10:51 p.m. September 8, 2013

Frank Bruni Wants To Sell You "The Nitty Gritty"

As any good columnist knows, one of the easiest ways to talk about a subject is to question why others are talking about it.

In this Sunday's New York Times, ever-inexplicable columnist Frank Bruni devotes 24 inches in print to chastising the media for focusing too much of the Syria conversation on "babble" and not enough on "the Syrians whose country is unraveling beyond all hope…" Indeed, Frank Bruni thinks it is so shameful that journalists are talking about these things, that he spends his entire column talking about them.

Bruni writes:

"...we owe this crossroads something more than standard operating procedure, something better than knee-jerk ruminations on the imminent vote in Congress as a test for Nancy Pelosi, as a referendum on John Boehner, as a conundrum for Mitch McConnell, as a defining moment for Barack Obama."

Having eliminated all the relevant politicians, Bruni remains determined to make Syria into a defining moment for Frank Bruni, whose foreign policy chops are limited to having once favorably reviewed a middle eastern restaurant.

Which is not to say that Bruni doesn't have some very clear answers about Syria. He generously spends two full paragraphs (out of twenty, I should point out) actually talking about the place. "Bomb Syria and there’s no telling how many innocent civilians will be killed… Don’t bomb Syria and there’s no guessing the lesson that the tyrants of the world will glean from our decision not to punish Bashar al-Assad…" The only option he leaves out is: "it's too bad we can't bomb Syria and not bomb Syria at the same time."

"We journalists ought to resist turning the Syria debate into the sort of reality television show that we turn so much of American political life into, a soap opera often dominated by the mouthiest characters rather than the most thoughtful ones."

(emphasis mine)

"We journalists" really need to stop paying attention to "the mouthiest characters" to stop them "creeping in" to our coverage. By way of example, Bruni explains that "in many places" he has read what Sarah Palin thinks of Syria and he also remembers reading about Donald Trump's thoughts on an intervention a few months back. He then tells of how on Friday, Politico published a report on Madonna's views on the matter. Then, finger firmly in the zeitgeist, Bruni wonders how long it will take before Beyonce chimes in. (Why stop there? Surely Sammy, Frank and Dino would have an opinion, were they still alive?)

"It’s easy for the media and our consumers to focus on recognizable figures, how they’re faring and what they’re saying (or, better yet, shouting). I even spotted recent reports on what Chris Christie wasn’t saying," Bruni types. Continuing, "He’s not the story, and neither is Paul or Rubio or the rest of them. What matters here are the complicated ethics and unpredictable ripple effects of the profound choice about to be made."

Employees Must Wash Hands; Your Mileage May Vary; Objects In Mirror May Be Closer Than They Appear.

"This type of coverage hasn't been the dominant one," Bruni acknowledges. "But plenty of it is creeping in." Perhaps it is creeping in because people like Frank Bruni are wasting precious space in major newspapers to talk about it? "Celebrities get clicks, while the nitty-gritty is a tougher sell," he informs us. Though, not as tough a sell as a cliche-filled column on foreign policy as seen by a food critic.

In closing, he writes "On a question of war and peace, we need nobler. We need the highest ground we can find." In Frank Bruni's case, he needs ground just high enough so that he can look down at us all from it.