Sunday, February 28, 2010

The New NYT "Beliefs" Columnist Is A Weisenheimer. We Like That.

Every so often, The NYTPicker likes to note things about the NYT that actually bode well for the future. Sure, it violates our well-honed sense of sarcasm and moral outrage, but hey -- even Dan Barry's column today wasn't half bad.

Anyway, we use this occasion to welcome a new columnist to the NYT's midst: Mark Oppenheimer, who has replaced the stuffy Peter Steinfels as the paper's every-other-week "Beliefs" columnist. He's biting, funny and smart. You should read him.

In his debut column yesterday, Oppenheimer issued an impassioned diatribe against Marc Theissen, a former speechwriter for George W. Bush who has used Catholic doctrine as a defense of waterboarding, the torture technique made fashionable by his former boss.

"This does not square, to put it mildly, with the common understanding of Catholic teaching," Oppenheimer declared in his column's third paragraph. He went on to gather considerable evidence that Theissen's views don't dovetail with the views of mainstream conservative Catholics -- and in the end, eviscerates him.

Hard to imagine Steinfels doing that -- or, for that matter, the NYT's other religion columnist, the reliably dull Samuel G. Freedman.

We emailed Oppenheimer a few questions about himself yesterday, but he never wrote back -- no surprise given that he makes clear on his website: "I don’t really like e-mail, but the world being what it is, I have to have it. For now, at least. I suppose that some people, like Joan Didion and Garry Wills, can choose not to have it. So I have it, but I’d rather you call so that we can talk."

We like the fact that Oppenheimer's resume ranges from a brief stint as an alt-weekly editor to his more recent job as a writing lecturer at Yale -- with a Ph.D in religious studies thrown into the mix. He even writes for Mother Jones.

But it's Oppenheimer's books that intrigue us the most, especially his latest, "Weisenheimer." It's a memoir about Oppenheimer's stressful childhood as a brainiac, and how his world-class debating skills helped him emerge from his shell. We can relate! Debaters and NYTPickers share a bond.

"Weisnheimer" comes out in April, and we'll buy a copy. In the meantime we'll be reading Oppenheimer's "Beliefs" column. Religiously.


Anonymous said...

Another Ivy League educated writer joins the ranks of the New York Times. Yawn. Can't the find other competent writers who don't share such a common background? Surely there are others!

Anonymous said...

Surely there are found, but hiring them would force the NYT's top brass to admit (to themselves and to each other) that smartness and talent exist elsewhere, and elsewhere looking better than right here cuts into NYT's contempt for the other as a dumping ground.

Anonymous said...

As one of the so-called elites, I think the Times could be even better if it had writers from a more diverse background. I have no problem with elite-media, just make them come from different parts of life.

Anonymous said...

Oppenheimer is good, and a smart choice. Why denigrate him because of his academic background? The Times has a very diverse staff of reporters and columnists. Leave Oppenheimer alone.

Anonymous said...

It might make sense to criticize paying Ivy League dudes if the Ivy League were what it used to be. But it's not. The places are so reflexively politically correct that they'll take any non-white, non-male whenever they can.

Journalism is a very much a celebration of the conventional wisdom. The Ivy League is the pinnacle of conventional wisdom. So it's no accident that the NYT finds itself in alignment with the Ivy League most of the time.

Now if you were talking about a profession that required out-of-the-box thinking, well, I would say that you might want to stay away from Ivy Leaguers. But that's not the question here. Heck, we're talking about belief systems that are thousands of years old. If that's not the definition of establishment, inside-the-box, I don't know what is.

Anonymous said...

This is not about Schopenhauer, nor quotas or a call for more poster boys. Wisdom does not have an upper bound, so why is the nyt leadership hung up on stunting its readership?

Anonymous said...

Excuses, excuses, and more excuses. Anything to avoid reason.