Jonathan — I once asked the same question of a former Times op-ed page editor — how could the paper devote such prime opinion real estate to someone who has never had a single original thing to say? The editor rather impassively told a story about how Herbert had somehow risen to the editorial board — which has about 22 writers and is neither an onerous nor an especially esteemed journalistic job. When a slot opened for a Times columnist (certainly a harder, much more prestigious job, where the writer’s reputation is on the line twice a week), it just seemed obvious that there had to be a black slot, for diversity sake. The opinion editors wanted to audition established black columnists from other papers, known to be talented by evidence of their work, But Bob Herbert wanted the job, pushed for a tryout, and no one had the gumption to take it away — though they understood perfectly well that he is an untalented writer, has little interest in reportage, and absolutely no visible analytic ability. He doesn’t even do an interesting job of conveying conventional liberal opinion. It was simply not worth the trouble to the senior editors to fight for real talent against mediocrity.
But, in the end, is he a better or worse addition to the page than Paul Krugman — who clearly does more harm?