We agree with the Alterman reader who called the Time cover story a new low for the mainstream media. As such, we advise you to think again about a dichotomy that was clearly observed on the liberal web in the wake of this remarkable piece.
How did the liberal web respond to Times remarkable conduct? Two different ways! The amateur web was plainly outraged; its writers spent a good deal of time discussing what Time had done. But the career liberal web was a whole different animal. Indeed, if you judge by the web sites of the American Prospect, the Washington Monthly and the New Republic, youd hardly know that Times cover story existed! In short, two different groups inhabit the liberal web, a fact which this episode made crystal clear. And one of these groups has no intention of discussing even the grossest misconduct of even the biggest news organs.
Should anyone really be surprised by the silence that came from these liberal bastions? Not really. This is exactly the way these organs behaved during the event that transformed our politics, the twenty-month press corps War Against Gore that decided Election 2000. Everything liberals rail at today exists because of that twenty-month war. But you know those career liberal writers! They wouldnt discuss the press corps war in real time, and they avoid discussing that war even now. At Slate, Jack Shafer more or less explained this corrupt—and utterly disabling—code of silence:
SHAFER (4/8/05): I started writing press criticism at Washington City Paper back in 1986, because as editor I couldn't get anybody else to do it. Writers were frightened that if they penned something scathing about the Washington Post or the New York Times they'd screw themselves out of a future job.Poor babies! They might blow their future pay-days! And they might not get to be on Hardball! To state the obvious, we cant explain the personal motives of every single career liberal writer. But in the last two weeks, youve clearly seen two different liberal webs—and one of them didnt have squat to say when Time pimped Coulter on its cover. They sat around and kept very quiet—just as they did during Campaign 2000, just as theyve done about that campaign right to this very day.
In the past five years, our major press organs have done something remarkable. During Campaign 2000, they worked for two years to make Gore seem crazy; now theyre working to make Coulter seem sane. But you know those bright young career liberal writers! They dont have a word to say about either part of this history-making transaction! Politely, they type their policy screeds—and they pretend that they dont understand what their future employers have done.
Every time you see Coulter speak, you realize that Yeats saw our epoch correctly—that the worst are full of passionate intensity, that societys guardians do lack all conviction. And among the people who lack all conviction, lets include the good boys and girls who know they must be very discreet as they man the career liberal web.
UPDATE—UTTERLY, COMPLETELY, TOTALLY CLUELESS: At Tapped, Garance Franke-Ruta offers this reaction to yesterdays speech by Gore:
FRANKE-RUTA: Gore and his advisors managed to put together one of the smartest political speeches I have had the pleasure of hearing in a very, very long time. This speech, entitled "An American Heresy," is a direct assault on the religious right from within the framework of American history; it is must-see TV for this evening, when it will be broadcast on C-SPAN. It wove together the words of the founders, the current drive for one-party rule, and the fight over the filibuster into a coherent narrative about our times that rang all too true—and which I have not heard as ably articulated elsewhere. It was, quite simply, magisterial.Actually, it would be hard to be more clueless. The predictable sliming of Crackpot Gore began on Fox last night (Hes baaaack, said Brit Hume, on Special Report), and no, theres little chance that Gore could run a successful national campaign. But thats because the publication for which Franke-Ruta now works said absolutely nothing—nothing at all—during the two-year press corps war which established these themes about Delusional Gore and put George Bush in the White House. For the record, these themes were not established and driven by the right-wing press, as many career liberal writers now claim; quite plainly, these themes were established and driven by the New York Times and the Washington Post, and by mainstream pundits all over TV (Chris Matthews and Brian Williams were leaders). And while this was happening over a two-year span, Franke-Rutas publication stared into air. As you may recall, Jack Shafer may have more or less explained this history-altering silence:
And it was hard not to think while watching Gore speak that this is a man whom people would vote for, should they ever again have that chance.
SHAFER (4/8/05): I started writing press criticism at Washington City Paper back in 1986, because as editor I couldn't get anybody else to do it. Writers were frightened that if they penned something scathing about the Washington Post or the New York Times they'd screw themselves out of a future job.The Prospect fiddled while the Post and the Times turned Gore into a liar and crackpot. Today, Franke-Ruta imagines a future Gore campaign. From what liberal planet do these utterly clueless and fiery young brilliant scribes speak to us?
TOMORROW: A catalogue of Coulterian clowning (we need to develop a language)
NEXT WEEK: Life of Frist!