Stephen Glass Was No More Fake Than His Publisher
Stephen Glass Was No More Fake Than The
Magazine He Wrote For:
The So-Called “Liberal” New
By Dennis Hans
On May 11, the same day the New York Times devoted four pages to explaining how young reporter Jayson Blair regularly deceived his editors and Times readers, CBS’s 60 Minutes devoted a segment to the Jayson Blair of the 1990s, Stephen Glass of the New Republic (NR) magazine. But correspondent Steve Kroft missed the really big story: the magazine Glass wrote for is every bit as fraudulent as Glass himself.
We’ll get to the NR shortly, but let’s first consider Glass. Here’s his explanation to Kroft as to how he created the appearance of credibility:
“I would tell a story, and there would be fact A, which maybe was true. And then there would be fact B, which was sort of partially true and partially fabricated. And there would be fact C which was more fabricated and almost not true. And there would be fact D, which was a complete whopper. And totally not true. And so people would be with me on these stories through fact A and through fact B. And so they would believe me to C. And then at D they were still believing me through the story.” ( http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2003/05/07/60minutes/printable552819.shtml )
That, said Kroft, is how Glass led his editors and readers to believe, among other things, in the existence of “an evangelical church that worshiped George Herbert Walker Bush.”
Yes, Glass really did persuade his editors to believe something that preposterous. Now I could imagine a church springing up to worship Poppy Bush’s super-endowed flyboy son, Dub Diggler. He’s built like a god, strides like a god, and, like any self-respecting deity, is free of all doubts. Poppy, on the other hand, could never walk the god-like walk nor talk the god-like talk.
Glass went the extra mile to make his phony sources seem real. First he’d concoct an organization, then design business cards, newsletters, answering-machine messages and, in the case of the bogus company Jukt Micronics, a website. “For every lie I told in the magazine,” Glass said, “there was a series of lies behind that lie that I told — in order to get it to be published.”
For all the confessions of phoniness, the phoniest line of the segment belonged to Kroft, when he described the NR as “a distinguished magazine.”
The “liberal” New Republic
Long before Glass walked through its doors, the NR was a sordid, sleazy rag that was living not one lie, but two: the pretense that it was (1) non-fiction and (2) liberal.
By “non-fiction,” I’m thinking less of Glass and Ruth Shalit (whose frequent ethical lapses preceded Glass’s) and more of the routine smears of human rights groups and individuals who have the wrong take on foreign-policy issues near and dear to the NR’s neoconservative heart. That’s right, “neoconservative.”
The rightwing fanatics who dominate George W. Bush’s foreign-policy team are cut from the same cloth as longtime NR owner (now co-owner) Martin Peretz. It made perfect sense that William Kristol would team up with the NR’s Lawrence Kaplan for their recent book on the U.S. and Iraq. Kristol is the leading neocon light, a Fox News Channel “All-Star” and the editor of Rupert Murdoch’s Weekly Standard. Kristol are Kaplan are peas in the same neocon pod.
Consider the magazine’s most famous alumni: Fred Barnes, Charles Krauthammer, Andrew Sullivan, the late Michael Kelly — the most bloodthirsty, warmongering reactionaries in the pundit biz. Oh, yeah, there’s also center-right Beltway Boy and Fox All-Star Morton Kondracke and self-described “wishy-washy moderate” Michael Kinsley.
For years, Kinsley conned America with his nightly CNN “Crossfire” claim: “From the left, I’m Michael Kinsley.”
Kinsley isn’t on the left. He can’t stand the left. Wishes it would go away. He recently stepped down as editor of Slate.com, an often smart, generally centrist magazine that doesn’t extend leftward beyond moderate liberalism, though it often invites rightwingers for dialog and debate with Slate centrists. Folks like Christopher Buckley, Chris Caldwell and Jeffrey Goldberg, a New Yorker reporter and Pentagon mouthpiece who helped to pave the way for war on Iraq with long articles as factually challenged as Glass and Blair’s work. It’s the same basic center vs. right formula as when Kinsley was on Crossfire. Now there’s nothing wrong with that formula, so long as it’s billed accurately: “Hey, folks, this is the center squaring off with the right. Here we go.” But there’s plenty wrong with spouting a slogan that contributes to the marginalization of anyone to the left of wishy-washy moderate Kinsley.
The current NR editor, Peter Beinart, occupies ideological space somewhere between centrist Kinsley and rightist Sullivan. So naturally, he’s entitled to a weekly seat on CNN’s Late Edition as a “liberal,” where he and Gore-backer Donna Brazile (who leans a tad left on domestic issues and a tad right on foreign policy) square off against two proud righties, usually former Gingrich aide Robert George, who now writes for Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post, and National Review Online’s Jonah Goldberg. Paging Wolf Blitzer: That is not a balanced panel.
Beinart walks a beat as an officer of the Patriotism Police. Along with William Bennett, Lynne Cheney, Sean Hannity and Ann Coulter, he’s ready to slime any person or organization he deems insufficiently patriotic. He did a particularly fine job of smearing the National Education Association as soft on Islamic fundamentalist terrorists. Even after a real liberal, American Prospect editor Robert Kuttner, exposed the dishonesty behind the slander, which had been concocted by a Washington Times hack, Beinart continued to spread it. Read about Beinart’s performance in Bob Somerby’s Daily Howler (http://dailyhowler.com/dh082702.shtml). Then ask yourself, Why is this weasel representing liberals on CNN?
Back in the 1980s, the NR loved Reagan’s foreign policy. The magazine’s editorials, often penned by Krauthammer, led the cheers for such Reagan-backed torturers and murderers as the Nicaraguan contras, the Salvadoran army and Jonas Savimbi’s UNITA rebels in Angola. No matter how many civilian corpses piled up.
The NR did run occasional articles critical of U.S. support for Central American cutthroats. Jefferson Morley had some fine pieces. But the steady supportive drumbeat was provided by Krauthammer, Barnes and Kondracke, and the institutional voice was provided by Krauthammer and Peretz. Morley’s pieces were actually counterproductive to his liberal goals, because the existence of a liberal faction contributed to the myth that the NR was indeed liberal. But neither Morley nor liberal freelancers published in the NR regularly represented the NR on the tube, where the NR’s impact is greatest. The magazine has a tiny circulation, but its disproportionate influence stems from its role as a primary source of supposedly liberal talking heads. The NR usurps air time from genuine liberals and lefties by sending folks from the center, center-right and right. People like Barnes, Krauthammer, Kinsley and Kondracke are big names today because of years of regular TV gigs. Today, Beinart — who has been lauded by George Will, further evidence of his duplicitous role — is trodding that well-worn path.
As Eric Alterman has documented in two excellent books, “Sound and Fury” and “What Liberal Media?”, the cynical pretense of NR personnel that they write for a “liberal” magazine has made a significant contribution to pushing the public discourse far to the right. It has marginalized genuine liberals while rendering progressives and leftists all but invisible.
The NR in black and white (but mostly white)
There was a wonderful spat back in1995 between “the liberal New Republic” and “the liberal Washington Post.” (To be fair to the Post, its ludicrous “liberal” label is not self-designated.) Ruth Shalit of the NR, who was to plagiarism what Glass was to fabrication, penned a lengthy piece critical of the Post’s affirmative-action program, coming to conclusions that delighted NR editors — mediocre blacks get jobs over better-qualified whites; the Post goes easy on the city’s black-run government and downplays rampant black crime). The Post reacted strongly, documenting plagiarized passages and dozens of errors. Post honcho Donald Graham even suggested the NR change its motto to “Looking for a qualified black since 1914”!
Best line of the spat, bar none. But is it fair? I think not. Granted, the NR seems never to have had a single black staff writer in its “distinguished” history. It has, however, trumpeted the work of a very special brand of black intellectual: the kind that either has no black friends or intends to achieve that state by what he writes in the NR. Gents like Shelby Steele, John McWhorter and Glenn Loury. Bootstrap blacks. Blacks who rise high and fast on their merits: their ability to eloquently deliver a message that that their rich, white, conservative patrons are eager to trumpet and the NR’s lilywhite readership are eager to read.
Yes, the “liberal” NR’s favorite black scholars all have (or had, in Loury’s case) prestigious seats at very conservative think tanks: the Hoover Institution (Steele), the Manhattan Institute (McWhorter) and the American Enterprise Institute (Loury).
Funny, but the conservative National Review and Weekly Standard don’t look to the progressive Institute for Policy Studies or the liberal Center for Defense Information and Center for International Policy for insights on the issues of the day. Conservative magazines prefer to ignore, criticize or villify thinkers at liberal and leftwing think tanks.
For a generally sympathetic account of Loury’s long, strange trip from neocon darling to disillusioned moderate, see Adam Shatz’s article in the January 20, 2002 New York Times Magazine ( http://www.uni-bonn.de/~upp203/htm/Glenn_Loury-nytimes.html). Here’s an excerpt:
“Word of the brilliant, contrarian black economist from the South Side of Chicago traveled fast. Conservative magazines solicited articles from him; The New Republic published his thoughts on race under the title ‘A New American Dilemma.’ He befriended William Bennett and William Kristol, his colleague at the Kennedy School. He sat at President Reagan's table at a White House dinner, and he socialized with Clarence Thomas. (Although the two no longer speak, Loury still keeps a picture in his office of himself with Thomas.) While his liberal colleagues were boycotting South Africa, Loury traveled there in 1986 on a trip financed by the white diamond magnate Harry Oppenheimer.”
In 1987, chain-smoking poker player and Secretary of Education Bennett asked Loury to be under secretary of education. Alas, Loury had to decline. He really wasn’t suited for a high-profile, role-model job, seeing as he was a coke fiend who was cheating on his wife with a 23-year-old college graduate who he had put up in a love nest.
Years later, Loury began to realize that much (not all) of the conservative movement didn’t give a rat’s ass about black people. He split with the AEI over its promotion of race baiters Charles Murray and Dinesh D’Souza. He made amends with relatives and other black former friends who had branded him a sellout. These days, he’s more of a soul-searching centrist on race issues. Meanwhile, the “liberal” NR has anointed conservative McWhorter as its latest “Great Black Hope.”
As genuinely liberal editors know, there’s ample ideological space between McWhorter and Jesse Jackson. There’s not a darn thing wrong with challenging whatever liberal orthodoxies may exist about race relations and affirmative action — from the center, right or left. It shouldn’t be that hard to find sharp black thinkers who could bring fresh insights into these matters without alienating most of black America. Just don’t expect the editors of the NR to conduct that search.
The NR’s favorite Arab-American
Now that 60 Minutes has pulled back the curtain on Stephen Glass, perhaps it’s time to do the same for the magazine that employed him. CBS actually has something in common with the NR: love of Fouad Ajami. Ajami is to Arab-Americans what the old Glenn Loury was to African Americans: a turncoat. Yet he is the NR’s favorite Arab-American, and he is the Arab-American Dan Rather turns to for expert, on-air analysis of the Middle East and Persian Gulf. Ajami may well be the last person Arab-Americans would choose to represent them to a broad audience (CBS viewers) or narrow audience (NR readers).
Can you imagine Steve Kroft exposing the NR as a fake “liberal” magazine, or asking why “liberal” CBS and the NR so love to promote the views of an Arab-American who is as despised by his fellow Arab-Americans as Clarence Thomas is by African-Americans? Neither can I. The only person with that good of an imagination is Stephen Glass.
©2003 by Dennis Hans
Bio: Dennis Hans is a freelance writer who has taught
courses in mass communications and American foreign policy
at the University of South Florida-St. Petersburg. You can
read his stunning essay “Lying Us Into War: Exposing Bush
and His ‘Techniques of Deceit’” at
http://www.takebackthemedia.com/com-hans.html. He can be
©2003 by Dennis Hans
Bio: Dennis Hans is a freelance writer who has taught courses in mass communications and American foreign policy at the University of South Florida-St. Petersburg. You can read his stunning essay “Lying Us Into War: Exposing Bush and His ‘Techniques of Deceit’” at http://www.takebackthemedia.com/com-hans.html. He can be reached at HANS_D@popmail.firn.edu