Back in April, Frank Bruni announced he was stepping down as a columnist at The New York Times to take an endowed chair in journalism at Duke University.
On Friday, he wrote his final column and it started with this line that was as surprising as it was captivating:
“I owe Ted Cruz an apology.”
“Though, really,” Bruni continued, “it’s readers to whom I should say I’m sorry.”
Bruni looked back at his 10 years as a columnist and painted a picture of regret, saying he too often “swam with the snide tide.” He added, “Many columnists do.”
To his much larger point, Bruni wondered if he, like many opinion writers, have contributed to the very things they criticize: “the toxic tenor of American discourse, the furious pitch of American politics, the volume and vitriol of it all.”
The column is a fascinating look into what it was like to be an opinion writer over the past decade, including during the presidency of Donald Trump.
He wrote, “Too many columnists generalize too broadly. I know I did when I wrote, in August 2019, about the tenacity of hate and I asserted that Americans who still opposed same-sex marriage ‘cannot bear the likes of me’ and other gay people. A reader called me out on it, saying that there’s a difference between disagreeing with a position and detesting a person. He was right. But that distinction was lost in my excited prose.”
It’s a thoughtful column from Bruni, who still will continue to write his newsletter. But he won’t write a regular column. Which is too bad because, based on this final column, Bruni appears to more aware than ever of what it takes to be a responsible columnist.
This piece originally appeared in The Poynter Report, our daily newsletter for everyone who cares about the media. Subscribe to The Poynter Report here.