Thomas Frank’s otherwise wonderful and insightful article on Bob Herbert ignores the 900-pound-gorilla in the room.
Frank asks: why don’t people read or talk about Bob Herbert’s column more? He notes 1) that Herbert’s judgments have been very accurate; 2) he’s not a knee-jerk liberal; and 3) he writes about issues of poverty that most columnists ignore. Then he goes through a series of interesting speculations about why some columnists are influential and others aren’t.
Except the one most obvious potential explanation: Bob Herbert is an African-American journalist who writes about issues of poverty and race.
Essentially, the hypothesis is that the (mostly white) elite assumes that he carries with him a set of presuppositions and views, and so doesn’t bother to pay any attention to him. That’s why they read Jason DeParle but not him. And no, it’s not good enough to say, “Wait! I read Clarence Page and read William Raspberry and they are Black! Stop being so PC!!” True enough, but Page and Raspberry cover different beats; I think of Page more as a political columnist. Raspberry (and Carl Rowan) had the extra draw of being African-America journalists in predominantly-African-American Washington, DC, so people sort of felt an obligation.
I’m not saying that this explanation is true, but it is a pretty obvious candidate. Seems like we’re avoiding something here, aren’t we, Tom?