In Which David Sirota Goes Off Half-Cocked About the Tea Party -- And Me
If you're a journalist set on attacking the work of another journalist, there are a few things that are basic to the fight:
1. Getting your facts straight
2. Naming the journalist with whom you're picking the fight
3. Not snipping 3 sentences from a 5,000 word piece to make your unnamed target appear to be an exponent of a circumstance she finds abhorrent.
But in his cowardly attack at OpenLeft on my recent AlterNet article, Dismiss the Tea Parties at Your Peril, David Sirota does none of these things. Instead, he claims to have found my piece in The American Prospect (for which I last wrote in 2008) and then uses that error to launch an attack on the Prospect.
After being notified by AlterNet that he had gotten the source of the article wrong, he corrected it via strike-through but simply deleted his description of the Prospect as "a magazine primarily catering to a privileged white audience" (unlike, say, OpenLeft).
Sirota apparently doesn't have he courage to attack me by name, because while he quotes my piece, he can't bear to make attribution, even when accusing me of "deifying white privilege." He's now reshaped his piece so that all the evils he attributed to the Prospect in his initial post, he now attributes to "the article" -- which apparently wrote itself.
Those who made their way through my magnum opus (the best readers, evah!) know that the article is a contextualized argument for why I believe the Tea Party movement must be taken seriously by progressives. My need to write such a piece was driven by arguments against doing so finding their way into the commentary of serious progressive commentators.
I examine the history of the modern American right, and tease out data from recent polling. I look at the role race plays in the Tea Party narrative, offering a long disquisition on racial resentment.
In offering suggestions to prevent further damage to and erosion of our politics, I suggest we need to thwart the movement's growth by reaching out to the fence-sitters before they fall into the Tea Party rabbit hole -- basically by describing the progressive economic agenda in terms of their own self-interest.
Nowhere do I say that we should shunt aside the issues of racial equality and disparity. But you wouldn't know that from Sirota's framing:
In other words, instead of building the strength of progressives' burgeoning multicultural coalition through overtly anti-racist themes that explicitly challenge white privilege, the article asks progressives to fight white privilege by immediately privileging political messages that coddle privileged whites - that is, by trimming the progressive message into one that makes sure not to offend/counter white resentment. This, despite the resounding electoral success of progressives' multicultural coalition in the last two elections, and despite Census data showing America will soon be a majority minority (read: non-white) country.
Where does he get this "instead of" crap? Certainly not from my article. Is he looking for an un-named straw man to kick while promoting his upcoming piece ("as I will further expand on in my upcoming newspaper column on Friday")?
And why couldn't he bear to take me on by name? Was he afraid someone might put my byline in the Google and find all the stuff I've written about the Tea Party and race?
For example, the opening of my coverage of the 912 march on Washington:
As disgruntled white taxpayers joined conspiracy theorists, gun enthusiasts, state-sovereignty activists and outright racists on Pennsylvania Avenue, the long-time leaders of the American right, whose pedigrees go back to the 1964 presidential campaign of Sen. Barry Goldwater, R-Ariz., no doubt witnessed a day they thought might never come.
Or my coverage of the Virginia Sovereignty March?
Then, in his corrected version of his post, he condescendingly says, "If I had to guess, the article's author wasn't consciously aware that it was doing this."
On the substance, Sirota seems be saying that progressives need not reach out to disgruntled, suburban whites, because the country will soon be non-white in its majority. But no election expert will tell you that you can win an election without white, suburban votes. And if you want to keep the Tea Party growing, just ignore those people. Many of them voted for Obama only reluctantly, and their fortunes aren't likely to improve much by 2012, with job creation being a lagging indicator of economic recovery.
But this clearly was never meant to be an argument about substance. It was an unethical and cowardly hit piece.
I've taken my jewelry off, Sirota. Meet me outside.