exactly what I’m talking about, re: journalist tenure

So in our recent Bloggingheads, Conor Friedersdorf and I talked about my claim that journalists and pundits, once they reach a particular career rung, seem to enjoy life-long tenure that makes them totally unaccountable for mistakes. Conor was singularly unimpressed with this line of reasoning. Well, look at his colleague at the Atlantic, David Frum, and his heartless, destructive, and absurd allegations of photo fraud against the New York Times and a decorated  photo journalist. He slandered the photographer, heaped disrespect on the grief stricken, traumatized Palestinians in the photos, and then issued a classic weaselly non-apology. All while occupying a professional role that is supposed to place a premium on journalistic  responsibility and care in public pronouncements.

So: will there be professional consequences for Frum? If not, why not? What would it take for an imperial messenger like Frum to face formal, professional censure from his employer?


  1. I’m not sure this is a tenure issue. This seems more like a “let’s find a conservative who can walk and chew gum at the same time” issue. Not terribly different from the “let’s find a reliable dispenser of 800 words of centrist conventional wisdom twice a week” issue. Tenure, I think, can be revoked if you cross the balk line (e.g. noticing that Israel is a serial abuser of human rights), and the reason that the Frum’s of the world keep their tenure is that they’ve internalized these balk lines right off the bat.

  2. worth noting too that his post immediately preceding this one on Paul Ryan’s poverty plan is still the one linked under his frontpage blog byline which is odd considering the (non)apology is more noteworthy.

  3. I get where your coming from, I think, but this is kind of an insult against real tenure. Insinuating yourself into the good graces of the bosses, or crafting a predictable, bankable thought-product (which is what Brooks and Frum have done) is very different from subjecting yourself to a collectively-bargained and/or peer-administered apprenticeship system.

  4. In the real world, if you lie or just pull something out of your ass with your clients or customers (in his case, readers), you’re in trouble. Nice work like his if you can get it!

  5. This is tangential to your tenure point a little, but I thought the Frum apology was a good apology. By “good” here, I mean better than what is offered nine times out of ten when a well-known pundit makes an error of analysis, which is to say, better than no apology at all. It’s not a high bar, but in real world of 2014 it’s a bar few clear. On the tenure issue, I agree there are tenure-hating pundits who have de facto tenure in cozy little sinecures, and that is no doubt irksome. But the number of pundits with that kind of idiosyncratic and privately funded “tenure” is maybe a few dozen and so analytically insignificant against the number of university professors and/or K-12 teachers who are the subjects of public tenure debates. Frum himself was famously fired by AEI for heresy, specifically his “Waterloo” essay, so is clearly not a man who enjoys the traditional protections of tenure.

  6. I think Nate Silver had the right answer when he challenged that whoever guy to a bet based on their 2012 Presidential Election Predictions. Has Frum ever been willing to bet his beliefs? If not, then why give a shit about the guy?

    The reality is that many pundits make their living telling people what they want to hear. It can be lurid infotainment for people on the left or the right who like hearing about the awesomeness of their own side, or easy listening for those who work in cushy bureaucracies and want to cultivate the right kind of social signaling.

    But really, if somebody isn’t making money (or scoring social status of some kind) from being right and losing money (or face) from being wrong, then it’s just noise.

  7. If their is a punishment for bad punditry, it should obviously be measured in Friedman Units.

    Ex: Your “Unskewed” polls were so wrong you are banned from prognosticating on the Internet for 4 FU’s!

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