05 January 2008

Bill Kristol (Again): With Defenders Like These ...

At Slate Jack Shafer has written a column entitled "Who is Afraid of Bill Kristol?" in which he chides liberals and leftists for objecting to The New York Times hiring Kristol as a columnist. This is the second time I have responded to a Shafer column. He is no closer to the mark now than he was the first time. Then he was intent on defending the integrity of journalism against what he called "The Lies of Ryszard Kapuściński." This time he is defending the The Times offering Kristol a columnist columnist slot despite the fact that he is, as I already have said [1] [2], an inveterate bullshitter who has never earned a job (or much else) in his life. I will not repeat myself here. Instead, I'll offer a couple of gentle rejoinders to Shafer's by and large incoherent defense of Bill.

[A] "Kristol is a political operator. . . . Kristol lives to brawl and make enemies. To him, writing is fighting."

So, having gone out of his way to make enemies of them, the various folks Shafer cites ought to applaud when Bill is offered column inches at The Times? Or perhaps, those who are concerned with the health of American journalism are mistaken to think that inviting a belligerant ('political operator') like Kristol is simply a bad idea for a respectable paper? It seems very odd that the preoccupation with journalistic integrity that "induced grand mal seizures" in Shafer when he discussed Kapuściński doesn't carry over to his assessment of Kristol.

Perhaps, Jack, no one is afraid of Bill Kristol. Perhaps people object to his appointment because he is a political hack. You essentially concede that characterization, in the process undermining the deciders at The Times who tried to justify hiring Bill on the grounds that he is a 'respected conservative intellectual.' Talk about howlers! That is a point on which you and Bill's critics agree: Kristol indeed is "a naked opportunist" who "gravitates to power." As a result, it hardly seems unfair to infer that he lacks the political principle and intellectual acuity to write for anything beyond propaganda sheets like The Weekly Standard. You'll excuse me if I am not impressed by your assurances that, despite his opportunism and lack of qualifications, Kristol is "not exactly a suck-up." Do we really need to split hairs?

[B] "Oh, you say, Kristol's journalistic crime is not just that he was wrong about launching the war but that he has been absolutely wrong about every chapter in the war since the shock-and-awe bombs lit up Baghdad. Well, not wrong at every turn. From where I write this afternoon, he looks pretty goddamn prescient about the wisdom of mounting the "surge" and adopting a counterinsurgency strategy in Iraq."

Nice try. Let's put to one side the actual causal story and agree with your premise that the 'surge' is responsible for the decline in violence in Iraq (instead, that is, of it being the result of, say, an already accomplished campaign of sectarian cleansing or the voluntary stand down by Muqtada al-Sadr and his militia). And let's set aside too the opportunity costs of pursuing the Iraq fiasco. Just think we might've been using resources devoted to the 'surge' to attend to matters in say Afghanistan (or, in non-military ways, even Pakistan). Instead of dwelling on those distractions, let's remember what the point of the 'surge' supposedly was. It was meant to suppress violence so that the Iraqis could make political progress. Ooopps! Excuse me if I don't quite see how the complete lack of political progress in Baghdad over recent months makes Bill "pretty goddamn prescient?" (Having said that, I am happy to have all those folks who are now or ever have been cheer leading BushCo and their idiotic foreign policy called on the carpet too.)

[C] "As one who speaks to Republican leaders hourly, Kristol will perform similar service, rewarding liberal readers with dispatches from the "alien" world of conservatism."

First, if liberal readers need a dose of conservatism they have plenty of outlets from which to choose. It is not exactly like we lack for sources of right-wing media blather including, of course, the various posts from which, thanks to Daddy Kristol's rich friends, Bill already spews his bullshit. The problem is that conservative views hardly are 'alien'; unfortunately they are all to familiar.

Second, when will, say, the rabidly right-wing Wall Street Journal ed page invite somebody as far to the left as Kristol is to the right (which is very far) to be a regular contributor? How about, say, the Chicago Tribune? Or the rest of the mamby-pamby papers like my hometown Democrat & Chronicle or any of its Gannett-owned brethren across the country? Don't folks who read all those right of center rags need some alien views from the left?

Third, does The Times need one of each sort of conservative? They already have David Brooks (so what if he and Kristol are not clones) writing for the ed page, Alex Rosenthal running it, and Sam Tannenhouse running the book review. And in their reporting staff they still have the Judith Miller wannabes too. I am frankly sick of the mainstream media playing at being in some vague sense 'liberal' while it in fact sucks up to the right.

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Anonymous Dawei from Beijing said...

I am standing in front of my computer and applauding. Thank you, Jim.

05 January, 2008 22:43  

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