Why Is Bob Herbert Boring?

WHY IS BOB HERBERT BORING?….More than likely, you love Paul Krugman and hate David Brooks. Or vice versa. But at least you feel something about them. Ditto for the rest of the New York Times’ stable of columnists. Except for one of them: Bob Herbert. In the October issue of the Monthly, T.A. Frank tries to figure out what’s wrong:

Herbert has one of the most powerful megaphones in the world with which to move elite opinion — that of policymakers, journalists, entertainers, businesspeople, and the millions of middle-class readers of the New York Times — and yet he doesn’t move it. Twice a week, Herbert yells at them for their indifference. Twice a week, they slam the door and run out for a joyride with badboy David Brooks. If Herbert is a bridge between the problems that are neglected and the people who can fix them, then he should be closed for inspection.

Bob Herbert and his fans disagree with me, naturally. Herbert would say that he has helped shift public opinion on issues such as the suppression of black votes in Florida, the rendition of Maher Arar to Syria, and the death penalty. But what I see is that his most influential audience isn’t usually paying attention. Maybe that’s the fault of Bob Herbert, or maybe it’s the fault of Beltway insularity, or maybe it’s the fault of life itself. But anyone who wants to advance these crucial issues must figure out the answer to this question: Why is Bob Herbert boring?

That’s a harsh question. But it’s true, as a Nexis search confirms, that Herbert almost never drives the media agenda. People don’t agree with him, and they don’t disagree with him. They just ignore him — and the blogosphere is no better. A quick check of Google Blog returns about 100,000 hits for Krugman and Dowd and about 50,000 for Brooks, Friedman, and Rich. And Herbert, who is perhaps more reliably liberal and more reliably correct than any of the others? He gets 15,000 hits.

Why? I won’t spoil the ending, but it turns out that Frank’s piece has some surprisingly interesting things to say about Herbert’s boredom quotient. Go read it. And when you’re done, go read Herbert’s latest column, about GOP dirty tricks in the state of California. Better yet, wait until midnight to click that link: that’s when the Times paywall dies its long-awaited death and the whole world can read Herbert again.

Of course, the whole world will also be able to read Maureen Dowd once again. There’s a cloud for every silver lining, isn’t there?