Stephen Karlson (shkarlson) wrote in 50bookchallenge,
Stephen Karlson
shkarlson
50bookchallenge

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POLICY BASED ON ANECDOTE FAILS.

I'm no fan of Thomas Friedman, spinmeister for the technocrats, peddler of policy nostrums in sound-bites, flattener of worlds.  Neither is Belén Fernández, whose The Imperial Messenger: Thomas Friedman at Work is part of Verso Press's Counterblast series, touted as challenges to "the apologists of Empire and Capital." The Puritan and Leveller counterblasts were short pamphlets, whilst Imperial Messenger is a book that really requires careful reading.

Book Review No. 35 will highlight the observations Ms Fernández makes about Mr Friedman's style of argument, if in fact you can call it argument.  Her book sorts a number of his columns into sections called "America," "The Arab/Muslim World," and "The Special Relationship."  Let us stipulate that the author is the sort of Third World-o-phile who takes a more sympathetic view of the antics of Moslems in general and Palestinians in particular than do I, and that she's more inclined to view the shortcomings of Latin American failed states as Made in Washington than as the fruits of the late Roman Empire and Bolivaran socialism.

Fine.  We can debate that.  We can debate that on stronger grounds than those underpinning a Thomas Friedman column.  To be blunt, there's d**n little in a Friedman column for me to rely on, should we engage in such a debate.

The preface, page xi, is a good place to start.  "Friedman's writing is characterized by a reduction of complex international phenomena to simplistic rhetoric and theorems that rarely withstand the test of reality."  In reality, a Thomas Friedman article never comes close to producing a theorem, but so it always is with argument by anecdote.  Mr Friedman's own words, introducing the concluding remarks, page 135, is a good place to finish.  "When widely followed public figures feel free to say anything, without any fact checking, we have a problem."

Yup.  Fake News.  It's priceless, then, to have Mr Friedman lamenting a crisis of authority.  Ms Fernández and I would likely agree that Mr Friedman continuing to be an Honored Guest on Meet The Press is part of that crisis.  "Thomas Friedman as pope, Chuck Todd as loyal cardinal, Helene Cooper and Robert Costa managing the Index, and Danielle Pletka as Devil's Advocate."  As it was in the beginning, it is now and ever shall be, turf out the wise experts!

(Cross-posted to Cold Spring Shops.)
Tags: contemporary, essays, in the media, international, politics, scholarly, war
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