Times Watch for October 27, 2003
Republican Party "Most Extreme" Ever
Contributing writer James Traub pens "Learning to Love to Hate" for the Times Sunday Magazine, rationalizing the Bush-bashing tomes that have taken over the best-seller lists of late: "Scrutiny of the New York Times best-seller list discloses a new and important trend: Bush-hating has eclipsed Clinton-, Democrat- and liberal-elite-hating. There's Bill O'Reilly, liberal-hater in chief at Fox News, at the No. 2 slot; but Michael Moore's ''Dude, Where's My Country?'' sits on top of the greasy pole, while Al Franken's ''Lies (and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them)'' occupies the No. 3 spot."
(Traub went on O'Reilly's talk show "The "O'Reilly Factor" Friday night, and appeared to back off his characterization of O'Reilly as a "liberal-hater." "Maybe that was unfair," Traub told O'Reilly.)
In his Sunday piece Traub oddly identifies Jonathan Chait, a writer for the liberal pro-war New Republic (a writer perhaps best-known for a long-running feud with conservative economist Stephen Moore) as a centrist: "And Jonathan Chait, a centrist who backed the war in Iraq, has given new legitimacy to the genre with a recent Bush-hating confessional of his own in a cover article for The New Republic. For those of us of hopelessly moderate temperament, dipping into the inky depths of these volumes offers something of the wicked and barely licit pleasures of a Victoria's Secret catalogue."
Here's the opening lines from "Mad About You," the "centrist" Chait's ode to Bush-hating: "I hate President George W. Bush. There, I said it. I think his policies rank him among the worst presidents in U.S. history. And, while I'm tempted to leave it at that, the truth is that I hate him for less substantive reasons, too. I hate the inequitable way he has come to his economic and political achievements and his utter lack of humility (disguised behind transparently false modesty) at having done so." Some "centrist!"
Meanwhile, here are some anti-Republican exhortations from Traub (who describes himself as being "of hopelessly moderate temperament") from June, where he all but sainted the Democratic Party: Could it be that the Democrats are constitutionally incapable of acting as single-mindedly-as ruthlessly, as unfairly-as the Republicans? If so, is this the kind of Christian virtue that leads to being eaten by lions?....Liberals put their faith in such content-neutral principles as free speech, due process, participatory democracy. Is that too lofty?
In Sunday's piece Traub writes (in his "moderate" vein) that the hostility present in today's political climate is the fault of former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich: "Our political culture has not been infected by some virus from outer space, or from TV. The carrier was Newt Gingrich. Now, I know perfectly well that Democrats like Teddy Kennedy did a fair job of dehumanizing Robert Bork in his 1987 Supreme Court hearings. But Gingrich brought delegitimation to the core of G.O.P. strategy. It was Gingrich who destroyed House Speaker Jim Wright in 1989, and Gingrich who advised Republicans to always affix adjectives like ''pathetic,' ''sick' and 'corrupt' when referring to Democrats. Gingrich solemnly told the nation, at the 1992 Republican National Convention, that the Democratic Party ''rejects the lessons of American history, despises the values of the American people and denies the basic goodness of the American nation.' And along with Trent Lott, Tom DeLay and Dick Armey, Gingrich labored mightily to bring down President Clinton, first through Whitewater and then through the Starr report and the impeachment proceedings."
Actually, Democratic House Speaker Jim Wright did a fair job of bringing down himself. Gingrich's chief "sin," in the eyes of the liberal press, was to let the public in on Wright's corruption.
And just how did Republicans manage to thwart forty years of Democratic control of Congress? Could it have had something to do with then-President Clinton's liberal policies on health care and taxes? No, says Traub, Republican rottenness was to blame: "The politics of delegitimation worked, at least in the short term. Republicans gained control of both houses of Congress in 1994, old-line moderates like Bob Dole were forced to the right, evangelical conservatives were mobilized, right-wing think tanks and media outlets waxed fat and Bill Clinton was very nearly run from office."
Traub adds helpfully: "Today's Republican Party is arguably the most extreme-the furthest from the center-of any governing majority in the nation's history." With "moderate temperaments" like these, who needs angry liberals?
For the rest of Traub's diatribe, click here.
Books | George W. Bush | Conservatives | Liberals | James Traub
Times Appoints First-Ever Public Editor
Today the Times announces the appointment of former Life magazine managing editor Daniel Okrent as the paper's public editor (a reader advocate, or ombudsman). Okrent was managing editor of Life magazine from 1992 to 1996, editor of the company's new media operations from 1996 to 1999, and an editor at large from 1999 to 2001.
Times media reporter Jacques Steinberg says Okrent "will be given an unfettered opportunity to address readers' comments about The Times's coverage, to raise questions of his own and to write about such matters, in commentaries that will be published in the newspaper as often as he sees fit. Mr. Okrent's columns will appear primarily in the Week in Review section on Sundays, beginning in early December, though not necessarily every week."
Steinberg quotes John Huey, the editorial director of Time Inc., on Okrent: "He has no ax to grind here. He loves The Times. He loves journalists. He loves telling stories. And he loves fairness and accuracy." If that last part proves true, Times Watch will be more than satisfied with his selection.
For the rest of Steinberg's story on the Times first ombudsman, click here.
Jayson Blair | Bill Keller | Daniel Okrent | Ombudsman | Jacques Steinberg