Press Box

Tom Friedman Is Flat

He can’t stop plugging his best seller.

Shafer’s First Law of Journalistic Self-Promotion allows a reporter to do anything he desires to publicize his new book. He may beg book review editors to review it, urge op-ed editors to let him opine about his subject in their pages, pitch magazine editors on excerpting it, spam every friend with a media connection to see if they can help get him profiled or interviewed on the Today Show or Charlie Rose, call in favors from friends to throw him book parties, suck up to famous writers in hopes that they’ll blurb him on the dust jacket, purchase presents for his publicist, and sell his children to a traveling carnival and spend the proceeds on copies to drive up its Amazon rating.

But the first corollary to Shafer’s law prohibits newspaper columnists from hyping their book in more than three columns, because such self-promotion is just too shameless. Columnists, especially the big-footed ones, have the independence and license to write about anything they want, and no editor can step in and ask them to move along to something new.

The most recent violator of the first corollary is, as the headline gives away, New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman, the author of—if you haven’t read of it by now—The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century. I can’t begrudge Friedman for his success in getting on television to promote the book, but I take issue with the promotional drumbeating in his Times column. Since the book came out two months ago, his columns have stated that the world has become “flat,” is “increasingly flat,” has become “flatter,” or some other variant (“flattened,” “flattening,” “flatten”) at least six times, and that’s not counting the 5,000-word excerpt (“It’s a Flat World, After All”) from his book, which appeared in the April 3 New York Times Magazine—or Fareed Zakaria’s 2,400-word review in the May 1 New York Times Book Review(over which Friedman obviously had no input). I give Friedman no brownie points for not mentioning the book by title in his six recent columns.

Even before the book appeared, Friedman was hyping the theme. In 2004, he observed the flatness of the world in December, October, and June columns, when he announced a three-month sabbatical to“finish a book about geopolitics, called The World Is Flat.” In an April column, he noted that, “The world is flat—or at least getting flatter.”

Get it? Flat. Flatter. Flattest. Leveled. Compressed. Deflated. Planed. Steamrollered. Pancaked. Creamed. Smushed. Not hilly. Flat.

Having read only the columns, I can’t judge the book. But Friedman-hater Matt Taibbi of the New York Press has, and he finds it a cavalcade of mixed metaphors, sloppy thinking, and witless sloganeering. The “people” think otherwise. As I write, The World Is Flat ranks No. 6 on Amazon.

Short of hiring an attorney and going to court to obtain a prior restraining order against Friedman, may I suggest that if his Big Idea best seller needs any more nudges in the Times,he should purchase ads?


Disclosure: I know Tim Noah dinged Friedman late last month in “Chatterbox,” but you’ll have to take my word for it that there is no Slate vendetta against Friedman. Send e-mail to suggesting who we should feud with. (E-mail may be quoted unless the writer stipulates otherwise.)