September 7, 2007

The trouble with columnists

Last week a colleague and I were having a conversation about columnists and I was trying to explain why I'm not a huge fan of that form of writing. Over at the Atlantic, James Fallows mentions a conversation he once had with Tom Friedman about The World is Flat that captures some of what I was trying to say:

"When I asked Friedman... why he said on virtually every page of the book that the world was "flat," when he knew very well all the reasons it wasn't, he disarmingly said: In the columnist game, you don't sell things 51-49. You decide what you think is right, and you push that all the way. So, he could have more accurately said that the world is "flattening," but that wouldn't have had the ooomph. "

Now, I'm not saying that all opinion writing is bad, but I think that Friedman's right about how the "columnist game" works. Another thing, of course, that Friedman once gave considerable oomph to was the Iraq war. On those sorts of questions, I get very nervous about the influence of a super-columnist like Friedman, combined with the career imperatives of being a professional opinion shaper.

Photo from Flickr user keso under a Creative Commons license.