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New York Times Self-Parody Watch: Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps Department

The New York Times chooses Frank Bruni for its op-ed page. Eric Alterman has something to say:

Think Again: The Times’ Frank Bruni, or How to Succeed in Journalism Without Really Caring (About Issues): New York Times editorial page editor Andrew Rosenthal announced the appointment of Frank Bruni to the august position of op-ed page columnist this week.... Shortly after the 2000 election, Richard Wolffe, then a reporter for the Financial Times, summed up what went wrong in the coverage. “The Gore press corps is about how they didn't like Gore, didn't trust him. … over here, [on the Bush press plane], we were writing only about the trivial stuff because he charmed the pants off us.” The New York Times’s Frank Bruni, however, did not think he or his colleagues were to blame. Rather, the trivial nature of his work was apparently the fault of the voters. “Modern politics wasn't just superficial because the politicians made it so,” he argued. “It was superficial because the voters let it be.”

For starters, in his 2001 campaign book, Ambling Through History, Bruni described the first presidential debate between Bush and Gore as a dispiriting debacle for Bush. He wrote: 

By any objective analysis, Bush was at best mediocre in the first debate, in Boston. … in all of [the debates], he was vague. A stutter sometimes crept into his voice. An eerie blankness occasionally spread across his features. He made a few ridiculous statements. … I remember watching the first debate from one of the seats inside the auditorium and thinking that Bush was in the process of losing the presidency.

Funny, but the guy who covered that very same debate for The New York Times—a fellow by the name of “Frank Bruni”—wrote it up rather differently. Nothing at all appeared in his coverage about Bush’s “ridiculous statements.” Instead, Times readers got the following:

It was not enough for Vice President Al Gore to venture a crisp pronunciation of Milosevic, as in Slobodan, the Yugoslav president who refuses to be pried from power. … Mr. Gore had to go a step further, volunteering the name of Mr. Milosevic’s challenger, Vojislav Kostunica. Then he had to go a step beyond that, noting that Serbia plus Montenegro equals Yugoslavia. … and as Mr. Gore loped effortlessly through the Balkans, barely able to suppress his self-satisfied grin, it became ever clearer that the point of all the thickets of consonants and proper nouns was not a geopolitical lesson. … it was more like oratorical intimidation, an unwavering effort to upstage and unnerve an opponent whose mind and mouth have never behaved in a similarly encyclopedic fashion.

So the problem with Al Gore was the fact that he could remember and correctly pronounce the names of world leaders with whom the United States had just been involved in war. This apparently offended Bruni and he thought his readers should share his offense—at least until he wrote a book about it...

As does Jamison Foser:

NYT's Frank Bruni complains that he didn't have fun on Obama's date night: See, the Obamas dined at Blue Hill, a restaurant that Bruni concedes is "excellent" and "romantic" and "very much among the city’s standouts."  All of which would seem to make it an ideal choice for Date Night.  But the Obamas failed to consider whether their meal at Blue Hill would be sufficiently exhilarating for their uninvited third wheel, Frank Bruni.


In the very predictability of this choice, in its all-too-neat squaring with the officially sanctioned food agenda, in its absence of surprise or abandon, isn’t it ever so slightly disappointing? Just a little too pat and controlled?

During the 2008 campaign Mr. Obama sometimes came across — and was often portrayed — as someone almost joylessly disciplined and restrained around food, and that discipline and restraint went hand in hand with an unflappability that, on occasions, made it difficult for him to connect.

It would have been fun to see the president contradict that impression and play against type when he and the first lady sat down to dinner in New York. It would have been interesting to watch him bust loose and reach for something rich, messy, decadent, gluttonous: a plate of fatty lamb ribs at Resto; some pâtés and terrines at Bar Boulud; one of the offal dishes at Babbo; that killer bone-in New York strip at Minetta Tavern; the oyster pan roast at the John Dory . . . I'm sure the Obamas are kicking themselves for not thinking about how they could make their date more fun for Frank Bruni. 

But is Bruni really suggesting that the Obamas' restaurant was too predictable -- and that they instead should have gone to a restaurant (Babbo) owned by Mario Batali?  Batali is, no doubt, a fine chef.  But is it even possible to imagine a more predictable choice for out-of-towners in New York looking for an upscale meal than a Batali restaurant?... Anyway, the point is -- and I can't believe this needs to be spelled out -- the Obamas' Date Night really isn't about entertaining Frank Bruni, no matter what Bruni thinks...