Thomas Friedman’s New York Times Colleagues Call Him an ‘Embarrassment’
Jewish New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman, often criticized for expressing anti-Israel views, was slammed by his own colleagues in an expose published on Tuesday by the New York Observer. The article came as a Friedman-penned Op-Ed in The Times on Wednesday claimed that a “Third Intifada is underway.”
The Observer said it interviewed some two-dozen current and former NYT staffers about a split between the news team and the editorial pages, run by Andrew Rosenthal, son of former NYT editorial leader AM Rosenthal, who publishes work by Friedman, a three-time Pulitzer Prize winner. The staffers’s concerns, as embodied in The Observer headline, ‘The Tyranny and Lethargy of the Times Editorial Page,’ were that, as one put it, the Op-Eds are “completely reflexively liberal, utterly predictable, usually poorly written and totally ineffectual,” and that the editorial page was frequently trounced by crosstown rival, the Wall Street Journal. Most of The Observer article criticizes Rosenthal’s vision and ability to manage a team that has grown to 14 employees, plus assistants, but staffers reserved plenty of venom for Friedman’s role in destroying The Times editorial page.
The Observer quoted a former Times writer, now working elsewhere, who said, “I think the editorials are viewed by most reporters as largely irrelevant, and there’s not a lot of respect for the editorial page. The editorials are dull, and that’s a cardinal sin. They aren’t getting any less dull. As for the columnists, Friedman is the worst. He hasn’t had an original thought in 20 years; he’s an embarrassment. He’s perceived as an idiot who has been wrong about every major issue for 20 years, from favoring the invasion of Iraq to the notion that green energy is the most important topic in the world even as the financial markets were imploding. Then there’s Maureen Dowd, who has been writing the same column since George H. W. Bush was president.”
A current Times staffer agreed: “Tom Friedman is an embarrassment. I mean there are multiple blogs and Tumblrs and Twitter feeds that exist solely to make fun of his sort of blowhardy bull****.”
Another writer said, “I just think it’s bad, and nobody is acknowledging that they suck, but everybody in the newsroom knows it, and we really are embarrassed by what goes on with Friedman. I mean anybody who knows anything about most of what he’s writing about understands that he’s, like, literally mailing it in from wherever he is on the globe. He’s a travel reporter. A joke. The guy gets $75,000 for speeches and probably charges the paper for his first-class airfare.”
The Observer‘s take-down coincided with Friedman publishing another controversial piece from Ramallah, where he saw that a “Third Intifada” had already been launched. The World Jewish Daily, in an early morning news headline report, called it a “Bad Day for the Moustache,” and, in its own editorial, wrote that the criticism in The Observer “may give more objective readers some pause before taking his prophecies at face value.”
On Wednesday, Friedman wrote, “But being here, it’s obvious that a Third Intifada is underway,” filing from Ramallah. “It’s the one that Israel always feared most — not an intifada with stones or suicide bombers, but one propelled by nonviolent resistance and economic boycott. But this Third Intifada isn’t really led by Palestinians in Ramallah. It’s led by the European Union in Brussels and other opponents of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank across the globe. Regardless of origin, though, it’s becoming a real source of leverage for the Palestinians in their negotiations with Israel.”
He concludes, “If Israel really wanted to slow down the boycott campaign, it would declare that as long as Kerry is trying to forge a deal, and there is hope for success, Israel will freeze all settlement activity to give peace its best chance. Unlikely, I know. But one thing I know for sure: this incessant trashing of Kerry by Israeli ministers, and their demand that Palestinians halt all ‘incitement’ — but that Israel be free to keep building settlements in their face — is not winning Israel friends in Europe or America. It is only energizing the boycotters.”
Friedman’s column the week before was also criticized. It appeared to include leaked details of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s proposal for a framework peace agreement, a key milestone in his peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, which he painted as a panacea for both sides.
The piece begins, “It is pretty clear now that Secretary of State John Kerry will either be Israel’s diplomatic salvation or the most dangerous diplomatic fanatic Israel has ever encountered. But there isn’t much room anymore for anything in between. But if either or both don’t agree, Kerry would have to take his mission to its logical, fanatical conclusion and declare the end of the negotiated two-state solution. (If not, he loses his credibility.)”
And concludes, that, with the framework agreement in hand, “If and when that happens, Israel, which controls the land, would have to either implement a unilateral withdrawal, live with the morally corrosive and globally isolating implications of a permanent West Bank occupation or design a new framework of one-state-for-two-people. So that’s where we are: Israelis and Palestinians need to understand that Kerry’s mission is the last train to a negotiated two-state solution. The next train is the one coming at them.”