Rexwood Garst and the darker side of ‘meritocracy’ in journalism, politics and other fields

image In The Solomon Scandals, I have a little fun with a hyperspecialized Yalie named Rexwood Garst, a reporter at a Washington Post-type newspaper.

“Serbo-Croatian,” says this young resume jock who lives in a converted carriage house in Georgetown, “that’s the key. I know how to speak it.” It all jibes with my suggestion that the real-life Post become less aloof and start caring more about project managers and teachers and a little less about an elite Slate-style audience. Slate can be a delight; the Post newspaper’s fixation on “upscale” is not. Solvency ahead of snobbery, please—including the meritocratic kind.

Now David Brooks (University of Chicago, ‘83) has weighed in with the sensible opinion that “context,” not just academic and technical creds, should matter. In fields such as journalism, politics and banking, says the New York York Times columnist, traits like compassion and decency are losing out too often among Ivy-educated meritocrats.

Result? More scandals, fewer effective organizations. “The talent level is higher, but the reputation is lower.”

Hear, hear! For decades, James Fallows has warned against “credentialism,” and it’s good to see Brooks writing in a similar vein. Class differences figure prominently in The Solomon Scandals, which depicts Washington as it is: a white-collar factory town.

Brooks himself notes that social gaps are widening, as bankers marry other bankers rather than, say, secretaries. Nothing against such banker-to-banker transactions; but could intra-class marriage now be too common? And are we afflicted with too much credentialism?

Speaking of the Post: In the next few days, I’ll run an item on Quinn Bradlee, son of ex-editor Ben Bradlee and his wife, Sally Quinn, the columnist. No, it won’t at all be like the others you’ve read about young Quinn’s forthcoming marriage to Pary Williamson. Check back in on Monday or Tuesday. Meanwhile, from afar—since I don’t know the Bradlee family or the bride-to-be’s—congratulations to Quinn and Pary.

Image of Yale commencement: CC-licensed photo from Poldavo.

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David Rothman

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