On Sunday, Frank Bruni dedicated his New York Times op-ed column to the way Donald Trump eats steak. This is not the first line of a joke.
Frank Bruni did not have anything surprising, interesting, or new to say about the widely reported tidbit that Donald Trump orders his steak well done and eats it with ketchup. Frank Bruni did not use this factoid as the jumping off point for a deeper discussion of our president’s disturbed psyche. Frank Bruni did not even make any good jokes. Instead, he made the argument that we should all stop laughing at him and stop being “food snobs”—this, from a man who readily tells us how he has grown from the days when he felt fearful entering Domino’s to buy chicken wings because “I feared that some acquaintance would see me, interrogate me and never think the same of me again.”
This sort of absolute lack of a reason to exist is the hallmark of Frank Bruni columns. He writes with the haunted air of a man who has deadlines, but no ideas. He is living proof that it is possible to sustain a writing career for year after year without ever saying anything of import. The fact that he is employed in one of the most coveted opinion-writing jobs in the entire world is a crime. And yet—he fits right in.
At a moment in history when journalism itself is under attack and the New York Times is looked to by not just the industry but the entire liberal-minded half of the nation as an important institution to be defended and preserved, the paper carries a profoundly subpar roster of op-ed writers. These are the people who hold the writing jobs most likely to shape the contours of mainstream debate in Washington. This is a prestigious position at a prestigious publication that could have its pick of writers at home and abroad. Instead, we get this:
- David Brooks, Thomas Friedman, and Maureen Dowd, the wheezing Trio of the Doomed, three animated corpses that long ago calcified into caricatures of themselves. These three ostensibly represent the entire respectable political spectrum but in fact represent little more than the fact that the New York Times op-ed page has more job security than the Supreme Court.
- Ross Douthat, the weirdo conservative affirmative action hire, whose Sunday columns are always relegated to the farthest possible corner of the section, like the unpopular kid in the middle school cafeteria.
- Nick Kristof, a hopelessly nice man who covers Very Important Causes like global poverty, which makes you feel all the more guilty for being bored to death by his flavorless writing. Missed his calling as a beloved elementary school social studies teacher.
- Roger Cohen, Gail Collins, and David Leonhardt, who are all JUST FINE, but none of whom are exactly appointment reading. And
- Charles Blow and Paul Krugman, the two who tend to live up to their job titles—Blow, with a passion that matches the insanity of our time, and Krugman, with, you know, Nobel Prize-winning economics.
I’m no math major but my count the New York Times could lay off 81% of its columnists tomorrow and not lose a thing. I’m no management guru but that statistic would seem to be indicative of a poorly staffed workplace. I’m no American hero but it seems that in The Age of Trump—and the age of Journalists Who Fancy Themselves Besieged Heroes—the nation’s most prominent liberal media outlet might want to employ actually good opinion writers, rather than a cast composed *mostly* of tired old hacks. When it’s easier to find illuminating political insight from random people on Twitter who are not even employed in journalism than on the op-ed page of the country’s most prestigious news organ, something is amiss. It’s not as if they can’t hire whoever the fuck they want.
I mean the NYT columnist roster has sucked for years but now it actually matters more.
Alternately, just read Deadspin.