Monday, March 28, 2011

Ta-Nehisi Coates to the New York Times: A really bad idea

I've seen this idea surface in several places, most recently Andrew Sullivan's blog, and I'd like to nip it in the bud:
I read your item on Bob Herbert's resignation with interest, as you summarized my sentiments precisely. As way of replacement, I hope the Times considers Ta-Nehisi Coates, even though I have no idea whether he's even interested in the perch. It's not because they're both African-American; Ta-Nehisi writes about similar issues with twice the wit and grace that Herbert could muster. It would be a shame to see those issues drop off the table with Herbert's resignation, and it would represent a real promotion to one of the most talented American pundits out there.
I'm a huge fan of Coates--at this point, in fact, his career represents what I'd like to achieve with my own: He's largely self-taught; he knows what he doesn't know; he's liberal without being knee-jerk about it; and he is contemplative and graceful in addressing the issues that he does address. He doesn't tend to get caught up in the punch-counterpunch of the political blogosphere, but when he addresses an issue of the day, well, it stays addressed.

And I think the 1,000-word column format, twice a week, is precisely the wrong place for Coates. If the pressures of the format and platform didn't push him into becoming stridently ideological, the danger is that he might end up like David Brooks--following his muse into places better addressed somewhere other than the New York Times op-ed pages.

If the Times is looking for a young, non-Caucasian liberal to fill the slot, I'd recommend somebody like Adam Serwer, whose straight-ahead style seems to fit better into the major newspaper format. But let Ta-Nehisi be Ta-Nehisis.

UPDATE: I was probably wrong.

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