It’s been an embarrassing few weeks for newspaper op-ed pages, to put it mildly. At the New York Times, Quinn Norton was hired and quickly fired from the editorial board. This came after it was pointed out that she had written in a 2014 tweet of her friendships “with various neo-nazis in my time,” among a variety of bizarre writings that somehow eluded Times vetters.
At the Washington Post, neocon stalwart Max Boot and libertarian Megan McArdle were brought in to spice up the newspaper’s famously dull editorial page. In the aftermath of the Parkland school shooting, a 2012 story of McArdle’s from the Daily Beast was widely circulated. “I’d also like us to encourage people to gang rush shooters, rather than following their instincts to hide,” she wrote in a story under the headline, There’s Little We Can Do to Prevent Another Massacre. “If we drilled it into young people that the correct thing to do is for everyone to instantly run at the guy with the gun, these sorts of mass shootings would be less deadly, because even a guy with a very powerful weapon can be brought down by 8-12 unarmed bodies piling on him at once.”
If liberal newspapers want to bring “diversity” to their op-ed pages, you’d think they could do better than this. I spoke to Chris Lehmann, editor-in-chief of The Baffler and author of The Money Cult, about the pathetic state of the op-ed pages. Here’s what he had to say. (Interview edited for length and clarity.)
Q/ How did the op-ed pages get this bad? Or is this nothing new?
A/ In the 1990s, I was an editor on the op-ed page at Newsday. I understand that you’re supposed to be provocative and publish stuff you may not agree with, but this is a descent into raw intellectual dishonesty. They’re trying to market the op-ed pages as having a “contrarian” view, but the market for political commentary has been Twitter-ized. It’s mostly just trolling designed to briefly stimulate readers’ nerve ends and move on.
Q/ Is there a specific market for anti-Trump conservatives?
A/ There are Trump shills all over cable TV but the Times and the Post have a liberal readership and have aggressively positioned themselves as being part of the Resistance. Their idea of being contrarian and provocative is to hire never-Trumpers on the right. Max Boot is a guy who has called for the forcible imposition of American business civilization at the point of a gun. It would be a better use of space to turn to op-ed pages into a readers’ activity page.
Q/ Much of the country is moving in a populist direction, so why don’t we see this reflected on the op-ed pages?
A/ They are terrified of the populism, especially on the left. The general inclination is to be close to the center. It’s a very small world of Beltway discourse, where Tom Friedman is an important thinker, David Brooks is a serious conservative and Megan McArdle represents the Resistance.
Q/ Who are some interesting voices on the left?
A/ One of the benefits of the dark political moment we’re going through is that there are a lot of interesting political voices on the left, people who aren’t ideologues but smart and creative — Naomi Klein, Sarah Smarsh, Matt Stoller, Dean Baker, to name just a few. But these are people who aren’t going to get hired at the Post or Times. They present a vision of politics that doesn’t exist in the world of Fred Hiatt and James Bennet. (The Post and Times op-ed page editors).