It’s an absolute law of nature that no looming social, political, environmental or technological topic can be expected to capture the attention of the mainstream media without a news hook. It takes an explosion on an oil rig, for instance, for any journalist to take notice of the dysfunctional world of the Minerals Management Service and the drilling business it claims to regulate. But choose almost any issue—domestic violence, steroids in sports, lousy levee construction, whatever—and the same dynamic applies.
Precrisis, however, the people who try to bring such things to our attention are usually considered cranks. The smart ones retain a sense of ironic detachment from their obsessions and turn their crankiness into endearments (see under "Hertzberg, Hendrik and Proportional Representation"). This is rare, however. More common is Walter Berglund in Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom, an overpopulation crank who drives himself and everyone around him nuts… right as he may be.
For roughly thirty years, I’ve been a crank on the issue of Marty Peretz. It began when I first picked up a copy of The New Republic in my college library expecting to find a cerebral liberal guide to American politics and discovered a nasty neoconservative one instead. In those days—the early 1980s—Peretz inaugurated the magazine’s now thirty-year tradition of employing some of America’s most talented liberal writers to provide a patina of legitimacy to the aggressive wars and constitutional subversion undertaken by the likes of Ronald Reagan and, later, George W. Bush. The famous phrase "Even the liberal New Republic…" perfectly illustrates the phenomenon whereby the magazine sought to marginalize liberal arguments in the face of the "tough-minded" TNR hawks. A second, related theme of Peretz’s period of ownership has been the vicious smearing of anyone who criticizes any action undertaken by Israel for any reason. Frank Mankiewicz’s famous witticism that TNR became "a Jewish Commentary" proved just as painful as it was funny.
Revealed over time in the form of an unedited blog, Peretz’s obsession with Israel’s critics morphed into purposeful hatemongering à la Beck and Limbaugh. It’s aimed primarily at Arabs and Muslims, though to be fair, he is not so enamored of blacks or Hispanics, either. That this venom was published by a magazine understood to represent liberalism in general, and American Jewish liberalism in particular, is what turned me into a crank on the question, since these happen to be my passions as well. I did not appreciate the implication that my values were somehow represented by his racist hatred. I’m hardly alone in this. As the young crank Matt Yglesias noted, he too has been bothered for years "that a well-respected DC publication that employs a number of skilled journalists has a bigot at the top of its masthead." But he’s found that "pointing this out has done far more to prompt journalists to get annoyed at me than to get annoyed at Peretz or his employees. Basically it’s considered rude to draw attention to the guy."