‘Terrible’: Author gets hammered over $78 airport meal complaint

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A New York Times columnist has found himself at the centre of a social media firestorm after tweeting the picture of an airport meal he ate to complain, on behalf of the American people, about its suspiciously high cost.

David Brooks on Wednesday, New Jersey-time, posted a picture of a hamburger and fries and what appears to be whiskey, possibly a double shot.

“This meal just cost me $78 at Newark Airport,” he wrote. “This is why Americans think the economy is terrible.”

What was possibly intended as a complaint about the impact of the cost of living has – like so many things on social media – boomeranged into an unending commentary on the journalist’s food choice and social position.

“I’m guessing it’s the $30 double-barreled whiskey to blame and not the $25 burger & fries entree + tax & tip,” wrote one.

Some commenters have accused Brooks of lying, or have demanded to see the bill for the meal – questioning how much he spent on the drink compared to the food.

Brooks, a rare high-profile commentator who discusses economic class, and topics like school admissions to universities, seen as pivotal to social advancement in the US, appeared to speak for the outrage of consumers.

The controversy on his post comes as the issue of economic equality and class has surged to the fore in the US. Autoworkers and Hollywood writers and actors are on strike, for issues around the future of work conditions.

US President Joe Biden has just signalled that he will join striking autoworkers on the picket line.

Senator John Fetterman, former mayor of a working-class city near Pittsburgh, has outraged conservatives by wearing shorts into the Senate, his casual dress seen as more in keeping with blue-collar roots.

This too seems to form part of a larger debate.

“The funny thing about this is that wealthy Ivy educated Republicans rail against elites and claim to be for the working class while wearing expensive suits and calling unions evil,” wrote opinion writer Elizabeth Spiers. “They know optics matter and are mad that Fetterman does too”

Working class-cred is no small thing: since Donald Trump’s presidency, Republicans such as Senators Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley, have sought to reposition themselves as friends of the working class.

“The old Republican Party is dead,” Hawley wrote last year. It was time for Republicans to “forge something new – a party that truly represents the cultural backbone of this nation: America’s working people.”

And in fact, increasingly high school-educated voters lean Republican, while university educated ones lean Democratic.

Meanwhile, Biden is touting economic reform that enshrines the place of unions in the workplace and seeks to rebuild the working class’s economic power (in contrast to the free market policies so prevalent since the 198Os).

So the brouhaha over Brooks’ tweet, posted by a NYTimes columnist, is also driven by the larger question of who gets to speak for the regular Americans?

Who can claim the cape of outrage for airport food prices? Anti-elite culture warriors of the right, pro-union presidents of the centre left, or the columnists from the New York Times?

In any case, Brooks is paying the price for asking.

Even the restaurant in question has surfaced to defend itself.

“Looks like someone was knocking back some serious drinks,” 1911 Smoke House Barbeque posted on Facebook. “Bar tab was almost 80% and he’s complaining about the cost of his meal. Keep drinking buddy – we get paid off everything.”

They then created a DBrooks special for $US17.78, burger, fries and a double shot of whiskey. Marked down, in the ad at least, from $US78.

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