As Scott Lemieux of the Lawyers, Guns and Money blog noticed before I did, every two years or so some MSM editor decides that the world needs a “lazy puff piece” on right-wing publisher Adam Bellow. Lemieux correctly points out that the most recent one, published in the Washington Post on December 30, may prove definitive, if only for its “sheer density of clichés.” What is most interesting about these clichés—whether in the Post, or the New York Times, or the New York Observer, or in Bellow’s own New York magazine humblebrag—is how far from the facts the profiles must stray to maintain their quasi-heroic story line. One has to wonder, therefore, what is really at work beneath the surface.
The newest line on Bellow, according to the Post’s Julia Duin, is this: “The intellectual left, he contends, is in a vacuum. The right is where there are ideas, variety, excitement. And Bellow, a former liberal who has made a career of pushing conservative writers and controversial issues to the forefront of American publishing, wants to hear from you.”
Bellow has made a career of calling himself a former liberal, though just when he was a liberal is hard to say. Times publishing correspondent Julie Bosman cites having Saul Bellow as a father as part of his liberal pedigree, apparently unaware that the great Jewish American novelist was perhaps the heavyweight champion of literary neoconservatism. His final work, Ravelstein, was a celebration of Straussian philosopher Allan Bloom. Bellow fils has, on different occasions, dated his alleged conversion to Ronald Reagan’s election, Oliver North’s Iran/Contra trial, the publication of Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind and various offenses against decency he’s apparently witnessed while waiting on line for smoked fish. (Bellow is constantly attacking what he terms the “Zabar’s Left,” located in what Duin calls the “ultraliberal environs of the Upper West Side.”)
A second canonical notion in these profiles is their insistence that Bellow is on the level when he claims to “feel an obligation to…maintain a certain standard of intellectual seriousness.” Remember: this is the editor responsible for burdening humanity with books like Dinesh D’Souza’s Illiberal Education, David Brock’s The Real Anita Hill, Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism and Charles Murray and Richard Herrnstein’s The Bell Curve. As Tim Noah has noted at Slate, “Taken seriously, these books reveal themselves to be nonsensical, overwrought, vile, and quite obviously wrong.” (In Brock’s case, the author himself disavowed the work.)
The Post also seeks to sell Bellow’s notion that “there is zero fresh air coming from the left…. There is more genuine intellectual ferment on the right. Conservatives are better educated, if only to know what the left is saying and how to defend themselves.” With his right-wing imprint, Broadside Books—an arm of HarperCollins—Bellow plans to “attack the intellectual roots of liberalism, and find and publish a lot of new thinking on the right,” especially in the Tea Party.