OK, why am I writing this? We all know that New York Times columnist David Brooks deals in false statistics, he’s willing and able to get factual matters wrong, he doesn’t even fact-check his own reporting, his response when people point out his mistakes is irritation rather than thanks, he won’t run a correction even if the entire basis for one of his columns is destroyed, and he thinks that he thinks technical knowledge is like the recipes in a cookbook and can be learned by rote. A friend of facts, he’s not.
But we know all that. So I was not surprised when Adam Sales pointed me to this recent article by David Zweig, “The facts vs. David Brooks: Startling inaccuracies raise questions about his latest book.”
Unlike Zweig (or his headline writer), I was hardly startled that Brooks had inaccuracies. Accuracy ain’t Brooks’s game.
And Jonathan Falk pointed me to this review by Mark Liberman of many instances where Brooks got things wrong.
Amazingly enough, the errors pointed out by Sales and Liberman don’t even overlap with the errors that I’d noticed in some Brooks columns—the anti-Semitic education statistics and his completely wrong guess about the social backgrounds of rich people.
Anyway, this is all known, and my first response was a flippant, Yeah, no kidding, David Brooks is like Gregg Easterbrook without the talent.
Just to be clear: this is not meant as a backhand slam on Easterbrook, a columnist who, like Brooks, loves to quote statistics but can get them horribly wrong. Easterbrook is a good writer, a fun football columnist, and sparkles with ideas. He really does have talent.
So here’s my question
Anyway, to continue, here’s my question: How is it that Brooks, who has such a reputation for screwing things up, continues to occupy his high post in journalism? Where did he get his Isiah Thomas-like ability to keep bouncing back from adversity, his Ray Keene-like ability to violate the norms of journalistic ethics?
And it’s not just the New York Times. Here, for example, is a puff piece that appeared on NPR a couple months ago. The reporter didn’t get around to asking, Hey, David Brooks, what about those fake statistics you published??
What will it take for Brooks’s external reputation to catch up to his internal reputation? Lots of things have come out over the years and it hasn’t happened yet. But this new story that came in, maybe it will make a difference. Straw that broke the camel’s back and all that.
For example, that NPR story quoted Brooks quoting a statistic that, according to Zweig’s thorough investigation, got “nearly every detail” wrong. NPR reporters don’t like to be patsies, right? Publishing fake numbers in the NYT is one thing—heck, Brooks has columns to fill every week, he can’t be picky and choosy about his material. But promulgating this in other news outlets, that could annoy people.
And, once Brooks loses the constituency of his fellow journalists, what does he have left?
At that point, he’s Dennis Miller without the jokes.