Dancing days are here again

››› ››› ERIC ALTERMAN

I've got a new Think Again column here called "The Media's Color (and Gender) Wars, Continued," and a new Nation column, "Dude, Where's My Debate?" here.

Gilbert Cranberg, whose study of the coverage of Colin Powell's pre-Iraq war speech proved just how willing virtually every mainstream reporter was to dispel the entire notion of "evidence," asks some tough questions about coverage here and proposes further study. We heartily concur and congratulate Mr. Cranberg for his tenacity on the issue.

What a disappointment Jon Stewart was in having Ralph Nader on last night? It's one thing to be polite; it's another to ignore or whitewash the historical record. One person in the world could have prevented Bush's election with his own words on the Election Day 2000. Nader preferred to go down in history as the spoiler who gave us Bush. Iraq. Tax cuts for the wealthy. Destruction of the environment. Trashing of science. Corporate crime unpunished. That's Nader's real legacy, his megalomaniacal sanctimony notwithstanding.

Deal with it.

Gitlin makes a good point about the Nader movie, here, which features him and me being given a few sentences to explain the case against Nader and then, repeatedly, some Naderite being given as much time as they would like to refute it. I'm not sure I would have played along had I known this was to be the filmmakers' intentions.

(On the other hand, Charlie Rose's conversation with Martin Amis was just terrific. Watch it if you can. )

My man John Judis tackles the issue of anti-anti-Semitism here and focuses reasonably close to where the focus ought to be. He notes:

AIPAC's staff and officials claim there is no contradiction between representing the interests of Israel and those of the United States, but that's at best an arguable point.

Well, actually, "arguable" is not the case. It's patently idiotic. How could it be possible? What other state would anyone make that case for? Obviously, there are going to be conflicts between any two states' interests -- or at the very least, the perceptions of those interests by those who are responsible for putting them into practice. Anyone who attempts to argue that this is not the case is simply intellectually unserious. (And is it merely a coincidence that every time there appears to be a conflict, AIPAC and its like insist that Israel's position is actually the position that is in America's interest? Have they ever, ever, ever made the corollary argument?)

Judis then puts his finger on the problem:

Many Jews now suffer from dual loyalty -- the same way that Cuban-Americans or Mexican-Americans do. By ignoring this dilemma -- and, worse still, by charging those who acknowledge its existence with anti-Semitism -- the critics of the new anti-Semitism are engaged in a flight from their own political selves. They are guilty of a certain kind of bad faith.

Right, exactly. On the one hand, Jews who slavishly support the Israeli government accuse anyone who raises the dual-loyalty issue of anti-Semitism. On the other, they practice dual loyalty -- at best -- slavishly, and insist that others do. In fact, dual loyalty would be an improvement. Writers in The Weekly Standard, right-wing bloggers and Newsweek's nutty Rabbi Gelman actually insist that Jews support Lieberman regardless of what was good for the United States and only on the basis of what was good for Israel. (Gelman even said, "What's the big deal about the war?" or some such thing.)

What Judis won't deal with here, of course, is the fact that the magazine for which he is writing this piece is ground zero for exactly this behavior and is owned by one of its worst offenders. Not only is Marty Peretz guilty, guilty, guilty of all of the above sins regarding Jewish critics of Israel, he is also, as any reader of The Spine is aware, a vicious and hateful racist when it comes to anyone of Arabic descent. It can be funny sometimes to read, but now that Peretz's blog has revealed what used to be the job of the TNR editor to help Marty hide, it's created a real conundrum for TNR's writers. As a columnist for The Nation, I'm the last person to insist that one shouldn't write for a magazine that publishes writers with whom one fundamentally disagrees. But it's different, I should think, when the guy owns the publication and signs the checks. While we certainly have disagreements, I have no fundamental problem with the political values of Victor Navasky or Katrina vanden Heuvel. Yet I should think any decent human being would want to disassociate themselves from the hate-filled screeds that regularly appear under the name "Marty Peretz." ("It is entirely preferable for the Palestinians to have their rump and run it as they will or can. But, please, enough about how civilized they are. They are on their way to being Iraqis," here.) I'm not saying this is an easy problem to deal with. One has to make a living after all, and even with all of the above, TNR is still one of the few places one can write serious, thoughtful journalism and cultural criticism and get paid for it. But still ...

Anyway, we share the view expressed in John's thesis statement: "But I think that, in characterizing these views as anti-Semitic, or as contributing to anti-Semitism, Rosenfeld and other critics are attempting to suppress an important debate on American foreign policy toward Israel and the Middle East. And they have also fallen prey to a contradiction within their own thinking." And we note that being "a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace" and writing pieces like the above is at least one pretty decent way to deal with the conundrum. We wonder how the other honorable and intelligent editors of TNR do so, but will leave it to them to explain, or not.

Shame on the Bloomberg administration and the New York City Police Department for this.

"Is it also better than taking a firm position you later admit was an 'error' that caused 'tens of thousands of dead, innocent Iraqis and several thousand killed and injured American soldiers' and then boasting about how it showed you had 'balls'?" Has Mickey ever been righter than when he writes about Andy and Klein at the same time?

Time continues its war on both bloggers and simple accuracy, here and here.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: S.D. Miller
Hometown: Norwich, VT

Professor Alterman,

Like you, I am as guilty as anyone when it comes to the instant gratification (and cost savings) of purchasing new and used books on the Internet. I try to give 100% support to my local shops, but it's hard. And it's true, when these small individualistic stores go under, something wonderful will have been lost. Even as a crusty Baby Boomer, I still get a thrill when browsing in a used bookstore and discovering books that I had forgotten to read or, better yet, discovering something altogether new that had escaped my attention. And I can't help thinking about younger people and what they're losing. You can't browse on the Internet. How many young people, who might have made life-altering discoveries on the shelves, will instead read what they are told to read for school and leave it at that? It's really too bad.

Name: Beth Harrison
Hometown: Arlington, VA

If John Edwards fires the two liberal bloggers, he's lost my support (I haven't totally made up my mind, but Edwards was in my top tier, along with Barack Obama and Bill Richardson). I hope he learned from John Kerry's Swift Boat experience -- he needs to hit back, and hard. His supporters came down hard on The Washington Post on that ridiculous story about his home sale, and got the facts out. Get those two bloggers to compile a list of all the hateful things that Bill Donohue and Michelle Malkin have said over the years. Hey, they could use the resources of Media Matters!

Eric adds: The bloggers will not be fired, here.

Name: Yetsuh Frank
Hometown: Brooklyn, NY

The Broder piece, truly surreal, reads like something from a high-school paper circa 1948. The bloggers in question used, gasp, "profanity" and even, shudder, "sarcasm." What will we tell our children?!?!?!?

Kidding aside, the piece rests on some seriously, seriously spooky assumptions. Are we no longer allowed to swear while discussing certain subjects? Which subjects? Is there a list somewhere? And is sarcasm off limits now? What about cynicism? Are these all the province of "decadent of coastal elites" and therefore unnaceptable?

It all reminds me of Margaret Atwood's novel The Handmaid's Tale. Like I said, spooky.

Name: Larry Israelson
Hometown: Glendale, California

I followed your link to Klein's initial response to Huffington and then spent a good hour reading the feedback. Besides running about 20-to-1 against good ol' Joe, one comment included a link to a very thought-provoking commentary by Glenn Greenwald.

Greenwald writes about what appears to be a growing trend of "scholarly" commentators to summarily dismiss partisan points of view regarding important issues, then cop out by declaring the issues too "complicated" for even a so-called "expert" to clearly support or oppose. Considering how Klein's previous words (likely to live forever in cyberspace) came back to bite him, it's not surprising that paid pundits are gun-shy about going "on the record" with strong opinions, but it is cowardly nonetheless.

What really infuriates me, however, is the way this seems to turn the usual dynamic of our political discourse on its head. During the last two presidential election campaigns, it seemed that anytime Gore or Kerry tried to put forth a thoughtful, nuanced analysis of a complex issue, the punditocracy made reference to "eyes glazing over" as if nobody in America was capable of paying attention for more than 30 seconds at a time. An essentially meaningless statement like "They hate us for our freedom" is an example of leadership, but passionate pleas of "No blood for oil" are the ravings of rabid partisans? Give me a break ...

Name: John Shaw
Hometown: thatsoundsgood.net

Dr. E.,

What's polite about dividing the singers by races? Do the ears hear color? Is Jessye Norman the greatest black classical singer?

That said, Greg is great & Don ain't bad, but here are a bunch of my fave rockin' vocalists: [Eric cuts this too long list...] ... whoever that guy was who sang "Louie Louie" in the Kingsmen, Etta James, Carole King. Anyway, yeah, what you said. Subjective.

Name: Ken D'Antuono
Hometown: Woodstock, GA

On the subject of the perfect voices for music in general, I have always been partial to Guy Clark, Steve Perry, Otis Redding, Sam Cooke, and the young Brian Wilson.

Eric replies: For all-time greatest, I think I'd go with Sam Cooke. And I wasn't meaning to divide the world by race; I was just trying to not have to include soul and R&B singers to make my point easier to argue. Otherwise, it's wayyyy too subjective.

Name: Bill Skeels
Hometown: Raleigh, NC

I love Steve Earle, but ... Van Morrison would be at the top of my list, I believe.

Eric replies: I was thinking about Van at the gym yesterday, wondering if he wasn't somehow a cross between Henley and Allman. Check out his version of "Comfortably Numb" that he does with the Band and Roger Waters at that performance of The Wall in Berlin. It's my favorite song in the world right now. There's a shortish version of it on the new "Van goes to the movies" CD -- or something because they use it in The Departed. But the eight-minute version from The Wall is worth the price of the CD.

Name: Brian
Hometown: Chicago

I've always loved this couplet from Elvis Costello:

"Look at the graceful way she dances,
One foot speaks, the other one answers."

Eric replies: This one came on my iPod this morning. My kid and I dance to this song a lot. It's a good thing the lyrics are indecipherable when sung...

Told your mama I'd get you home
But I didn't tell her I had no car
I saw a lion he was standing alone
With a tadpole in a jar

Name: Dan
Hometown: San Francisco

Altercation and its readers certainly have good taste in music, as the recent wave of lyrics shows, but dare I say it's gathering a bit of moss. I'd like to suggest that finding new music can still happen to us after 30, just as Eric found Allison Moorer. Fear not -- I, like so many of you, was raised on a heady diet of Beatles, Bowie, and the Boss, but many others are making great music today.

So, for some of us, I propose checking out two new albums from groups that didn't exist until way back in the mid-1990s, Of Montreal and the Apples in Stereo. Within the last few weeks these two children of Elephant 6 have released Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer? and New Magnetic Wonder, respectively. Each represents possibly the best work these groups have ever done; now's a great time to fall in love.

Of Montreal is the more demanding listen of the two, asking a bit more of our crusty old ears, but the venture will reward itself with the irrepressible pop hooks found in "Bunny Ain't No Kind of Rider" and "Heimdalsgate like a Promethean Curse." The song titles themselves, sorry, that's another story.

The Apples in Stereo are more straightforward, accessible rock 'n' roll, throwing in echoes of ELO and the Kinks at every other turn. I doubt any Altercator could get through one playing of "Same Old Drag" without any toes tapping.

While these bands aren't exactly new, having built loyal followings with a decade of independent label releases, they each have new albums out right now, just waiting to be harvested for new favorite lyrics. And they're both on tour now. Enjoy!

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