The Daily Sandwich

"We have to learn the lesson that intellectual honesty is fundamental for everything we cherish." -Sir Karl Popper

Location: Boston, Massachusetts, United States


Thursday, June 22, 2006

WAR! (explained)

It's war, all right. But just between some New Republic writers and the blogosphere. Anyone who's been reading the site for a while know my opinion of TNR. It used to be a favorite of mine, back in the 90s. But over the last few years, the quality has really been dropping. Apparently their circulation has, too. There are plenty of reasons I have for the change of heart, and I won't rehash them all here. But the New Republic's anti-blog sentiment has boiled over this week, and the blogs are striking back in a big way.

It started with an item on TNR's blog that suggested a scandal brewing among the big progressive blog players, Markos Moulitsas and-- more specifically-- Jerome Armstrong. I didn't know what to make of it, and didn't feel informed enough to comment on it.

The questions about Armstrong don't seem to have amounted to much, but a new controversy arose when a TNR writer revealed that he had seen an e-mail Markos sent to a group saying that the story should be ignored. As was the case recently with Ann Coulter's publicity tour, the growing concensus was that writing about her outrageous statements was just giving more airtime and free press to someone who didn't deserve it. Jason Zengerle's response in TNR's blog was to claim that Moulitsas was bullying others into silence through his financial clout.

The concensus on that development is that Zengerle's assertions were inaccurate, unfounded, and irresponsible. But Moulitsas responded with this post today, which I think was unwise in its scope and emotion. While Moulitsas correctly asserts that the magazine has taken a big step to the right during the Bush years, his overwrought writing stoops to meet the original attacks of TNR and gives them ammo to fight back.

Which Jonathan Chait immediately did on TNR's site, using the sort of haughty sarcasm and 'gotcha' debate tactics that characterized Zengerle's original posts. When I read it this morning, it struck me primarily as just plain childish. Chait goes on and on about Kos' predictions of the magazine's iminent demise, but never presents any evidence of the magazine's vigor (it's my understanding that their circulation actually has dropped from 100,000 to about 40,000 over the last few years).

Enter MyDD, home of Jerome Armstrong, with the latest salvo: "The New Republic is owned by wealthy right-wingers. One quit the DLC in 1996 because he thought Bill Clinton was too liberal (seriously). The other is the chairman of a right-wing think tank." This is clearly very true. But unfortunately, the author of the post repeats Markos' blanket assertion that everything TNR produces is therefore guaranteed to be right-wing crap. Granted, there's a lot more crap than there used to be. And the recent editorial shift seems to have made things worse instead of better, from what I've seen.

And there you have it. The story to date. It's just too bad it's such a farce.

UPDATE: Salon has a blog entry on the whole to-do, and how meaningless the whole thing is. There's more info on what Zengerle thought he'd dug up about the secret blog conspiracy, if anyone's interested, but the whole thing doesn't amount to much beyond the outrage flying around.

UPDATE (6/23): I thought we'd probably seen the worst in this story, and I was more than ready to wash my hands of it. Sadly, a third TNR writer has joined the fray and topped everyone involved for overblown, kooky rhetoric. Lee Siegel writes that "the blogosphere"-- yes, and every last blog writer-- is a place of "hard fascism" and "thuggishness," where bloggers attempt "to parlay street-fighting skills into fame and riches." Perhaps worst is Siegel's admission that, although he'd like to see Ned Lamont beat Joe Lieberman, he'd also like to see Lamont lose just because it would piss off progressive bloggers. Now that's the mark of a seasoned and mature professional journalist.