Yesterday at the Time Politics Summit 2008 we chatted with Frank Rich about the fact the New York Times now allows comments on its op-ed pieces. (A side note: even though Rich has long been ahead of the game in terms of adding in links to his columns, something he initiated on his own, opening up a comments section was apparently not his idea, nor is he responsible for moderating it.) Rich’s Sunday column often tops out at over 500 comments (this week’s piece ‘The Terrorist Barack Hussein Obama’ currently has 842). So we wanted to know, was it strange to suddenly be on the receiving end of so many opinions? Rich told us it actually wasn’t that much different than the slew of emails he normally receives each week, except that the responses were now public. And does he manages to read all of them? He doesn’t. (Who has the time? He said.) Rich also noted a phenomenon that anyone who has written for a heavily trafficked and commented-on blog (for example, HuffPo) will probably already have experienced: the comments are rarely about the piece itself, instead commenters tend to use the space as their own platform.
Early during the panel he was moderating, Rich queried panelists Peggy Noonan, Byron York, Josh Marshall, and Jeff Greenfield as to who might be this election year’s Walter Cronkite.
Rich noted Lyndon Johnson’s famous observation during the Vietnam war that if he’d lost Cronkite “I’ve lost middle America,” and wondered if the same could be said for any media type working today. Someone mentioned Tina Fey, someone else suggested that Rush Limbaugh was the only person who exercised that sort of power over middle America. Rich, himself felt that in light of SNL‘s recent success in parodying Sarah Palin in particular, it might be a role that Lorne Michaels is currently playing.