January 26, 2007
Matt is doing important work exposing and naming Marty Peretz's anti-Arab sentiment and unthinking, unblinking, expansionary strain of Zionism for the hateful, violent ideology it is. This is the sort of writing few Washington writers will do, as many of them want to one day work for The New Republic, and see no reason to torch that particular bridge. The past few years have seen that hold weaken, as The New Republic's increasing alienation from the left has convinced many young writers that it's not the place for them -- now or in the foreseeable future. Nevertheless, Peretz is rarely held to account, largely because there's an odd, tacit understanding that he's a cartoonish character and everyone knows it. As Glenn Greenwald writes:
I had not written more about Peretz because it seems as though there is some sort of tacit agreement that Peretz's hate-mongering won't be held against The New Republic, and that, for whatever reasons, Peretz will be accepted as a more or less mainstream figure despite spewing bigotry of the type one finds on white supremacist sites (albeit directed elsewhere). And since New Republic writers don't, to my knowledge, spout the same hate-filled diatribes, perhaps there was a sense that Peretz is even more irrelevant than the magazine itself and therefore does not merit any real discussion.
Hence his ghettoization to "The Spine" blog, where his separation from the "real staff" of the magazine he owns would be all the clearer, at least to those able to decipher the signal (on most magazine sites, of course, having your own blog while the majority of writers share a group site is a sign of respect for a particularly worthy pundit, not an implication of buffoonery).
The New Republic operates under an odd set of rules that's clear to the staff, made clear to their friends, and basically unknown to the world at large. That's partly why the rise of the blogosphere has been so wrenching for the magazine: Magazine writers used to get feedback from an array of people they knew and a couple letter-writers. So it used to be understood by majority of the sort of people Jon Chait got feedback from that Jon Chait was not, in fact, connected to or in agreement with Marty Peretz.
But with the rise of the net, the number of discernible voices increased exponentially, and they don't totally get why a magazine shouldn't be judged, at least in part, by its editorial line and the opinions of its editor-in-chief and owner. They don't know that Jon Chait is a likable guy or that The New Republic is one of an exceedingly small number of outlets willing to cut checks to young, liberal writers. Their experience of the magazine, in other words, is normal, untempered by the special rules of reading much of elite punditry has offered to TNR And so they judge TNR as an institution, and see the actions and published opinions of its longtime leader as, in fact, somewhat relevant to their assessment of the magazine.
In any case, this post is mainly to show support for Matt, who's doing the right thing for the right reasons, and not letting careerist considerations stifle his speech. It occurs to me too that TNR may want to avoid provoking Spencer on these matters. It is in fact the case that TNR chock-full of good writers, among them Chait, Cohn, Scheiber, Lizza, etc. But the magazine is led, and many of the final decisions made, by a rather intolerant zionist who holds deeply objectionable views, and whose average post implies or explains that Arabs are an uncivilized, near-barbarous people who have no culture worth mentioning and can't even do work. The problem is that this is the sort of thing that can be admitted privately, but not publicly, and it puts many writers (though not, I should be clear, all -- some folks at TNR agree with Marty) in a tough spot. Fine. But there's no reasons so many others should be complicit in the illusion.
January 26, 2007 | Permalink
Well, I wasn't aware of this tacit agreement. I consider myself a fairly knowledgeable consumer of political media, but till reading Yglesias and Greenwald, I hadn't realized the depth and blatancy of Peretz's bigotry. I'm going to cancel my subscription, which I bought mainly for the back of the book. Everyone who works there should be shamed into quitting.
What does it say to the Arab world that a bigot like this is a member in good standing of the DC establishment? Given the somewhat true truism that this is a war of ideas, Marty is not merely as asshole, he's also a threat to national security.
Posted by: david mizner | Jan 26, 2007 4:45:25 PM
Martin Peretz is a powerful man, not some homeless schizophrenic, & however objectionable his views may be to some people, they’re not idiosyncratic. There’s a constituency. Does anyone doubt this? For all that we tell ourselves that everybody knows he’s a crank, nobody would bother with him if the views he promotes didn’t carry weight in the wider world, much more weight than any of us. So let’s stop rolling our eyes.
Look, lots of people are stuck with an egregious boss, & they often respond this way. I’m sure it’s true that TNR’s staff includes some great people – it’s still a wonderful magazine in many ways – who don’t share Peretz’s views. They have emotional reasons to draw anodyne distinctions, & it’s only fair that others recognize them. I accept their desire to reassure themselves, but this really isn’t about their niceness. At some point, it does becomes about whether they will act on it. If they don’t, people like Yglesias will be showing them the way.
The issue isn’t just that Peretz despises Arabs, although that’s enough. He evidently despises a lot of people, including many Americans. The difference is partly of degree, but the deeper objection isn’t that he’s a bigot, it’s what he seeks to have physically done to them.
David Minzer: I cancelled my subscription in 1981. Peretz’s views are not new, & no secret.
Posted by: KH | Jan 26, 2007 5:34:11 PM
They may not know that Jon Chait is a likable guy or that The New Republic is one of an exceedingly small number of outlets willing to cut checks to young, liberal writers.
I'm not sure what "likable" has to do with anything. But there are obvious reasons why readers don't that Chait is likable or even decent (assuming that both are true of him): they've never met him or spent any time with him. I'm not sure why we're to assume that someone is decent simply because he claims to be a Democrat.
Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Jan 26, 2007 5:46:35 PM
There’s a constituency.
Indeed. His views are mainstream in Israel, and among a fair chunk of Israel supporters in this country.
Posted by: Sanpete | Jan 26, 2007 6:11:33 PM
What does it say to the Arab world that a bigot like this is a member in good standing of the DC establishment?
It probably says about the same thing as:
* the fact that we don't bother to even know how many Iraqis are killed in our excellent adventure
* Jerry "My god is a true god" Boykin is still employed in the US Military
* Rush Limbaugh
* Us calling the invasion a crusade before someone told us that's bad PR.
And so on...
Posted by: paperwight | Jan 26, 2007 6:18:34 PM
"and unthinking, unblinking, expansionary Zionism for the hateful, violent ideology it is."
Are you criticizing Peretz's brand of Zionism as hateful, violent & expansionary or are you characterizing Zionism in general as hateful, violent & expansionary?
Posted by: potter | Jan 26, 2007 6:26:50 PM
Peretz's brand. And re: Chait's likability, that's exactly the point. Before the rise of the net, the only feedback writers really got were their colleagues and personal acquaintances -- the occasional letter hardly counts. Those folks knew the rules. Now TNR is seeing the rest of the world doesn't, and they are having to answer for folks like Peretz.
Posted by: Ezra | Jan 26, 2007 6:59:52 PM
This is a good post, & I don’t mean to quibble, but it’s not a matter of people who aren't personally associated with the magazine not knowing the rules. The whole world is familiar with office politics. It’s just that we don’t care. A lot of people have had a bad boss at one time or another, or been in consensual dependent relationships with creeps, & wanted to distance ourselves from them without having to upend the relationship, so nobody has any cause to despise TNR’s nice writers. But the “rules” don’t absolve them, & it shouldn’t take novel forms of feedback to remind them that they’re in a compromised position.
Many, many people of at least normal intelligence long since concluded that something was very wrong with the magazine’s leadership. Were they just unable to explain themselves until now? Were the writers really so insulated? Was it really a technical innovation in the means of communication that made the difference? And why isn’t the blogosphere just as ignorable as the earlier critics?
More than the existence of the blogosphere is at work here, maybe generational change, the failure in Iraq, the prospect of more of the same in Iran, etc.
Posted by: KH | Jan 26, 2007 7:40:00 PM
And Plumer! You left out Brad Plumer in your list of good writers working for TNR!! :)
Isn't Al Gore filthy stinking rich because of his work on Google? Can he just buy the magazine and give it credibility back instantly?
Posted by: Nicholas Beaudrot | Jan 26, 2007 7:57:40 PM
Jack Shafer was brutally eviscerating Peretz while Yglesias was in grade school, incidentally, and the evisceration retains all its charm and merit.
Posted by: Anonymous | Jan 26, 2007 8:18:43 PM
"Isn't Al Gore filthy stinking rich because of his work on Google? Can he just buy the magazine..."
Oddly, Peretz is the biggest Gore booster in the entire known universe, and has been for decades.
Peretz is batshit crazy. TNR produces a lot of good stuff. Such are the ironies of life.
Posted by: Petey | Jan 26, 2007 8:42:26 PM
Chait's great on most issues, and mostly fair to the antiwar side on Iraq. He just has a huge blind spot when it comes to TNR; recall how hysterical he was when the whole left blogosphere heaped deserved scorn on Elspeth Moore's "Why I Luv Ann Coulter" piece.
Posted by: kth | Jan 26, 2007 8:46:02 PM
I hate to say this but I disagree with your rationalizing the cowardess of the TNR staff. Yes, it would be career suicide, to a point, to take a stand against the guy that signs your checks. However, a writer, an opinion columnist has little else besides their integrity and intellectual rigor to stand on. And what integrity can the people who help peretz continue his bizarre, hateful crusades have left? I'm not saying they're personally guilty of peretz's, ah, misjudgments. No. But I am saying that in acting as though he's just the crazy uncle spewing nonsense, they help him continue to do so. They are quite literally building a factual facade for peretz to couch his gibberish in.
The tough part is, of course, if the entire staff left tomorrow, no doubt there would be hundreds who would stand in line to replace them. But that doesn't mitigate the responsibility of the staff, it only makes it more like being the most honest writer at the washington times, a dubious honor to be sure (if there were such a thing).
As I mentioned at the beginning, this situation at the TNR is a bit different than say, being a clerk at a wal-mart. While many may disparage wal-mart for a number of reasons, that same clerk isn't directly contributing to the end product the same as the staff of the TNR. In other words, because of what TNR is and the place the other writers have, makes ignoring peretz a more egregious offense.
I'm not calling for these people to damage their careers, their ability to pay their bills, by taking a stand. On the other hand, it would be nice, wouldn't it?
Posted by: ice weasel | Jan 26, 2007 10:47:55 PM
yes- it's way too much to expect guardians of the public trust to actually, you know, not be batshit crazy and bigots who want to exterminate people. but, I guess that makes me guilty of naivette that this is about something more than you couldn't find another job.
Posted by: akaison | Jan 27, 2007 12:08:00 AM
Ice Weasel, I agree with your call for action, but I must point out that being wrong, or hateful, or ignorant, or flat-out stupid is not often a barrier to success in the professional political opinion area.
The idea that these people must rely upon their credibility should be the case, but it isn't. Also, as the group who "cross-links" to each other via TV, radio, and other appearances, taking a stand merely means your ass is unemployed, while the wrong, dumb, but still-connected folks keep doing what they do.
On a more uplifting point, folks like Ezra, Matthew Yglesias, Spencer, Josh Marshall, Digby, Kevin Drum, Glenn Greenwald, and a number of others are actually making this area of public discourse more merit-based. It is a good thing. It can't happen quickly enough, and may not actually take hold, but there is an audience out there that rewards them through fandom, if not monetarily. This should change. Until we reward and constantly push these personalities to the forefront of media attention (it all takes money), we, unfortunately, live in a world where paying rent and the bills is always going to compromise otherwise (I think) well-meaning people like Chait. If he jumped TNR, not only would someone take his place, but he most likely has no where to go....
Anyone with some money and attitude could either start a new mag/think tank with the brain trust listed above, or, just pump a lot of money into The American Prospect, which, in my opinion, is easily the most thoughtful liberal magazine out there, in print and online. TPM is good as well, a merger is in order, and some financing should be lined up.
I'm totally serious about this, BTW. I have not mentioned amazing individual bloggers such as Atrios and others, but if someone actually paid these people to write, accepted first rate blog posts or print articles from others on a freelance basis, and published a monthly or bi-monthly magazine...well holy moly. If existing entities such as TPM, Washington Monthly, and Prospect were to merge and do this (with massive financial backing....) I think the results would be incredible.
But that is just me, and sorry for the meandering narrative. One final point, the number of lefty humorists, satirists, and general observers is an amazing field. Imagine if getting published in my utopian new media complex was the equivalent of having a short story in The New Yorker, or an essay in Harpers.
It can be done, and it would absolutely breed competing lefty magazines/websites. A beautiful thing.
Posted by: abjectfunk | Jan 27, 2007 12:36:17 AM
As a follow up, I just want to say that my above dream is based purely upon the idea that liberals need to have a quasi-monolithic presence in one sense or another before our ideas and people are allowed to be on TeeVee, on radio shows, etc.
One massive Lefty Enterprise, no matter what form it takes, would ensure that all of the above mentioned folks, and hopefully many others, would appear in the media as reps of a well-known and respected entity. Witness Brookings Institute, NY Times, right-wing think tanks, etc. It is not needed for dissemination to the left, it is needed in order to provide a large, known, respected enterprise of leftish thought that the media and the country will recognize as a serious player in politics. We don't have that now, while the right wing has it in spades, with even "non partisan" and "moderate" authorities clearly being in the GOP's pocket.
Must change system.
Posted by: abjectfunk | Jan 27, 2007 12:43:50 AM
paperwight, there's a big difference--and Arabs know there's a big difference--between conservative institutions, like the Bush administration or Rush Limbaugh, and the NR, which for all its hawkishess and Bell Curvishness, runs stuff by good liberalish writers, including one of the world's most respected literary critics. So I'm all for a campaign to shame people who write for Peretz. Make every person who cashes his checks answer for his racism.
Posted by: david mizner | Jan 27, 2007 1:02:05 AM
This is all interesting, and I agree it's a great post. I think there's a couple of factors in play here that merit mentioning: one is that I wouldn't go too far in crediting the internet with making this an issue, and the other is that critiquing Zionism has always been a touchy business.
On the first, I think that while the internet has sped things up, this question of Peretz and TNR has not been quite so insular as to be invisible. Really, anyone with a passing interest on the ins and outs of the political scene (we have always been around) in DC has known that Peretz's deep pockets keep TNR afloat, and he who pays the piper calls the tune. Almost every editor who has fled - Andrew Sullivan and Michael Kelly come to mind - has said implicitly or explicitly that dealing with Peretz was a pain. And, I would point out, Shattered Glass went a long way towards implying that the silences at TNR were toxic and helped shield outright lies from a fabulist. While the internet has sped up and broadened the criticism of the political journals (I'd point out too that National Review's folks can get pretty tetchy about being challenged), the dirty secret is that TNR's dirty secret is not so secret.
I think what's kept people from speaking out is that criticizing Peretz is tied up in a lot of issues around Israel and Jews and who can speak critically on what topics without seeming - or more to the point, being attacked as - anti-Semitic. If this round of critiquing Peretz is different it may well be because it's among people who can't be tagged as anti-Semitic for labeling Peretz as extreme. And I think it's a sign that like a lot of things about the politics of the Middle East, traditional expectations are starting to break down. If the net result is a more frank discussion of how to resolve the issues between Israelis and Arabs it's all to the good, but I'm not sure that enough has changed yet. The test will be what happens when someone who is not Jewish can say, frankly, that Peretz's anti-Arab bias is prejudiced and wrong, and not get tagged with being anti-Semitic in the process. I'm not sure we're there just yet.
Posted by: weboy | Jan 27, 2007 7:13:32 AM
At one time (this would be inthe early seventies) Peretz had a flirtation with Lyndon LaRouche of the Labor Committee. LaRouche played him for financial support muting all criticism of Israel and extreme zionism until he milked Peretz financially for what he could. Peretz can see nothing in the world that does not pass thru the prism of his racist ideology.
Posted by: della Rovere | Jan 27, 2007 9:48:56 AM
paperwight, there's a big difference--and Arabs know there's a big difference--between conservative institutions, like the Bush administration or Rush Limbaugh, and the NR...
I'm not sure that's true. I mean, sure, Arabs who are paying attention probably know that TNR is "liberal" and all the others are "conservative", but the signal in either case is: there are no negative consequences in American politics for thinking that Arabs and Muslims generally are subhuman pawns.
Posted by: paperwight | Jan 27, 2007 10:42:48 AM
Before the rise of the net, the only feedback writers really got were their colleagues and personal acquaintances -- the occasional letter hardly counts. Those folks knew the rules. Now TNR is seeing the rest of the world doesn't, and they are having to answer for folks like Peretz.
I couldn't disagree more. They don't now, nor ever have had to answer for folks like Peretz. What's the downside of refusal? Readers cancelling their subscriptions? It's not like TNR has ever turned a profit and there appears to be plenty of sewing machine money to keep it going indefinately.
And should some of those talented young writers acknowledge that they work for a bigot that's no problem. There are plenty of talented young writers out there willing to ignore Marty and his bigotry. Or to pretend that the bigotry doesn't really exist.
Jonathan being but one example.
Posted by: Davebo | Jan 27, 2007 12:31:07 PM
Would people please stop acting like these brave young bloggers are speaking about something taboo and heretofore unknown? It's ridiculous. Peretz has been known to be a vile bigot since before these whippersnappers were born. What's more, he's been called out on it in influential magazines for decades. It's why he isn't treated as a respectable pundit but as a dangerous loon. Really, read the Slate article—James Wolcott was calling him out in Vanity Fair in 1988. Alex Cockburn used to flog the meat off his bones all the time in The Nation. Yglesias, Klein, et al are whipping the skin off a dead horse; the main notable thing is that Chait is too polite to point out that they seem unaware they're doing this, and thus that they aren't, perhaps, quite so up on the rules of the game as they think they are. Ah, young turks, eternally reinventing the wheel and taking credit for the automobile...
Posted by: Anonymous | Jan 27, 2007 1:21:52 PM
But anonymous, isn't it important that peretz is still around, still in charge? And if that is the case, then aren't these newer warnings every bit as valid and important as any that have come before?
You're criticism just sounds very "concern trollish" to me.
Posted by: ice weasel | Jan 27, 2007 4:42:27 PM
You aren't fit to lick the sprezzatura off of Martin Peretz's considerable balls, Klein.
Type that up, Jonny. Now here's my next Spine...
Posted by: Bart Elby | Jan 27, 2007 5:01:55 PM
I don't suppose it hurts any to point out bigotry, but I get the feeling reading this post that if I poked my computer screen Klein's inflated ego would pop, which is my point. This isn't a lone band of brave truthtellers exposing unknown things to the world. I like our young turk liberal bloggers, but humility and awareness of the ground on which you're fighting is a good thing. The world doesn't need more gasbag pundits.
Posted by: Anonymous | Jan 27, 2007 5:28:10 PM
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