TO MR. T.: LIAR, LIAR, PANTS ON FIRE!

Los Angeles

Dear Mr. Trillin, Regardless of your references to Mrs. Flynn and to Fuller Street, where Richard Perle did live, your “take” on Richard’s childhood is pure fantasy, having no bearing on reality [“Letters,” Oct. 21]. The person whose name you mention–supposedly a fellow student in Mrs. Flynn’s class–is a fictional character. None of us who were in Mrs. Flynn’s class (I remain in contact with many of her students) ever heard of Rocco–your invented man.

If you continue to provoke Richard with your false and overstated accusations, it may be you who is responsible for World War III.

Tread softly, Mr. T.–and pay attention to reality.

ELAINE SHRAGER


TRILLIN REPLIES

New York City

I suppose Rocco Guntermann, the classmate whose existence you deny, did not say to me just last week, “We can settle this if Perlie Girl meets me near the swings at 5 o’clock on Friday–and tell him not to bring two teachers and his mother this time.” Would it surprise you to learn that Rocco is now a psychotherapist in Sherman Oaks?

CALVIN TRILLIN


BUSINESS BOOK GETS THE BUSINESS

Southbury, Conn.

Tatiana Siegel’s review of my book Bamboozled at the Revolution: How Big Media Lost Billions in the Battle for the Internet was an exercise in irrelevance [“Web Journalism’s Sticky Pages,” Oct. 7]. To argue, as she ineptly does, that big media’s web ambitions failed because their standards weren’t high enough is an absurd and laughable argument. Virtually everything she writes seems to be based on a bad experience she had at Fox News Online, which was a shoestring operation from the start and never seriously competed with MSNBC.com or CNN.com. It’s inane to claim that you can infer from this her larger point.

The applications that work online–e-mail, chat, instant messaging, message boards, auctions, e-commerce–have nothing to do with “journalism” per se. That’s a big reason media companies were so distressed by the challenges of the Internet. The stuff that worked was not stuff they knew how to do. Siegel’s arguments are utterly beside the point. Moreover, she seems to find any attempt at dealing with business issues to be offensive. Gee, that’s what I thought you did in a business book. It’s thinking like this that has made The Nation such a fiscal powerhouse.

JOHN MOTAVALLI


SIEGEL REPLIES

San Francisco

Whether or not John Motavalli agrees, information disseminated on a newsmedia website is journalism. The proliferation of new technologies like message boards and e-commerce only underscores the need for informed journalism professionals in the digital newsroom. And with the unfettered ability to propagate disinformation at lightning speed, the case for ethics and accountability has never been stronger. It is ironic that both Motavalli and the executives he seeks to castigate fail in their fiscal forecasting precisely because they have dismissed the most basic concept of the “business” of journalism: In this industry, survival is directly tied to an ability to maintain the public’s trust. And when this key “product,” known as factual authority, disappears, so do the customers.

As I stated in my review, Motavalli refuses to focus on anything but the bottom line. He confirms this point when he argues (erroneously) that Fox News Online was a “shoestring operation.” At its height, Fox’s digital news division employed hundreds and was outspent by few competitors. But even if Fox had operated with a staff of three, does that exempt such a visible news outlet from adhering to basic journalistic tenets? Contrary to Motavalli’s suggestion, my views are, in fact, shaped by a number of excellent experiences from my many years working in the old-fangled mediums of print and radio. Finally, Motavalli’s swipe at The Nation reveals his sense of history to be as poor as his concept of commerce. As The Nation marks its 137th year shaping ideas in a vital public dialogue, Bamboozled and the “revolutionary” media values it trumpets are quietly being relegated to the bargain bins of triviality.

TATIANA SIEGEL


THE CAGED BIRD SINGS

Saxapahaw, NC

If I had her telephone number I would immediately call Wanda Coleman to offer my thanks for a superb and cleansing exposition of her experience (ostracism) in a world that could be free, but is, unfortunately, as restrictive as all controlling behaviors in human culture [“Book Reviewing, African-American Style,” Sept. 16]. Her evenhanded depiction of white culture and its literary establishment, and of Negro/colored/black writing, past and present, is a lesson readers of any race, gender and class can appreciate. To be denied access because of her honest review of Maya Angelou’s A Song Flung Up to Heaven crudely denies the freedom we, as people of color, demand. I say the same for all creative, thoughtful expression. I respect and affirm Coleman’s right to write as she decides–without reservation and without limitation. The author of a recently released novel, Growing Up Nigger Rich, I am aware of pressure, censorship and dismissal by those who are fearful of creativity, ignorant of the democratic concept and unaware of cultural determination. I admire Coleman and applaud her courage.

GWENDOLINE Y. FORTUNE


Bettendorf, Iowa

We read to know we are not alone, but sometimes it has the opposite effect. In a small Southern classroom, reading Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings created a suppressed voice inside an otherwise candid soul. I found Angelou’s writing trite and unworthy of the literary praise accorded it. However, I quickly realized criticism would not be tolerated or socially acceptable. This suppression came to lend itself to other situations, and the fear of seeming bigoted masked an underlying desire to express myself openly. Reading Wanda Coleman’s article, I was tempted to ask, “Is she allowed to say that?” I found her hard-hitting words the antithesis of racist censorship. The black community rose in uproar at her negative review of Angelou’s book, but they should have applauded the fact that she has the freedom to review the book honestly. Coleman states, “Saying amen to the going cultural directives, minus a true analysis, is as morally suspect as any bigoted criticism.” And I know what it means to not feel alone.

DORIS GOLDENBERG


Oakland, Calif.

Wanda Coleman is right. Our publications don’t have the financial backing or mailing list of those magazines she mentions as having literary clout in the United States, but compared with our publications, those magazines are provincial. If they were published by African-Americans they’d be characterized as “nationalist” or “separatist” or “black.” Konch publishes writers from all over the world, and thousands from many countries have visited our website (www.ishmaelreedpub.com). Take our response to 9/11, for example. While the editors of mainstream and offstream publications solicited the views of those who resemble themselves, we published more than forty writers from the United States and other countries, Arab countries as well as Israel. Typical of the mainstream response was the September 8 New York Times, where twelve American intellectuals were asked their views about 9/11. Not a single Arab-American voice was included. The editors would probably say they couldn’t find any. Arab-American men and women have enough work to fill at least four anthologies that are in print. A few years ago, Arab-Americans held a literary conference in Michigan. Konch was one of the few zines that sent someone to cover it–poet Dima Hilal, whose work appears in The Poetry of Arab Women (www.interlinkbooks.com), an anthology ignored by mainstream book reviews. Ibrahim Fawal’s epic novel On the Hills of God has also been ignored by reviewers who pigeonhole publishers as “black,” when we “black” publishers are more “universal” than they. For example, though mainstream and offstream media are aware of only a few African writers, usually those who push the line that colonialism was wonderful, I was able to publish 25 New Nigerian Poets after visiting that country. Sharing our website with Konch is Vines, the international student anthology, devoted to the work of students from Europe, Asia, Africa and the Middle East. Recent issues have covered student writers from the University of Lebanon and Jordan, Hebrew University and Tel Aviv University. A forthcoming issue will feature Hungarian students. Maybe if some of the magazines Wanda mentioned had our scope and interest, instead of continuing their white-only policy or adding black, brown and yellow tokens who are the mind-doubles of the editors, Americans wouldn’t sound so ignorant when they express their views about the world.

ISHMAEL REED, publisher
Konch, Vines


WOMEN FOR PEACE

Berkeley, Calif.

Nancy MacLean’s excellent review of Gerda Lerner’s Fireweed points to Women Strike for Peace as an example of 1950s female activism [“Rethinking the Second Wave,” Oct.14]. Although some of its members were politically active in the 1950s, the organization began in 1961, when thousands of concerned women called for the banning of nuclear tests, whose radioactive fallout exposed people, especially children, to higher risks of cancer. Local branches of the organization, some calling themselves Women for Peace, were established across the country. Women for Peace (formerly the East Bay branch), which continues to work vigorously for worldwide disarmament, peace and human rights for all, has a website–www.womenforpeace.org–and publishes a newsletter. Women everywhere are welcome to join.

HELEN ISAACSON


SHARI HAD A LITTLE LAMB…

Somerset, Ky.

I’m reading through the first half of Steve Early’s fine review of Moe Foner’s memoir, Not by Bread Alone [“On Culturing a Union,” Sept. 30]. Then I come across the line, “Shari Lewis, later the star of one of the 1950s’ most popular children’s TV shows.” This is the equivalent of “the Wright Brothers, who later invented the airplane.” Lamb Chop must be spinning–I hope not in her grave.

DAVID VAN HOEK