Readers will have noted that I am an admirer of Matt Taibbi’s writings, quoting extensively from his articles because I see him as an accurate observer of the American political scene with a witty style. I also cannot stand New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman and am baffled by the admiration he seems to generate with his vacuous pieties. I first came across Taibbi a long time ago when he was writing for a regional paper because of his hilarious and brutal takedown of Friedman’s inanities. Taibbi and Friedman seemed to be made for each other. (See here, here, and here.)
As Taibbi said in the last link,
I’ve been unhealthily obsessed with Friedman for more than a decade now. For most of that time, I just thought he was funny. And admittedly, what I thought was funniest about him was the kind of stuff that only another writer would really care about — in particular his tortured use of the English language. Like George W. Bush with his Bushisms, Friedman came up with lines so hilarious you couldn’t make them up even if you were trying — and when you tried to actually picture the “illustrative” figures of speech he offered to explain himself, what you often ended up with was pure physical comedy of the Buster Keaton/Three Stooges school, with whole nations and peoples slipping and falling on the misplaced banana peels of his literary endeavors.
Remember Friedman’s take on Bush’s Iraq policy? “It’s OK to throw out your steering wheel,” he wrote, “as long as you remember you’re driving without one.” Picture that for a minute. Or how about Friedman’s analysis of America’s foreign policy outlook last May: “The first rule of holes is when you’re in one, stop digging. When you’re in three, bring a lot of shovels.”
First of all, how can any single person be in three holes at once? Secondly, what the fuck is he talking about? If you’re supposed to stop digging when you’re in one hole, why should you dig more in three? How does that even begin to make sense? It’s stuff like this that makes me wonder if the editors over at the New York Times editorial page spend their afternoons dropping acid or drinking rubbing alcohol. Sending a line like that into print is the journalism equivalent of a security guard at a nuke plant waving a pair of mullahs in explosive vests through the front gate. It should never, ever happen.
Taibbi has since moved on to more important things, leaving to many others the task of skewering Friedman’s blatherings, but I was delighted to see that he has returned at least temporarily to the Friedman beat with a takedown of a recent column.
Thomas Friedman’s “Cabs, Camels or ISIS” column this week is either a brilliant self-parody, or a plant in the Times by the Pentagon to confuse the Islamic State:
“DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Today, I’ll talk about the Paris attacks, but before I do I want to share two news stories here, in case you missed them: The first calf to come from a cloned camel was born at a research center in Dubai and a local taxi start-up is taking on Uber in the Arab world.
“You may think that these emirates start-ups — cloning camels and cabs — have nothing to do with Paris, but they do. Bear with me.”
When Friedman writes, “Bear with me,” it’s serious. This is a man who thinks nothing of plunging readers into an essay comparing occupied Iraq to a rental car (without a steering wheel) or the Ukraine crisis to a hockey game (without a referee). So it’s a somber thing when even he feels a need to brace his audience for a coming literary trapeze act.
This week’s piece has everything. There’s the oratorial opening, one of the mustached one’s favorite lede structures: “Let me sit you on my knee while we talk about the Middle East.” (The ingenious Friedman bot, ThomasFriedmanOpEdGenerator.com, uses at least one opening line that reads like this).
Then there’s the goofball alliteration, the birth imagery (policies and plans are always going through messy figurative births in Friedman’s work, often with the aid of a midwife), and the self-flagellating reference to taxis in the headline (Friedman is even more famous for interviewing cab drivers than he is for mixing metaphors).
Go ahead and read the rest. You will not be disappointed.