Did you know that the mere act of asking what kind of warning members of the Bush Administration may have received about a 9/11-like attack is just clever hype by that sneaky liberal media conspiracy? So goes the argument of the regular National Review seat on Communist News Network liberal media program, Reliable Sources. Recently, host (and Washington Post media reporter) Howard Kurtz decided to fill the chair not with his favorite guest/source, NR editor Rich Lowry, or the much-invited NR Online editor, Jonah Goldberg, but with the relatively obscure NR managing editor, Jay Nordlinger. Nordlinger explained, “The story is surprisingly slight,” blown up by a liberal media fearing Bush was getting “a free ride.” Give the man points for consistency. The Bush White House’s exploitation of 9/11 to fatten Republican coffers via the sale of the President’s photo that fateful day–scurrying from safe location to safe location–was also, in Nordlinger’s view, “another almost nonstory.”
Nordlinger’s complaint echoed the even stronger contention of another Kurtz favorite, Andrew Sullivan. The world-famous gaycatholictorygapmodel took the amazing position that potential warnings about a terrorist threat that would kill thousands and land us in Afghanistan was “not a story” at all. Sounding like a Karl Rove/Mary Matalin love child, Sullivan contended, “The real story here is the press and the Democrats’ need for a story about the war to change the climate of support for the President.”
But Sullivan at least deserves our admiration for expertly spinning Kurtz regarding The New York Times Magazine‘s decision to cut him loose. Echoing Sullivan’s PR campaign–and with a supportive quote from, uh, Rich Lowry–Kurtz framed the story entirely as one of Times executive editor Howell Raines avenging Sullivan’s obsessive attacks on the paper’s liberal bias. OK, perhaps the standards for a Post writer tweaking the Times top dog are not those of, say, Robert Caro on Robert Moses, but where’s the evidence that Raines was even involved? The paper had plenty of reasons to lose Sullivan even if his stupendously narcissistic website never existed. Sullivan’s Times work may have been better disciplined than his “TRB” columns in the notsoliberal New Republic (before he was replaced by editor Peter Beinart) and certainly than the nonsense he posts online, but it still must have embarrassed the Newspaper of Record. As (now Times Book Review columnist) Judith Shulevitz pointed out in a critique of his “dangerously misleading” paean to testosterone, Sullivan was permitted to “mix up his subjective reactions with laboratory work.” Stanford neurobiologist Robert Sapolsky told Shulevitz at the time, Sullivan “is entitled to his fairly nonscientific opinion, but I’m astonished at the New York Times.” The Andrew Sullivan Principles of Pre-Emptive Sexual Disclosure also embarrassed the magazine when he used its pages to out as gay two Clinton Cabinet members and liberal Democrats like Rosie O’Donnell. (I imagine he came to regret this invasion of privacy when his own life became tabloid fare.) Meanwhile, Sullivan’s McCarthyite London Sunday Times column about September 11–in which he waxed hysterical about the alleged danger of a pro-terrorist “Fifth Column” located in the very city that suffered the attack–should have been enough to put off any discerning editor forever. Yet the myth of his martyrdom continues. Sullivan’s website carries the vainglorious moniker “unfit to print.” For once, he’s right.
* * *
Sorry, I know enough can be more than enough, but this quote of Sully’s is irresistible: “I ignored Geoffrey Nunberg’s piece in The American Prospect in April, debunking the notion of liberal media bias by numbers, because it so flew in the face of what I knew that I figured something had to be wrong.” When a conservative pundit “knows” something to be true, don’t go hassling him with contrary evidence. It so happens that linguist Geoffrey Nunberg did the necessary heavy lifting to disprove perhaps the one contention in Bernard Goldberg’s book Bias the so-called liberal media felt compelled–perhaps out of misplaced generosity–to accept: that the media tend to label conservatives as such more frequently than alleged liberals. Tom Goldstein bought into it in Columbia Journalism Review. So did Jonathan Chait in TNR. Howard Kurtz and Jeff Greenfield let it go unchallenged on Communist News Network. Meanwhile, Goldberg admits to “knowing,” Sullivan style, happily ignorant of any relevant data beyond his own biases. He did no research, he says, because he did not want his book “to be written from a social scientist point of view.”
Unfortunately for Bernie, Nunberg discovered that alleged liberals are actually labeled as such by mainstream journalists more frequently than are conservatives. This is true for politicians, for actors, for lawyers, for everyone–even institutions like think tanks and pressure groups. The reasons for this are open to speculation, but Nunberg has the numbers. A weblogger named Edward Boyd ran his own set of numbers that came out differently, but Nunberg effectively disposed of Boyd’s (honest) errors in a follow-up article for TAP Online. In a truly bizarre Village Voice column, Nat Hentoff recently sought to ally himself with the pixilated Goldberg but felt a need to add the qualifier, “The merits of Goldberg’s book aside…” Actually, it’s no qualifier at all. Goldberg’s worthless book has only one merit, which was to inspire my own forthcoming book refuting it. (Hentoff mischaracterizes that, too.) Meanwhile, the merits of Hentoff’s column aside, it’s a great column.
* * *
Speaking of ex-leftists, what’s up with Christopher Hitchens calling Todd Gitlin and me “incurable liberals”? Since when is liberalism treated as something akin to a disease in this, America’s oldest continuously published liberal magazine? Here’s hoping my old friend gets some treatment for his worsening case of incurable Horowitzism. (Or is it Sullivanism? Hentoffism? Is there a Doctor of Philosophy in the house?)
Meanwhile, I’ve got a new weblog with more of this kind of thing at www.altercation.msnbc.com. Check it every day, or the terrorists win…