Ed Driscoll

Fareed Zakaria Should Have Taken His Own Advice

At Foreign Policy, Daniel Drezner posits why Fareed Zakaria got caught cooking the books last week: As Drezner writes, “I used to think that doing this kind of thing required willful negligence on the part of a writer. Now my view has changed a bit. It’s still negligence, but with only a fraction of Zakaria’s writing obligations, I can see all too clearly how this happened:”

The New York Times lists Zakaria’s day jobs, and they’re formidable: “Mr. Zakaria, 48, balances a demanding schedule, doing work for multiple media properties. He is a CNN host, an editor at large at Time, a Washington Post columnist and an author.”

Most people who wind up in this situation don’t just snap their fingers and take on all of these jobs at once. It’s a slow accretion of opportunities that are hard to say no until you are overextended.  I’m not remotely close to being a member of the League of Extraordinary Pundits like Zakaria.  Still, even I’ve noticed that, as writing & speaking oligagations pile up, corners get… well, let’s say rounded rather than cut.

I suspect, as one has more gobs of money tossed at them than they ever expected out of life approaches League status, three factors dramatically increases the likelihood of this kind of thing happening.  First, since the distribution of punditry assignments likely follows a power law distribution that means superstars are asked to write a lot more, the pressure builds up.  Second, to compensate, the pundit has to hire a staff — and most people who get into the writing/thinking business are lousy at managing subordinates and staff.  Third, if small shortcuts aren’t caught the first time a writer uses them, they become crutches that pave the way for bigger shortcuts, which then become cheats.

But to borrow from the line Drezner jokingly striked out, Zakaria should have been the last pundit to be in search of more and more gobs of money, if he actually wrote believed his own rhetoric. Back in December of 2010 on — hey, remember this show? — CNN’s Parker-Spitzer, Zakaria inadvertently borrowed from that sage philosopher Sting, whom a quarter of century ago advised us all that “we could be happy with less,” just before he hopped into his private jet. Similarly, Time-Warner-CNN’s would-be Obama adviser demonstrated his economic acuity with their TV’s network’s remarkably “selective” audience:

Parker asked Zakaria if he had faith the American people could handle the fiscal discipline he advocated. Zakaria used the platform as an opportunity to attack Americans and refute the notion “the American people are wonderful.” His solution: Less consumption by the American people.

“No, I think the people are the big problem,” Zakaria said. “I mean, Americans — everybody wants to say the American people are so wonderful. You know, I think that when they come to recognize that they have to make sacrifices too that it’s not just wasteful — they need to have — they need to recognize that some of what’s going to happen here is fewer. They have to consume fewer things. They have to accept slightly higher taxes. And in the long run, you will have a much better economy.”

That seems like a rather curious stance — why does Zakaria want the American people to “consume fewer things” and “make sacrifices,” while he’s spinning ever faster on the punditry treadmill and hoping to, as with numerous other pundits before him, parlay his talking head status into a cushy gig with the Obama administration? In the meantime, as Warner Todd Huston writes at Big Journalism, “So, What Does It Take to Get Fired By CNN?”