Magazine article The American Prospect

Accounting for Kristol: When the New York Times Hired Bill Kristol as an Op-Ed Columnist, Its Readers' Sensibilities and Interests Didn't Matter a Damn

Magazine article The American Prospect

Accounting for Kristol: When the New York Times Hired Bill Kristol as an Op-Ed Columnist, Its Readers' Sensibilities and Interests Didn't Matter a Damn

Article excerpt


PRETEND FOR A MOMENT YOU'RE a close friend of New York Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. The two of you are finishing off a nice dinner at say, the Century Club, about to reach for the cognac tray, when Arthur mentions that he's got a decision to make and he'd like to ask your advice. He wants to add a strong conservative voice to the Times op-ed page, and its editor, Andrew Rosenthal, has given him a list of 25 columnists for consideration.

Arthur says he's set on Bill Kristol. He's remembering how infuriated people were when his father offered a job to Nixon hack William Satire, who eventually turned out to be one of the great pundit-reporters of the past 30 years. He thinks Kristol, a neoconservative boy prince, former staffer for Dan Quayle, Republican Party strategist, and guiding spirit behind The Weekly Standard, might be a bold choice that could distinguish his tenure as publisher just as the former Nixon tack did his father's. Arthur wants to know what you think.

You promise to have a memo listing the pros and cons ready for your friend first thing Monday morning. Here's what you come up with:


* Rupert Murdoch overpaid for The Wall Street Journal in part to dethrone the Times as the primary print conduit to America's taste and opinion-makers. Hiring Kristol, who works for Murdoch both as editor of The Weekly Standard and a commentator on Fox News, would undercut one of the Australian media magnate's most recognizable "brands."

* David Brooks is the paper's only dependably conservative pundit on the page these days and is no longer considered 100 percent reliable by his ideological comrades, as he sometimes allows reality to take precedence over partisan interests. Kristol, however, remains reliably right-wing and Republican; reality be damned. He not only continues to defend the invasion of Iraq as a good idea--which Brooks does not--he wants to invade Iran and Syria, and possibly Lebanon. No question about it; when it comes to neocon warmongers, Kristol is the Mona Lisa, the Tower of Pisa ...

* You guys attended grammar school together, and I hear, politics aside, Kristol's a nice enough fellow.

* Andy Rosenthal's dad and Kristol's dad used to be regular lunch pals, too.

* Kristol promises not to use his column to attack the paper, and since he's been a columnist before, we can assume he'll get his copy in on time.


* Well, from the standpoint of empirical accuracy, the choice is rather difficult to justify. To be honest, based on his predictions about the Iraq War, Kristol may be the worst pundit on earth. You'll recall, for instance, before the war when he said, "We can remove Saddam because that could start a chain reaction in the Arab world that would be very healthy," and "Very few wars in American history were prepared better or more thoroughly than this one by this president." Believe me, I could go on.

* In addition to being wrong, Kristol is also a vicious McCarthyite toward those with whom he disagrees, and among his prime targets has been, um, The New York Times. Remember, for instance, when he called the editorial board "leftists" who "hate George W. Bush so much they can barely bring themselves to hope America wins the war.... They hate conservatives with a passion that seems to burn brighter than their love of America."

* He also thinks it reasonable that you, Arthur, should be tossed in the slammer for the crime of journalism. Remember when he said, "I think it is an open question whether the Times itself should be prosecuted for this totally gratuitous revealing of an ongoing secret classified program that is part of the war on terror," and "I think the Justice Department has an obligation to consider prosecution"? (He added, by the way, that the paper was "irredeemable.")

* All this might remind you that, unlike Brooks, not only has Kristol never been a journalist, he evinces nothing but contempt for the profession and its role in the safeguarding of democracy. …

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