Yesterday, the New York Times contained an article about universities selling their radio stations, notably Rice University and KTRU. Of course, I wrote a blog thing about it, including hypotheticals about what various New York Times columnists would write about the matter. However, one very important columnist was missing.
David Brooks has a special place in this whole thing. Not only is he one of the utterly worst New York Times columnists, but he is the commencement speaker at Rice University this year. So it is only appropriate that he write a full column about the KTRU sale.
Here it is, a fake David Brooks column about the Rice University KTRU sale:
Sometimes you make stuff up.
Yesterday evening I was interviewing Rice University President David Leebron in preparation of my commencement speech there, and we were talking about the university selling the student radio station KTRU. His voice was nasal and fatigued, and he was taking those little sighs that people take when they’re frustrated with being criticized even though the criticisms don’t have any actual effect on the result.
Out of the blue I asked, “Have you ever read Reinhold Niebuhr?”
Leebron’s tone changed. “What does that have to do with anything?”
I continued to list random names and philosophical concepts, hoping he would react to one and I could write a column about it: “C.S. Lewis, Gestalt Theory, Steven Quartz, Ewan Moontz, Friedrich Schleiermacher, bobo chic, Rick Warren…”
I went on for a bit and he stopped me at Milton Friedman.
“I generally don’t agree with his views,” President Leebron said. “For example, there is certainly such a thing as a free lunch, Rice got one by secretly selling KTRU. We get the proceeds while KTRU did all the work.”
As part of my contract with the New York Times, I’ll take this point to state a thesis that disagrees with a notable conservative icon but agrees with someone in power in a way that gets the result I wanted anyways.
Unlike 90 percent of America, I am cheering for the sale. This is widely cast as a students v. administration conflict — the powerful Board of Trustees against the ragtag KTRU community. If this were a movie, KTRU’s arguments before the FCC about localism and education would be successful, and KTRUvians would be weeping with joy.
But this is why life is not a movie. The Board is not always wrong. They do not always exploit student efforts without any discussion. The Rice administration — to the extent that they are paragons of power, which I dispute — won through hard work.
For the first time in university history, the rich and powerful work harder for student interests than the students. KTRU supporters would have gotten what they wanted if only they had worked harder, even if the university was keeping the sale secret. And even though I have never had a job besides working for various upper crust publications, I have no problem lecturing about hard work.
This lack of labor by university students explains why non-profit radio licenses are now essentially dominated by Christian religious stations and NPR.
Notice the dichotomy between the two remaining systems. Blue State NPR asks its listeners for money, while Red State Christian stations only ask their listeners to pray and be better people. Even though I was born in Toronto and have worked almost exclusively in Washington D.C. and New York City, I am an expert on the differences between Red States and Blue States. And what’s the deal with airline food?
You can look back on the history of the KTRU sale many ways. It was callous, at least, to call students lucky in any context of this secret sale. The Rice Board and President Leebron could have done something wonderful if they had engaged students and the KTRU community at the beginning. They didn’t. And it is obviously true that this secrecy played a role in the opposition to the KTRU sale.
But Neibaour wouldn’t listen to KTRU. How do I know? Because I’m on the New York Times opinion page, so I must be right. Sure, I generalize and make stuff up in a way that may sound good if you already support my positions but is utterly lacking in hard facts.
And the same could be said about Rice’s justifications for the KTRU sale. Therefore, it was only appropriate that Rice University invite me, David Brooks, to be the 2011 Commencement Speaker.