Friday, June 14, 2002

Lights Out for The Big City

For the past eight years, John Tierney has been the best writer at The New York Times.

He was given a weekly column, The Big City, and let loose to cover New York and its people. This is unusual for the Times because the paper usually ignores what actually happens in New York below the 20th floor. Like The Washington Post, the Times treats its hometown the same way it would some remote news bureau. Occasionally local news makes it into the paper but for the most part it is news not deemed fit to print.

Tierney balanced this willful ignorance by reporting on actual events and unnoticed trends in the city. In his past three columns I learned that flophouses on the Bowery are actually getting better now that some insipid "tenants rights" litigation has been defeated, that Manhattan used to be the flour capital of the New World with a vital windmill on the site of the Trade Center, and how the hawks introduced with much fanfare to the city's ecosystem some years ago are creating a sort of pigeon holocaust.

But aside from actually learning something new in a New York Times column, what was most unusual about The Big City was that Tierney was an unapologetic free-market liberal, which in New York means "right-wing extremist."

Moreover, he expressed his point of view with humor and intelligence in such a disarming way that he could change minds rather than enrage those who disagreed with him the way, say, Sean Hannity might.

I imagine Tierney as a once idealistic Democrat who over time realized how big is the gap between rhetoric and reality on the left side of the political spectrum. Like some many others, his brain eventually pulled his heart over to the right side.

Tierney is going to Washington, DC which in itself is utter blasphemy. He's staying with the Times though and it will be interesting to see what he writes about now. But for me, the big city just won't be the same without him.

Read his last column and see what you'll be missing.

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