A blog by the magazine's editors and contributors


The Hack List returns

It's the most wonderful time of the year: Salon's Alex Pareene is once again compiling his "Hack List" of top offenders in the world of punditry. The targets are, for the most part, the usual suspects -- as Pareene has observed many times, one of the things that makes hacky columnists and commentators so infuriating is the near-total lack of professional consequences for hackiness (a state of being that includes but is not limited to reliance on repetitiveness, weak arguments, defensiveness, very low self-awareness, and outright misstatements of fact). But Pareene has added a new twist for 2013: each entry is written in the style of the person it indicts.

And what stylists they are. Thomas Friedman, Erick Erickson, my man Richard Cohen: with each new post I find myself thinking, "No, this is the best one." Take, for example, this restatement of the above observation about the unfireability of prominent yet very poor commentators, written in the style of one such prominent commentator:

That’s why, I think, so many people — I include literally everyone I know, and have ever met, and many others as well — fear that Peggy Noonan is not going to go away.

Stop reading this and ask whoever’s nearby, “Do you find yourself worrying about Peggy Noonan’s continued employment and omnipresence on the Sunday morning political talk shows?” I do not think you are going to get, “No.”...

People are angry with Peggy Noonan. They’re mad. Most of all, they’re disappointed. They’re tired. Reading Peggy Noonan, and seeing her on television every Sunday, the Lord’s Day, when Americans, young and old, rich and poor, used to go to church, with their families, now just makes Americans feel exhausted.

But they’re optimistic. Americans are always optimistic. They know Peggy Noonan will eventually retire.

And we're only halfway through. Still, this morning's take on David Brooks -- number 4 -- is so masterful I had to bring it to your attention. I know some of you are probably still trying to figure out what yesterday's Brooks column was supposed to be, and (if you're like me) also cursing the amount of brain power you've devoted to thinking about it. For me, Pareene's explanation redeems all of that wasted mental energy. A sample:

Because the Columnist is an expert in conflating unrelated or irrelevant elements in order to craft an Idea, he will conflate all of the things he hates into one subject, and then he will imagine that subject’s decline into irrelevance and existential dissatisfaction. (The column is self-hating, but he is still the Columnist so it is also still self-aggrandizing. The Columnist makes sure to recognize and praise his own modesty and humility, compared to the relentless assuredness of those kids and those Web site writers.)... The Columnist is trying to inflict damage. But no one really understands why, or whom the column is directed at.

My past posts about previous years' Hack Lists: 2010, 2011, 2012. (I can't promise that the links in those posts will work, though, because Salon -- despite being a web-only magazine -- has a pretty terrible website.)

About the Author

Mollie Wilson O'Reilly is an editor at large and columnist at Commonweal.



Commenting Guidelines

  • All

The big papers have a huge columnist problem. If you look at the NYT's stable of op-ed writers, you have to ask yourself what the paper's long-term plan is. The editors surely must realize that readers have a huge range of options when it comes to columnists: nobody has to read David Brooks just because he's in the major broadsheet. Is it just that they are so dependent on a base that looks like their columnists (old white dudes) that they can't seem to break free from old patterns?

Silly Season! How about the worst pundits at dotCommonweal?

Does Pareene balance out his Hack List with a Literary Genius List?  (Or whatever the opposite of a hack would be.)  Anyone can hate on a pundit.  What I really want to know is, where to find the good ones.

Agree, Jim.  Mockery is sometimes (often) a way (the mocker hopes) of forestalling mockery of herself.


Peggy -- There are no bad pundits at dotCommonweal.  Now as for commenters. . .

Jim P. and Gerelyn -- One good pundit who comes to mind is Thomas Frank, the editor of Harper's.  His monthly essays are invariably witty, erudite, and incisive.  

I like Mike Lupica. Does he count as a pundit?

Thanks, Gene.  I'll take a look at Thomas Frank.

If you know/read all/most of the writers on the Hack List, and are in general agreement they belong on the list...hmmmm

Add new comment

You may login with your assigned e-mail address.
The password field is case sensitive.

Or log in with...

Add new comment