Favorite Colmunist(s)

March 4, 2004 | 28 comments
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It’s completely off-topic, but I saw Greg’s comment about Maureen Dowd, and thought that it might be fun to start a discussion of our favorite, and / or least favorite, columnists.

Like Greg, I’m not a particularly big fan of many of the NYT crew. The top of the list is probably Friedman and Kristof, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to read either of them. Krugman is very good when talking about economics, and an awful, one-note song when talking about politics — and he talks about politics far more than he talks about economics. Safire’s Magazine column is good, but his op-eds don’t usually appeal to me. And as for Maureen Dowd, I think Josh Chafetz’s discussion of the “Immutable Laws of Dowd” sums up many of the problems.

Outside of the NYT, I’ve liked what I’ve read by Anne Applebaum (but I must admit I don’t read all that much of her stuff); I find both Zuckerman and John Leo (U.S. News) to be awful, and Rick Reilly (Sports Illustrated) to be underrated. Of the Corner crowd, Jonah is the best, and Derbyshire is clearly the worst (yuck!). (Derbyshire and the despicable Alexander Cockburn are the two I detest most.)

The really fun question is what line-up I would assemble if I could pick the NYT columnists. I think I would choose:

1. Gregg Easterbrook. Hands down, the best columnist around today. Writes a hilarious football column with political asides; writes regularly for the New Republic and The Atlantic (the #2 and #1 magazines in politics, repectively, in my opinion; the Weekly Standard comes in at #3); and he now has a blog which is generally very good too.

2. Eve Tushnet. She’s been published a few times — Weekly Standard, a Jewish World Review column. She also has a well-known blog. It’s clear that she’s a fantastic writer.

(Yes, my #1 choice is related to a federal judge and my #2 is related to a law professor). I would substitute those two for Dowd and Brooks in a heartbeat.

It’s a little less clear-cut after those two. I think I would want to add in Eugene Volokh — he’s an excellent writer with broad range and he is not afraid to defend controversial ideas. Perhaps he could sub out Krugman. I think Krugman would be an ideal guest columnist. His economic stuff remains great, but economics doesn’t provide enough grist for a twice-weekly column, and when he’s low on econo-grist, he talks (screeches) politics instead.

Others who should be considered (I’m not exactly sure in what order): Michael Kinsley, Christopher Hitchens, Larry Lessig, Nate Oman, Heidi Bond, Dahlia Lithwick, Josh Marshall. (Maybe Slate should just take over the NYT op-ed page). I used to like both Andrew Sullivan and Mickey Kaus a lot more, but in my opinion they both got less interesting when they became hawks — Andrew Sullivan is at his best writing about culture, not war.

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28 Responses to Favorite Colmunist(s)

  1. Renee on March 4, 2004 at 11:48 pm

    I loved Mike Royko’s columns when I was in high school.

    I enjoy Thomas Sowell, Cal Thomas, and Molly Ivans (well, alright, only to express disbelief in her case).

    Oh, and I know Dave Barry doesn’t really qualify as an op/ed columnist but you gotta admit he has a hilarious outlook on life.

  2. ben on March 4, 2004 at 11:59 pm

    I’m no political theorist, but I like John Leo, second Dave Barry, and (though he’s been scorned here before and I don’t always agree with him) Orson Scott Card always has interesting opinions on just about everything:)

  3. Clark Goble on March 5, 2004 at 12:54 am

    I’ve always like Robert Kagan and Fred Kaplan. I don’t always agree with them (actually I frequently disagree) but I always enjoy reading them.

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/opinion/columns/kaganrobert/

    http://slate.msn.com/?querytext=kaplan&id=3944

  4. brayden on March 5, 2004 at 3:24 am

    So it looks as though you’re also accepting nominations for bloggers who are not yet columnists but might someday be. If so, I nominate Daniel Davies. No blogger writes better than he does about such a wide variety of issues. He’d make an excellent NY Times columnist.

    Here are some of his posts at Crooked Timber. http://www.crookedtimber.org/daniel.html

  5. Logan on March 5, 2004 at 9:47 am

    Great thread, Kaimi. I like Newsweek much better than US News for opinion. George Will and Anna Quindlen who do the back page both excellent writers and very intelligent, and I really like Fareed Zakaria’s take on international stuff.

    I also totally dig the “leaders” pieces in The Economist (they have a policy of anonimity, so you don’t know who writes each piece). More than agreeing with them every time, I find the perspective of an international “newspaper” that still pays a lot of attention to the US refreshing. While not necessarily unbiased, they are impartial, if that makes sense.

    My very favorite, though, is Jude Wanniski. He was an associate editor at the Wall Street Journal in the 70′s (you know, before they were quite as hawkish and partisan as they are now — although I still read its opinion page). Now he has his own economic consulting firm, but he puts out a few articles a week. He’s certainly an acquired taste — he’s heavy on economics and a little full of himself, but I like him. And he’s remarkably accurate in his assessment of the future consequences of current happenings.

  6. Melissa on March 5, 2004 at 10:16 am

    I like John Leo at US News and World Report too.

    I once called him to ask if he’d do a story on pornography in a Yale classroom. Some of my students (and I) were upset about explicit images that had been shown but felt bullied by the administration to keep quiet about it since most of their reasons were religious. (I stood up and walked out at that beginning of class when the first slide was shown, but the outrage from some of my students indicated that the ensuing images had gotten progressively worse)

    Mr. Leo was kind enough to call me back and explain that even though this is the kind of story he often covered, if the students weren’t willing to go on record then there was no story. Unfortunately, none of them were willing (least of all my foreign Jesuit student who had been told by the administration that he was to “keep an open mind about everything in the classroom even if those things contradicted his beliefs.” This student felt like this had been a condition of his enrollment and was scared to death about speaking out) so that was that.

    Whoops, how did this comment end up about me? Needless to say, I think Leo’s pieces on religious and political issues in universities are his best.

  7. Steve Evans on March 5, 2004 at 10:43 am

    I already posted this on the “great sermons” thread, but I really enjoy Thomas L. Friedman’s op-eds in the times. A reasoned, well-balanced perspective on most issues.

    I’ll second the nomination for Easterbrook as well.

    Cross-posting like this is a great way to get my blog stats up. Soon I’ll break into the top echelon!! I haven’t enjoyed stats this much since we baptized that dog on my mission.

  8. Adam Greenwood on March 5, 2004 at 11:01 am

    Derbyshire is great.

    Rick Reilly is overrated. He has good columns but they alternate too much with self-indulgent snoozefests.

    SI’s Steve Rushin writes the best column out there, political, sports, whatever. They’re masterpieces. His counterfactual on NBA players staying in college was humorous, poignant, and argumentative in the best sense of the word.

  9. Kristine on March 5, 2004 at 11:53 am

    H.L. Mencken!

  10. Nate Oman on March 5, 2004 at 11:54 am

    I second Logan’s comments about the Economist. “Lexington” (whoever he or she is) is one of the best regular collumns on American politics.

  11. Kaimi on March 5, 2004 at 1:34 pm

    Adam,

    Derbyshire is great? That surprises me, coming from you. He’s definitely an above-average talented writer and wordsmith. But his use of those talents has made me lose all respect for him.

    In my mind, the capstone in the case against Derb has to be his column explaining that conservative women are, as a group, beautiful, while liberal women are, as a group, sluts. Also, liberal women are ugly sluts — that’s a corrollary to the fact that conservative women are beautiful.

    See http://www.nationalreview.com/derbyshire/derbyshire020801.shtml

    That column strikes me as offensive on so many levels it’s hard to name them all. It places women in the Madonna-whore dichotomy again (conservative Madonnas, liberal whores). It seeks to demean women who disagree with Derb’s politics by attacking not their politics but their looks and their morality — critiques which among the basest things a man could ever stoop to saying. It resurrects the inequality in treatment of male versus female immorality — women who have sex are bad, while men aren’t (note that Derb doesn’t say “Liberal men are all cassanovas” because that’s a compliment for men; he just calls liberal women sluts).

    Finally, I find it offensive because it seems like a base attempt to pander to the lowest common denominator. There are certainly many very intelligent and thoughtful Corner and NRO readers, but there is a definite contingent made up of readers who say things like “all liberals are dumber than all conservatives” and believe it (similar lowest-common-denominator types exist on the other side of the political spectrum, too). Derb is an intelligent guy himself, and is deliberately using his talent to pander to the rabble with columns like that one. Hence my dislike.

    P.S. I had these views confirmed earlier this week; Derb’s recent Corner entry equating prison rape to gay marriage was, in my opinion, another example of offensively bad judgment.

  12. Aaron Brown on March 5, 2004 at 1:39 pm

    I never tire of Andrew Sullivan, Jonah Goldberg, Christopher Hitchens, Thomas Sowell or Eugene Volokh.

    Aaron B

  13. Greg Call on March 5, 2004 at 2:34 pm

    Mencken? No fair Kristine.
    Sports is much better than politics as a subject matter for short, timely, fun columns. I’ll take Roger Angell, Rob Neyer, and Buster Olney (I’m with Adam on Reilly). Non-sports, I like Adam Gopnik, Jeff Toobin, and James Surowieki of the NYer (which is the only general interest print magazine I read consistently).

  14. Brent on March 5, 2004 at 2:38 pm

    Perhaps this merely shows our differences or perhaps I am one of the “lowest common denominator”, but I too like Derbyshire. Not every column is a home run, and sometimes I find myself scratching my head or completely uninterested, but I do enjoy a great deal of what he writes. I also like Stanley Kurtz who writes regularly for NRO along with some of the other regular NRO contributors. Wesley Pruden writes a good column on politics which is often insightful and witty.

  15. Clark Goble on March 5, 2004 at 3:38 pm

    I kind of lost respect with Christopher Hitchens with his rather brutal hatchet job of Mel Gibson last week in Slate. I can fully respect those highly critical of The Passion and the worries about anti-semitism. But Hitchens essay was outright mean and distorting and (in my mind) very hypocritical.

  16. travis on March 5, 2004 at 6:57 pm

    helen-freaking-thomas is my nemesis. reading anything she has written can ruin my day. here’s what i think of the forum address she gave at BYU last fall: http://www.all-encompassingly.com/archives/000167.php. when i read ann coulter, jonah goldberg, mark steyn, or james lileks, all seems right with the world again.

  17. Aaron Brown on March 5, 2004 at 7:09 pm

    Clark — I take your point about Hitchens. I haven’t yet seen The Passion myself, but Hitchens’ review was the most over-the-top that I’ve read. I must say, though, that I enjoy Hitchens’ flair for insult and scathing rhetoric, and even when I don’t agree with his politics, I almost always think he’s a fun read.

    Travis — Without a doubt, the single worst speech I ever attended during three years at Harvard was given by Helen Thomas. I was dumbfounded by the sophmoric, juvenile, mindless rant that she treated us to. It was truly an embarassing spectacle. I don’t care what your politics are, but after spending 100 years at the White House, you really should be able to sound like you’ve at least graduated from highschool. (She didn’t.)

    Aaron B

  18. Nate Oman on March 5, 2004 at 7:38 pm

    “I was dumbfounded by the sophmoric, juvenile, mindless rant that she treated us to.”

    Sounds like some of the professors that I encountered at Harvard during my three years there….

  19. lyle on March 5, 2004 at 7:51 pm
  20. Geoff Matthews on March 5, 2004 at 8:20 pm

    I’m a big fan of Mark Steyn, and being expat Canadian isn’t why. I’d say that he’s the best columnist out there right now.
    Ann Coulter is akin to political junkfood. She is entertaining, but not filling.
    I like Robert Novak and Jon Leo, but Mike Royko was head and shoulders above them (I read him in high school as well).

  21. Aaron Brown on March 5, 2004 at 8:25 pm

    Trust me, Nate, Thomas was worse.

    Aaron B

  22. lyle on March 5, 2004 at 8:26 pm

    actually…the one i cut/pasted worx fine…but the one in your thread goes elsewhere? weird…i’m not tech savy enuff to get this.

  23. Ady Hahn on March 5, 2004 at 10:57 pm

    I like Victor Davis Hanson and Mark Steyn. Ann Coulter is good for a laugh or two.

    I can’t really say which columnists I dislike because I stop reading stuff that bores and irritates me.

  24. Matt Evans on March 6, 2004 at 1:24 am

    I like all of the main conservative writers, Bill Kristol, George Will, Michael Barone, Jonah Goldberg, Mark Steyn, WSJ OpinionJournal.

    I always like the analysis of Mickey Kaus and Bill Saletan at Slate.com.

    Eugene Volokh is brilliant, a lucid writer, and eminently fair and civil. He’s also blogged a few emails I’ve sent him, for which I’m grateful. (So did Jonah, too, but his was just a one-line Corner link.)

    I read Andrew Sullivan regularly but have started to tire of him. He writes so much, and familiarity has bred contempt.

    Stuart Taylor is the best legal analyst; Dahlia Lithwick is a snide punk.

    Jonathan Chait usually has interesting things to say.

    As for NYTimes editorialists, I like Tom Friedman and occassionally David Brooks, seldom like Bill Safire, never like Krugman, and can’t stand Dowd — what a clown.

    My favorite lefty is Matthew Yglesias. I also like Joe Klein at Time for political analysis and Fareed Zakharia at Newsweek for foreign reporting.

    I really wish James Lileks would produce a program for public radio. For some reason, every time I read him I think he’d be great on radio. (And every time I suffer through the Diane Rehm show I really wish he’d do it).

    As for a general political site, RealClearPolitics.com is great. He always points to lots of great political columns.

  25. Clark Goble on March 6, 2004 at 3:55 am

    Matt, you don’t like the Diane Rehm show? To me it is one of the few places in the media where you get good interviews with knowledgeable people. Occasionally she has *really* bad days in interviews. For instance Thursday she did an interview with the Bush science guy which was very embarrassing.

    http://www.wamu.org/dr/2004/drarc_040301.html#thursday

  26. Matt Evans on March 6, 2004 at 6:39 pm

    Diane Rehm’s show is the worst weekday program carried on the NPR station I listen to. Most of her guests are incredibly condescending. Many of her female authors of humanities and psychology subjects are especially irksome. They clearly think they’re brilliant and wise, yet in an attempt to express sympathy and concern, adopt an insufferable style and tone.

  27. clark goble on March 8, 2004 at 3:41 pm

    That’s funny Matt as it is one of the few shows I *never* miss. (Well, I admit I skip a lot of the shows on books – but the political ones I love)

  28. Adam Greenwood on March 9, 2004 at 11:23 am

    Kaimi,
    I’m surprised that you’re surprised. I’m glad that, till recently, you still had a false image of me.

    Mr. Derbyshire is indeed an above-average wordsmith. That is to damn him with faint praise. As for his beyond-the-pale remarks, I would not characterize them the way you do.

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