links for 2007-05-03
Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps?

The Wild, Paranoid Distortions of Matthew Yglesias (Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps? New Republic Edition)

Jonathan Chait--in an article titled "Paranoid Delusions"--denounces what he calls the wild, paranoid distortions of Matthew Yglesias. What are these wild, paranoid distortions? They are Yglesias's noting the existence of the elephant in the living room of the New Republic:

Yglesias: >Until its recent sale to CanWest, [the New Republic] was owned by men who seem to hate most liberals and liberalism as an ideology, which were strange attributes for a liberal publication...

and:

An institution like The New Republic, whose main institutional and emotional commitment is to right-wing Israeli nationalism (a commitment, I might add, frequently expressed through the sort of demagoguery, name-calling, and dishonesty Chait professes to find distasteful), infuriates the netroots even though individual TNR writers and articles garner praise...

The elephant's name, of course, is Marty Peretz, shaper of the New Republic's institutional dislike for prominent African-Americans, Arabs, non-Likudnik Israeli politicians, American Democratic politicians not named Gore or Lieberman, et cetera.

I think that Jonathan Chait's claim that Matt's statements are wild, paranoid distortions is a Class I breach of communicative discourse ethics. Chait's elders, peers, and betters who write for the New Republic paint, in private, a picture of the internal workings of the magazine that agrees with what Chait, in public, calls wild, paranoid distortions.

Briefly, Chait's elders, peers, and betters say that Marty Peretz:

  • frequently chooses managing editors for the New Republic who have no business editing a magazine whose core subscribers are American liberals and Democrats: think Michael Kelly, Andrew Sullivan.
  • places his own writings in the New Republic without their being checked or edited for sanity or accuracy or coherence.
  • personally commissions articles that are then not checked or edited for sanity or accuracy or coherence.
  • Hence even under the best possible managing editors there are and will always be a number of destructive, mendacious, and deceptive "specials" in the New Republic.
  • Please don't judge the rest of us who write for the real New Republic by these "specials": they have nothing to do with us.
  • Please don't ask us to point out in public that these are "specials" that have nothing to do with us: we can't--Peretz own[ed] the magazine.
  • Please don't say that we told you that [particular articles] are "specials": we're on background here.
  • There is no destructive blowback from the "specials" to the work of the rest of us--everybody knows what the "specials" are and that we and they have nothing to do with each other (even though we cannot say so).
  • There is no leakage by which the reputation we gain through our work spills over and enhances the influence of Peretz and his "specials"--everybody knows what the "specials" are and that we and they have nothing to do with each other (even though we cannot say so).
  • It's fair and proper that he shapes the content of the magazine this way--it's his [wife's] money that pays for the magazine.
  • There's no moral fault attached to those of us who write for the real New Republic, because it's not our responsibility that some people don't understand that the "specials" are not part of the real New Republic
  • If it is indeed the case that the New Republic as an institution has raised the chances that Tel Aviv (and Damascus, and Cairo, and Baghdad, and Tehran) will become seas of radioactive glass--and we are not admitting that that is the case--that has nothing to do with those of us who write for the real New Republic.

This--well, I cannot call it a defense or a justification--call it an explanation--seems to me to be inadequate. As a (former) subscriber, I think that I am paying for the best efforts of the editorial team--and I am not getting them: I have to ask with every story whether this is in fact the best the right managing editor for trhis journal would do in getting the right person to write the right story about the right question. And when it is the right person writing the right story about the right question, I have to think hard about whether and in what ways the author is redirecting or pulling his or her punches in the interest of not offending the powers-that-be. This pushes the New Republic toward the bottom of the pile--well below the FT, the news pages of the WSJ, the Economist, the Nation, the NYRB, the Atlantic, the Washington Monthly, et cetera.

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