New York Times Finds What It's Looking For

Musician Bono speaks during the launch of the Irish Hunger Commission report at U.N. headquarters, Thursday, Sept. 25, 2008. AP Photo/Frank Franklin II

One of U2's best and most popular songs is entitled, "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For." But finally, the band's lead singer, Bono, has found what he craves: respectability. Now he's also going to be recognized as a pundit.

You know who else has found what it's looking for? The New York Times. The newspaper has announced that it will begin publishing Bono's op-eds at an unspecified time next year.

The Times hungers after readers for its paper and page views for its Web site -- the growth engine of any media empire these years. For better or worse, it has shown it will do practically anything to get some publicity -- don't forget when it memorably enlisted beloved satirist Art Buchwald to broadcast his own obituary on the Web site.

That was an inspired bit of whimsy to help goose traffic on the Internet. This is not. Instead, this smacks of a gimmick -- showcasing a famous person to call attention to the product.

Bono is famous for being U2's singer and an advocate for aid to Africa. He is also a global gadfly who hobnobs with world leaders and has a reputation for never meeting a photo op he didn't embrace. He has lots of credibility as a former Time magazine Person of the Year (at a time when that magazine also craved some of Bono's gold dust).

The Times and Bono are a match made in heaven. Paul Krugman has a Nobel Prize, Maureen Dowd and Nicholas Kristof have Pulitzers. Now they have a Rock and Roll Hall of Famer in their ranks. Can the Washington Post say the same?

This all makes perfect sense. The Times is a media outlet desperate to create an aura of hipness at any cost. Bono offers the Times a publicity magnet.

Only the sourest curmudgeon would dismiss this inspired pairing. Only a habitual naysayer would accuse both parties of exhibiting extreme opportunism.

But come on! Yes, Bono has done commendable and valuable work in impoverished Africa. But does the paper truly need to recruit a pop star to tell its readers about the suffering there?

Silly me. I'd thought that Times columnist and multimedia superstar Kristof, boasting two Pulitzer Prizes, has already covered this beat brilliantly.

Kristof won his second Pulitzer a few years ago in the commentary category, "for his graphic, deeply reported columns that, at personal risk, focused attention on genocide in Darfur and that gave voice to the voiceless in other parts of the world."

What is a journalist?

Let's get real. Did Kristof electrify "Live Aid" in 1985 when he ran around the stage like a banshee while singing "Sunday Bloody Sunday?" (No, he did not. He was probably busy learning how to be a journalist.)

The Times' move prompts the question: What is a journalist, anyway? Or, you could ask what qualifies someone to write op-eds for the Times.

I have a few simple questions:

Can Bono actually write legitimate news prose? I don't want to imply that Bono isn't smart or resourceful enough to pull it off. Then again, will he even write his own columns? You know how it is. When a celebrity is asked to write something for publication, he or she often turns to a staff member or well-compensated consultant to dash off something for the unwashed masses.

Will his stories have an "edge"? (That's an inside joke for U2 fans.) Who cares? Like it matters what he produces, anyway. The Times is exploiting Bono's fame to get more people to read the Web site and buy papers. For Bono's part, he's smart enough to extend his brand, from rock star to philanthropist to pundit.

Did Bono score the Times gig because he is A) famous; B) accomplished; C) earnest; or D) all of the above? The correct answer, of course, is "A." Nothing else really matters.

This is the state of the American media in the 21st century.
By Jon Friedman
  • Tucker Reals

    Tucker Reals is the CBSNews.com foreign editor, based at the CBS News London bureau.

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