I read Friedman's From Beirut to Jerusalem around 2000 and found it pretty good. After that, I started reading more of his stuff and following his work. In law school, I saw him speak in Columbia. I was very impressed at the time, but have never really been able to finish one of his books since that first one. I have realized something: Tom Friedman has never met a problem Tom Friedman can't solve. And he's full of two things: Shit and himself.
By the time the Iraq invasion rolled around, it became apparent to me that Friedman held a little bit too healthy of an opinion on his own opinions. He may be the only person in the country who talked tougher about the invasion than Bush and Cheney. Who can forget his infamous "Well Suck On This" comment or sometimes you need to hit someone upside the head with a 2x4. And given his level of enthusiasm, this writer channeling his inner Charlie Bronson in all his pimping for the invasion, has never really issued a satisfactory mea culpa.
But despite the above, his cardinal sin and the reason I stopped reading his books, was it was incredibly hard to read through his attempts at witty language. He wants to boil everything down. You get the feeling he thinks it displays his intellect to sum up the solution to age-old problems with a smart 5 word sentence. It doesn't matter that the sentence actually does not make sense. That first one had been easy, because it was really the first book on the Arab-Israeli conflict I had ever read and I was eager to learn the history. Since then, I have found much more informative and certainly better written books.
But I digress. Taibbi, who is one of my favorite current writers, has been calling out Tom for quite some time. His latest is a classic example of someone or something getting the Taibbi skewer:
And who cares if it doesn’t quite make sense when Friedman says that Iraq is
like a “vase we broke in order to get rid of the rancid water inside?” Who cares
that you can just pour water out of a vase, that only a fucking lunatic breaks a
perfectly good vase just to empty it of water? You’re missing the point, folks
say, and the point is all in Friedman’s highly nuanced ideas about world
politics and the economy—if you could just get past his well-meaning attempts to
explain himself, you’d see that, and maybe you’d even learn something.
My initial answer to that is that Friedman’s language choices over the years
have been highly revealing: When a man who thinks you need to break a vase to
get the water out of it starts arguing that you need to invade a country in
order to change the minds of its people, you might want to start paying
attention to how his approach to the vase problem worked out. Thomas Friedman is
not a president, a pope, a general on the field of battle or any other kind of
man of action. He doesn’t actually do anything apart from talk about shit in a
newspaper. So in my mind it’s highly relevant if his manner of speaking is
At some point, maybe the folks that read Friedman are going to start wondering if this guy is really as smart as they thought he was.