In 1987, Frank Rich was a well-deserved finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in criticism.
But unaccountably, for the last 23 years since then, Rich has not once been in final contention for journalism's top prize.
This ridiculous, inexpicable omission has come despite thirteen years as the NYT's lead drama critic -- where he was, without debate, the best of his generation -- and another sixteen years on the NYT's op-ed page. Meanwhile, Rich's columnist colleagues (Nicholas Kristof, Paul Krugman, Maureen Dowd, and Tom Friedman) have collected a passel of nominations and wins among them.
This is Rich's year. Don't agree? Take a look at today's op-ed page. If you don't shudder with fear at Rich's message, then you simply can't be moved by the power of potent, well-arranged words.
While Dowd tut-tuts comically at the latest failings of her fallen hero, Barack Obama, Rich eloquently warns against the persistent, pernicious threat of Republican firebrand Sarah Palin. Under the perfect title -- "Could She Reach the Top in 2012? You Betcha" -- Rich does his passionate best to rile us with the fear that she may make it to White House.
Instead of simply whining about Palin's faux populism, or making fun of her appearance or malaprops -- that's Dowd's default position -- Rich prescribes a solution to her opponents, if they'll only listen:
Revealingly, Sarah Palin’s potential rivals for the 2012 nomination have not joined the party establishment in publicly criticizing her. They are afraid of crossing Palin and the 80 percent of the party that admires her. So how do they stop her? Not by feeding their contempt in blind quotes to the press — as a Romney aide did by telling Time’s Mark Halperin she isn’t “a serious human being.” Not by hoping against hope that Murdoch might turn off the media oxygen that feeds both Palin’s viability and News Corporation’s bottom line. Sooner or later Palin’s opponents will instead have to man up — as Palin might say — and actually summon the courage to take her on mano-a-maverick in broad daylight.
That's classic Rich -- offering his audience not just a vituperative complaint or attack, but also a reasoned recipe for change. He reports his columns by voraciously consuming the culture, and embracing the web: each week the online version of his column links to dozens of articles, commentaries and reports that illuminate his point of view.
Rich has been a powerful force in American journalism for most of his career -- not just as a writer, but also as an informal adviser to NYT editors on matters of hiring and content. He also wrote a moving memoir in 2000, "Ghost Light," that could have justified a Pulitzer on its own. (His other books include a collection of his NYT theater reviews, "Hot Seat," and a 2006 attack on the Bush adminstration called "The Greatest Story Ever Sold."
Yes, Rich preaches to the choir: his mostly-liberal NYT audience probably rejoices each week in how much it agrees with him. But that undersells his gifts at argument and persuasion. Often, Rich's columns -- at 1500 words, longer than any of his colleagues -- go deeper into explanation and example. His raw intelligence and deft touch combine to make him the most powerful liberal voice of our time.
Obviously, there's more to life than a prize, and Rich doesn't need the reward of a Pulitzer jury to measure his worth. But in an industry that still bows down before the almighty prefix -- "Pulitzer prize-winning journalist" -- it seems only fair that Frank Rich at last get his.