Dept. of What Not to Do
The matter at hand was a column that took up two-thirds of the Times’ op-ed page.
I’ve included a couple of photos to help the discussion.
Op-ed pages are a Times' invention – some might say a Times’ conceit – that are placed opposite the regular editorial pages to showcase opinions by writers not part of the paper’s official “editorial board,” whose unsigned group-think essays appear on the aforementioned actual editorial pages, although the lines have blurred lately.
I digress and apologize; detours are a side effect of senseless, wasted outrage.
As you can see, the entire top of this op-ed page is taken up by a huge picture of Joe Biden, wearing a Covid mask and striding purposefully outside the White House; it’s a flattering photo, a nice contrast with many others these days that unfairly suggest an aged, infirm, doddering commander-in-chief.
I Left Lunch With Biden With a Full Stomach but a Heavy Heart.
What’s a reader to expect from such a display?
The answer: What does Joe Biden really think? The suggestion is that at lunch,with you, me or Tom, Joe Biden might share something that he wouldn’t in public.
So, here’s the surprise. And it’s a big one.
Nothing doing. Nothing to read here, folks; please move on. Zip about what Biden told Tom at lunch. Tom tells us that in his very first paragraph:
PRESIDENT BIDEN INVITED me to lunch at the White House Monday. It was all off the record – so I can’t tell you anything that he said.
You’ve read that right: it’s FRAUD!
The whole two-thirds of the New York Times’ op-ed page yesterday, May 23, 2022, was a swindle. You, silly reader, had every right to expect that you were going to get a privileged briefing, the straight poop, the inside dope about what’s really on the mind of Joseph Robinette Biden Jr.
Nope. Nyet. Nein. Fooled you.
Off-the-record is journalism’s most sacred promise: if somebody tells a reporter, and the reporter agrees, that something is off the record, that’s the end of the story. A reporter cannot repeat it. Not in print. Not on the internet. Not in a Tweet. Not at supper. Not in bed. Never, ever. In a profession where ethics are occasionally slippery, this is the one you die for, or at least pledge to go to the slammer for, even if a judge orders you to spill your guts.
“It’s a scam,” I yelled, throwing the newspaper onto the kitchen table in front of my wife, who can be forgiven for her fateful decision to linger too long over her iPad, instead of taking a morning walk, or filling the car with inflated fuel and heading for the Interstate and freedom.
It was too late for her; and too late for the friends I called later.
This was the New York Times’ version of the Big Lie, I roared. A conspiracy; and they’re all in it: Friedman; the editors who decide what goes on the editorial pages; the people who cut Friedman’s paychecks; the artists who design the layout of the op-ed pages; the folks who write the headlines; the entire racketeering influenced corrupt organization.
OUTRAGE #2: What in the world was Friedman doing in the White House in the first place? Isn’t a reporter’s job to report what the person said? Surely, it's not to keep his secrets.
A possible explanation is that even if he couldn’t report what the president said, Friedman could still tell the readers and the world that he, Thomas L. Friedman, is so important that someone who lives in a Washington mansion, and who has the power to blow up the world, wants to eat lunch with him.
If you’re wondering what Friedman did say, he wrote about what he, Thomas L. Friedman, was thinking about.
He recalled Biden’s stated hope in defeating Trump was that he could unite the country; but while he brought allies together after Russia’s attack on Ukraine, it hasn’t worked that way back in the USA.
Friedman, who rarely breaks new ground or comes up with an original thought, said he is worried, like many of us, that Republicans stand a chance winning the midterm elections and are already busy monkeying with the machinery of elections in order to steal them, and that, as a journalist, he’s seen it happen in other countries and is under no illusion that it can’t happen here.
But while Friedman said that’s what he was doing – musing about his own thinking – was he really?
OUTRAGE #3: Maybe what Friedman was up to after his private lunch with Biden, was trying to have his cake and eat it, too (actually, dessert was a chocolate milkshake). My theory is that maybe Friedman was trying to, sort of, but not exactly, find a work-around to skirt his off-the-record pledge.
He implied that Biden agreed with his, Thomas L. Friedman’s, way of thinking. So while not quoting Biden directly, or even paraphrasing him, he gave us some clues:
Alas, though, I left our lunch with a full stomach but a heavy heart. Biden didn’t say it in so many words but he didn’t have to. I could hear it between the lines. He’s worried that while he has reunited the West, he many not be able to reunite America.
Later in the piece:
And this brings me back to my lunch with Biden. It clearly weighs on him that we have built a global alliance to support Ukraine, to reverse the Russian invasion to defend core American principles aboard – the right to freedom and self-determination of all peoples – while the G.O.P. is abandoning our most cherished principles at home.
Which is it, Tom? You agreed that lunch would be off-the-record? Or you broke that promise by implying that he agreed with your line of thinking? Or, worse, you agreed to be Joe Biden’s water boy, getting the president’s message out there for Times’ readers, but without him having to say that himself?
Any way you slice it, it’s a crock.
Shame on you, Thomas L. Friedman. Shame on you, the New York Times.
And shame on me.
Shame on me going full-blast, crazy-man, total-tirade – burdening my wife and friends and, now, readers who have made it this far – with something of little importance, of minor, slender consequence.
It’s the easy way to be outraged these days. Find something that’s amounts to nothing and go on and on about it.
But it's exhausting.
I’d squandered my outrage for the day.
Climate change, the midterms and world poverty would have to wait.
Thank you for this, Brian. So glad to see you expressing my outrage, and so eloquently.
I totally agree. Friedman is ego-driven and cynical and definitely not to be trusted...especially in such a prominent space in the Times. Shame on them.
It's not "of slender consequence" -- it's at the heart of what we spent our working lives doing. You were perfectly justified in freaking out about it. I could not care less about Tom Friedman, I haven't paid as much attention as you. But I agree that we are all constantly at flash point these days--I just think it's for damned good reason! As long as you have the energy to blow up over outrageous things, good on ya! (As long as Judy doesn't leave you). Take care of your health, all those fury chemicals are hard on the body. I recommend yoga, it's a good way to escape the 24/7 chemical bath of ghastliness. For a couple minutes.
Now I think I underestimated Friedman's several sins. What Tom says he took away from his lunch is that not only is the president disappointed in not uniting the country, his mood is depressed, which means he's not up to the job of being cheerleader-in-chief, rallying a big Democratic turnout.
Friedman, of course, having broken ihs off-the-record pledge, is self-identified as untrustworthy. So, he may have left the wrong impression of Biden's mood and thinking. It's a transgression that can't be cleared up with a correction, given the circumstances.
I did mow the lawn yesterday - does that qualify as yoga-like?
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I'VE BEEN a reporter and writer for 58 years, long enough to have learned that journalists don't know very much, although I've met some smart ones.
Mainly, what reporters know comes from asking other people questions and fretting about the answers.
This blog is a successor to one inspired by our dog, Phoebe, who was smart, sweet and the antithesis of Donald Trump. She died Feb. 3, and I don't see getting over that very soon.
Occasionally, I may try to reach her via cell phone.