The following is an excerpt from a review for Truthout by Robert Jensen, journalism professor at the University of Texas at Austin, of my book The Imperial Messenger: Thomas Friedman at Work. Also included in the review is an interview with me.
The Imperial Messenger is currently the Truthout Progressive Pick of the Week.
How does a journalist with a track record of bad predictions and a penchant for superficial analysis – a person paid to reflect about the world yet who seems to lack the capacity for critical self-reflection – end up being treated as an oracle?
The answer is simple: Friedman tells the privileged, and those who aspire to privilege, what they want to hear in a way that makes them feel smart; his trumpeting of US affluence and power are sprinkled with pithy-though-empty anecdotes, padded with glib turns of phrases. He’s the perfect oracle for a management-focused, advertising-saturated, dumbed-down, imperial culture that doesn’t want to come to terms with the systemic and structural reasons for its decline. In Friedman’s world, we’re always one clichéd big idea away from the grand plan that will allow us to continue to pretend to be the shining city upon the hill that we have always imagined we were/are/will be again.
As a reporter, columnist, author or speaker, Friedman’s secret to success is in avoiding the journalistic ideals of “speaking truth to power” or “afflicting the comfortable.” Those ideals are too rarely met in mainstream journalism, but Friedman never goes very far beyond parroting the powerful and comforting the comfortable. Friedman sees the world from the point of view of the privileged, adopting in his own words the view of “a tourist with an attitude” when reporting on the rest of the world.
Here’s the problem with that mindset: Around the world, American tourists routinely are experienced as boorish and smug. Around the world, people smile at American tourists and take their money, all the while despising their arrogance and ignorance. Tourists never quite catch on, wondering why the “natives” don’t appreciate them.
In her examination of Friedman’s work, Belén Fernández explains the danger in America’s affection for its No. 1 Tourist Journalist. Her book, “The Imperial Messenger,” is as much about the cultural and political crises in the United States as it is about Friedman’s flaws. This larger focus transforms what could have been a sarcastic hit piece that took easy shots at Friedman’s most mangled prose into a thoughtful meditation from a young journalist willing to state the obvious: the emperor’s messenger has no clothes.
Click here to read the review in its entirety at Truthout.