Journalists through the decades: tenure?
I know I've written quite a bit about the book Radical Son, in which David Horowitz details the process by which he changed from activist leftist to neocon (see here and here for examples of my posts).
But the book is one of those gifts that keeps on giving. One of the most intriguing aspects of Horowitz's tale, at least to me, is found in certain throwaway details that have taken on a different light in recent years, post-9/11.
Although the book was published in 1997 and therefore the portraits Horowitz paints of various figures on the journalistic left are frozen at that point, time has of course moved on and we've seen some interesting changes happen to a number of those people.
Horowitz isn't the sort to pull his punches, so part of his book is an attempt to show how very vicious some of his former colleagues on the left were when he "turned." The phenomenon I described here, in "Condescension and leaving the political fold," was operating very strongly in Horowitz's life when he emerged from a few years of thought and relative political inaction to announce his change of mind in a series of hard-hitting articles and lectures. As apostates, he and his writing partner Peter Collier not only found doors closed to them in the publishing world that had heretofore been open, but Horowitz experienced a great deal of personal animosity from former friends (including a woman who actually spat at him, I seem to recall):
Although we [Horowitz and Collier] were best-selling authors, there were no longer friendly pages for our writings in its influential liberal journals--the New York Times, the Atlantic, Harper's, the New Yorker, the New York Review of Books, and (now that we had shown what our apostasy meant), the Washington Post. These were reserved for our literary executioners--Gitlin, Hitchens, Blumenthal, and friends.
These names may be strikingly familiar to you. Todd Gitlin is a prominent leftist critic of Bush, and Sidney Blumenthal is a former Clinton aide who is well-known as one of Clinton's biggest defenders during the Lewinsky scandal. They are both still on the same side as they were when Horowitz wrote his book.
But the other name, Hitchens, refers of course to Christopher Hitchens. Two of the most negative portraits in Horowitz's book--and, as I said, he's not one to pull punches, so the negative portraits are very negative--are those of Hitchens and the leftist Paul Berman, both of whom Horowitz reports as having been especially cutting and personal in their attacks on him (not very hard to believe about Hitchens, but Berman surprised me).
Both Hitchens and Berman have themselves undergone certain, shall we say, changes since the book was written. Although both still self-identify as being on the left--Berman especially--both have came close to becoming apostates themselves post-9/11 (although neither has gone anywhere near as far as Horowitz has in that respect), and both have gotten flak from former colleagues for their support of the Iraq war.
It is especially interesting to me that these two were vociferously and personally opposed to Horowitz at the time of his turning, and yet later both ended up doing a not insignificant bit of turning themselves, a fact which strikes me as deeply ironic. Now, Hitchens himself has experienced some of the ostracism he dealt out to Horowitz. Of course, Hitchens being Hitchens, he probably couldn't care less (or, if he does, he'll never tell).
But here is Horowitz's vivid portrait of Hitchens back in the late Reagan years, when Horowitz had just said goodbye to the left, and both men were appearing on the public television show "Book Notes," hosted by Lewis Lapham, editor of Harper's (in a remarkable feat of media longevity, Lapham remains its editor--and you may recall him as the man whose name recently, like that of Robert Fisk, became a verb, in Lapham's case for his remarkable time-traveling abilities prior to the 2004 Republican Convention):
As a Trotskyite himself, Hitchens had few illusions about the utopias that the Left had built, but--like Tom Hayden and Jim Mellen--he was driven by internal demons that could not be pacified. This inner rage fueled his animus against the country that had treated him so well, and prompted him to compose a recent article which provided a rationale for Shi'ite terrorists at war with the West...Sitting across from me at Lapham's right, Hitchens looked like a badger, his mood black and his head, with hooded eyes that scowled in my direction, sunk deep into his neck cavity. As soon as we began the proceedings, his bile spilled onto every surface; souring the entire mood of the show, which reached its nadir when I mentioned the passage in which I had written about my father's funeral. "Who cares about his pathetic family?" Hitchens snapped.
It is interesting to note that, although Hitchens has for the most part come over to the neocon side, and thus I appreciate and agree with quite a few (although not all) of his articles and points of view, Horowitz's description of him strikes me as spot on. When Hitchens is on one's side, his biting wit and ability to skewer the opposition are appreciated; when he is on the other side, beware. But, agree or disagree with him, he does seem to be motivated by an anger that appears to have some sort of internal genesis, and his nasty remark about Horowitz's father ties in perfectly with strains noted in the recent dialogue between Hitchens and his brother. One can safely say that Hitchens was certainly not then and is not now a sentimentalist about family.
One particularly fascinating detail of the above quote was that, according to Horowitz, Hitchens had written an article that seems to have been some sort of apologia for Shi'ite terrorists. The post-9/11 Hitchens would probably like to forget that.
Speaking of forgetting, I wondered whether, now that Horowitz and Hitchens have moved closer together in policy matters and have shared the strange experience of losing friends and colleagues over it, they are now on speaking terms with each other despite their conflicted history.
Well, it turns out they are; apparently politics does make strange bedfellows, unmakes them, and then makes them once again. In this 2002 article by Horowitz, he writes, "Christopher [Hitchens], who is also my friend..." And then there is this, promoting a rather remarkable excursion, "Tour London with Christopher Hitchens and David Horowitz."
Horowitz's book is replete with names from the past that still resonate now, in addition to Hitchens. The same crew of commentators and journalists seems to have been around for decades: Alexander Cockburn, Lewis Lapham, Seymour Hersch, Sidney Blumenthal, Eric Alterman, Todd Gitlin, Paul Berman, Hendrick Hertzberg, and Martin Peretz. All have roles, small or large, to play in Horowitz's book, and all are still writing in very influential periodicals today. Most of them are more or less on the same side now as they were then; only a few are "changers" like Horowitz and Hitchens.
It made me realize the huge influence a rather small number of people has had in shaping political perceptions in the US and around the world for many decades. In how many other fields would a book written about events occurring mostly in the 60s through the 80s contain so many names that were still highly influential in the year 2005? Do journalists, like academics, have tenure?