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Darn Those Narcissistically Self-Absorbed, Intellectually Intolerant, Ideologically Debased Institutions! | The Nation

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Eric Alterman

Eric Alterman

Well-chosen words on music, movies and politics, with the occasional special guest.

Darn Those Narcissistically Self-Absorbed, Intellectually Intolerant, Ideologically Debased Institutions!

My "Think Again" column is called “Murdoch ‘Unfit?’ Ya Think?” and is described as explaining that “The British Parliament found News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch “unfit” to lead his media empire, but that’s been the case for more than 20 years.” Read all about it here.

My buddy Sam Seder and I can be heard discussing The Cause here.

Michael Kazin and I appeared at the Center for American Progress to discuss “The Past and Future of Liberalism” and you can read about that here

You can still buy the book cheap, here.

Here is a profile of David Horowitz that appeared in Tablet in which he whines about how unappreciated he is and what a total failure his life has been. Let me just say this: I certainly hope that none of my readers take any pleasure whatever at the sorry state of David Horowitz's psyche and since I find schadenfreude to be a contemptible emotion in which I would never even imagine engaging, I am shocked that some of you might not feel the same way.  Perhaps none of you have feelings for your fellow man at all. How else to explain the despicable fact that a few of you take pleasure in reading this:

"[M]ore painfully, no university archive has asked to collect his papers and reminiscences, a failing he understands as ‘a reflection of the ideological debasement of our institutions of knowledge by a movement whose hallmarks are narcissistic self-absorption and intellectual intolerance.’”

Though perhaps this part is even more of a tear-jerker:

“His most deeply felt grievance, however, is a perceived lack of encouragement from mainstream conservative institutions.* (This is not necessarily a financial issue: His foundation, the David Horowitz Freedom Center, is underwritten by the Bradley, Olin, and Scaife foundations.)”

Wait there’s more. The saddest part is not even in the article, so perhaps you might be forgiven for not knowing that poor David had to make do with a mere $452,000 from the Freedom Center not including speech fees and book advances. And the Freedom Center is limping along with a budget that went from $3.7 million in 2009 to $4.3 million in 2010.  Oh the horror, the horror.

(And special shame points to those of you who read the above and thought: I can’t wait until Ronald Radosh reads this. Imagine being Ed McMahon/Sancho Panza to a total no-goodnik whiney-ass self-pitying, self-admitted failure. Really, I don’t think I want you reading my weblog if you are going to have mean thoughts like that.)

The last time I wrote about Horowitz, by the way, is here.

This just in and it is just as wonderful as it sounds (to the tiny number of you to whom it will sound wonderful):

Larry David with the Boston Pops, singing “Shake Hands with Your Uncle Max” here.

Talent apparently not entirely dried up after all, and who’da thunk it? Not me, I can assure you, but here it is: “An Envoi For Christopher Hitchens At The Pearly Gates,” by Alexander Cockburn. 

“Does an apt aesthetic response to a fucked-up world begin with getting fucked up?” Excuse me but as an amateur New Yorker historian, I would posit that this is almost certainly the only time in the magazine’s august history that any variation of the word “fuck” has appeared twice in one sentence that is not a) in quotes, or b) in fiction. I would go so far as say that I don’t recall it ever appearing except under those circumstances, but I could be wrong. In any case, congratulations to Richard Brody on sneaking it in. (There is no link, alas.)

Now here’s Reed.


Political Press Gets (Yet Another) Wake-up Call, Will it Listen?
by Reed Richardson

It is somehow fitting that Newt Gingrich’s quixotic presidential quest—which, for the past few weeks, had comically downshifted to a decidedly languid, Sancho Panza-like speed—would stumble to its inevitable, inscrutable end at this particular moment. In doing so, his bombastic campaign’s demise has neatly coincided with the publication of not one but two new books that examine how the kind of poisonous politics that Gingrich rode to the Speakership 18 years ago has transformed the modern Republican Party into little more than a frothing cabal of intransigent, dogmatic, logic-free reactionaries. Indeed, as both books demonstrate, Gingrich, perhaps more so than any other politician alive, can point to the current Republican Congress’ blinkered devotion to ideological purity rather than responsible governance as his lasting legacy.

Nevertheless, the reaction among the Washington press corps to these competing events was starkly different. The former Speaker, having been fatally wounded and separated from the primary election herd, now found himself under attack by the pride of cowardly lions that is the political press. Even Fox News—conveniently freed from the constraints of having to produce “fair and balanced” coverage about the troubles of its parent company’s CEO—found both the time and courage to take critical swipes at its former commentator’s inscrutable behavior and transparently self-serving shtick. The traditional media, it seems, has finally decided that it’s now safe to call out Newt Gingrich for his obvious individual failings—but the extremist Republican Party that he and his progeny have used to immobilize Congress, eh, not so much.

Indeed, the broader reaction within the Beltway to the first of these two new books, Robert Draper’s Do Not Ask What Good We Do, is mostly one of “been there, seen that.” Mined mostly for its juicy details about the Tea Party-fueled freshmen in the current Congress, the coverage of Draper’s book has been long on GOP palace intrigue and short on drawing larger conclusions about how a self-respecting press corps can passively enable such stubborn recklessness. To hear one Texas Congressman express concern, as Draper tells it, that the debt ceiling is a “very possibly a hostage that we’re unwilling to shoot,” is a chilling example of their callous disconnect from reality. And to also learn that, literally from the first day Obama took office, Republican Party leaders were plotting how to obstruct, if not sabotage, any and all of his legislative efforts betrays a press corps that has woefully misunderstood and misrepresented the partisan gamesmanship afoot for these past three-plus years.

Fortunately, the second of these books aimed at exposing the modern Republican Party for what it really is also undertakes a much more frontal assault on the media’s role in enabling their legislative negligence. Written by Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein, two long-time Congressional scholars, It’s Even Worse Than It Looks fillets the traditional media for perpetuating a principle of false equivalence in its coverage of the two parties, the effect of which, they say, has merely masked the GOP’s unalloyed march toward the fringes of the right wing. In a devastatingly clear-eyed and surprisingly expansive op-ed in the Washington Post— bluntly titled “Let’s just say it: The Republicans are the problem,”—learned establishment think-tankers Mann and Ornstein come across sounding like a couple of brash media critics:

We understand the values of mainstream journalists, including the effort to report both sides of a story. But a balanced treatment of an unbalanced phenomenon distorts reality. If the political dynamics of Washington are unlikely to change anytime soon, at least we should change the way that reality is portrayed to the public.

 Our advice to the press: Don’t seek professional safety through the even-handed, unfiltered presentation of opposing views. Which politician is telling the truth? Who is taking hostages, at what risks and to what ends?

Granted, both Mann and Ornstein have themselves succumbed to the same siren songs that plague objective journalism—the obsession with ‘can’t we all just get along’ bipartisanship and its flip side, the ‘both sides do it’ critique. So, to me, their rather abrupt and thorough epiphany suffers a bit from its belated timing. Indeed, it’s clear that this rightward drift of the part of the GOP has been 30 years in the making. But it wasn’t until the recent Republican Congress’s wholesale defenestration of any attempts at legislative compromise or responsible governance that they finally figured out something quite frightening was taking place and that the Beltway media was by and large ignoring it. Still, better late than never, I guess, so “Welcome to the party.”

Sadly, this insightful book’s impact, even when combined with Draper’s, looks to be of limited reach within the journalism community. This isn’t because of the lack of commendable effort by the Post, however, which gave a long, fairly glowing review to Mann and Ornstein in addition to the providing the pair the lengthy 2,000-word op-ed. Still, the most common response to this call to change conventional wisdom has been silence, even among the conservative bastions of the media there appeared to be little need for pushback. This Lexington column in The Economist tries to brush off the book’s comprehensive indictment with a bit of pseudo-intellectual jiu-jitsu:

But the obvious rejoinder to Mr. Mann and Mr. Ornstein is that they are committing the very sin they decry. That is to say, they question the legitimacy of a party with which they happen to disagree. It is perfectly true that the Republicans have moved sharply to the right since the big-government “compassionate” conservatism of the younger President Bush. But who says a political party is not entitled to change its mind? And what gives a couple of think-tankers the right to specify where the political centre is, or to dismiss as “an outlier” a party that chooses to stray from it?

The answers to these questions, of course, lies in the 100 pages of documentary evidence that Mann and Ornstein provide to back up their claim that the Republican Party has foresworn its legitimacy. But much like the faith-based party that it seeks to excuse, this Economist column likewise sees no need to engage the book’s argument with anything more in the way of opposing facts. Which is precisely the fundamental problem that plagues our national political debate and is exacerbated by a too compliant national press.

The Internet boom and bust, WMDs in Iraq, an exploding housing bubble, a myth and fear-based health care debate: a recent list of our press’s major journalistic failures is embarrassing enough. What’s notable about every one of these debacles, though, was that there were warning signs. This past two weeks, our political press received two more of these wake-up calls, from fairly established and researched sources no less. Whether the media will start to heed this growing claxon of concern about the Republican Party’s dangerous ideological evolution is another matter. Sure, they finally came around to the realization on Newt Gingrich, but it should provide our democracy little comfort that it them a generation to do it.

The mail:
Bill Dunlap
Lake Oswego, Oregon
Hey, Eric:
Hope you'll give a shout out of sorts for the late Pete Fornatale. I knew him, but you probably have better insights on his impact on NYC radio. A really great guy who was just like his on-air persona. Nice obit in the Times.
Bill

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