Slacker Friday: ‘Scurrilous, Tendentious, Bellicose, Egregious’ Eric Alterman Edition

Slacker Friday: ‘Scurrilous, Tendentious, Bellicose, Egregious’ Eric Alterman Edition

Slacker Friday: ‘Scurrilous, Tendentious, Bellicose, Egregious’ Eric Alterman Edition

A response to Robert Dreyfuss, Reed on the facts behind the State of the Union Address and reader mail.


I’ll be in Washington next week. I’m giving a lunchtime talk at the Center for American Progress on Tuesday, February 1 at noon, but you have to rsvp. Details are here. That may be full already, though, but I’ll be giving another talk the same night, February 1, at Busboys and Poets at 14th and V at 6:30.

I’ve got a new Think Again called “Craven News Network” about CNN and Ms. Bachmann’s address, and that’s here.

Also, I did a piece overnight on the final throes of the Marty Peretz era at The New Republic and that’s here.

Oh and, there’s an interesting review of Kabuki Democracy, here.

And now, ladies and gentlemen, the Main Event:


Happily, I don’t teach instructional journalism classes any more, but if I did, I would use Robert Dreyfuss’s post on entitled “Alterman Backs Act of War Against Iran” as an example of “how not to.”

In just a few hundred words, Dreyfuss offers a veritable master class in the use of journalistic weasel words for the purposes of McCarthyite insinuation. My column, which by the way, was an attack on those neocons who tried to pressure the US into supporting an Israeli attack on Iran, he insists, “resonates with the same bellicose rhetoric of the neoconservatives that he denounces.” Thing is, the only example he offers is my mention of the “Iranian leadership’s anti-Semitic, Holocaust-denying circles.” Does Dreyfuss deny that Iran’s leaders—Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in particular—are either anti-Semitic or holocaust-denying? Not that I can tell, but apparently saying so makes one a bellicose neocon.

Dreyfuss continues that an “act of war” has been committed against Iran whose leaders “have committed no aggressive act against either the United States or Iran’s neighbors.” I have no idea if a computer virus constitutes an “act of war” or not, though if it does, an awful lot of hackers working on behalf of say, WikiLeaks, better watch their backs. As for Iran’s alleged benignity, this is naïve in the extreme. Does Dreyfuss think that the arming, training and funding of terrorists does not constitute a form of “aggression”?

He also spends a great deal of time arguing that an American attack on Iran under Obama was not imminent, but fails to notice that the column was entirely devoted to an Israeli, not an American operation. Giving him the benefit of the doubt, I chalk this up to sheer sloppiness, rather than the time-honored anti-Semitic trope of refusing to distinguish between US and Israeli actions as if the two nations were somehow indistinguishable. (Come to think of it, I can think of a few neocons who have that problem as well…)

Ultimately, what is most impressive, however, is the deployment of weasel words to attribute to me thoughts and feelings for which Dreyfuss cannot muster a single syllable of evidence. He writes, for instance, “While the Obama administration—and, I assume, Alterman—seem to think that economic sanctions are working…” In fact, I’m pretty sure that in the thousands of articles I’ve written since first publishing in The Nation twenty-eight years ago this March, I have never once mentioned economic sanctions against Iran, which by the way, I oppose. He writes also, “are assassinations of Iranian scientists, according to Alterman, something else that ought to bring ‘joy’ even to the churlish, international law–supporting left. (Alterman doesn’t praise the assassinations in his column, but it’s not clear why not, since like Stuxnet they’re presumably, too, joyous events, in his view.)" Again, note the use of the weasel word “presumably.” Though I quoted Jeffrey Goldberg—someone with whom I tend to disagree almost always—bringing up the question of assassinations, I personally said nothing about them one way or another, and I certainly don’t profess to know who carried out the ones to which Dreyfuss refers. Just how Dreyfuss can be so certain about my view of these in particular remains a mystery, alas, but while my memory is not what it used to be, I cannot recall ever calling anyone’s assassination a “joyous event” anytime anywhere. But never mind that either, folks.

I see that the first comment on Dreyfuss’s post reads, in part, “I hope Iran gets all the weapons it wants and needs to contain Israel but in the meantime, I’m laughing my rear off at the hysteria of the zionists these days. They’re all but toast and they know it.” Would it be correct to say that “presumably” Dreyfuss shares these views too? Mr. Ahmadinejad has said, speaking of anti-Israel violence, “the new wave that has started in Palestine, and we witness it in the Islamic world too, will eliminate this disgraceful stain [Israel] from the Islamic world,” and repeatedly called for “the elimination of the Zionist regime.” Referring to the Holocaust he has said, “The Zionist regime is seeking baseless pretexts to invade Islamic countries and right now it is justifying its attacks with groundless excuses," and, “Today the reason for the Zionist regime’s existence is questioned, and this regime is on its way to annihilation." Can I also “assume” that Dreyfuss supports this too, given his “bellicose rhetoric” toward yours truly?

I think not. Then again, I’m no Robert Dreyfuss….


The New York Jewish Film Festival at Lincoln Center, something to which I always look forward, Zionist/imperialist that I am, wrapped up yesterday with a wonderful little film called “The Matchmaker,” which I’m sure will be seen in reasonably wide release soon. It’s a post-Holocaust coming-of-age story set in Haifa with a charming cast and considerable emotional resonance. Among the other highlights I caught were Mahler on the Couch, an Austrian/German film, directed by Percy Adlon, about the composer’s relationship with his wife and his consultations with Sigmund Freud, and Joseph Dorman’s touching and thoughtful documentary on the life of Shalom Aleichem. I was not so crazy about the filmed version of A.B. Yehoshua’s A Woman in Jerusalem, The Human Resources Manager, and had strong mixed feelings about the combination documentary/drama Eichmann’s End, though I learned a great deal from viewing it. Luckily, just as I was mourning the passing of another year’s films, I got the announcement about the coming Rendez-Vous with French Cinema, which starts March 3 with Francois Ozon’s POTICHE, starring Catherine Deneuve and Gérard Depardieu on opening night. How are things in your city?

Now here’s Reed:

Stating It Doesn’t Necessarily Make it So

Long, catchall lists are in this week, it seems, so here are a few examples of the above:

Mitch McConnell: It’s time someone introduced the Senate Minority Leader to Inigo Montoya from The Princess Bride, so he can explain to McConnell that the word bipartisanship does not mean what he thinks it means: “If the president is willing to do what I and my members would do anyway, we’re not going to say no.”

Bill Wolff: MSNBC’s Vice President of Primetime Programming might want to consult a bit with his regular viewers, as well as his boss, MSNBC President Phil Griffin, before he tries insulting the intelligence of both: “MSNBC does not have a political agenda. The idea that we’re beholden to one side or the other is ridiculous.” Funny thing is, his network seems to like flaunting the ratings success of its overtly left-wing political shows in beating shows on CNN, a network that, coincidentally, tries so hard to follow Wolff’s line of thinking.

Bill Keller: Before publicly criticizing the source of his next major scoop—long after he’s sold a lot of papers, I might note—in the same manner that he did Wikileaks founder Julian Assange this week, the Times’ Executive Editor might do well to remember how some of those same words he used—“arrogant,” “thin-skinned” and “oddly credulous”—have also applied pretty well to his own newspaper recently. Plus, anyone who has the temerity to seriously believe this statement has his own personal issues of credulity and self-denial to deal with: “Julian tended to see American news organizations as not observers but as actors and advocates. When things happened that he didn’t like, he tended to see a conspiracy behind it.” Yeah, because the American press has never, ever coordinated its release of national security scoops with the federal government or bowed to self-censorship and killed important stories altogether, right?

Fox News: It was noted this week that the network’s long, strange romance with the intentionally deceptive and propagandizing phrase “homicide bomber” may finally be coming to an end, but I’m not holding out much hope for their many other ridiculous catchphrases, like the Managing Editor-mandated term "government option" or the similarly obtuse phrase "death tax."

Associated Press: Unfortunately, [Wednesday’s] “fact-check” article on the President’s State of the Union address had a few doozies in it.

On Obama’s assertion that the recently enacted healthcare reform would reduce the deficit, the AP wrote: “THE FACTS: The idea that Obama’s health care law saves money for the government is based on some arguable assumptions.” Last time I checked, arguable assumptions aren’t really facts. Analysis maybe, or added context, sure. I mean, I could make an arguable assumption that the reporter who wrote this was either too lazy or too rushed by a deadline to notice this disconnect, but that doesn’t make it a fact. The president’s claim may turn out to be true or it may not, but to bring it up in a “fact-check” article is to insinuate he’s being careless (and intentionally so) with the truth when that’s not the case. And you know the fact-checking is of dubious value when the very next sentence in the article starts off with the time honored journalistic CYA qualifier: “To be sure…”

Then there’s this curiously passive phrasing about the President’s mention of finding common ground on medical malpractice reform: “Obama has expressed openness before to this prominent Republican proposal, but it has not come to much. It was one of several GOP ideas that were dropped or diminished in the health care law after Obama endorsed them in a televised bipartisan meeting at the height of the debate.”

Why didn’t it “come to much"? What went wrong with this compromise? Not worth mentioning, according to the AP’s logic. But for a big hint as to the real reason, see Example #1 of this post.

But what’s really shameful is the article’s sleight of hand when it comes to the President’s statement about “strengthening Social Security for future generations." Here, the AP’s counterpoint suddenly veers off on this non sequitur: “THE FACTS: With that comment, Obama missed another chance to embrace the tough medicine proposed by the commission for bringing down the deficit.” Um, no he didn’t, because, as it must be pointed out for the umpteenth time, Social Security has contributed absolutely nothing to the federal budget deficit! The president and Harry Reid realize this, even though the author of this article, most of the mainstream media, and some of Obama’s own entitlement-hating Fiscal Commission appointees apparently do not. And to then assert that Social Security “will run out of money in 2037 without changes” is to be recklessly imprecise and further a popular right-wing myth. In fact, if nothing is done, the Social Security Trust Fund’s surplus will run out.

Barack Obama: His State of the Union address’s vague, equal-parts-encouraging-and-worrisome quote about strengthening Social Security left a lot of dangerous wiggle room to say one thing and do quite another. The AP article made clear what the Beltway conventional wisdom believes will “strengthen” Social Security: “slashing benefits,” “partially privatizing the program” and “raising the retirement age.” The American people, on the other hand, overwhelmingly disagree with those choices. As well they should, since the solution to closing Social Security’s long-term shortfall is pretty straightforward.

And finally, Michele Bachmann: If she is to argue that her seven-minute diatribe of half-truths and blatant fearmongering late Tuesday night was not necessarily a formal response to the State of the Union address, in the future she might not want to distribute to the press advance copies of her speech entitled: “Bachmann’s Response to the State of the Union.” But it was her speech that was perhaps the most fitting in a week of political theater. While she kept her body turned toward the news pool TV camera that would broadcast her speech to the traditional media, Bachmann nevertheless fixed her gaze toward a different camera, one meant strictly for her devoted Tea Party audience. The effect, besides being particularly creepy, was a perfect metaphor for our political state of the union. Her non-response response wasn’t about engaging in a dialogue with her ideological opponents or even about winning over the public at large, instead it was simply about stoking outrage among a rump minority of this country that, if the right person states it, just might believe anything.

The Mail:

Cheyenne, WY
Best vocalist list without Raul Malo? Really?

Eric replies: Excellent choice, As I said, I did it fast. But who to eliminate? Mr. Winwood? Tough call.

John Brennan
Fairfax Station, VA
Hi Eric,

I share your extremely low opinion of Marty Peretz, so I was very surprised to find myself feeling vaguely sympathetic feelings for him while reading that most recent NYT profile. "My god, what a sad, unhappy man," was all I could think. I was also shocked by his attitude towards Israel’s Orthodox Jews. If I didn’t know better, I’d have thought I was reading an Onion article in which his ugly rants about Arabs and Muslims had undergone some word substitution for satirical purposes.

As to the matter of whether or not he’s gay, I remember seeing an article about MP a number of years ago in which he was quoted as saying that as a college freshman he’d fallen in love with both the State of Israel and his roommate. Sorry, can’t remember where or when that was published. I also remember Gore Vidal referring to him as "Israel’s uncrowned queen" in an interview. I believe that appeared in Vanity Fair, and the questioner was Christopher Hitchens, still a Vidal fan at that point, so it’s been a while.

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