An Unethical Times Columnist Says Goodbye


Let me begin with the obligatory “Good!” Frank Bruni, one of the New York Times’ stable of irresponsible left-biased op-ed writers, filed his final column in today’s Sunday Times. How bad is the Times’ opinion-writing team? This bad: I wouldn’t put Bruni in the same circle of Pundit Hell as his colleagues like Charles M. Blow, Thomas Freidman, Michelle Goldberg, Ezra Klein, David Leonhardt and Paul Krugman, and yet he has a substantial dossier at Ethics Alarms, including a well-deserved Ethics Dunce in 2015. He had had authored a near parody of a “this guy is conservative, so we know he’s stupid” rant about then Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who had just dropped out of the GOP race for President. I wrote to conclude that post (this is long, but I forgot I had written it, and it’s good):

“Bruni clearly thinks Walker is stupid and evil. You can tell from various hints in his column that he had a slew of veiled slurs based on Walker’s lack of a college degree loaded and ready should Walker become a viable candidate, and of course opposing unions is evil. Actually, it’s nearly evil to pretend a public union is the same as a union, which Bruni does by not making the distinction. (This is the progressive way: immigrants and illegal immigrants are also the same thing, unworthy of distinction.) Public unions embody inherent conflicts of interest and a quid pro quo scam, which Walker, miraculously for a man with the intellect of a sea sponge, somehow grasps while brilliant progressives like Bruni do not.

Biases—which make all people stupi, but do not necessarily make them Republicans, which is a puzzlement––lead Bruni to an embarrassing display of confirmation bias. Today Walker-kickers all over the web were mocking him for an incident years ago in which he intended to write “mazel tov” in a letter to a Jewish constituent, and instead wrote: “Thank you again and Molotov.” Bruni, like the other Republican haters I have among my Facebook friends, see this as smoking gun proof that Walker is a moron. When someone you respect says something equally stupid, of course, it’s a meaningless gaffe. Joe Biden says more idiotic things in a week than Walker has in a lifetime, and Bruni will never cherry pick one of his verbal meltdowns. Obama, infamously, pronounces the “ps” in corps, a trust-busting error for a Commander in Chief, and not funny like using Molotov for “mazel tov.” Well, never mind: we all know Obama’s brilliant, so it doesn’t count. And we all know Bruni has never had an equally embarrassing howler caught by an editor or an intern. Imagine a world where your worst typo or “speak-o” would be held against you for the rest of your life. In my case, I think I’d have to head for the woodchipper.

“Total lack of awareness of one’s own flaws, biases and blatant inconsistencies is the true mark of intellectual deficiency. Walker realized when he couldn’t cut it as a Presidential candidate: what’s Bruni’s excuse for not reading his own tripe and realizing, ‘Gee, maybe it’s time to open that sex toy shop?’ He writes, ‘I’m weary and wary of politicians whose ambitions precede and eclipse any serious, necessary preparation for the office they seek. Walker is a perfect example.

Walker is a perfect example? Scott Walker has served as a governor of a large industrial state for five years before running for President. Barack Obama had no leadership preparation whatsoever, domestic or foreign, before daring to call himself Presidential timber. Ah, but you see, being prepared isn’t required if you are intelligent, which is defined as “agreeing with Frank Bruni.”

Interestingly, Bruni’s last column suggests that maybe he did realize that much of his product was the aforementioned “tripe.” It’s in the form of a mea culpa for past excesses that he chooses to own up to when it’s too late to reform. Nice. I call this a “McCain,” an honor Sen. John McCain earned when he lost the South Carolina Presidential primary and then announced that it was wrong for the state to still fly the Confederate flag, a position he conveniently never expressed when it might lose him some votes. To say I detest such conduct is an understatement. The conveniently late apology is not accepted: it has been delivered to make the miscreant feel unburdoned by his guilty conscience, but is a telling ethics breach on its own.

Here are some of Bruni’s final admissions….and as you read them, consider this: the New York Times employed this hack and gave him a regular platform for 10 years.

  • Reflecting on his many cheap shots, Bruni regrets not engaging in illumination rather than invective, writing, “I just swam with the snide tide. I did that too often. Many columnists do.” “Too often, ” in Bruni’s case, means “almost always.” But never mind, he says, “everybody does it.”
  • “I worried, and continue to worry, about the degree to which I and other journalists — opinion writers, especially — have contributed to the dynamics we decry: the toxic tenor of American discourse, the furious pitch of American politics, the volume and vitriol of it all.” Yeah? If that worried you, Frank, why didn’t you do something about it?
  • “I worry, too, about how frequently we shove ambivalence and ambiguity aside…But they don’t make for bold sentences or tidy talking points. So we pundits are merchants of certitude in a world where much is in doubt and many questions don’t have one right answer. As such, we may be encouraging arrogance and unyieldingness in our readers, viewers and listeners. And those attributes need no encouragement in America today.”

Gee, ya think, Frank?

  • “I don’t want to understate my overarching regard for journalists. The “fake news” that Donald Trump so incessantly and conveniently howled about wasn’t fake at all. It was enterprising and infinitely more truthful than Trump himself. I remain wowed not only by the reporting on his administration but also by reporters’ ability to weather the crude attacks on them.” Wow, nice suck-up, Frank. The fake news wasn’t fake at all, eh? If that isn’t signature significance for an unscrupulous and untrustworthy partisan hack, nothing is.

The New York Times literally trafficked in fake news during the Trump years, particularly with regard to the “evidence” of Trump’s Russian collusion, but so much more. Let’s see—I’ll check the “fake news” tag…here’s the first one that comes up, from February, when the Times planted the story that Officer Brian Sicknick was killed in the line of duty during the January 6 riot at the Capitol, and published it just in time to be used against President Trump during his Senate impeachment trial. I wrote, “It was being said so the public would believe it, and so Donald Trump would be convicted…based on false evidence and based on assertions the House managers either knew was untrue or had an ethical obligation to find out wasn’t true. The Times, meanwhile, left its story unchanged…until February 12, the day the Senate trial ended in an acquittal.”

I’m “wowed” about Times journalists too, but not for the reasons Frank is.

  • “And I feel no ambivalence when it comes to Trump and almost no regret about my denunciations of him. He’s an amoral, dangerous man who was unfit to be president. That needed to be said, even if saying it had no effect on his loyalists.” That’s a smoking gun statement from an Axis of Unethical Conduct soft coup agent. Once the electorate decided he should be President, Trump was by definition “fit to be President” ‘ Bruni could express his disagreement, but the “resistance” plot was far more than that: to keep telling the public that he was unfit every day, over and over, without regard to what he did. That’s what Bruni and his pals at the Times and the mainstream media engaged in, treating this President unlike every other President in our history. (Here, incidentally, is my list of Presidents since 1960 that I would deem “unfit” by my standards of leadership and character: Kennedy, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Bush I, Clinton, Bush II, Obama, and, yes, Trump. But all deserved at least a good faith opportunity to succeed, and only in the case of Trump did pundits and journalists ally with partisan opposition to make that as difficult as possible.
  • “We notice that we’re received best for certain perspectives; maybe television bookers put us on camera expecting particular bromides and broadsides; possibly we get paid for speaking engagements that are premised, at least tacitly, on our delivery of the same fare we’ve served before. So we keep serving it, until we’ve stopped re investigating and confirming the merit of it. It’s a profitable brand. But it’s also a trap.”

It’s only a trap if you have no integrity. I can honestly say that while I may have written essays that I felt later were excessive, or mistaken, or wrong, I never cut my opinions to conform with anyone’s favor or taste. Never. It’s grand that Bruni finally admits that he did that, but an opinion columnist who does it is untrustworthy and unethical.

Good riddance.



15 thoughts on “An Unethical Times Columnist Says Goodbye

  1. Here, incidentally, is my list of Presidents since 1960 that I would deem “unfit” by my standards of leadership and character: Kennedy, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Bush I, Clinton, Bush II, Obama, and, yes, Trump.

    Not Johnson? He had some pretty serious character issues.

    • All Presidents, with a very few few exceptions, have serious character issues. Johnson had all the tools to be a great President, natural leadership ability, and excellent experience.

  2. By your standards, this country’s leadership has been falling on its face since 1988. I find it telling that Johnson and Reagan are the only two presidents since 1960 who you exempt. Personally, I would not exempt LBJ. Although he had incredible political skill, his poor decisions speak for themselves about his good judgment, and his bullying conduct toward subordinates shows he was just that, a bully. As for Reagan, well, I’ve defended him here, so everyone should know where I stand, but I think you and I are in the minority. To most ordinary folks Reagan was a charlatan who kept his deteriorating mental state hidden from the world. I wonder if Biden will have the same reputation when his time in the White House is in the books. Nah. Couldn’t be.

    • Remember, I’m talking fitness, not success, and not policies. Trump was, on balance, a pretty successful President. The Washington Nationals won a World Series with a really sub-par manager, and he’s still there, but he’s objectively incompetent. Fitness doesn’t guarantee success either.

      JFK was a sociopath and a face man, lacking leadership experience or instincts. It was just moral luck that kept him from starting WW III. Nixon was intelligent and experienced, but he was emotionally damaged and ethically warped. Unfit. Ford was a low-level legislative plodder who would never be elected President; he fails the template. Carter was unfit because he literally didn’t grasp the office and was hesitant to use Presidential power. Bush I was a modern day Buchanan, a lifetime company man, never a leader, and when he had the power, he didn’t know what to do with it. Clinton, like Nixon, had all the tools, even moreso than Nixon, but was and is a sociopath. Sociopaths are not trustworthy. Unfit. Bush II was an empty suit and thus easily manipulated, like Harding, and was elected only because of his name…but I’d take him over his father. Obama was unfit because he lacked experience and was habitually indecisive, and we now know he, like his wife,literally didn’t like, much less love, the nation he was elected to lead.

      LBJ would have been considered one of the great Presidents in another time and era. He was missing key tools, like persuasive oratory, but he was a natural leader, had guts, and it is a tragedy that he got bogged down in Vietnam. Reagan is easy: he had great tools in his presence and ease before a camera, his acting ability, plus he had integrity and plenty of executive experience. He was past his prime for sure, but any criticism of his abilities is purely partisan.

      Most “ordinary folks” don’t understand the Presidency, history, or leadership. I do.

  3. It’s funny… The point you made about Obama… I did things like that all the time. I think, and I could be wrong in his case, but I think that pronunciation errors like that are the product of reading a word more often than (or without ever) hearing it.

    For the longest time I though guillotine was pronounced “Gill-o-tine”. How often does one get the opportunity to hear a word like that? Perhaps we should more often. Regardless! I read it in a book, and my internal dialogue pronounced it that way, and it stuck. By the time I finally heard “gwee-o-teen” (Someone smarter than me might want to correct my phonetics, but I think you get it). I’d been so used to my internal pronunciation that I was convinced the person actually saying the word properly was wrong. Not just wrong, but stupidly wrong, and it took me a long time to fix that. There were probably a dozen examples of things like that… I was a voracious reader when I was young. And other people have related the same to me. One of the funnier ones is one of my college friends, who had never heard the word “elite” spoken out loud, and to this day he pronounces it “e-light”.

    Scott’s mistake (“molotov” instead of “Mazel Tov”) could be the exact opposite problem: Hearing words without ever reading them. It could also be some “FU Autocorrect” or a brain fart. I don’t know.

    • HT, maybe it’s a Canada vs. U.S. thing, but anyone who’s the commander in chief of the U.S. military and has never managed to hear the Marine Corps properly pronounced (“The Core, The Core, The Core!”) is not fit to be president.

        • Of course he did. You’re kidding, right? You’re making fun a Trump Derangement Syndrome symptoms, right?

          Trump attended a military school for high school. Any American boy growing up in immeidate post WWII America would know all about the Marine Corps. What kid of that era didn’t know the Marine Corps Hymn?

          • I wasn’t making a joke, and what I’m hearing you say is that you’d give me odds?

            Well… You should have taken me up on that, because I searched the video speech archive, listened to a couple, and he referred to the Marine Corps multiple times, and correctly every time. I’m genuinely surprised, I wouldn’t blame anyone for not knowing that, maybe you have a point and my youthful Canadianity got in my way.

            • There’s also the Army Corps of Engineers. It’s just a funny word any boy of his vintage learns. Frankly, it’s astounding Barry Dunham didn’t learn it when he was in school in Hawaii or in college or law school. Astounding. Makes one wonder if Barry was paying attention.

  4. From Bruni’s wiki article:

    In April 2021, NYT Opinion Editor Kathleen Kingsbury announced that Bruni would be stepping down from his role as a columnist and joining Duke University as an endowed professor of journalism in June 2021.[2] After joining Duke, he will continue to write his NYT newsletter and remain a contributing opinion writer.

    Yikes. The guy’s going to teach journalism. And he’s still got his pulpit at the NYT.

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