How to write an opinion piece for the New York Times!

talia jane
7 min readFeb 20, 2018

Recently, the New York Times ran a piece saying that protesting against gun violence is a bad thing to do after a mass shooting that took the lives of 17 people at a high school. Instead what we need to do is let gun owners, including the gun owner who just did a whole bunch of murdering!, tell us what to do, “and to show respect to gun owners at all points.” I’m not linking to the piece because you have better things to do with your time, and because this about sums it all up:

Here’s what I gotta say about that:

Firstly, hahaha at whoever added “, and to show respect to gun owners at all points” to this caption. Boy, that’s really bad copy. Not just because it’s awkwardly crammed in there, but because the structure of the words only serves to evoke an image of someone pointing a gun at you, demanding respect.

It says: Please prostrate yourself before the mighty Gun Owners, who know better than you because they drop too much money on phallic symbolism that their children shoot themselves in the faces with on a too-regular basis.
It says: The NRA paid me to write this.
It says: I had to take so many drugs to make this take barely-legible.
It says: Please, Mr. Bennet [editor of NYT opinions], I promise I’ll file this Bad Take for you in time. But I can’t concentrate with you pointing that gun in my face.

After extensive research (none) and mountains of interviews, studying, spying, and other very exhaustive efforts (I repeat: none), I have finally uncovered James Bennet’s tricks for writing takes so bad it’ll make you want to hire someone who’s openly friends with a literal Nazi. Without further adieu:

Step 1: Think of something a lot of people care about this week.

Check Twitter, Facebook, the news — what’s something a lot of people seem to be discussing this week? Is it Nazis? Trump’s incompetence? Gun violence?

Try to find something that is fairly general without being too broad. You wouldn’t want to write about all Nazis — just the ones from 2018! You don’t want to write about how Trump has been incompetent his entire life and only got away with it because he had enough money to fail at everything he does and still come out the other end with morons who want to blow him. You don’t want to write about all the gun violence that’s ever occurred, just the gun violence that’s happened in the past few days! Any more than a few days and you’ll have too much gun violence to cover, because apparently we can’t just get enough of it!

Step 2: Think of a related thing no one cares about.

When you think “Nazis” what are some things that come to mind? Off the top of my head, I think:

  • Fear-mongering
  • Bigotry
  • Murder
  • Bad haircuts
  • Tiki-torches
  • The Holocaust
  • Fads that come back into style

When I think “gun violence,” the first things that come to my mind are:

  • Capitalism
  • Oppression
  • Government
  • The NRA
  • Too many fucking guns

When I think “Trump’s incompetence,” I can’t think of just a few things because his whole existence is a celebration of his astounding stupidity, but here’s me giving it the ol’ college try:

  • Thinking Fox News is news
  • Thinking exercise is bad for you
  • Racism
  • Inability to empathize
  • Multiple bankruptcies

Step 2.1: If you have multiple topics, choose which is the most “fertile.”

If you look at my three examples above, I’ve thought up five things for “gun violence” and five for “Trump’s incompetence.” There’s plenty more, but I seem to have found a bigger spark in my brain when I think about “Nazis,” so for the sake of the exercise, let’s go with that one. This tactic is especially useful on weeks when there are a lot of competing topics just begging for your incredibly shitty opinion of them!

Step 2.2: Choose something fresh from your list that relates to your original topic

Since my most “fertile” topic is “Nazis,” I’m looking at my related topics to see what sticks out. For me, that’s “bad haircuts” and “fads that come back into style.” These overlap one another fairly neatly, so I’m going to combine the two into just “bad fads that come back into style.”

Step 3: Think of a thing related to your choice in step 2.2

Here is where we start cooking with gas! This is what makes a New York Times opinion in 2018 so special. It’s not just having a bad take, but taking a bad take and adding a second layer of shit on top of it to really make it stink.

For me, my topic is “Nazis” with a related “bad fads that come back into style.” Let’s see what we can come up with looking just at what could be related to “bad fads that come back into style,” with the end goal of… well, that’ll be step 4. For this, I’m going to try thinking up some “bad fads” and cross-referencing them to “things that come back into style”:

Hm, interesting. Interesting. That wasn’t a scary journey at all!

Once again, look at the topics and see what most sticks out. Hm… let’s see what we can do with Tonya Harding, eh?

Step 4: Connect your second leap back to your original topic, and demand it is the most important thing in the world.

I want to spend a moment looking again at that opinion about how we should respect gun owners before doing anything about gun violence that repeatedly comes at the hands of gun owners.

What’s special about this is that the author lays out for us the perfect recipe for New York Times op-ed gold/reality disaster.

The topic: school shootings.
The related topic: gun owners.
The related topic to the related topic: gun owners own guns because they wrongly think it commands respect and authority lol morons

The author took that secondary related — gun owners wanting respect — and tied it directly back to the primary topic of school shootings. In this, we have a clear layout for a world of aggressively stupid nonsense: You get the outrage at being expected to immediately rush to tell all gun owners you respect them as soon as a mass shooting occurs, or perhaps even while they’re in the middle of committing one. You’ve got the elitist scolds directed toward teens mourning the deaths of their friends, classmates, instructors, and administrators. And here’s what makes it so clutch: the insane argument that it is necessary to let gun owners tell you what should be done in terms of preventing gun violence.

It’s really just astonishing how bad this is! But you, too, can create some world-class bullshit for what used to be the most well-respected newspaper in the country until James Bennet was hired in 2016.

Step 5: Combine until you’ve got something really out of left field

Let’s circle back to what I’ve got and see if we can’t nail a take so bad your parents will change their last names so as not to be associated with you!

So far, I’ve got
Topic: Nazis.
Related topic: Bad fads.
Related topic to the related topic: Tonya Harding

Now, I’m just spitballing here, but here are the first 3 things I can think of that 1. relates to the original topic, 2. makes the third thing no one cares about the most important thing in the world, 3. is so astoundingly stupid you can’t believe someone got paid to write it, let alone is allowed to exist and have internet access:

Tonya Harding Is An Essential Blueprint For Neo-Nazi Redemption

Nazis Would Like Their Apology Now (this is a little ‘inside baseball’ but it’s a riff on a Tonya Harding profile in the Times titled “Tonya Harding Would Like Her Apology Now”)

If Tonya Harding Can Be Redeemed, So Can Nazis — and It’s Vital They Are

Wow! These read like they’re all ripped from the opinions section! That last one even has clunky copy to boot!

So, there you have it. How to write a New York Times opinion piece that James Bennet, who is the Times opinion editor and who recently hired a woman who’s friends with a Nazi and loves slurs until a few very simple Twitter searches revealed she’s exactly as terrible as she openly advertised herself to be, would have a heart attack while jizzing over.

Now go out and get ’em, tiger!

--

--