Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Frank Rich

Every Sunday, it is our ritual to read Frank Rich aloud, the great columnist for the New York Times who writes only on Sunday, but at unusual length, and focuses most often on politics and how it is being covered by the media, and, in turn, how that coverage is influencing the decisions that shape the kind of society we live in. Somehow, for me anyway, Frank Rich is the great newspaper columnist of our time, the heir to Walter Lippmann and many of the other noteworthy pundits of an earlier era. But in many ways Rich is better than his predecessors. He is angrier, less elitist, more willing to tell a version of the truth that is often difficult to hear, but needs to be expressed. He is also, of course, the former lead theatre critic for the Times, and thus brings to his commentary a literary and dramatic edge that makes his columns more substantive, memorable, and even more musical.

So that is all by way of preface. Accept for the moment that Frank Rich is the crown jewel of the New York Times empire (an empire that is shrinking rapidly, unfortunately, but still a big deal). Well, as Karen and I were strolling down the subway platform at 72nd Street and Broadway last Saturday night on our way to a play, I nudged her and pointed to a man of medium height, rather rotund, with a ruddy face and whispered "That's Frank Rich." Then I added, "That's Frank Rich and he's done here with the rest of us sweating out this long wait in his business suit in the hot, stuffy, rat infested subway." I kept looking at him and thinking about him, but Karen, being bolder and far more outgoing than I, went straight up to him and said something like, "We just want you to know that like thousands of other people your column makes our Sunday mornings very special." Poor Frank, he fumbled a bit to remove the ibuds that were stuck in his ears to hear her words of appreciation, smiled weakly, and then quickly retreated again to his ipod. He seemed to be used to this sort of thing but a bit shy about all the attention. I mean, who can blame him? And he was very late. He kept pacing up and down the platform waiting for a train that was taking a good bit longer to arrive than it should. When we finally boarded the train, he got on the same car as we did but on the opposite end. I couldn't help noticing that he remained standing all the way to 42nd Street, and then we lost sight of him.

It's funny, you really do see a lot of celebrities in New York. Just the other day, I watched this cute older couple carefully consulting their grocery list as they slowly made their way up the aisle at the amazingly exorbitant Food Emporium. That couple was Jill Eikenberry and Michael Tucker, best known, I guess, for their starring roles in the TV show LA Law. And loyal readers of this blog will no doubt recall my double encounter with the Daily Show's Jon Stewart. But Frank Rich was different. What he says really does affect how people think and how policy gets made. It was a little like being in the presence of Bill Clinton, though at this point Rich is probably the more powerful of the two. But wait, who am I kidding? Jon Stewart is, by far, the most influential of these three, with Rich running a distant second, and Clinton bringing up the rear. So why was I especially taken with seeing Frank Rich? I'm not sure. I guess I do love his old fashioned earnestness and his ability to influence us by virtue of the 1200 words that he so carefully researches and artfully composes for our consideration every single week. And at a time when there is a lot to be angry about, no one that I know of expresses it more powerfully or more satisfyingly.

1 comment:

  1. Well, I'm not sure about your power hierarchy, but I can't think of another thing to add. Wow, down in the subway AND listening to his iPOD. A man of the people.