January 13, 2007

Wrong and Rich

Radar magazine lists five pundits (David Brooks, Thomas Friedman, Peter Beinart, Jeffrey Goldberg, and Fareed Zakaria), who helped push America into the Iraq nightmare and whose careers have only prospered since then. And Radar lists four pundits who were right (William S. Lind, Robert Scheer, Jonathan Schell, and Scott Ritter) and have seen few (if any) rewards other than being able to say "I told you so." Schell of notes: "There doesn't seem to be a rush to find the people who were right about Iraq and install them in the mainstream media."

Yet, life is only getting sweeter for the boys who helped get us into this war. For example:

"Before the war [Tom Friedman] was charging less than $40,000 to give a speech; these days it's a rumored $65,000. And afterward the audiences are encouraged to scoop up copies of the World is Flat, his paean to corporate globalism that has been on the Times best-seller list for 91 weeks. The royalties certainly help defray the costs of a $9.3 million mansion in Bethesda and a second home in Aspen that—if the local phone book and Google Earth are to be trusted—is a massive chateau with its own lake on the swanky northern side of town, where Prince Bandar has his monstrosity."

Friedman is married to a billionaire's daughter, so he doesn't have to earn his Starwood mansion with the sweat of his brow, but it looks like he could, if collecting $65k per speech requires any sweat. (By the way, Prince Bandar's ski chalet is 55,000 square feet with a 17,000 square foot guest cottage.)

This reminds me of something I don't really understand: why affluent people will pay unbelievable amounts of money to attend a lecture so they can bask in the (one would think) unedifying physical presence of somebody like Tom Friedman, whom they can see for free on television practically every week. For instance, this season the Los Angeles Music Center Speaker Series charges $50 on up (way up) per lecture by Zakaria, George Will, or Jim Lehrer, who are all regulars on the free tube.

A couple of years ago, the big highlight of the season was Dan Rather, who was so popular he was the only speaker to appear on both the A and B series. Personally, having seen hundreds of hours of Ol' Dan on TV, my urge to shell out 50 clams to see him as a dot-like life form as viewed from the second balcony of the cavernous Dorothy Chandler Pavilion was limited.

I guess, the point, though, is that having seen Rather up close and personal on the idiot box for free for all those years, a lot of wealthy people were excited about being allowed to proffer cash offerings so they can worship him in the flesh from afar.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer


Anonymous said...

Perhaps they´re getting paid for their services.I mean for their neocon propaganda. The lectures tour is merely a racket and a cover. But of course you knew this.

Anonymous said...

And Friedman is now saying this: "Of course, just leaving would be bad for us and terrible for those Iraqis who have worked with us. We need to give them all U.S. passports."

I'm guessing they won't be living next to his 9.3 million dollar mansion. Bethesda is quite white, and his zip code (20817) is literally 90% white. And the other 10% probably consists of live in maids/gardeners.

Anonymous said...

That pic of Friedman - is that a noose in the foreground?

Anonymous said...

Hard to believe Scott Ritter hasn't been able to make big money in the mainstream media, especially after he took funds from Saddam Hussein's regime and was caught chatting up teenage girls on the web.

In the scope of history, The Iraq War could end up being positive for America. We have learned valuable lessons -- at a cost in lives and money to be sure -- but at a lesser cost than if we tried this in Iran, North Korea or elsewhere.

It's unfortunate that the same folks who rail against the war in Iraq (e.g., the editors of the NY Times) refuse to learn anything from it. For example, they are calling for an increase in our Army and Marine Corps. Why? When are we going to need or want to occupy a country again? Rumsfeld had the right idea to plan on shrinking the army by a couple of divisions and put the savings into better technology.

Our future wars are going to look more like what we did early on in Afghanistan, or what we're doing now in Somalia: combining special ops, lethally accurate air power and local proxies to destroy our enemies.

Also, there may end up being an unintentionally positive outcome of the Iraq War -- a low-intensity regional Shiite versus Sunni war that goes on for as long as we can keep it stoked. Trying to transform the region via democracy in Iraq may have been quixotic, but getting Shiite radicals and Sunni radicals to kill each other is more practical (if less noble) way to ameliorate the threat of radical Islam to those of us in Dar al-Harb.


agnostic said...

Popular policy pundits are the modern equivalent of "spiritual advisors" to the ruling elite, and paying lots of money makes it seem as if you're getting the real inside scoop on what the stars have in store for you, while the peons are only getting bargain basement prognostication.

rcocean said...

Maybe Steve can write a column on WHY Friedman and others at the NYT are treated so seriouly by the MSM.

I've listened to Friedman and simply don't understand WHY anyone cares what this guy writes. He's a complete mediocrity and not a compelling writer or speaker.

The same is true of the rest of th NYT editorial page. They are either mediocre or simply clowns like Dowd and Rich

Anonymous said...

Did Malcolm Gladwell ever express a position on Iraq?


Anonymous said...

Hard to believe that Friedman -- a man who made his journalistic bones criticizing the futility of the Israeli invasion and occupation of Lebanon -- would advocate a similar policy for us.

Cato said...

I work for a company that was one of a number to sponsor a private lecture by Friedman. When the actual event was held, the sponsors' management attended live or via videoconference, and the recording of it was sent down the chain to peons like me later.

I was struck by just how unoriginal his spiel was (he was talking about the themes of The World is Flat). I hadn't read the book (still haven't) but I was surprised that he was passing it off as anything original when anybody who had been reading the Wall St. Journal with any regularity over the past few years would have been fully familiar with what he was talking about.

One thing that was funny in the presentation was how when he would recap a point, he would repeat it veeerrrry slooowly two or three times. He either had a very low opinion of his audience, or someone told him he was talking to a class of fourth graders.

The lecture also provided some insight as to why these companies would pay to hear him. Most of the companies involved were white-collar employers that are at the forefront of outsourcing business overseas. Friedman's theme, which is that this is more or less inevitable, may ease the conscience of middle managers who are involved in it. In short, they hate to lay off the Americans they've worked with just because there are people in Bangalore willing to work cheaper, but if it's just a part of a bigger, unstoppable trend, then there's no point in whining about it.

Thursday said...

Why are Brooks, Beinert, Zacharia, Friedman et al. so popular, while people who got it right about the war are not. Geez guys, this one is so easy I can't believe its even being asked. Its because Brooks & Co. are smart, articulate, personable guys (or at least they seem personable on TV), while, say, Scott Ritter is a slightly creepy, not so articulate guy.

Karl Rove correctly guessed that when Bush came out for the war that the most articulate war opponents with the most access to TV would be the usual looney left, Hollywood liberal types. Janeane Garofalo, Mike Farrell, Michael Moore etc. Once opposition to the war got associated with those nutjobs, the "moderate" position would be cautious support for the war. And self styled moderates like Brooks, Zacharia, Beinert et al. jumped on board. It was a completely viceral, gut level reaction. And once these "moderates" were on board, opposition to the war never stood a chance.

This points up a huge problem for traditional conservatives. Traditional conservatism sadly tends not to attract the most attractive personalities. Alas, it seems to be easier to believe in unpleasant truths if you are a slightly unpleasant person yourself. Paleocons and fellow travellers with access to TV like Pat Buchanan and Robert Novak are decidedly unattractive personalities and frequently tone deaf commentators. I read Pat's book The Death of the West on Steve's recommendation and it does contain lots of important truths that are sadly ignored. Unfortunately, most people are just not going to get past the blood curdling rhetoric liberally splashed all over the book.

Steve here seems to be one of the nicest guys around and he is really good at making unpleasant truths go down easy. He's changed my thinking immensely on all sorts of things. But thats precisely the point. Steve's a nice guy, but how many nice guys think the same way as Steve. Not many. The people who agree with Steve, I am sad to say, contain a lot of cold fish and assholes. That doesn't make them any less right, but, well, the fact is presentation matters.

(And even Steve is forever reminding us of his overwhelming lack of personal charisma.)

Steve's post also points up a big problem with being a so-called moderate. I don't hate someone self styled moderates per se, because well, often times both sides do contain a lot of truth etc etc, and sometimes just muddling through is about the best that can be done. As a general rule for decision making, you can do a lot worse. But the problem with the nice, middle of the road consensus is that sometimes, instead of being based on the common experience of average people, its rather based on plain old reality avoidance. This is an even bigger problem with foreign policy than with domestic politics for the obvious reason that people in the U.S., including columnists like Brooks et al., happen to know a lot more about the U.S. and the West than they do about a completely alien culture like the Middle East. There's just so much more room for their nice guy gut reactions to be completely off the mark. But they're still nice, smart, articulate guys, so people will continue to listen to them.

Anonymous said...

Friedman antidote here:
The worlkd is Flat? by Aronica and Ramdoo
watch the overview...

-- scottie

Anonymous said...

I grew up in 20817 though not the part of it with $9.3mill mansions. There are quite a few Indians there too, and a few asians.

Anonymous said...

I never cease to be disgusted by watching ordinarily reasonable people begin frothing at the mouth once war is declared. The so-called moderate position of supporting a useless war that is sending young people to their deaths unnecessarily is morally indefensible. These people are just as genial and ordinary as Eichmann.

On the other hand, maybe there really is some kind of collective will that needs to flex its muscles every once in a while in a nice little war. Kind of like a sneeze. In that case, occasional gross inhumanity is merely human, and expecting society to be rational is inhumanely strict. These folks really are moderate in the context of their own societies, and really can't be criticized.

Of course, this directly contradicts the Western ideal of individual ethical accountability
(which maybe is a little bit silly too). (Shrug)

Anonymous said...

Thursday, my dear fellow: My hat is off. You've spoken a very ugly, unpleasant truth.

(I'm probably entirely irrelevant to this discussion as I'm not an American citizen, but nevertheless I've felt a need to emphasize this-that-can't-be-overemphasized.)

I know it from personal experience: In my life, I too see or voice many many unpleasant truths (some of them I can't even write in private to even the broadest-minded, most pain-tolerant nice guys like Steve), and it just so happens that -- sad as it is to accept it -- I'm a pretty unattractive, unpleasant, very-difficult-to-get-along-with fellow myself. It is fair to say that I am myself an asshole, period. And hardly anyone listens to me as a result.

(Seriously. I'm NOT being facetious here.)

(Dad used to say "toughest job in growing up is to learn to swallow the pain and not make any noise." I guess I failed that part. It may be that the primary principle in being a conservative -- i.e. being one of those who can face the ugliest truths -- is the deal with this ugly truth: that there's not much to be gained from carrying a "Ugliest truths are observed for you and your family: that'll be $29.95, please" banner on your chest. Public opinion is what matters most, and the Left won most of the political battles because they are such fantastic "fantasy fabricators.")

This brilliant observation is truer than most "strategically paloe-realistic" assessments the hardest-core conservatives make. People have a built-in tendency to avoid the "unattractive" -- and we now know that beauty is not just skin deeps; as far as genetic and congenital conditions go, it is truth in advertising. They just can't help liking those who avoid rubbing their tender noses in things they'd rather not deal with.

Nothing is gained by glossing over this almost fatal fact.

Steve Sailer said...

Okay, Thursday, but is Tom Friedman or David Brooks actually more charming than, say, Taki or better looking than, say, Scott McConnell?

Cato said...

I agree with Thursday's point. I read a fair amount of paleo publications, and as a result get solicitations for paleo-oriented conferences. While I'm sometimes intrigued by the subjects to be discussed, I don't go because I assume that there will be enough cranks there to make me regret it.

Anonymous said...

It depends what you find ugly. I find Friedman et al.'s observations ugly - dark, unhealthy, wrong. After all, it's the neocons who are the "assholes": they help to ruin our nation and get our kids killed.

What's "beautiful, attractive, and moderate" about that?

On the contrary, I find Steve's penetrating analyses beautiful, inspiring, and healthy.

No, this "you're ugly and the neocons are beautiful" line is a distraction. Neocons are beautiful to other neocons; conformists are beautiful to other conformists. The rest of us are sick to death of all of them. (Can you really stand even looking at Friedman, by the way? Ouch, my eyes!)

The real reason for the cash being thrown at mediocrities is this: they are supporters of the empire and its going line. Conformists are people who don't think, they simply side with POWER. This is no new big thing. It's always been that way: in a corrupt climate, the courtiers are favored. In that hothouse atmosphere, the various lickspittles, toadies, and sycophants pat each other on the back, and the more favored of them are paid respect by the less favored.

Old Ayn Rand observed that every "Attila" (man of brute force) needs a "Witch Doctor" to justify and stroke him. These speakers are simply Witch Doctors who are accordingly popular with the worshippers of our Attila-state.

The common people or vast majority who are not caught up in this game might find Steve's observations right on and fascinating (I do), if they were interested in intellectual matters. But most people tend to shy away from abstractions - either from lack of requisite intelligence or from pragmatic skepticism (usually the former). In this arena, plain hucksters ply their trade like fortune-tellers et al. (Look at all the bogus management movements--TQM, anyone?--and their kool-aid drinkers.) Here, "feel good" becomes a factor in success, as it does in any confidence racket.

But life does not consist only of dirty rackets. Steve probably has a lot of readers; what he lacks is a way of getting them to willingly pay up. I would buy a Sailer book and pay to hear him speak. His problem is only that he hasn't yet figured out a successful business model. May I suggest he consult some professional marketers?

Leonard said...

I agree with Thursday too. But a few other points.

One is, don't forget the draw of celebrity culture. People pay to be able to say, truthfully, that they saw a celebrity. I don't really get it, but clearly it's a big part of why Friedman does well. He writes op eds for the NYT! Similarly a lot of people love to talk about how they saw the Dead back in 90, even though, the Dead sucked then, and you couldn't actually hear them very well, nor see them. But *I* can't say I saw them.

Second, where it comes to mistakes, people give others a pass where they were wrong themselves. Since almost everyone was taken in at least a bit by the Bush administration's big lies on Iraq, all those pundits are cut breaks for also buying in.

Third, people like winners, not losers, even where the losers were "right". And they like the strong, not the weak, even if the strong were "wrong".

Anonymous said...

Steve wrote:
"....why affluent people will pay unbelievable amounts of money to attend a lecture so they can bask in the (one would think) unedifying physical presence of somebody like Tom Friedman".

It reminds me of the intellectuals who gathered around Ellsworth Toohey in Ayn Rand's "The Fountainhead". People will do what they think impresses other people. Tom Friedman is a NPT/NYT-approved "intellectual", even though he's been wrong quite a bit. Remember folks, business people who have a ton of money have to work many hours and focus on the market they are in. They dont necessarily have time to check out how wrong various public intellectual's track records are and probably assume that he's one of the best because he's on PBS.

Anonymous said...


Just read the Radar article. Curious about something tangential: What's the deal with Radar saying France is more nepotistic than meritocratic? I don't know any critics of France whose beef is that the Sorbone lets in too many slackers.

Is this supposed to be a clever way of saying that free market-boosting knuckle-draggers are too stupid to know that France, whatever its sins, values meritocracy too?


James D. Miller said...

It's even worse when colleges pay huge sums for speakers.

Steve Sailer said...

Not wanting to skip any of my editors, Peter Brimelow has all these guys beat in the looks department.

Anonymous said...

Steve, any idea on what vdare's readership is? Unique visitors, I mean, none of that hits crap.

Anonymous said...


When I talked about ugliness and related matters, I wasn't solely referring to looks. Just to lighten up the discussion a bit, a few Rodney Dangerfield jokes:


Story of my life I get no respect...

- My wife once told me "let's try something new" and tied me to the bed. Then she put on her clothes and went out.

- Once I was crossing the road and I got hit by a car. I yelled at the driver "Are you blind?" He yelled back, "Well, I hit you, didn't I?"

- I once went to the doctor to get a vasectomy; he said "with that face, you don't need one!"

- I was ugly even when I was a kid; they tell me when I was born, my father screamed "what's this? I wanted a boy!"

- In Halloween, we never had a pumpkin; they made *me* stand in the window.

- My mother never breast-fed me; she always had a headache.

- They took me to a dog show once; I won!

- My old man made me sleep in the kitchen; to get rid of the cockroaches.

- I reached puberty, and things got worse. When I asked Cindy whether she'll invite me to her house, she said "sure, come over tonight, there's nobody home." When I went there, there really *was* nobody home.


See, the whole point is "charm." Some have it, others don't.

To use electronics terminology, it may be more efficient to treat the carrier signal, the communication protocol, and the message separately.

Thursday said...

David Plotz is blogging the Bible over at Slate here. These comments on Jeremiah seem appropriate:

"What's most remarkable about Jeremiah is the depth of his rage, which can be explained by the hopelessness of his cause. His people don't share his sense of urgency, and it infuriates him. Jeremiah has the flaws that all whistle-blowers have. Almost without exception, whistle-blowers are mean, self-righteous, and resentful. When they turn out to be right—and boy, does Jeremiah turn out to be right—everyone regrets not having listened to them to begin with. But the reason no one listens to begin with is that the message is so unpleasant and angry. Put yourself in the shoes of a Jerusalemite, sixth century B.C.: Would you pay attention to the cantankerous rageaholic shouting doom in the bazaar?"

Cato said...

With respect to Thursday's last point,

It goes beyond indifference. Instead, the practice of political correctness is intended to silence and/or marginalize people who question certain conventional wisdoms. Or, at least not legitimize them.

For example, if the companies I mentioned in my first comment had hired Sailer instead of Friedman to give a talk about nearly anything besides movies, the person responsible for arranging the appointment would undoubtedly have been sacked. Whether Sailer's points were right or wrong would have been irrelevant: It's that he would have raised questions that people would have rather not wanted raised. This is just one of the unfortunate civic orthodoxies hovering over us.

Anonymous said...

Tiny reminder: when I was writing my first post, I didn't have either Sailer or his postings/articles in mind while referring to "ugly." To the contrary, Steve is one of the best shots around, and criminally underappreciated. IMHO.

Anonymous said...

Fucking moron. These are corporate engagements with largely tailored presentations. Just because no one wants to pay to hear you speak, doesn't mean it doesn't make sense.

Anonymous said...

Paleo's have been "out" so long I think there is some bitterness.

I know that I seem to take some comments too seriously sometimes.

A pleasant tone certainly can't hurt your argument.

Anonymous said...

"Fucking moron. These are corporate engagements with largely tailored presentations. Just because no one wants to pay to hear you speak, doesn't mean it doesn't make sense."

"Tailored presentations" = telling them what they want to hear. It would be smarter to reserve the F word for whores, pal.

"Corporate engagements" - color me impressed. Not.