My Lunch With Thomas L. Friedman

Veteran NYTimes Columnist Laments the Rise of Trump’s Big Lie, Then Blames the Far Left For It

Micah Sifry


Thomas L. Friedman at the World Economic Forum, Davos, 2013 (Photo by Michael Wuertemberg)

Thomas L. Friedman invited me for lunch at his office at The New York Times Washington bureau last week. It was all off the record, so I can’t tell you anything he said.

I can, though, tell you two things — what I ate and how I felt after. I ate a turkey sandwich with lettuce and tomato on whole wheat bread, with a bowl of strawberries and a chocolate-vanilla milkshake for dessert that was so good I needed to take a nap after lunch.

What I felt afterward was this: For all you trolls on the Internet who say that Friedman can’t write two sentences without one of them being a cliché, here’s a news flash: He just wrote another trenchant column about the need to defend democracy around the world, starting with Ukraine and including the United States, and despite the main threat to democracy being rising far-right authoritarianism abroad and at home, he managed to make the “far left” the main bugaboo of our times. (And he also wrote a sentence with two colons in it, like the one that starts this paragraph, and somehow the New York Times’ copy desk let him get away with it.)

For a columnist who many think is an old war horse who should have long been put out to pasture, especially after his gleeful and misguided cheerleading for the 2003 invasion of Iraq (“suck on this”?), Friedman’s latest piece shows he still knows how to channel the views of a bygone time, when the elites of both parties in Washington thought they knew what was best for the country and felt it was their job to run the world, and when it was easier to attack the political left for pointing to America’s flaws than doing anything to actually fix those flaws.

I left our lunch with a full stomach but a heavy heart.

Friedman didn’t say it in so many words, but he didn’t have to. I could hear it between the lines. He’s worried that while the Ukraine crisis has revived bipartisan support for an America that defends democracy overseas, and re-established Friedman’s standing as the columnist most likely to be invited to the White House for the kind of private, off-the-record lunches that presidents have used for decades to telegraph…