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Today, New Republic editor-in-chief Martin Peretz responded to the hailstorm of criticism unleashed on TNR as a result of the stories by TNR writer Jason Zengerle. By "responded," I mean responded, not addressed, or defended, or explained on the merits. I mean, simply, responded.

Among his more surgical and biting criticisms is that Kos is "illiterate", and that "his rant against [TNR], well, borders on a nut case's." Peretz is also deeply offended by the use of capital letters in writing; a noble stand, my fellow grammarian, and one well worth fighting.

This is added to the pile of TNR-wide opinionating that posited things like:

It's a bizarre phenomenon, the blogosphere. [...] It's hard fascism with a Microsoft face. It puts some people, like me, in the equally bizarre position of wanting desperately for Joe Lieberman to lose the Democratic primary to Ned Lamont so that true liberal values might, maybe, possibly prevail, yet at the same time wanting Lamont, the hero of the blogosphere, to lose so that the fascistic forces ranged against Lieberman might be defeated.

Hardly one to back off that ledge, the New Republic author follows with a full-throated defense of the term blogofascism, which like fascism was "born along the drifting paths of rootless men"... fascism which can be demonstrated in Markos' case, the author supposes in a particularly loathsome fleck of spittle which we must not answer with hostility, by Markos' childhood in war-torn El Salvador. "There's something chilling about that," the TNR author opines. There is indeed.

We learned, in a stream of urgent TNR updates on the situation, that the real problem is that the target of a smear would get hot-headed about a lie propagated against him. But more to the point, we learned that at least one of the supposed tentpoles of evidence supporting the original smear was false: multiple Townhouse members confirmed that one of the supposed emails in question was a forgery. As reported by Glenn Greenwald:

That e-mail is completely fictitious. Gilliard never sent any such thing to the Townhouse list, nor did anyone else do so. Nor, according to Gilliard, did he ever write any such e-mail at all, to Townhouse or anyone else. Zengerle caused The New Republic to print a completely fabricated e-mail and then falsely attribute it as one Gilliard sent to the Townhouse list. How and why did that happen?

It would appear that either Zengerle got played by his anonymous, hyper-bitter source... or Zengerle's the one doing the playing. Zengerle claimed he had three sources for the emails. Apparently, he needs to revise and extend that statement.

Peretz is put off by ranting, though, and I can certainly understand his selective, momentarily telescopic disdain.

In truth, "ranting" is a certain schtick -- one that some people do well, and with humor, and others do gracelessly. It is a form I embrace with a particular gusto, when there is both cause for it and an audience needing to latch on to a stick or two of passion in the otherwise foggy, featureless bog they are subjected to in what we will charitably call the "pundit" class. Calling your readers fascists is apparently quite acceptable in certain situations, i.e. when you feel like it; having them get pissy about that is a sign of illiteracy and generally poor sportsmanship. Welcome to the news media, and welcome to exactly the dynamic that the dreaded underclass finds so mind-numbingly asinine, after so many tired years, that they have taken to alternative outlets in droves.

I have never witnessed any group of people who have so held their pinkies out, extended like the pegs of coat racks for any passing cloth of either conventional wisdom or right-is-left contrarianism that might flit their way, as the balderdash polishers of the modern, Bush-era press. Uttering the word shit is tantamount to tipping over the tea tray, but advocating for the systemic, extralegal torture of innocent human beings is worthy of dignity, a gentlemen's debate in the halls of the press, and the halls of power. Evoking a lie, whether it be the premise that John Kerry's Vietnam past was not what it seemed or that a prominent blogger (or two, or three, or fifty) were engaging in a pay-to-play scheme based on no evidence but that provided by the punctuating question mark, is a noble feat of journalism; either being aggressively offended by the lie, or demonstrating the untruth of it, is left as an exercise for the little people.

A little people scandal about pay-to-play in the national discourse might be, oh, finding out that a major corporation was funding a "reporter's" pro-corporate book on a subject. It might be the continuing practice of Regnery pumping and dumping of books turned out in batches like Christmas cookies, and blustered about round-robin style by other Regnery authors whose turn it was or will be to dump the next sorry, remaindered release into the buy-one-get-one-free American lap.

It might be a reporter who turned out have fabricated quotes from his stories, or another, well defended, whose manipulated stories helped lead a nation into war, while even "progressive" pundits in their noble, grammarian towers egged on the propaganda, and dismissed the critiquers and factcheckers as anarchists, hippies and petty fools. There is no future in breaking stories, as Knight-Ridder learned. But perhaps there is no future in blowhardism under the shabby guise of either wisdom or contrarianism either, as subscription numbers of certain outlets can attest.

Or a little people scandal might be the simple incestuousness of a media which, from top to bottom, is more enamored with their own wisdom than anyone else is, in which the column-book-television-column cycle is more predictable and soggy than the life cycle of a tapeworm, and in which the rough qualifications for having an opinion are -- what, exactly, aside from the very much required seniority of the opinions themselves?

Kos was probably terribly hot-headed to refer to the magazine as having defected to the right -- a hot-headed, uncivilized, illiterate injury far in excess of branding the entire infrastructure blogofascists. Obviously, it has not defected to the right, as the magazine's slavish defense of the Iraq War -- oops, let me rephrase -- as their continual, magazine-wide petty sniping at the netroots -- no, I will attempt that again -- as their insistence that the insolence of mounting a primary challenger in an actual primary is -- no, let us stop right there. On other issues, they are noble. And after all, unlike the blogs, they are a heterodox institution, surely a concept the scattered and self-dependent bloggers cannot fathom.

Not right-wing, then, but neither can they be counted on as progressive, and more important, nor can they be counted on at all. A punditocracy that alternates between dismissive and aggressively hostile of the grassroots, of activists, and of voters (at least, when they use electrons in a fashion other than what God and the New Republic intended) is not one that the grassroots, activists, or voters particularly need to value the opinions of.

The simple recent history of the magazine is filled with instances of going after bloggers by name and by group. Atrios, Markos, Jane Hamsher (who responded only briefly to the latest bout of New Republic smears because of the illness and death of her mother, an event which one presumes put a damper on her Zengerle-imagined attempts to dominate the discourse by audacity of private emails.) Foer, Chait, Beinart, Kaplan, Peretz, Zengerle, Lizza, Siegel, Crowley, and a spanking new issue in which the incivility of the terrible blogs figures prominently on the very cover; the protestations of innocence are tired and, quite bluntly, hacky. The issue is not individual posts -- though Zengerle has the new lead for bitter smear job masquerading as something attempting to copy the journalistic form -- but a pattern of attack, and attack, and dismissal, and attack. It is tired; it is old; it is transparent.

So enough. As we are apparently determined to prove a villain, bound to hate the idle pleasures of these days of York, we shall accept the role and challenge.

Peretz's civilized and not-at-all illiterate column, as I said, studiously avoided mention of the actual controversy, content to wallow in the illiteracy of others who might have gotten put out by it. The, for the sake of argument, "reporting" of his magazine was left untouched by his grammarian rapier, as was the new evidence that at least one portion of that "reporting" was flatly and unambiguously forged, either shopped by an unnamed source or made up wholesale by the reporter in question. The actual smears against not only Kos but the other named bloggers, and in fact all of the involved bloggers -- of a pay-to-play scheme, or financial threats against others, and other dark conspiracies were rooted only in Zengerle's imagination, not just unproven but not even addressed by any of the so-called "evidence" presented by Zengerle in his multiple posts.

Having gotten the various tests of literacy and subsequent meritocracy out of the way, however, would Peretz answer the charges against his magazine -- including, now, the charge that at least one element of "evidence" presented was in fact a forgery -- if it was presented in the well-edited, thick and slightly creaking form of a grammarian? Having provided that, we will see. Among the unfortunate aspects of the traditional media hierarchy so stung by the uncouthness of newcomers is that an editor has very little say in any apparently fraudulent reporting of his underlings.

Among other unfortunate aspects of this traditional media hierarchy is that it is not particularly good at getting to the facts of a matter on a weekend.

The New Republic is not a right-wing rag. But nor is it a progressive one, and nor is it a relevant one, its contrarian, hey-you-kids-get-off-my-lawn shtick against their fellow Democrats having grown old even before the monstrosity of factesque racism known as The Bell Curve shuddered through its pages like an elephant looking for a place to die. They are not a right-wing rag, but given the ongoing, issue-by-issue contempt with which they approach the unconnected, the uncouth, and the presumed shallow, vapid citizenry, neither are they the noble champions of discourse that they presume to still be.

In short, Peretz writes two paragraphs of personal attack blasting the shabby illiteracy of personal attacks, ignores the issues raised as to his magazine's own "reporting", and considers himself smugly vindicated.

Perhaps he is. And perhaps that demonstrates, as much as anything, the tattered shreds of that old and once-proud banner, one that many of us will no longer pretend at propping into relevance.

Originally posted to Hunter on Fri Jun 23, 2006 at 08:52 PM PDT.

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