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Sarah, Smile | The Nation

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The Liberal Media

Sarah, Smile

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Smart conservatives have rightfully bemoaned the lack of respect their fellow ideologues show for the values of legitimate journalism or scholarship. In May a young conservative named Conor Friedersdorf observed that the alleged leftward tilt of the MSM was not due to "any elite liberal conspiracy"; it's that "the right," he lamented, "has a problem with narrative."

About the Author

Eric Alterman
Eric Alterman
Eric Alterman is a Distinguished Professor of English, Brooklyn College, City University of New York, and Professor of...

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Why is the political coverage in The New York Times so lame?

Revisiting Eric Alterman's writings on The New Republic during the Marty Peretz years.

Think about it. Who are the most successful models of conservative journalism? William F. Buckley Jr. and William Kristol--ideological entrepreneurs and political publicists, not honest journalists. (Buckley helped conceal evidence he expected would have resulted in the impeachment of Richard Nixon. Kristol, meanwhile, consistently makes assertions he is far too intelligent to believe on behalf of policies he happens to support.) Now, compare them with liberal role models, such as journalists I.F. Stone and Seymour Hersh, or scholars like Arthur Schlesinger Jr. and Richard Rorty.

The next generation of right-wing journalists, are, like their forebears, largely apparatchiks. National Review's Jonah Goldberg writes a comically uninformed book in which he equates liberalism with fascism (much like the young Buckley's paean to Joe McCarthy). The Weekly Standard's Michael Goldfarb, like his mentor Kristol, shuttles back and forth between the role of Republican flack and alleged journalist without changing even a comma in his prose "style." The New Republic's neocon hit man James Kirchick is so deeply dedicated to his boss Marty Peretz's imagined enemies that the two writers were once forced to switch their bylines after a piece had been posted.

I had higher hopes for young Weekly Standard writer Matthew Continetti. His first book, on the corruption of the so-called Gingrich revolution, while lightly researched, was smart and well written. I even praised it in print, something rather rare for a Nation columnist reviewing a book by a Weekly Standard writer.

But with his new book, an even more lightly researched study of the alleged "persecution" by the "elite media" of Sarah Palin, I see that Continetti has decided to hell with all that and embraced the tactics of his ideological predecessors. For this he has been rewarded with blurbs by such journalistic luminaries as Karl Rove ("tough, revealing"), Brit Hume ("compelling") and Michael Barone ("the truth"). It's a sad commentary to note that these three are also considered respected members of the conservative media, because if they actually believe their own words, they would not recognize an honest work of journalism if it shot them in the face.

To be fair, Continetti is handicapped by his subject's refusal to speak to him for the book as well as her snap decision to quit her job without a credible explanation. (And perhaps as a result, his readers are handicapped by his refusal to support anything he claims with source notes, an index or a bibliography.) He asserts hypocrisy on the part of the "elite media" bent on Palin's "persecution," an assertion he pretends to prove by quoting descriptions of the ex-governor, on the one hand, and dissimilar descriptions of her opponents, on the other. But never does Continetti demonstrate much interest in employing equivalent or even terribly similar examples. More risibly, his idea of the MSM apparently includes: Naomi Wolf, "MarkB," Jamie Lee Curtis, "ArcXIX," Roger Ebert, Gawker, Buzzfeed.com, Catherine Deveny of Australia's The Age, Heather Mallic of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's website, comedian Bill Maher, ex-junkie/crackhead British comedian Russell Brand, Hustler Video and, I kid you not, "a Chinese language newspaper."

His logic, moreover, is a wonder to behold. It was "telling," he writes, that Tina Fey should impersonate Palin. Why? Palin "is professionally successful, has been married for more than 20 years, and has a large and (from all outward appearances) happy family." And yet Fey, also (apparently) a happily married, professionally successful mother, nevertheless portrays characters in films and TV who "are hard-pressed eggheads who give up personal fulfillment--e.g., marriage and motherhood--in the pursuit of professional success." Get it? The actress plays imperfect individuals in her (comedy) roles. That proves, um, well, I can't tell you, and neither, alas, can Continetti.

The English professor in me, moreover, cannot help but note an interesting grammatical conflation on the part of the author. Continetti (and his copy editor) cannot decide whether the two nouns he deploys most frequently in this work--"media" and "elite"--are singular or plural. Sometimes they are an "it" and sometimes they are a "they." This bespeaks not only the lack of a decent education but also an intellectual confusion on the part of the author. Are the "elite media" a monolith, in which there is no distinction to be made between, say, the news reports of the New York Times and the jokes of ex-junkie/crackhead British comedians? Continetti does not say. Nor does he appear to show much interest in research that might be inconsistent with his demonological thesis.

Even a casual student of American politics will notice some rather odd omissions. For instance, in an entire book dedicated to the proposition than an evil conspiracy sought to brainwash the American people to believe that Palin was unready for office, I found no mention of the postelection admission by McCain campaign manager Rick Davis that his choice didn't have anything to do with Palin's qualifications for office because, as he said, "You've got to win first." Second, did you know that to this day Sarah Palin has never held a single full-fledged national press conference with actual professional political reporters?

Is this new generation of conservative journalists really this sloppy and lazy? You betcha...

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