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Web Letter

Eric Alterman is an insufferable windbag. Consider this: "By the time I earned my history doctorate, it felt overly schematic, simplistic and ideologically driven. Politically, I also found myself at odds with Zinn, who supported Ralph Nader not only in 2000 but also in 2004 and even in 2008, and who recently judged Barack Obama's approach to foreign policy to be 'hardly any different from a Republican.' "

So "mainstream" history is not simplistic and ideologically driven? And why should anyone care whether Alterman found himself at odds with Zinn over Ralph Nader? And was Howard Zinn really off the mark when he judged Obama's foreign policy to be "hardly different from a Republican"? Are we supposed to genuflect before the wisdom of Alterman, who does not adduce a jot of evidence how Obama's foreign policy is different from Bush's?

Sanjeev Mahajan

San Francisco, CA

Feb 23 2010 - 11:28pm

Web Letter

Eric Alterman apparently "suspects that someone was nervous about quoting the radical leftist Chomsky and so sought 'balance' with the radical rightist Horowitz for the purposes of political cover." His suspicion may be justified but, if it is, it nonetheless ignores a modern-day assumption regarding the very function of journalism contained in NPR's inclusion of Horowitz. The assumption is that journalism, for it to be objective, requires "balance." When (and more importantly why) did that happen?

I always thought journalism, as the Fourth Estate, was about holding accountable the powerful, the wealthy and those to whom we the people entrust our leadership. To the extent journalism accomplishes that goal, it is good. If it's assumptive of me to assign to journalism the role of enhancing democracy, so be it. I'm in good company and comport with the likes of I.F. Stone, whose famous dictum that "all governments lie" is taken as a first principle by many journalists I admire today. It also was clearly the perspective from which Zinn wrote A People's History, a book that was groundbreaking precisely because it was written to speak truth to power, and its success in doing so is its great triumph.

David Horowitz, a racist who speaks only the lies of the powerful, has no right to be included in any conversation that purports to enlighten. But NPR's inclusion of him alters my perception of that bourgeois liberal enterprise not one iota.

My only disappointment with Howard Zinn, whose contribution to democracy (and to high-minded stand-up comedy) I think to be enormous, is his delving into partisan politics and his throwing support behind status quo candidates like Obama and Kucinich, whom he initially supported in 2004. Zinn, who famously noted that "what matters most is not who is sitting in the White House, but 'who is sitting in,' " should have stuck with the mass movement-ist praxis that he meaningfully involved himself with during the civil rights movement of the '60s. His support of status quo candidates is hard to comprehend in light of his clear understanding of how democratic change really evolves and his historical grassroots advocacy.

Jeff Weinberger

Plantation, FL

Feb 16 2010 - 5:43pm

Web Letter

In reply to David W. Deitch's web letter, below, where he says, "I have no doubt that most of these people will have learned nothing by what Obama and Wall Street have visited upon America and will again support Obama in 2012." God, I hope he's wrong. I wish I had heard/read Nader's warmings Deitch posted before I voted. I found out soon enough after the election with his appointments of Emanuel, Geithner, Summers, etc. what a (probably handpicked by the global corporate plutocracy) neoliberal "free"-trade, "free"-market corporatist he is. Sadly. We need a viable third party, whether it's the Green Party or a new Progressive party; at the very least, for 2012, we need primary challenges from progressive Democrats (that beleaguered minority).

Note to NPR: Horowitz is a propagandist, not a scholar. Evidence-free (absurd) propaganda is not acceptable in trying to find a "balance" of views.

Don Harris

Houston, TX

Feb 15 2010 - 9:49pm

Web Letter

To suggest that Howard Zinn was a supporter of Ralph Nader, most importantly in the 2008 election, is misinformation and probably self-serving propaganda as well. For Zinn's true position in regard to Nader I refer you to a Real News interview of October 2008 in which Zinn, at length, told why he supported Barack Obama and criticized third-party efforts as demonstrations of left weakness. He refused to back Nader in 2004 for the same reasons. Just before the November 2008 election, he reportedly "changed his mind" and advised voting for Nader in states like his own, Massachusetts, where it didn't matter because the Dems were far ahead in the polls. In the so-called "battleground states" where it did matter, Zinn backed Obama all the way.

Zinn said in the Real News interview that he sensed that an Obama victory was an "historic moment" and an "opening" to reform that could not be ignored. While Zinn could not cite a single fact in support of his hopes for a reformist Obama presidency, he obviously ignored Nader's persistence pleas for the left to make demands on Obama in advance of granting Obama and the Democratic Party their votes. Zinn ignored evidence cited persistently by Nader that Obama was hauling in most of his financial support from Wall Street and surrounding himself by financial community advisors and Israel supporters who could be expected to be rewarded with high posts in an Obama administration.

Zinn, who deserves a lot of credit for his record as a left-wing historian and activist, was in way over his head as an analyst of political economy and the reactionary role of the financial sector. His leadership in backing Obama as the "lesser evil" candidate in 2008 and Kerry in 2004 did much to demoralize the left and paralyze its efforts to change American foreign and domestic policy. Those who idolize uncritically this celebrity historian are simply excusing their own naïveté in continuing to back the Democratic Party. I have no doubt that most of these people will have learned nothing by what Obama and Wall Street have visited upon America and will again support Obama in 2012.

David W. Deitch

Lyon, France

Feb 14 2010 - 10:37am

Web Letter

This morning, Saturday, February 13, NPR has done one of those things that the media regularly does--provided us with a case for comparison.

One of the US's better known idolaters of war, former Senator Charlie Wilson, died on February 10. Scott Simon eulogized him very personally on NPR's Weekend Edition Saturday. It was a fawning string of inanities from an NPR host who has worked for years to perfect a breathless, simpering delivery.

Absent from Simon's treatment was anything even remotely resembling the slander attack of David Horowitz on Howard Zinn provided via Allison Keyes.

My suspicion (indeed, certainty) is that a thorough review of politically charged obits would reveal this kind of "fair and balanced" treatment by NPR and most other so-called news organizations in America. Of course, in the eyes of NPR and Scott Simon, Charlie Wilson was not a politically charged figure. He was adored by Democrats and Republicans alike--which accounts for all of the political spectrum in NPR's field of vision.

Another illuminating comparison (albeit, not of two obits) is that of Yasir Arafat, who was gently villified (to put it as best I can) on his death and Ariel Sharon, who was lionized when he became comatose though he is every bit--and far far more--the war criminal Arafat was. Indeed, Simon himself offered another of his utterly hollow accounts on the occasion of Arafat's death. Simon recounted being held by Palestinian captors briefly. His captors pointedly asked whether Simon was Jewish. (It probably goes without saying that Simon has never noted virulent anti-Arab racism in Israel.) The point is that Simon felt no need to offer mealy-mouthed accolades for Arafat. Moreover, he made "relevant" an irrelevant detail that had nothing to do with Arafat, but did serve Simon's purpose of demonizing, en masse, the entire Palestinian people--just as the inclusion of Horowitz's slander served NPR's purpose of diminishing Zinn.

There are a great many critics of Zinn, some conservative, some liberal, some left-wing, who could have added some texture to any recollection, though it is plainly clear that the NPR and general US media standard is to offer near-unalloyed praise--unless there is a "need" to take the person down a few notches, or flaws so glaring that they must be at least acknowledged. Thus, in the case of Sharon, the briefest mention is made of Sabra and Shatila. Likewise, in the case of Reagan, the treasonable and impeachable crimes of Iran/contra are mentioned--but only in passing.

It is for the American left that the special case arises, where it is necessary to slander the dead, lest their views be too popular.

Hugh Sansom

Brooklyn, NY

Feb 13 2010 - 12:16pm

Web Letter

Eric, there was no need for you to attack Zinn's scholarship when you don't have the space to back up the assertion. I publicly challenge Wilentz and anyone else who attacks Zinn's scholarship to show me how any minor errors of fact (not even that from what I see; I see more of a minority view of a situation in his statements on foreign policy events in the mid-twentieth century), stacked up against the much more egregious errors that James Loewen identified in other textbook histories of the US in his work Lies My Teacher Told Me.

What seems to upset people like Wilentz is Zinn's refusal to say he is objective. Historiography is still safe if we acknowledge we have certain ideological worldviews we bring to our analyses. And in fact we would be all the better for such an acknowledgement.

Mitchell Freedman

Poway, CA

Feb 13 2010 - 8:40am

Web Letter

Your counts against Zinn were that he supported voting for Nader, even in 2008? I simply don't understand this type of thinking. Those progressives who voted for Obama and didn't get what they wanted are supposed to understand that Obama didn't ever promise them anything in his campaign, yet those who understood they wouldn't be voting in their interests are discredited? (Or so goes the liberal media's story of the Obama letdown.)

This kind of drivel is undemocratic--why should progressives vote for a candidate who continues many of the same terrible policies of the previous adminstration and urges the public not to look back in the past at the buses that went on under Bush? I don't think any one was confused about whether Zinn was progressive or not (except maybe the author).

I know many voters who voted for Obama who have elected someone who now disagree with many of Obama's policies. In my opinion, we must decide whether corporate Dems and Repubs are so different that we must forgo our own voting interest to get a Dem in office. Despite all the fear-mongering about Palin being vice prez, I doubt things would have been so different under McCain.

Nate Maddison

Burlington, VT

Feb 12 2010 - 5:11pm

Web Letter

Thank you for calling out NPR's including David Horowitz for any reason at any time. Thankfully, I didn't hear that program. He's every bit as crazy as Alterman says. Neal Conan probably thinks he's just fine though.

NPR has no balance. It veers from center-right to corporate hack. Example: when Karzai had stolen the election and the US was just going to go along with that, NPR had a story on how to get some better PR for Karzai. "He once had great PR; he spoke English so well and looked so good in those native costumes"--almost an exact quote. I know, it sounds like parody, but they don't have a news parody program per se.

The fact that someone like Howard Zinn has to die before you'll hear anything about him, even on NPR, is the problem. We're in Plato's cave for sure.

The idea that any Democrat speaks for the left is a joke, and any nation that doesn't demand that Ralph Nader have a high position in its government is not worth saving. I mean this very literally even though my grandchildren live here.

I'm not just saying this because I've been told so many times to 'love it or leave it," and that the US Marines are "over there fighting for your right to protest, so shut up and get out of here." I've passionately and fearfully followed American politics since I was 14. Since high school I've expected a terrorist attack from somewhere, because we had it coming. And it has only gotten worse and worse.

I heard Alterman give a talk about why third parties can't work (a book-signing in 2004, I think). I like his writing very much, though I think he's a hopeless optimist!

Kathleen Greene

Martinez, CA

Feb 12 2010 - 1:06pm

Web Letter

Unlike Eric Alterman, I do not consider Zinn's writings, "overly schematic, simplistic and ideologically driven." Even if they are, don't we need some of this to counterbalance the torrent of equally schematic, simplistic and ideologically driven flag-waving dreck that is rammed down the throats of our children in history class?

I heard the piece on NPR, and I too was puzzled by the choice of David Horowitz as commentator on Zinn's life and work. However, I took it differently than a lot of people who saw this as one of NPR's attempts to appease its right-wing critics. On the contrary, NPR might have done the left a small favor. The only one who looked bad after David Horowitz's commentary was David Horowitz and the side of the political spectrum that he represents. If you consider a person unworthy of respect, let him step into the light, turn on some music, and see how he dances. Give Ahmadinejad or Kim Jong-il some time on stage to do the "old soft shoe," and wait for the audience to jeer and lob rotten tomatoes. Amazingly, by the act of dying, Howard Zinn was deftly able to skewer one of his worst critics by provoking Horowitz to step up on the stage and, in the blazing limelight glare, to slip on a puddle of his own slippery, bile infused saliva and fall flat on his big, fat, mean and nasty ass!

Robert Austin

Seminole, FL

Feb 12 2010 - 8:08am

Web Letter

It seems unnecessary--in an article deriding under-handed comments--to qualify Zinn's work as ideologically driven. I think he did his readers and students a service by laying his cards on the table. I don't understand what anyone benefits from educators pretending they don't have an opinion. (Sooner or later, you'll find out.)

And why was he wrong in supporting Nader? Gore's major folly was trying to fish in the Republican's pond.

Same goes for Obama.

While there have been some--and I'm hesitant to even give him that-- changes in our international policies, Obama has continued some of the most disastrous initiatives of the Bush regime. I don't think you can fault Zinn for airing his concerns about that, as many progressives have been.

Alex Cerrilla

Los Angeles, CA

Feb 11 2010 - 9:56pm