19 august 2004
fables of the deconstruction
The most notable story to break during my absence the past two weeks concerns the charges made by the group Swift Boat Veterans for Truth—in particular the revelation that John Kerry's oft-repeated stories about his wartime exploits inside Cambodia are almost certainly wholesale fabrication. If you have somehow missed the many blog discussions on the subject, try The Captain's Quarters, or Power Line, or of course InstaPundit. And as the saying goes: keep scrolling.
Perhaps, it might be more accurate to say that the Swift Vets story was the most notable news not to break during our vacation. As the bloggers above document, the mainstream media has until now all but ignored the issue. Today's Washington Post breaks that paper's silence, though only to target one of Kerry's critics. Tomorrow's New York Times piece is clearly intended to provide covering fire for the Kerry campaign.
The most astonishing aspect of this affair—even for someone as jaded as me—is the revelation of just how far the media is willing to go in order to ensure that Kerry is elected. Probably, I should not have been surprised. I wrote the following (originally posted 27 March of this year) in response to a particularly egregious collaboration between his campaign and “the nexus of politics, media and entertainment.”
Marx famously called religion “the opiate of the people.” After the revolution, when the proletariat has cast off all false consciousness, religion will fall away with the other burdens imposed by caste and class.
He was (as in so many other respects) mistaken. Humanity will always have its gods—if not God, then any of a multitude of golden calves. With the decline of Christianity among the elite, of necessity something had to fill the void. The goddess that arose has many names. But the faith is one: Progress.
The followers of this new Way gather in churches that once were Christian, but that have moved beyond primitivisms such as blood atonement and the Fall. Or if the trappings of the old faith prove too gauche, new priesthoods may be anointed. Once science was thought worthy of the role: yet too often its practitioners insist upon the objective, beyond that which is merely conventional, and this reminds some acolytes in the Way of that former God whom they so zealously seek to depose. Others in academe proved of more use; and like the Gnostics of old, those initiated revel in the hidden knowledge of wordplay and deconstruction and the transgression of rejected boundaries.
But this sacrament cannot be administered to the masses who cling still to the former superstitions. At least not unmixed: but Progress will not be denied, and even the ignorant must be brought to the knowledge of the constructed truth, if only in part. So a new priesthood was seduced from a guild long established, drawn by promise of greater power than had been their wont: power to shape, and not merely to chronicle. And in their newspapers and magazines and television studios, these myrmidons proselytize without ceasing.
Yet the guild to which they belong still has its laws, concerning ethics and interests and fealty to truth. But truth—for as initiates themselves they now understand—is always conventional, and they have at hand the means for constructing the Way. For Progress will not be denied; and so the old standards concerning ethics and interests are put to new use, as a shield against reactionaries, as tools but no longer as guides.
And so, in the end, service to Progress resembles nothing so much as the quest for Power.
One of these days, this will be a textbook case for political science professors to use as a teaching tool.
Here is a Democratic candidate for the Oval Office in a year when the liberal base of the party is almost completely unified in its disgust for the sitting Republican President. The candidate, a Senator, has a 20-year liberal voting record to admire: He is peerless on the environment, a staunch defender of a woman’s right to choose, completely reliable across the whole spectrum of gay rights issues, totally solid on education, an advocate for campaign finance reform and health care reform, and will fight to the death to keep Social Security fully funded and reliable. It is the liberal base of the party that turns out to vote in the primaries, so the candidate’s record gives him an immediate advantage. […]
There are but a few weeks to go before the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary. Time has grown short. In an effort to galvanize the message Kerry wants to deliver in the time remaining, he convened a powerful roster of journalists and columnists in the New York City apartment of Al Franken last Thursday. The gathering could not properly be called a meeting or a luncheon. It was a trial. The journalists served as prosecuting attorneys, jury and judge. The crowd I joined in Franken’s living room was comprised of:
* Al Franken and his wife Franni;
* Rick Hertzberg, senior editor for the New Yorker;
* David Remnick, editor for the New Yorker;
* Jim Kelly, managing editor for Time Magazine;
* Howard Fineman, chief political correspondent for Newsweek;
* Jeff Greenfield, senior correspondent and analyst for CNN;
* Frank Rich, columnist for the New York Times;
* Eric Alterman, author and columnist for MSNBC and the Nation;
* Art Spiegelman, Pulitzer Prize winning cartoonist/author of ‘Maus’;
* Richard Cohen, columnist for the Washington Post;
* Fred Kaplan, columnist for Slate;
* Jacob Weisberg, editor of Slate and author;
* Jonathan Alter, senior editor and columnist for Newsweek;
* Philip Gourevitch, columnist for the New Yorker;
* Calvin Trillin, freelance writer and author;
* Edward Jay Epstein, investigative reporter and author;
* Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., who needs no introduction.
The most revealing moment of the entire event came as it was breaking up. Kerry was slowly working towards the door when he was collared by Art Spiegelman. Though Kerry towered over him, Spiegelman appeared to grow with the intensity of his passion. “Senator,” he said, “the best thing you could do is to is to just come out and say that you were wrong to trust Bush. Say that you though he would keep his promises, but that you gave him more credit than he deserved. Say that you’re sorry, and then turn the debate towards what is best for the country in 2004.”
Kerry nodded, bowed his head, and said, “You’re right. I was wrong to trust him. I’m sorry I did.” And then he was gone.
From another account of the same meeting:
On Dec. 4, an impressive collection of the media elite and assorted other notables — Hendrik Hertzberg of The New Yorker, Frank Rich of The New York Times, Howard Fineman and Jonathan Alter of Newsweek, Jim Kelly of Time, Jeff Greenfield of CNN, Eric Alterman of The Nation, Richard Cohen of The Washington Post, Jacob Weisberg of Slate and others, including, as eminence grise, Arthur Schlesinger Jr. — responded to his call and had a little powwow with Kerry at the Upper West Side apartment of Franken and his wife, Franni.
''The whole thing was odd, I would say, because people didn't know why they were there,'' Kelly said. ''But I think the idea was to put John Kerry into the belly of the beast. It may have been the actual beginning of the new approach he took — 'I'm going to stay in this room and take every question you throw at me.''' Alterman grilled Kerry on his vote on Iraq, and he gave a long, tortured answer. Then he was asked about it a second time. ''By the third go-round, the answer was getting shorter and more relevant,'' Kelly said.
''It was a really interesting event,'' Alter said. ''A lot of these people hadn't actually met Kerry before. Al wanted them to get to know him. It was an example of him playing a sort of intermediary role in the nexus of politics, media and entertainment.''
Oh, yes. That liberal media: where conflicts of interest so staggering in scope that the mind reels are merely considered interesting.
Anthony Perez-Miller | 10:53 pm | media
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