Wednesday, March 28, 2018

There is a Club...

Slate writer Jordan Weissmann writer asks one of those very obvious questions which no one in-the-know is ever going to answer:
Why Would the Atlantic Hire Kevin Williamson?

In a memo to staff, editor Jeffrey Goldberg cites an affinity for “second chances” and ideological diversity in hiring the conservative troll. Both justifications ring hollow.

Jeffrey Goldberg knows that he hired a troll. But he thinks readers should give him a second chance...
In case you are unfamiliar with Kevin Williamson's body of work, he is an ideologically repulsive wingnut troll who rose to prominence writing clever, regressive trash for America's white supremacist journal of record.  If you're curious and don't want to take my word for it, Media Matters runs some of the greatest hits here.

So, why would the venerable Atlantic hire a pit viper like Kevin Williamson?

Well, since Atlantic editor in chief Jeffrey Goldberg is never going to answer that question on the square, we hoi polloi are left to speculate.  And I find Mr. Weissmann's speculations to be quite reasonable given that they are much in line with my own.  Unfortunately, they are built around a glaring flaw which I reveal with a dramatic flourish at the end of this post.

But first, the stuff I agree with:
Goldberg and Ideas editor Yoni Appelbaum did not respond to my request for an interview, but it appears Williamson despises Donald Trump, and Never Trump conservatives have a lot of cachet these days among left-leaning media outlets that want to show a commitment to publishing a range of views. The New York Times op-ed section, not incidentally led by former Atlantic editor James Bennet, gave Bret Stephens a lifeboat away from the ever-more Trumpy Wall Street Journal. The Washington Post recently brought on Megan McArdle. The Atlantic, already home to former George W. Bush speechwriter and Trump antagonist David Frum, recently hired reform-conservative Reihan Salam away from Slate. All of these people consider themselves conservative. None of them like Donald Trump.
Which is why Goldberg’s appeal to intellectual diversity also rings a bit hollow. After all, the Atlantic doesn’t seem to be making any effort to hire pro-Trump writers, who would represent the views of approximately 40 percent of the American population. (You could say the same about Bennet’s opinion page at the Times.) That’s a justifiable choice -- just try reading the Wall Street Journal’s op-ed page these days -- but it suggests that Goldberg has some intellectual red lines he isn’t willing to cross in the name of diversity, one of which happens to cordon off the entire contemporary Republican Party.
Also true.

But then comes the glaring error.  See if you can spot it!
In a lot of ways, that encapsulates the frustrations some liberals have with the elite media’s fascination with Never Trumpers. While they may have minimal pull in their own party, many are essential reads who are good at challenging progressive cultural and policy ideas. ... But at points, the label can also seem like a giant ideological washing machine that lets fairly abhorrent writers and thinkers launder their careers, provides them an unearned sheen of legitimacy, and just gives them a bigger audience to troll.
Or as I have written before, many times and in many different ways, Donald Trump exists to normalize bloody miscreants and con men like Charlie Sykes and Joe Scarborough.

But the massive flaw in Mr. Weissmann's article (he said dramatically) is the implication that this "giant ideological washing machine" for laundering the careers of depraved Republican hacks is some brand-new Never Trump invention.  

Because it is most emphatically not.

In point of fact, the existence of a massive, widespread wingnut tuck-and-roll scheme to rehabilitate the public reputation of some of the Republican party's most egregious monsters predates the arrival of Donald Trump by at least a couple of decades, as has been painfully obvious to anyone who was paying the slightest attention to the Beltway media.

Like me.

In point of further fact, it is no stretch to say that the business model of the corporate media depends on automatically rehabilitating the careers of the members of their elite little club over and over and over again, no matter how many times they publicly shit the bed.  Furthermore, it is this toxic imperative to always hold Republicans harmless at all costs that helped lead directly to the rise of Donald Trump.

Mr. Weissmann might have spared himself this rookie error had he paid attention to how the Beltway media has been aggressively ignored the monsters in their midst since long before President Stupid came a'glidin' down the Escalator of Doom.

Exhibit A:  Bloody Bill Kristol.  From me, back in 2014:
...a "takedown", in the strictest sense, must involve the humbling of the person at whom it is directed, and nothing is ever going to humble a straight-up sociopath like Bill Kristol.  Nothing is ever going to bring him low or "down onto the mat".

I know this because Brother Charles' jeremiad reminds me so very much of the very best of the vivisections of Bill Kristol in 2003.  2003 was the year that Bill Kristol's former Managing Editor, David Brooks, was handed a job-for-life at the New York Times.

It reminds me of all the great working over that we Liberals did on Bill Kristol in 2004.

And in 2005.  2005 was the year that one of Mr. Kristol's most infamous partners-in-treason -- Paul Wolfowitz -- was punished for his lies, arrogance and murderous incompetence by being given the job of running the World Bank.

But I digress.

Mr. Pierce reminds me of all the stomping we Liberals gave to Bill Kristol in 2006.  2006 was the year Stephen Colbert beat Bill Kristol like a rented mule.

And in 2007...the year Mr. Kristol was given his own column in Time Magazine.

And in 2008...the year Mr. Kristol lost his do-nothing/know-nothing Time Magazine featherbed but to balm his hurt fee-fees he was given a column the New York Times where he picked right up with his former employee, David Brooks.

And in 2009...when he lost his NYT gig and had to make do with continuing to be wrong on Fox, and being a regular guest on the Sunday shows.

And in 2010.

And in 2011.

And in 2012.

And in 2014...when he was given another yet another consolation gig.  This time on ABC News, thanks to the quick thinking of ABC's youngest executive producer, the very-nearly-post-pubescent Mr. Jonathan Greenberger.  I am confident that the world will little note nor long remember that this is, in  fact, the second time ABC News has made the mistake of hiring the flamboyantly depraved Mr. Kristol.

I myself have arranged more than my share of caustic words about Bill Kristol...

Exhibit B:  Newton Leroy Gingrich.  From me back in 2012:
In the game of professional punditry there also clearly exists a special set of rules designed with one person on mind.  Or, rather, one sort of person: Conservatism's parade of bomb-throwing, hate-mongering, race-baiting bottom feeders.  That breed which makes their daily bread from grifting the Pig People by generating an endless flood of books, magazine articles, broadcasts, speeches, and videos all telling the GOP base over and over again that them their bigotries are noble and their paranoia is patriotic.

Of course, part of the downside of wallowing in the wingnut sewer and trafficking in slander and lies is that, sooner or later, you become a toxic mess.  Your stink becomes unacceptable to the general public, which s where the Sunday morning talk shows -- the Mouse Circus -- comes in.   Because despite having long ago devolved into a sinkhole of Beltway centrist twaddle, it is still viewed by altogether too many people as a bastion of Very Serious people -- it's the strip-mall of political opinion where casual shoppers go to feel smart and validated.

And so a bargain is struck; the bottom feeders deliver a temporary hike in the only thing these show's owners really care about -- audience share -- and, in exchange for being teevee friendly and keeping the worst of their batshit crazy on a leash for a few minutes, their Mouse Circus deburrs the bottom feeders' public image, replates and burnishes their credibility and temporarily transfuses them with Seriousness, which can then be redeemed at ten times its face value back among the Pig People.

And in the key to that bargain we find "The Gingrich Rules": an agreement that the moderator will never, ever ask the bomb-throwing, hate-mongering, race-baiting goon sitting directly across from them a single question about their bomb-throwing, hate-mongering or race-baiting activities.  Instead, they will be represented to the public merely as a Conservative commentator or talk radio host or pundit who, at worst, might be known for some "controversial" opinions, which the moderator will never bother to explicate.
Exhibit C:  David Fucking Brooks.  From me, well, pretty much every week for the past 13 years.

The fight to stop the media from using cataclysmic Republican evil as an excuse to normalize quotidian Republican evil is critically important.  But if we want to want to win this fight, we have to look at the whole battlespace.  All of it, going back to the beginning. 

Back to when the Beltway media sold its soul by collectively deciding that it would be much more profitable to go-along-to-get-along with the monster the Republican Party was becoming than to do the vital job of (as Walter Cronkite said) making democracy work.

So why would the Atlantic hire Kevin Williamson?

Because there is a Club.
And we are not in it.

Behold, a Tip Jar!


trgahan said...

"...the elite media’s fascination with Never Trumpers.....many are essential reads who are good at challenging progressive cultural and policy ideas."

First, I call BULLSHIT on the latter point and demand Mr. Weissmann show me ONE fucking thing any of these Never Trumpers have said that could be categorized as a "good challenge" and not yet another retread of the same straw man arguments built with the same old 1960's hippy/1970's shrill Feminist stereotypes of liberalism and liberals.

Second, the elite (BARF) media's fascination is more likely based on every word, column inch, broadcast minute, keynote address, etc. given to a Never Trumper is one taken from actual liberals who would be crass enough to talk about ACTUAL liberalism. Much more, it prevents anyone talking honestly about what is going on in the elite (barf) media controlled public square.

Andrew Johnston said...

I've been working on a long exegesis on Sensible Centrists and what they believe, but it's really not that complex, and this recent obsession with #neverTrumpers exemplifies it. Our Wonderful Newsmedia has excluded liberals for a long time - this is not a surprise. However, even during this age of "opinion diversity," they're also excluding most conservatives, favoring only this small selection of not-at-all representative Sensible types.

The ultimate driving force behind bothsiderists is the assumption that their own beliefs are beyond politics in some way, that what they believe about the government is simply common sense and thus beyond question by anyone not blinded by ideology. This requires some modification to the oft-referenced Overton Window - not shifting it, but narrowing it until it's more of an Overton Doorjamb. After all, why do we need a broad selection of opinions when we know what the right answers are?

The dirty secret about that club is that for all the wealth and respect enjoyed by its members, they actually hold very little political power - people just don't listen to them like they used to. They're generous enough to allow the little people to voice their opinions, but only if they vote the proper way and don't get too noisy between elections. Basically, the ideal Sensible Centrist democracy is Hong Kong, as proven by the surprising number of pundits in their ranks willing to heap praise on the CCCP.

Andrew Johnston said...

@trgahan: It gets better - his idea of a great writer/thinker (even though he claims to disagree with him) is Ross Douthat. You know, the guy whose brilliant ideas included moving government offices and universities at random so that liberals would stop being snobby towards the mythical White Working Class.

Sadly, there are a lot of people in The Club who think that Douthat is a witty "intellectual."

ziply said...

My email to the Atlantic 2 nights ago:
"Kevin Williams? REALLY??? He's the best piece of crap you could scrape off the bottom of the radical right wing-barrel? Earth does not need his spew and ignorance. Whoring for revenue, you've decided you're not interested anymore in helping. You are not stimulating constructive political and sociological conversation with this move. You are not promoting civilized and civilizing ideas. You are prostituting a worthy publication, and this shit will draw flies. Shame on you and shame on people who are attracted to the Atlantic because you've brought this hatemonger aboard. This is our parting of the ways until you change course."

Abu Scooter said...

One point on Kevin Williamson, and one on The Club.

1) Media Matters missed Williamson's attack on Trump supporters during the 2016 GOP primary campaign. It got lots of attention because, instead of the poor "blah" conservatives like him usually target, he directed his literary fire at -- gasp! -- poor whites. That hardly makes Williamson a decent person, but it might help explain why someone like Goldberg might consider hiring him instead of some other Trump-hating Republican.

2) As I was reading this post, something hit me: Newt Gingrich is fast approaching 75 years of age, George Will (last seen haunting the MSNBC studios) will soon turn 77, Rushbo just turned 67, and Bill Kristol is now 65. At age 56, DFB is (alas) nowhere near retirement age -- but whom will The Club have replace these guys in another decade, when at least some of them will probably die or retire? That's where the likes of Williamson (age 45), Bret Stephens (44) and Ross Douthat (38) come in. Presuming his stay at The Atlantic last long enough, Williamson in particular would be in position to replace the liberal James Fallows (age 68).

In short: The Club is trying to bring in new blood.