A suggested reading list for President Obama

His favorite newspaper columnists are old and boring. Here's what the president should be reading.


Alex Pareene
October 27, 2010 10:10PM (UTC)

Yesterday, a GQ profile of White House press secretary Robert Gibbs revealed that despite his known contempt for political journalists and cable news pundits, President Obama reads -- and respects -- some of the nation's most predictable, bland newspaper opinion columnists. "My impression is that he reads a lot of columnists," the New York Times' David Brooks said, "and therefore he sort of cares about what they say." I referred to these columnists -- specifically Brooks, Thomas Friedman, E.J. Dionne and Gerald Seib -- as "awful." I stand by that characterization. But a number of readers wrote in to ask what columnists I'd recommend the president read instead.

Well, to start with, the newspaper opinion column, as a form, is basically obsolete. Most syndicated columnists have been locked into their jobs for years, and job security has sapped them of insight. Line up the columnists for our few remaining major papers and their nationally syndicated brethren and you'll find few women and almost no minorities. Most of them have been at it for 20 years and haven't had an original thought in 10. Ideologically, they range from far-right to a hair left of center, without even any genuine libertarians (as opposed to Republicans who pretend to have libertarian sympathies).

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But if the president wants newspaper columnists, because he's still laboring under the impression that newspaper columnists control the elite conversation, I guess I recommend Krugman (whom I'm sure he already reads) and Harold Meyerson at the Post. And, why not, Michael Kinsley at Politico. The Wall Street Journal's single tolerable columnist -- Thomas Frank -- has decamped to Harper's. There are plenty of others with whom I usually agree, or who are at least not embarrassing hacks, but very few of them ever write anything surprising or unexpected. And the president -- like most D.C. politicos -- desperately needs voices from outside the bubble of elite opinion.

So someone should print out the Internet for the commander in chief's morning briefing. Start, naturally, with everyone at Salon, from Glenn Greenwald to Joan Walsh. Then they can look to the War Room blogroll. Off the top of my head, I would be thrilled to learn that the president was reading some of these bloggers and commentators and journalists: Adam Serwer. Felix Salmon. Julian Sanchez. Moe Tkacik. Radley Balko. Eugene Volokh. Cord Jefferson. Jonathan Bernstein. Will Wilkinson. Latoya Peterson. Jamelle Bouie.

And, for good measure, some old guys who are better than Friedman and Brooks: Doug Henwood. David Cay Johnston. Al Giordano.

That's just a start! The internet has perhaps hundreds more writers who are more interesting -- and who represent a greater swath of American opinion -- than Friedman, Brooks, Dionne, and Seib. You may have you own suggestions. Feel free to share them!


Alex Pareene

Alex Pareene writes about politics for Salon and is the author of "The Rude Guide to Mitt." Email him at apareene@salon.com and follow him on Twitter @pareene

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