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Raising Their Game

Aug 18, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 46 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
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Readers can well imagine the excitement in these precincts when The Scrapbook learned the news about Fareed Zakaria. If you haven’t heard it, here’s what we’re talking about: It was announced last week that Dr. Zakaria, after stints at Foreign Affairs, Slate, Newsweek, Newsweek International, Time, the Washington Post, and CNN, will be joining Atlantic Media as a contributing editor. In the words of Politico, “He will write for both the Atlantic and Quartz and will participate in events with both brands on ‘pressing world matters and culture.’ ”

Of course, none of this surprises The Scrapbook. The Indian-born, Yale-educated Zakaria has carved a special niche for himself in American media as a matchless purveyor of conventional wisdom, in print and on the air, on a wide variety of topics. In the old days, this used to be described as moistening one’s finger and holding it aloft to sense which way the wind blows. But Zakaria has raised that gesture to the level of art (“There’s something suspicious about a thinker always so perfectly in tune with the moment”—the New Republic) and, as he often reminds us, he holds a doctorate in political science from Harvard. This impressive credential lends his particular brand of conventional wisdom a certain authority.

So The Scrapbook is duly impressed and excited—but not nearly as excited as the man who recruited Dr. Zakaria, Atlantic Media’s proprietor, David Bradley. Something of the esteem in which Zakaria is held may be captured in the statement from Bradley: 

This is one of those wonderful high-water marks in the Atlantic’s 157-year history. Our founders (Emerson, Holmes, Longfellow.  .  .) would welcome Fareed enthusiastically—and then worry about raising their own game.

High-water mark, indeed! Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essays were all very well, in their way, and Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. wrote some stirring verse and charming essays. But The Scrapbook doubts that Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poetry ever approached the caliber of Dr. Zakaria’s columns on “pressing world matters and culture,” and none of these 19th-century worthies, so far as The Scrapbook has been able to ascertain, ever hosted a CNN program remotely resembling Fareed Zakaria GPS.

It is true that Zakaria was once caught plagiarizing a New Yorker writer on the mundane subject of gun control, and briefly suspended from his duties at CNN and Time. But Emerson, Holmes, and Longfellow had their lapses as well, and while all were Harvard College graduates, none possessed a doctorate in political science. The Scrapbook predicts that Zakaria’s contributions to the Atlantic Media brand will immeasurably raise its game, thinking outside the box, pushing the envelope, and shoving the paradigm shift—until a better offer comes along.

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