Tom Friedman Causes Conniptions Over China--Again

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To say that Tom Friedman has his detractors in the media is an understatement. For any given Friedman column, it's a decent bet that someone, somewhere, has published an exasperated rebuttal. Nevertheless, it's fun when--as does occasionally happen--the New York Times columnist manages to induce mass apoplexy in a sizeable portion of the online commentariat.

This he did with his latest: a column imagining what a WikiLeaks leaked cable from a Chinese diplomat might look like. Friedman's had trouble with his pro-Chinese stuff before. Folks didn't take too well to his praise of Chinese autocracy last fall (or his suggestion that Americans could learn a thing or two from dictatorships). Friedman, it appears, is undeterred. Some highlights:

Things are going well here for China. America remains a deeply politically polarized country, which is certainly helpful for our goal of overtaking the U.S. as the world’s most powerful economy and nation. ... There is a willful self-destructiveness in the air here as if America has all the time and money in the world for petty politics. They fight over things like--we are not making this up--how and where an airport security officer can touch them. ... Americans just had what they call an "election." Best we could tell it involved one congressman trying to raise more money than the other. ... The ambassador recently took what the Americans call a fast train--the Acela--from Washington to New York City. Our bullet train from Beijing to Tianjin would have made the trip in 90 minutes. His took three hours. ... But the Americans are oblivious. They travel abroad so rarely that they don’t see how far they are falling behind.

Though anti-Friedmanism is a fascinatingly bipartisan phenomenon, it's hard to imagine a column better calculated to enrage the right. Thus:

  • 'The Latest--and Thus, by Definition, Worst--Thomas Friedman Column'  National Review's Daniel Foster predicts that it will make his colleague Jonah Goldberg's "head explode." Says Foster:
It starts with a Friedman trademark:  a gimmicky premise that orthogonally engages a major news story while 1) missing everything important about it and 2) turning it into a delivery vehicle for old saws that manage to be both so evil and so banal that it's a wonder Hannah Arendt didn't write a book about them.
  • Let's Skip That China's One Heck of a Scary Nuthouse  "A Chinese Wikileaks attack would be fascinating, for obvious reasons: The Chinese are cutting shady deals around the world, launching cyber attacks etc.," writes Jonah Goldberg (whose head was scheduled to explode). But in Tom Friedman's mind, the most fascinating way to depict that scenario is to imagine that the Chinese ambassador to the U.S. gets all of his thinking from…Tom Friedman."
  • 'Swear to God,' testifies Reason's Matt Welch, describing the column to his readers: "Tom Friedman imagines a WikiLeak from a Chinese diplomat laughing about America's dysfunctional system." Bristling at sentences "dripping with ignorant contempt," he points out that the bit about few Americans going abroad is nonsense:
According to the Centers for Disease Control, some 60 million Americans, or one-fifth the population, travel abroad each year. China? According to the China Tourism Academy , in 2009 mainland Chinese made a total of 47 million trips abroad. Even if you wrongly assume that each of those 47 million trips were made by different people, that's still 13 million fewer, and only about 3.5% of the population.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.