Monday, July 04, 2005

The New Yorker wishes us a very happy Fourth of July

In my recent "change" post I mentioned in passing that I still read the New Yorker, despite my disagreement with almost everything political in it.

I wrestle with the fact that I continue to support them by subscribing, but I can't seem to break away (am I an enabler?). Every time I think it's all over between us, they come up with something wonderful like Adam Gopnik's "Bumping Into Mr. Ravioli" (no link on the Web, unfortunately) or this article about Bronson Alcott, by Geraldine Brooks.

I've just begun reading my latest issue, and already I'm angry. The date of the magazine is July 4, and the cover is entitled, "Party of One," featuring a very glum and lonely Uncle Sam, sitting at a party table in front of a "Happy Birthday" cake festooned with candles. Ah, yes, back to the old "unilateralism" meme--although in this case Uncle Sam seems more shunned than shunning. He appears to have invited some guests--after all, there are place-settings on the table--but they are all no-shows. At any rate, for whatever reason, he's all alone, and on his birthday, too.

But inside the issue there are far bigger problems than on the outside, although I've only gotten as far as the very first piece, the initial "The Talk of the Town" article. It's written by editor-in-chief David Remnick, and in it he criticizes Edward Klein's execrable gossip-mongering hatchet job on Hilary Clinton, "The Truth About Hilary," a book which appears to consist mainly of rumors that she knows lesbians and is sexually cold.

My disagreement is not with Remnick's critique of Klein's book. The difficulty comes later. First, there is this passage, which is fine:

In better times, in a better world, the shoddiness of [Klein's book's] reporting and the vulgarity of its writing would place it safely beyond discussion. In our own time and place, though, such books are not only published but sell in the hundreds of thousands, and their toxicity has a habit of further poisoning the political groundwater.

"Such books;" indeed--for example, the recent abomination on the Bush family, written by Kitty Kelley. Remnick, to his credit, and despite his own Bush-hatred, does manage to make very brief mention of Kelley's book, calling it a "trash biography."

There are certainly many others of the genre from which to choose, including--it turns out--that of the New Yorker's very own Seymour Hersh, who wrote the trash biography The Dark Side of Camelot back in 1997. It's a good parallel to the Klein book, because of its concentration on the sex life of its subject, and its heavy use of anonymous sources (something of a trademark for Mr. Hersh).

But no, Remnick doesn't mention it--although I can't say I actually expected Remnick to critique the trash written by one of his own writers.

But what book does Mr. Remnick see fit to mention right after the above quote, as a parallel to "The Truth About Hillary?" Let's see:

...further poisoning the political groundwater. In the last election cycle, the Kerry campaign was slow to recognize the importance of the Swift Boat slander, and, by the time it did, the damage could not be undone.

So, a book containing not a single sexual innuendo or anonymous source is compared with one composed of nothing but. A book that is written by a group of men who served heroically in Vietnam, all of whom go on the record to make their allegations up front and have plenty of documentation to back up their claims, is compared to a shadowy bunch of sexual insinuations. I strongly suspect that Remnick has not even read Unfit for Command, a tightly reasoned book that actually reads a great deal like a legal affidavit.

Maybe the Fourth of July isn't the best time to read the New Yorker.


At 8:45 AM, July 04, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You make a keen observation about bias.
I live on the upper west side of Manhattan and I recall, as I'm sure you do, the glut of anti-Bush books at my local Barnes & Noble, esp pre-election '04.
One was truly bizarre: written by a psychotherapist, it claimed to make an analysis of GWBush, even though it's author had never met the president. If you read the book jacket, and believed ANY of it, you had to be alarmed.
During that time, making a pro-kerry agrgument to me, a neighbor quoted a claim he'd read in a book aimed at "revealing" the close relationship between the Saudi royals and the" Bush dynesty". (I think the book may have been titled "Dynasty"?)
From this "political" book, my neigbor'd gleaned that through the cozy link with the Saudi royals, the Bushes should have seen 911 coming and done something to stop it.
Talk about poisoned water.

At 8:46 AM, July 04, 2005, Blogger knox said...

The SBVs were treated from the beginning like their accusations were beneath contempt...yet it always was fair game to question Bush's military record.

And the eagerness to smear and vilify a fairly large group of veterans in defense of an *exceptionally* yucky politician who exploited his service in Viet Nam as a routine talking point every time he opened his mouth is, well, telling.

At 9:07 AM, July 04, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm also a long time subscriber to "The New Yorker" and I have also been VERY upset with their political point of view and lack of open mindedness. Nowadays, about the only thing I like about "The New Yorker" is their cartoons. I can get those for free on the Internet so I'll be cancelling my subscription.

I continue to roll my eyes in dismay at the unfair treatment of Bush and his administration by the MSM...why do they hate him so much? Anyone who mistrusts his motives (see several articles about his unpublicized meetings with families of slain servicemen and remember that he doesn't want them publicized) is just plain dumb and unperceptive, in my opinion.

At 9:44 AM, July 04, 2005, Blogger Rick Ballard said...


I have read every installment of your journey with great interest. I am curious, given your background, that you do not identify more specifically the factors contributing to the positive feed back loop that makes remaining within the liberal bubble so comfortable.

I regard the New Yorker as a reinforcement tool just as the NYT is a reinforcement tool. Anyone familiar with the ends sought by Antonio Gramsci and the Fabian Society recognizes that the current state of the MSE and the MSM is the apotheosis of that movement. An intellectually sterile environment marked by an orthodoxy enlivened only by its attacks on heretics. Don't you find that part of the attraction of the neocon movement lies with its ability to engage in self criticism? You won't find that in the MSE and MSM.

The New Yorker is simply part of the cocoon from which many liberals have emerged. Intellectually stale and very frayed as it definitely is it may be safely abandoned. It is as comforting as a baby blanket and just as useful.

I do hope that your essays are combined to become a book. I also hope that you give some space to identifying the reinforcement mechanisms that, combined with the lack of time that you document, made remaining where you were wrt your world view, such a place of comfort.

At 11:48 AM, July 04, 2005, Blogger Dymphna said...


Having shed my kami-kaze liberal views in 1982, I've avoided the NY press as not worth the effort, and any continued support on my part as destructive in the long run. Thus, I am puzzled as to why anyone who is no longer within the fold would continue to read it...anymore than someone who had left the fundamentalist Christian fold would continue to read James Dobson's screeds either.

As a former member of the ACLU, I simply toss their mail in the circular file. In fact, I've sought out the organizations which have arisen to counter the ACLU's destructive litigiousness.

This is not a rhetorical question, nor one based in hostility. I am truly interested and would like to know why you continue to read these people on a regular basis.

I can see the point if you need info re their predictable stance on any given subject (e.g., you could count the # of stories they ran on Abu Ghraib vs. the amount of coverage the atrocities of Saddam Hussein got). What I fail to understand is the intentional discomfort you impose on yourself by reading this stuff.

Please take my query in the spirit it is meant: my curiosity is piqued by your suffering and continuing to inflict it on yourself....

At 11:57 AM, July 04, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

To Rick Ballard:

In later installments of the "change" series, I will go more heavily into the role periodicals have played in my thinking, both pre- and post-9/11.

But for me, The New Yorker is not a reinforcement tool-- certainly not now, and I'm not sure about in the past. (To the best of my recollection, it didn't used to feature so many articles that took sides politically, but perhaps that's selective memory on my part.) Being a literary sort, I'm one of those people (like the mythical folk who read Playboy for the interviews) who really does read the New Yorker for its nonpolitical articles, its personal essays, and some of its fiction. The two pieces I cited at the beginning of this essay were a case in point--they weren't political (didn't even mention Bush!), but I really really liked them. What's a person to do?

At 12:02 PM, July 04, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dymphna--I think that, as you were writing your question, I was attempting to answer it :-).

The truth is that I read the political articles now to get the feel for what the liberal side is saying. That's important. And I read the nonpolitical stuff because in almost every single issue there's something fascinating. Often it's a personal essay, for example. Sometimes it's a literary essay. Read that Bronson Alcott article and you may (or may not!) agree with me. Then there's the dance reviews, which are probably the best around. As a former dancer, they are of great interest to me.

However, the truth is that I haven't renewed my subscription in several years. I had one of those three-year ones, and it hasn't run out yet. So I haven't been faced with the decision as to whether to sign on again. Don't yet know what I plan to do at that point.

At 3:10 PM, July 04, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Why do you read these people?" someone asked you. In the case of the New Yorker, the answer may be something other that the usual "to find out all sides of the question" or "to exercise my critical reading skills."
I can say that I was reading the New Yorker before I could read--since my mother had a subscription. I loved to see it come every week in its brown paper envelope and to be the one to take it out and the first one to read the cartoons. Later, I began reading the articles--even the much-too-long John McPhee geology stuff. I finally quit reading it during the last elections, when, week after week, there was something about how great John Kerry was and how bad G Bush was. It was just sickening. Remember their puff piece about the Zogby poll? Enough said. However, I still look at their web site from time to time for a "Shouts and Murmers" piece that might make me laugh, or a film or book review that I might want to read. If David Remnick writes something, I'll still read it, since he knows his shit. Seymour Hirsch? He's been wrong too many times too take seriously anymore.
So I can't really give it up either. Why not? I suppose it just brings back good memories of my childhood to see the cover.

At 7:23 PM, July 04, 2005, Blogger Dymphna said...

I can understand the nostalgia for mags and newspapers one read as a child. I still miss the Saturday Review.

And the New Yorker covers are sometimes quite wonderful. Though not like they used to be...

I quit getting the New Republic as it drifted more obsessively to Gore and then after MK died, I dropped the Atlantic, too.

Most of what I need I can get on line, but I'm sure that will change as print publications start losing audience and have to do *something* to generate income.

Some things on line I'd pay for if I had to. Michael Yon's journal comes to mind.

It's hard to give up beloved things when you change and they don't, or when they change into something ugly and you wonder if it's been like that for a long time and you just noticed.

So we tiptoe away.

At 2:30 PM, July 06, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

For what it's worth, neo-neocon (and possibly others), you can get a refund on unreceived issues of the New Yorker NOW if you desire to cancel. I just did that, will receive no more issues, and will receive a refund. The number to call is (800) 825-2510 or look on the next to last page of the magazine. Your decision, of course.

At 11:35 PM, July 09, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

How could I grow if I only read what reinforces my own views and ignore those who disagree with me?
Why should we crave a pat on the back and back away from contrary arguments?
That only leads to the impoverishment of social discourse.


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