face it, he's not going to be let go). But it is worth noting how someone who wrote maybe the best book on the Middle East, From Beirut To Jerusalem, which I was reminded of as I sat through Waltz With Bashir, would become a paycheck-cashing mouthpiece and shill for the world's corporate villains. My, how the mightiest of pens has fallen.