First things first, we have a new Think Again column herecalled “Spying on Journalists? Why the Silence?” and a new Nation column called “The Defamation League,” here, whichaddresses, among other things, smears against Bill Moyers.
Second, there’s my more detailed response to The New Republic‘s JonathanChait. It’s long, but responding to slurs takes much more time thanmaking them in the first place:
I’ll admit it. I spent a little while on Tuesday wondering why The NewRepublic‘s Jonathan Chait wants people to think he’s stupid. I don’timagine Chait really is stupid. I’ve admired much of his work in thepast. But he is clearly willing to pretend when it suits his purpose.If you think “stupid” overly harsh, then perhaps “dishonest” would bemore appropriate.
He writes, here:
The Nation‘s Eric Alterman recently wrotethat in the United States, “right-wing Jewish organizations andneoconservative pundits dominate nearly all Middle East discussion.”
This is a pretty radical claim, one I don’t agree with–recent coverstories in both Time and Newsweek have reflected the J Street line–but one for which you could produce at least some evidence. The sumtotal of the evidence he did produce were three blog posts appearing in,respectively, The New Republic, The Weekly Standard and Commentary.
Let’s begin at the beginning: In the above paragraph, Chait purposelycut the qualifier in that sentence which began, here.”Within the mainstreammedia punditocracy,” because, as I mentioned here, “reporting on Israel/Palestine has become much fairer to thecomplexities of the conflict during the past decades; the punditocracyremains mired in the McCarthyite-style accusations of Chait’s boss,Marty Peretz and his mini-me James Kirchick.” Next, Chait insists thatthe three blog items I quoted in my column provide “the sum total of theevidence [I] did produce.” Now Chait knows quite well he is describinga column that was necessarily under a thousand words. He knows that thefact of conservative domination of the debate was not even the point ofthe column. I was merely giving examples of the tendency before leadingto my larger point, which was the desire of those like Peretz, JamesKirchick and Commentary‘s Noah Pollak, to try to avoid debate by usingschoolyard insults against those with whom they disagree for the purposeof delegitimizing their points of view. To say that the “sum total” ofmy proof is lacking is to betray a complete misunderstanding of a) whata column is, and; b) what the column in question was addressing. SinceChait writes a column himself, and presumably knows better, well, youcan draw your own conclusion.
Alterman, perhaps using hyperbole to compensate forthe lack of evidence, called the authors “Thought Police.” You mayrecall that the term “Thought Police” was coined by George Orwell’s1984 to describe a breed of futuristic secret police that would exceedeven the draconian methods employed by Stalin and Hitler. ApparentlyAlterman believes equivalent powers are now wielded by a handful ofZionist bloggers. I’m trying to imagine what Alterman would say iffascism really does come to America. Perhaps he’ll think to himself,while hanging from his thumbs in some dungeon, “Well, this is prettybad, but not as bad as when I was criticized by Commentary online.”
This, too, strikes me as purposefully idiotic. I don’t know Chaitpersonally, but I have a hard time he’s gotten this far in life withoutever encountering the literary concept of “metaphor.” When a comediancomes off stage and says “I killed,” he does not mean that he literallyended a person’s life. When an audience member describes a musician’sperformance that “blew me away,” again, he rarely is seeking to implyaerial flight. Chait allows the weasel word “apparently” to do yeoman’sduty here, taking the concept to which I was referring for metaphoricalpurposes and stretching well beyond what he knows was intended. Purposefully stupid or just plain stupid? I really can’t say.
In my most recent Nation column, see above, I begin by noting the factthat the Israeli-Palestinian conflict gives birth to more irony than ishealthy and the example above is no exception. In the first place,Chait’s magazine is proud of its policing role in the Middle Eastdebate. One of its top editors crowed to me while I was writing Sound & Fury, “We’re the cops.” To the degree that Peretz/Kirchick/Chait’s attempts are less effective than they used to be, well that’s a reflection of a welcome decline of the magazine’s influence under Peretz’s leadership rather than any lack of effort on theirpart.
Perhaps there is something in the water supply at TNR that turns peoplemanic when writing about Israel and/or American Jews. (Am I the onlyperson to notice that Martin Peretz, sounding like a Yiddish JamesDobson or Jimmy Swaggart, recently described Hebron as “the place whereAbraham actually bought land and where the patriarchy and matriarchy ofIsrael was spawned…”) “Actually bought?” Hello Marty? The Old Testament is not exactlyhistory. There’s no evidence anywhere that these people even everexisted. To treat it as such is crazy, even by Peretzian standards.
And then there is young Kirchick, whose obsession with J Street and the samewriters to whom Chait refers–specifically myself, Ezra Klein and MathewYglesias–led to his being forced to admit that he was inventing factsout of thin air, something Chait is too skillful to do at least, and young Kirchick might wish to take a lesson the art of the more artful smear.
And I fear I must note also the endorsement of this very same Chaitianparagraph, by Jeffrey Goldberg in The Atlantic, who reprinted it on his blog, and titled his post, for some reason, “J Street, Walt and Mearsheimer, and Jewish Martyrdom,” though it refers only to me and not to Stephen Walt, John Measheimer, J-Street or Jewish martyrdom.
Goldberg, too, I fear, has also apparently spent too much timedrinking from Marty Peretz’s water cooler. He authored justly infamous review in TNR in which, as Dylan Matthews points out, compared Mearsheimer, who holds an endowed chair at the University of Chicago, is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and was chosen by his colleagues in the field as the fifth most influential, and thirdmost interesting, international relations scholar alive, and Wald, andextremely respected and admired Harvard International Relations scholar,to “Father Coughlin, Charles Lindbergh, Louis Farrakhan, David Duke,Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and bin Laden.” More recently, he comparedMearsheimer to Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, who is terrorist, ananti-Semite and a Holocaust denier.
It’s not fair to tar everyone at TNR with this brush. Many of itswriters smartly avoid the issue and do excellent work untainted by theassociation. Almost alone, John Judis has taken Peretz on in a few ofhis most outrageous assertions and has been repaid with the sameschoolyard taunts–” churlish and bumptious” most recently– enjoyed bythe rest of us. (See hereand here)
But it is all so obviously absurd. Remember, none of the people here arequestioning Israel’s right to exist. Many of us, myself included, arenice Jewish bar-mitzvah boys and proud-pro Zionists–not that thatshould matter for the purposes of debate and discussion. And believe me,ladies and germs, were you to read the abusive mail I receive at TheNation, you’d think I was under the secret pay of either AIPAC orMossad, depending on who is writing. And yet writers as well-regardedas Goldberg and Chait are apparently incapable of treating theiropponents with even a modicum of respect, humiliating themselves anddamaging their own reputations in the in the process.
Israel has much to recommend it as a society, a cultural phenomenon andhomeland for millions of Jews. But it sure has been murder on thereputations of the writers and editors of a for once-liberal,once-weekly, once-respected little magazine called The New Republic.
Rodney Crowell sings “Portraits of Women” live:I saw a really lovely show last weekend. Rodney Crowell, of whom I wasnot particularly a big fan going in, played The Allen Room with a smallacoustic group and guest appearances by our friend, Herself, (and the exMrs. Crowell) Rosanne Cash, and a remarkably charming and deadpansouthern country singer named Minton Sparks, who carried her handbag andlooked like an even sexier librarian than you-know-who. Anyway, Crowellwas the revelation to me. The song cycle was entitled “Portraits ofWomen,”–and while the songs were not really portraits of women, theywere quiet, finely honed, beautifully crafted and sensitively deliveredportraits of people in trouble. There was not an ounce of old-timeredneckery in the set. Indeed, he sang a two-song cycle of “I Wish ItWould Rain” and “Wandering Boy,” both from his 2001 album, The HoustonKid–which told a story of a pair of twins, one of whom has AIDS,which is about as (mercifully) distant from Garth Brooks as one can getthese days. Anyway, I am going to have spend more time with Mr. Crowelland his catalogue in the future. Rosanne was in fine fettle, as if shehad never been away. The Times reviewed the show here, but oddly, thewriter made no mention at all of the wonderful Ms. Sparks, which is hardto believe, if, in fact, he saw her.
I would also like to second the suggestion found here at “Let the parties begin.” To accompany the new music issue of OA, they’ve put together the greatest giveaway CD I’ve ever heard; an incredible collection of stuff that even if you collect this stuff, and I do, you probably don’t have. There’s a bunchof pieces on the site too–and hey, check out Chuck Jackson’s threads,and there’s also this rich collectionof essays pulled together between cloth covers, Read it in bed; read it with headphones on or keep it in the bathroom. It’s the kind of thing that can be enjoyed for years and years and years. And shame on me for not making a bigger deal about this wonderful magazine when it needed more help. It’s a real treasure.
Name: Michael Green
Hometown: Las Vegas, NV
I am sure that if Fred Hiatt had not already completed the destruction of any ounce of respectability that the Washington Post editorial page enjoyed, he would indeed say someday that he regretted his description of Bill Kristol–and his gratuitous shot at the New York Times. But Hiatt clearly has no clue, so why should we be surprised?
As you detailed in one of your books, William Safire had problems as the house conservative at the Times, but they were of his doing. When it hit him that he should not just sit there and talk to himself, he became a good columnist. Kristol never tried, and it showed.
Name: Joel Berger
Hometown: Montrose NY
As a lefty Jew, I admit to a whole lot of trepidation regarding the recent Gaza incursion. I agree with you that it was a disaster for the Israelis. But when I read such letters as Tim Kane’s (January 27), I cringe to think that a majority of those who oppose Israel’s actions seem to just not care at all whether the Jews in Israel live or die. Am I being paranoid here?
That makes it very hard to abandon knee-jerk support of Israel, even when I disagree with its actions.
Name: Charles Hinton
Hometown: Satellite Beach, FL
A lifelong Democrat here, and I fell for Obama’s infrastructure rebuild pitch.
Now I see the stimulus package and it is short on infrastructure and long–really long–on tax reductions to appease Republicans.
I have a fear that Obama is selling out his principles to win favor from the Republicans. After all–as he said–he won. The Republicans will never support the stimulus bill because they have not much to lose if it succeeds and everything to gain if at some point they might be able to say “I told you so” if it is less than a success in the near term.
How can the Democrats not see that tax reductions put more money in the pockets of people still employed (of whom some will save it) while infrastructure activities give people jobs who at present have no money.
Name: Tom Hawthorn
Hometown: Victoria, B.C., Canada
Former style would have had your au pair as a “French Quebec(k)er.” (It could be spelled either as Quebecer or Quebecker.) Today, she would more likely be described as a Quebecoise, which means a female from Quebec. You were fortunate to have her as a minder.
My first concert, I’m sorry to admit, was Chicago at the Montreal Forum. When my kids sneer, I tell them I was expecting to see the Black Hawks.
Name: Rory Downward
Hometown: Oakland, CA
I first saw Elton John of his solo tour in 1980 (kind of solo, the incredible Ray Cooper joined him for the second half of the 3 hour show). I’d always been a fan, but to see him play alone, without all the glitz, was a joy to behold. I don’t know if you’ve seen it, but the CD release of “11/17/70” has the complete show, not just the cuts from the album release. I still finding amazing that so much sound can come out of a bass, drums & piano.
While I miss reading you on a daily basis, I’m glad you still have a voice here.