Is Thomas Friedman on the way out?

Times columnuist Thomas L. Friedman hoping heaven rains down ideas

New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman has one of those jobs that are disappearing. His employer allows him to be wrong about 85% of the time. Even so it is difficult for him  to come up with pieces with at least minimal content. Part of the problem seems to be that the Times requires too many words per piece. The more words, the more thoughts are revealed. And Friedman’s columns come all too frequently for the amount of thinking he does.

Friedman often resorts to dropping the names of interesting people or explaining where he’s jetted off to in order to fill up space. As annoying as those things are, they sure beat times when he has simply nothing to say.

Today’s column is an example. He writes about the kind of job he himself has: requiring no thinking, no education, no expertise. The point is those jobs are fast disappearing. The world is getting more competitive, and kids are going to have to work harder to get a job. This bromide wasn’t considered a news flash 50 years ago when grown ups (the ones who would go on to support the Vietnam war, just like Friedman himself supported the war in Iraq) offered it as their considered opinion.

Of course Friedman puts his signature touch to the piece. Not an original thought, of course. Rather he drops Arne Duncan’s name and explains how Arne “put it to me.” Friedman must be fast slipping down the slope of useless pundits. He once was able to name-drop world figures. He now has to hobnob with a bureaucrat who thinks firing entire teacher staffs at impoverished public schools is educational reform.

Friedman also gives a nudge to the PTA, which, he says, has to start helping from “the bottom up.” Friedman has evidently never attended a PTA meeting or volunteered at a public school. If so, he would have learned that no teacher is ever involved in the PTA; administrations see to that. The last thing a Superintendent wants is to have parental involvement in education. None of those who sport an Ed. D. really think the “public” in “pubic schools” has anything to do with the people who live in the community. Plus I am not exactly sure how having more tacos chips and Cheeze-Whiz® on Día de los muertes will help the kids get jobs 15 years from now.

But the real insight comes at the end. To put the fear of god into real Americans, Friedman lists the names of 11 of the Rhodes scholars for 2011. He notes that they are all immigrant-sounding. ¡Pos Dios, no! I guess he’s able to tell because many of the names look Asian. He of course has no idea whether any of those individuals come from families going back 5 generations or not. There was a time, not long ago, that “real Americans” thought a name like Friedman sounded immigrant.

The line offering the most hope to Times readers, however, occurs in the middle of the piece.

“We used to have a receptionist at our office. She was replaced by a micro-chip. We got voice mail.”

Friedman is so clueless that he doesn’t see the handwriting on the wall. The Times wouldn’t need a micro-chip to replace Friedman; a burnt-out vacuum tube would do just fine.

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