Thursday, June 17, 2021

Frank Bruni Ponders the Role of Columnists in the Nation's Poisonous Discourse

Columnist Frank Bruni, retiring from the Times, says his regrets are all about the times he took cheap, partisan shots:

I owe Ted Cruz an apology.

One day in 2015 when I had a column due in hours and couldn’t settle on a topic, I took the easy route of unloading on Cruz, who was one of many unappealing contenders for the Republican presidential nomination. He was fair game for rebuke, no question there. But did I illuminate his dark character, enlighten my readers or advance any worthwhile cause by comparing him — repeatedly — to the unstoppable entity in the horror movie “It Follows”?

No. I just swam with the snide tide.

I did that too often. Many columnists do.

Starting, well, now, I’m a columnist no more. . . . Ten years is a long haul in any assignment, and while this one has been amply challenging and deeply rewarding, I always had misgivings.

I worried, and continue to worry, about the degree to which I and other journalists — opinion writers, especially — have contributed to the dynamics we decry: the toxic tenor of American discourse, the furious pitch of American politics, the volume and vitriol of it all.

I worry, too, about how frequently we shove ambivalence and ambiguity aside. Ambivalence and ambiguity aren’t necessarily signs of weakness or sins of indecision. They can be apt responses to events that we don’t yet understand, with outcomes that we can’t predict.

But they don’t make for bold sentences or tidy talking points. So we pundits are merchants of certitude in a world where much is in doubt and many questions don’t have one right answer. As such, we may be encouraging arrogance and unyieldingness in our readers, viewers and listeners. And those attributes need no encouragement in America today.

I don't blame Bruni; it was his job to build the Times' readership, and readers like snide partisan attacks. But he is right that no one really benefits from that kind of discourse. 

1 comment:

Shadow said...

Depends on what you mean by "benefits from."

Maybe somewhere in the ether more people suffer than benefit from snide political attacks, but people like Trump make celebratory livings out of being obnoxious, loud, and deceitful. And the reason why is simple. They feed off the hatred, and you don't.