A Fake Reporter for a Fake Magazine


On May 11, the same day the New York Times devoted four pages to Jayson Blair's errors and deceptions, CBS's "60 Minutes"devoted a segment to the Blair of the 1990s, Stephen Glass of the New Republic. 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 New Republic shortly, but let's first consider Glass. Here's his explanation to Kroft as to how he created at the New Republic 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."
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." Glass went the extra mile to make his bogus sources seem real, creating business cards, answering-machine messages and even a website. But for all his confessions of phoniness, the phoniest line of the segment belonged to Kroft, when he called the New Republic "a distinguished magazine."

The 'liberal' New Republic

Long before Glass walked through its doors, the New Republic 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 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 New Republic's neoconservative heart. That's right, "neoconservative." Parts of the New Republic's head may be liberal, moderate or conservative, but the heart is hard right.

The rightwing fanatics who dominate George W. Bush's foreign-policy team are cut from the same ideological cloth as longtime New Republic owner (now co-owner) and editor-in-chief Martin Peretz. It made perfect sense for Fox star William Kristol to team with the New Republic's Lawrence Kaplan for a recent book on the United States and Iraq. They're peas in the same neocon pod.

As Eric Alterman documents in "Sound and Fury" and "What Liberal Media?" (two excellent books marred only by potshots at fellow Nation columnist Alexander Cockburn), the cynical pretense of New Republic personnel that they write for a "liberal" magazine has helped to push public discourse far to the right. Most of the media either believe or pretend to believe this nonsense, and that has led to the marginalization of genuine liberals.

Alterman asserts that "At least half of the 'liberal New Republic' is actually a rabidly neoconservative magazine," edited in recent years by the late "Clinton/Gore hater Michael Kelly" and by "the conservative liberal hater Andrew Sullivan." Sullivan himself, in a recent London Times essay reprinted in the March 30 St. Petersburg Times, described New Republic as "neoconservative and neoliberal."

Neoliberals are considered closer to the center than old-school liberals, while hot-to-bomb neocons are considered to the right of old-school conservatives. So even if New Republic is a 50-50 neoliberal-neoconservative split, that equates to "right of center," not 'centrist," let alone "liberal." It's preposterous to identify the New Republic by the single adjective "liberal."

Among the magazine's most famous alumni are four hard-boiled reactionaries -- Fred Barnes, Charles Krauthammer, Sullivan and Kelly (who died covering the Iraq war). Morton Kondracke, Fox all-star and dispenser of right-of-center conventional wisdom is another famous alum, as is self-described "wishy-washy moderate" Michael Kinsley.

Kinsley's con and Beinart's bile

For years, Kinsley conned America from his co-hosting seat on the CNN show "Crossfire," asserting nightly, "From the left, I'm Michael Kinsley."

Kinsley, who served two stints as New Republic editor, isn't on the left. He can't stand the left. Wishes it would go away. Until recently he was editor of Slate, an often smart, generally centrist online magazine that doesn't extend leftward beyond moderate liberalism, though it often invites conservatives and neocons onto its cyberpages for dialogue and debate. It's the same old center vs. right formula, as when Kinsley dueled Pat Buchanan on CNN.

The current New Republic editor, Peter Beinart, occupies ideological space somewhere between moderate Kinsley and rightist Sullivan. 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, former Gingrich aide Robert George and National Review Online's Jonah Goldberg. Memo to Wolf Blitzer: That's not "balance." Since you have four seats to fill, why not invite a lefty, a moderate liberal, a moderate conservative and a righty?

Beinart, to his credit, has condemned Bush administration deceit on tax cuts and the pre-war propaganda blitz for a war that Beinart himself supported. To his shame, since 9-11 he's walked a beat as a McCarthyite cop of the Patriotism Police. Like Lynne Cheney, Sean Hannity and Andrew Sullivan, he stands ready to slime anyone he deems insufficiently patriotic. He smeared the National Education Association as soft on Islamic fundamentalist terrorists. Even after real-liberal Robert Kuttner exposed the dishonesty behind the slander, which had been concocted by a Washington Times hack, Beinart spread that nonsense. Read about his disgraceful performance in Bob Somerby's Daily Howler . Then ask yourself, Why is this guy representing liberals?

Death-squad 'liberals' in print and on the tube

In the 1980s, New Republic editorials championed Reagan's "freedom fighters" (i.e., torturers and murderers), such as the Nicaraguan contras and the UNITA rebels of Angola. Neocon guest columnists Jeane Kirkpatrick, Irving Kristol (William's father), Michael Ledeen and Kenneth Adelman extolled the virtues of counterinsurgency and big-ticket weapons systems.

The New Republic also ran articles critical of U.S. support for Third World cutthroats; I recall some fine pieces by Jefferson Morley. But the supportive drumbeat was provided by Krauthammer, Barnes, Kondracke and the guest writers. Morley's pieces were actually counterproductive to his liberal goals, because (1) the existence of a liberal faction contributed to the myth that the New Republic was indeed liberal, and (2) Morley did not represent the New Republic on the tube, where its impact is greatest.

The New Republic, despite its high profile, has a low circulation (85,000 according to Alterman, while the Nation magazine, with its mix of liberals and progressives is at 122,000). The disproportionate influence of the New Republic stems from its role as a major source of supposedly liberal talking heads. For two decades it has usurped air time from genuine liberals and lefties by sending editors from the center, center-right and right to represent a purportedly liberal magazine.

Today, Beinart is trodding that well-worn path. George Will, who in 1987 hailed the New Republic as "the nation's most interesting and most important political journal," wanted him for the pretend-liberal seat vacated by Sam Donaldson on ABC's "This Week."

The New Republic in black and white (but mostly white)

In 1995, the New Republic's Ruth Shalit critiqued the Washington Post's affirmative-action program, drawing conclusions that delighted New Republic editors: The Post goes easy on the city's black-run government and downplays rampant black crime; mediocre black journalists land jobs and promotions at the Post over better-qualified whites. The Post reacted strongly to Shalit, documenting plagiarized passages and dozens of errors. It even suggested the New Republic change its motto to "Looking for a qualified black since 1914"!

Best line of the spat, but is it fair? Although the "liberal New Republic" seems never to have had a single black staff writer in its "distinguished" history, it has trumpeted the work of a very special brand of black intellectual: Gents like Shelby Steele, John McWhorter and Glenn Loury who eloquently argue that Affirmative Action is a curse for black people. Interestingly, the New Republic's favorite black scholars all have (or had, in Loury's case) prestigious seats at conservative or neocon think tanks: the Hoover Institution (Steele), the Manhattan Institute (McWhorter) and the American Enterprise Institute (Loury).

The New Republic's Great Black Hope

For a 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). Here's a taste:
"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. . . . While his liberal colleagues were boycotting South Africa, Loury traveled there in 1986 on a trip financed by the white diamond magnate Harry Oppenheimer."
It eventually dawned on Loury that much 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. Murray's book "The Bell Curve," co-authored by Richard Hernstein and funded by rightwing think tanks, postulates that black America's relatively low socio-economic status is because the average black I.Q. is 15 points lower than the average white I.Q., which can't be altered no matter how many Affirmative Action laws are passed, so why bother?

That message was music to the New Republic's ears. It granted Murray a whopping 10,000 words to make his case, while editor Sullivan and editor-in-chief Peretz wrote sympathetic columns. Coming from a purported "liberal" magazine, the New Republic seal of approval was invaluable in rendering respectable notions that long ago had been branded beyond the pale. Scholars soon exposed the shoddy thinking and suspect sources on which "The Bell Curve" is based, but the damage was done.

In the latest display of the New Republic's trademark racial sensitivity, editor Beinart has launched a campaign calling on Democrats to "shun" and "disown" controversial black presidential candidate Al Sharpton. That campaign, Sridhar Pappu reports, is part of a New Republic makeover. A publicist is spreading the news, "calling up reporters, touting a hot new redesign and bragging that the magazine is getting 'daring' and 'more conservative.'" This is all part of what Beinart maintains is the New Republic's "liberalism."

The New Republic's Great Arab-American Hope

Fouad Ajami is to Arab-Americans what Steele and McWhorter are to African-Americans: the guy who will tell Martin Peretz exactly what he wants to hear.

The problem with Ajami is the same as with the New Republic's Great Black Hopes: His own people tune him out. Even though many agree with a good deal of his critique, they can't stomach the guy because he goes out of his way to blame his own people while minimizing the negative contribution of the other side. Ajami observes Arab regimes and the Palestinians with a jaundiced eye, but he views the Israeli and U.S. governments through rose-colored glasses. Worse, he's gained access and fame by pandering to his sponsors (the New Republic, U.S. News and World Report and CBS), who know that their views will carry greater weight if delivered by an Arab face.

"Much of the American media knows what it wants to hear and it's very reassured to hear confirmation of received wisdom," says Hussein Ibish of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. "Since the [1991] Gulf War, Fouad has taken leave of his analytic perspective to play to his elite constituency," says Middle East scholar Augustus Richard Norton. "It's very unfortunate because he could have made an astonishingly important contribution."

Ajami is close to the last person a fair-minded media executive would select if he had room for only one Arab-American Middle East expert. He'd be tolerable as one of several such experts, but because he's not remotely representative of Arab-American thinking or of scholars in Arab and Muslim studies, he's all wrong as THE expert.

Re-branding the 'liberal New Republic'

I don't think liberals should "shun" or "disown" the New Republic. But I do think it needs to pay a price for misrepresenting itself as liberal, given the disastrous consequences for actual liberals that continue to this day, and for poisoning relations among core Democratic Party constituencies.

Granted, the New Republic generally supports Democratic candidates over Republicans, but given its divisive role within the party, why not stick the New Republic with the political label "divisively Democratic"? As for an ideological label, given that it has spent the last 20 years exaggerating its orientation in a leftward direction, for the next 20 years let's stick it with a moniker that exaggerates in the opposite direction: "the extreme right-wing New Republic."

Come the year 2023, given good behavior by the editors and appropriate expressions of remorse over its deceptive past, it can begin an honest life with an accurate label: "the lilywhite, center-right, divisively Democratic New Republic."

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