The Rittenhouse Review

A Philadelphia Journal of Politics, Finance, Ethics, and Culture

Thursday, May 02, 2002  

So Independent She Has Nothing To Say

We draw your attention to a column written for today's Los Angeles Times by Norah Vincent -- "U.S. Tilts to Israel for Good Reason" -- only as evidence that Vincent is the lightest of lightweights, a "public intellectual" who cannot, even on her best days, arrive at even a single original thought, idea, or opinion.

Vincent, as readers may know, is a senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, or FDD, a think tank established with the financial support of "a diverse [Ed.: And unidentified.] group of patriots and philanthropists" in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on the U.S. on September 11, 2001.

The organization hasn't been around for even six months yet, so we're tempted to hold our tongues, but the FDD already looks like the classic "conservative Washington intellectual" gravy train.

The FDD's board of directors is something of a mixed bag, including as it does, former congressman and would-be president Jack F. Kemp (R-N.Y.), chairman; former Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.); one-time presidential candidate, publishing heir, and flat-tax fanatic Steve Forbes; former Ambassor to the United Nations and Georgetown University Professor Jeane J. Kirkpatrick; and former reporter and Republican National Committee staff member Clifford D. May, president.

The FDD's board of advisors is considerably more orthodox. It includes: columnist Charles Krauthammer; Frank Gaffney of the Center for Security Policy; Bill Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard; Charles Jacobs of the American Anti-Slavery Group; Richard Perle, a member of the President's Defense Policy Board; radio talk-show host Michael Medved [Ed.: Why do we always think he's a film critic?]; Balint Vazsonyi from the Center for the American Founding; Rich Galen, former press secretary to Dan Quayle and Newt Gingrich; and one Randall Sherman, whom we simply can't place at all.

Once we start looking at the FDD's senior fellows, the roster becomes noticeably less impressive, including as it does: Prof. Jonathon Adelman, University of Denver; Andrew Apostolou, Oxford University; Richard Z. Chesnoff, journalist; Prof. Mohammed Akacem, Metropolitan State College of Denver [Ed.: !]; Agota Kuperman, U.S. Foreign Service (ret.); Prof. Walid Phares, Florida Atlantic University; Prof. Frederic Smoler, Sara [sic] Lawrence College; and the aforementioned Norah Vincent, "journalist."

If readers are scratching their heads as a result of their unfamiliarity with these names, we can't blame them.

Now, as to Vincent's qualifications for a senior fellowship at the FDD, well, they are few indeed. Vincent has a bachelor's degree in philosophy from Williams College, she wrote the "Higher Ed" column for the Village Voice for less than two years, is a bi-weekly columnist for, and has had several small pieces published here and there in recent years.

Beyond those impressive credentials, Vincent describes herself as "a libertarian, 'pro-life' [Ed.: Why the scare quotes?] lesbian," a characterization that does not appear at the FDD's web site.

Again using her own words, "Vincent is the antithesis of the feminist norm and challenges the conventions of the left and right alike. [Ed.: That's one way to stand out from the crowd without even writing a word.] Recent topics for her column include abortion, the First Amendment, affirmative action, and public intellectualism [sic]," none of which appear, at least to us, to have anything to do with terrorism.

Also rather tangential to the subject of terrorism, let alone defending democracies, is Vincent's sole published book. Tellingly, she is the co-author, with Chad Conway, of The Instant Intellectual : The Quick & Easy Guide to Sounding Smart & Cultured. The book was first published in hardcover by Hyperion Books in 1998 and is available used at, where it ranks 104,460 in sales and garnered an astonishing three out of a possible five stars, for a mere $3.47, excluding shipping and handling.

The same book -- at least we assume it's the same book -- was reprinted as a trade paperback under the far less pretentious title, How to Sound Smart: A Quick and Witty Guide, by an outfit called MJF Books in 2000. This version of the book is also available used from, where it ranks 602,025, for just $4.50, excluding, of course, the requisite shipping and handling charges.

A handy tome, this. Vincent says the book "gives readers pointers on how to bluff intelligence at cocktail parties." We believe "bluffing intelligence" is impossible if a cocktail party's guests include truly bright individuals, those able to see through the false facade of the resident poseurs by virute of either innate intelligence of years of education, reading, and auto-didacticism. Moreover, bluffing through a booze-fest is not a skill we ever would have imagined could be acquired by reading a thin paperback on the beach.

Oh, and Vincent, according to her autobiographical sketch, "resides in New York City"! Lots of smart people there.

Vincent maintains her own web site, "Norah Vincent's Penalty Box," which we urge our readers to visit, if only to view the unimpressive archives of Vincent's published work. Visitors will note that Vincent fancies herself a pugilist of some sort or another, given the plethora of vintage black-and-white boxing photographs at her vanity site.

We find it amazing that one of such scant talents has achieved the notoriety that Vincent has. We cannot help but wonder how, exactly, she has obtained the positions she has secured for herself in the last year or two, particularly the Los Angeles Times assignment and the FDD senior fellowship.

We can only come up with two explanations.

Remember the "Mary Tyler Moore Show"? The episode in which Mary Richards, played by Moore, wants to hire a woman for the sportcaster position? Her boss, Lou Grant, played by Ed Asner, responds (and we're paraphrasing): "Oh I get it. You're thinking, 'Wouldn't it be cute, and fun, and different if we had a woman reading the sports news every night?'"

As this pertains to Vincent, it seems reasonable to conclude that the Los Angeles Times editors were thinking along the same lines: Wouldn't it be cute, and fun, and different if we had a columnist who is a lesbian (crew-cut and all), but also a boxing fan, "pro-life" [Ed.: Her scare quotes, not ours.], anti-feminist, opposed to affirmative action, militarily hawkish, and (by her own account) able to hold her own at cocktail parties?

Frankly, the only other explanation that makes sense to us is this: It all comes down to who you know. The question then becomes, Who does Vincent know and who among her friends and associates had the influence necessary to secure such lofty positions for so obviously untalented an individual?

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