In last month’s print issue, I wrote about the status of the newspaper syndicated columnist. Although it’s something of a complex picture, one of the conclusions you come to after examining the issue is that words on a page still have a power to bestow prestige that pixels on a screen lack. And in this age of ever-multiplying sources of news, information, and especially commentary, there are certain sinecures that bring unmatched influence.
A number of people, including TAP alums Ezra and Matt, have commented on the fact that when he was asked in an interview with Foreign Policy, “Who do you think is the smartest, most penetrating thinker you know?”, Bill Clinton mentioned Tom Friedman. Matt reposts Friedman’s infamous “Suck on this” interview, while Ezra notes that when it comes to absurdly oversimplified and sometimes simply wrong, yet undeniably sticky metaphors, Friedman has no equal.
But here’s something else to take note of: When Bill Clinton, a pretty important and influential guy, got asked who the “smartest, most penetrating thinker” he knows is, the first three names out of his mouth were people who write for the New York Times op-ed page.
Clinton starts by saying, “Paul Krugman -- I don't always agree with him, but he is unfailingly good. David Brooks has been very good. Tom Friedman is our most gifted journalist at actually looking at what is happening in the world and figuring out its relevance to tomorrow and figuring out a clever way to say it that sticks in your mind …” Then he goes on to mention Malcolm Gladwell, Robert Wright (who frequently writes for the Times), and Matt Ridley.
That doesn’t mean newspapers aren’t dying or anything, but it does show that with the people who really count, print is still king. And no matter how many readers and how much money they've lost, the New York Times is still the most important news outlet in America.
-- Paul Waldman