Uh, I hate to bring this up, but….

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?

Author: Jonathan Zasloff

Jonathan Zasloff teaches Torts, Land Use, Environmental Law, Comparative Urban Planning Law, Legal History, and Public Policy Clinic - Land Use, the Environment and Local Government. He grew up and still lives in the San Fernando Valley, about which he remains immensely proud (to the mystification of his friends and colleagues). After graduating from Yale Law School, and while clerking for a federal appeals court judge in Boston, he decided to return to Los Angeles shortly after the January 1994 Northridge earthquake, reasoning that he would gladly risk tremors in order to avoid the average New England wind chill temperature of negative 55 degrees. Professor Zasloff has a keen interest in world politics; he holds a PhD in the history of American foreign policy from Harvard and an M.Phil. in International Relations from Cambridge University. Much of his recent work concerns the influence of lawyers and legalism in US external relations, and has published articles on these subjects in the New York University Law Review and the Yale Law Journal. More generally, his recent interests focus on the response of public institutions to social problems, and the role of ideology in framing policy responses. Professor Zasloff has long been active in state and local politics and policy. He recently co-authored an article discussing the relationship of Proposition 13 (California's landmark tax limitation initiative) and school finance reform, and served for several years as a senior policy advisor to the Speaker of California Assembly. His practice background reflects these interests: for two years, he represented welfare recipients attempting to obtain child care benefits and microbusinesses in low income areas. He then practiced for two more years at one of Los Angeles' leading public interest environmental and land use firms, challenging poorly planned development and working to expand the network of the city's urban park system. He currently serves as a member of the boards of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (a state agency charged with purchasing and protecting open space), the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice (the leading legal service firm for low-income clients in east Los Angeles), and Friends of Israel's Environment. Professor Zasloff's other major activity consists in explaining the Triangle Offense to his very patient wife, Kathy.