Last Sunday, Frank Rich filed his last column for the Week in Review, “Confessions of a Recovering Op-Ed Columnist.” Rich is joining his friend and former Times Magazine editor Adam Ross at New York magazine.
Rich’s farewell is typically self-indulgent:
"My own idiosyncratic bent as a writer, no doubt a legacy of my years spent in the theater, is to look for a narrative in the many competing dramas unfolding on the national stage. I do have strong political views, but opinions are cheap. Anyone could be a critic of the Bush administration. The challenge as a writer was to try to figure out why it governed the way it did -- and how it got away with it for so long -- and, dare I say it, to have fun chronicling each new outrage."
He did admit the column-writing routine “can push you to have stronger opinions than you actually have, or contrived opinions about subjects you may not care deeply about, or to run roughshod over nuance to reach an unambiguous conclusion. Believe it or not, an opinion writer can sometimes get sick of his own voice.”
I must have missed the nuanced period of Rich’s column writing. Here’s just a smattering of Rich’s lowlights, both nonsensical and nasty, since the Times Watch project was launched in early 2003:
A March 7, 2004 column dismissed Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” as “a joy ride for sadomasochists.” He wrote: "With its laborious build-up to its orgasmic spurtings of blood and other bodily fluids, Mr. Gibson's film is constructed like nothing so much as a porn movie, replete with slo-mo climaxes and pounding music for the money shots....If 'The Passion' is a joy ride for sadomasochists, conveniently cloaked in the plain-brown wrapping of religiosity, does that make it bad for the Jews?”
In a column from August 3, 2003, Rich had predicted "Passion" would be a flop: "Indeed, it's hard to imagine the movie being anything other than a flop in America, given that it has no major Hollywood stars and that its dialogue is in Aramaic and Latin (possibly without benefit of subtitles)."
The movie went on to earn $370 million in domestic box office, making it the third-highest-grossing movie of 2004.
From Rich’s March 28, 2010 column on Obama-care protests: “How curious that a mob fond of likening President Obama to Hitler knows so little about history that it doesn’t recognize its own small-scale mimicry of Kristallnacht. The weapon of choice for vigilante violence at Congressional offices has been a brick hurled through a window. So far.”
From an October 25, 2009 column so lame it could be one of the “contrived” columns Rich confessed to: “Next to the other hoaxes and fantasies that have been abetted by the news media in recent years, both the ‘balloon boy’ and Chamber of Commerce ruses are benign. The Colorado balloon may have led to the rerouting of flights and the wasteful deployment of law enforcement resources. But at least it didn’t lead the country into fiasco the way George W. Bush’s flyboy spectacle on an aircraft carrier helped beguile most of the Beltway press and too much of the public into believing that the mission had been accomplished in Iraq.”
Rich got personal and nasty in an October 15, 2006 column: "The split between the Republicans' outward homophobia and inner gayness isn't just hypocrisy; it's pathology. Take the bizarre case of Karl Rove....we now learn from 'The Architect,' the recent book by the Texas journalists James Moore and Wayne Slater, that Mr. Rove's own (and beloved) adoptive father, Louis Rove, was openly gay in the years before his death in 2004."
On September 16, 2003, Rich suggested a TV movie about the World Trade Center attacks would make a fitting memorial to Hitlers filmmaker, Leni Riefenstahl: “But this film, made with full Bush administration cooperation (including that of the president himself), is propaganda so untroubled by reality that it's best viewed as a fitting memorial to Leni Riefenstahl. The script vouched for by [conservative columnist Charles] Krauthammer and a couple of other Beltway boys presents Dick Cheney as a mere supplicant to the all-knowing Mr. Bush and somehow lets the administration (though not its predecessor) off the hook for letting Osama bin Laden and his Saudi enablers slip away. New polls reveal that Americans increasingly realize that they have been had.”
On March 27, 2005, Rich wrote on the case of Terry Schiavo and quick moved from the woman in a vegetative state to the Salem witch trials: “An ABC News survey last weekend found that only 27 percent of Americans thought it was 'appropriate' for Congress to 'get involved' in the Schiavo case and only 16 percent said it would want to be kept alive in her condition. But a majority of American colonists didn't believe in witches during the Salem trials either -- any more than the Taliban reflected the views of a majority of Afghans."
This attack on the racist right came on October 17, 2010: “That wave of anger began with the parallel 2008 cataclysms of the economy’s collapse and Barack Obama’s ascension. The mood has not subsided since. But in the final stretch of 2010, the radical right’s anger is becoming less focused, more free-floating -- more likely to be aimed at ‘government’ in general, whatever the location or officials in charge. The anger is also more likely to claim minorities like gays, Latinos and Muslims as collateral damage.”
On October 8, 2003, Rich made another strained attempt to hook his area of expertise (he was formerly the Times theatre critic) to his politics: "The paradox is that the Bush administration has all the creative fire that the creative world lacks. In two years it has changed the meaning of 'the day that changed everything' beyond recognition. In place of the old 9/11 it erected a new one, a work of art in its way, ingeniously created by the brilliant Bush team of makeover artists. Their attention to wicked detail puts them firmly in the school of Hieronymus Bosch. They allowed the country to believe in a plot line in which the villain is Saddam Hussein, not bin Laden, and the 9/11 hijackers were predominantly Iraqi rather than Saudi. The White House even manipulated press releases to launder the foul post-9/11 air in lower Manhattan into ersatz cleanliness. This is fiction on so epic a scale that were it published as a novel it would be a candidate for a Laura Bush literary salon."