Sliming they will go, &c.


In its current issue, The New Republic publishes an article mocking an NR cruise. (That article is here, though a subscription is required.) The author, Johann Hari, portrays us as a bunch of blithering, bigoted idiots. Long ago, I learned something: You can make anybody, and anything, look idiotic, if you’re a journalist. All you have to be is artful and dishonest.

I have interviewed a great many people, over the years. And I am amazed at the power I have — the power given to a journalist. That power is ripe for abuse, and I always try to be conscious of it. I have frequently said, “I could make Einstein look like an idiot — and do so without the merest inaccuracy.” All I have to do is quote selectively and so on. Slant, slant, slant. Avoid even a breath of balance. 60 Minutes has specialized in these arts for decades.

Frequently, when I’ve interviewed someone, I think, “Why does anyone ever consent to an interview? You put your life in someone else’s hands — and those hands can make great mischief.”

Anyway, it is an awesome responsibility, working in journalism. And the journalists I most respect — whether in the opinion biz or in the “hard news” biz — strive for fairness.

Mr. Hari went on a cruise lasting a week, and involving hundreds of people. What he has done, it seems to me, is pluck our worst moments, and relate them in colorful and vicious prose. One of the most reprehensible things about this article is its physical descriptions — descriptions of our passengers and guest speakers. The article is grotesquely mean — despicably mean — and I don’t think a decent magazine could publish it.

You might say that Mr. Hari and I are in the same business — opinion journalism. But, frankly — not to get on too high a horse — I don’t regard myself as in the same business. If I am, I don’t want to be. Because Mr. Hari’s is a business in which humanity is out the window.

The last time a New Republic article was brought to my attention was last fall, when the magazine published a piece sliming me and others. (I responded to it here, and that response will give you a link to the original article.) Back in the mid-’80s, when I was in college, I read The New Republic, as we all did. I am out of touch with it now. But if these two articles are anything like representative, then it is one of the meanest, lowest, most repulsive mags on the planet.

I don’t say that conservatives are saints and liberals sinners. Far from it: Many of the worst people I know are conservatives (and professional ones). But a stench comes from The New Republic that I, for one, find sickening.

Neither do I say that I haven’t written unfairly or shamefully myself, in the course of producing thousands and thousands of articles (including thousands of reviews). I have taken my shots, gone for the artful, jabbing phrase or description — performed. But you try not to forget that you’re writing about human beings (when you’re doing so). And you recognize that ridicule is the province of adolescents, not adults.

For the last many years, I’ve said, “The older I get, the less I like ridicule.” Do you find the same? And that is true even when “my side” is doing it.

And it’s a pleasure — deeply satisfying — to write fairly. You write about someone on the other side — a “target” — and he says, “Whew! I was worried, but you treated me well.” This does not mean you have to write dully, or neutrally; it means that you have to keep a sense of proportion.

By the way, if you have not yet had the experience: Come on an NR cruise. We have some lulus, of course, as there always are, in a crowd of 400 or so. (Even in a crowd of many fewer.) But you will also meet some of the nicest, most intelligent, most admirable people you’ve ever encountered. I enjoy going on these cruises for precisely this reason.

And I am reminded of one of the reasons I fled the Left, many years ago: Personally, they were so mean — so nasty, so indecent. So full of mockery, ridicule, and scorn. I had to ask, “If the Left is the party of love and compassion, how come so many of them are such a**holes?”

On the same subject, sort of: The American Symphony Orchestra League just announced a name change. From now on, ASOL is to be called the League of American Orchestras. The president and CEO of the joint was quoted as follows:

After 65 years as the American Symphony Orchestra League, we have decided to invigorate our name to reflect our renewed commitment to America’s orchestras. Through interviews with League board, staff, and membership, we discovered a universal desire for change . . . Working with our branding consultants, and after considering a wide range of options, we found that the League of American Orchestras is the one that makes the most sense. Webster’s Dictionary defines “League” as “an association of persons or groups united by common interests or goals,” and the emphasis on that word in our refreshed name builds on the equity already established by our history, while embracing our bold new future. Quite simply, it states most emphatically who we are.

Yeah, yeah. I just think ASOL wanted a better acronym.

I may be the last person in conservativedom to comment on the article about journalists and campaign contributions — the lion’s share of the giving is to Democrats. Well, blow me down. But I did want to say something about The New Yorker’s Mark Singer. He was quoted thus:

If someone had murdered Hitler — a journalist interviewing him had murdered him — the world would be a better place. As a citizen, I can only feel good about participating in a get-out-the-vote effort to get rid of George Bush, who has been the most destructive president in my lifetime. I certainly don’t regret it.

Be assured that “Bushitler” is not a term invented by righties to caricature anti-Bush fever on the left.

You’ve read, maybe, that Arnold Schwarzenegger was Tony Blair’s last guest at No. 10? During the Davos conference last January, Blair said something amusing about Arnold. He said, “He’s the only politician who, when I stand next to him, gives me body envy.”

(Incidentally, I had never heard that expression: “body envy.” And Arnold and Tony are buddies because they’re both big global-warmingists.)

I’ve just had a swing through the northeastern Midwest, if you’ll accept that designation — and I’d like to share three vignettes.

Milwaukee, Wis.: A sign in a park says, “Please Don’t Mow the Expensive Wildflowers!” Two questions: How about mowing the inexpensive wildflowers? And . . . wildflowers are bought? But I thought the whole point of things wild . . .

Traverse City, Mich.: Something tells me the worldwide technological revolution is just about complete. And that something is: Wares Bros. Frosty Treat has wireless connection — gratis. (I almost feel like singing, “Everything’s up to date in Traverse City . . .”) (Incidentally, as their marquee says, “Try Our New Waffle Bowls!”)

Chicago, Ill.: I’m in the lobby of the Sears Tower, waiting for a friend. I have been standing for a while, and wish to sit down — but there are no chairs or benches, this being America, the most inhospitable place in the world (sometimes). So, I sit on my suitcase — which, by the way, has been run through a security machine. And a guard comes up to say, “You can’t sit down.” It doesn’t matter whether it’s on my own suitcase — I just can’t sit down. Presumably, I could stand all day — but I can’t sit down. This being America — or at least the Sears Tower.

Ladies and gentlemen, sometimes America is utterly nonsensical, and maddening. You know that I’m a dedicated anti-anti-American. But there are societies that, in a situation like mine, would find you a drink, maybe some cookies.

I will return to the subject of America the Nonsensical and Inhospitable in a future column.

Can I hit you with a little music criticism, published in the New York Sun? For a review of the New York Philharmonic, under Lorin Maazel, with Deborah Voigt, soprano soloist, go here.

In a previous Impromptus, I discussed the great Linda Chavez, and all she has been through, in a lifetime of standing up to the race hustlers and bullies. Part of the abuse directed against her has been the term “coconut”: brown on the outside, white on the inside. And this prompted a letter from a reader in Canada:

Hi, Jay,

I’ve been busy all week, fomenting capitalism and oppressing the peasants, so I’ve only just read your most recent Impromptus. Your thoughts on Linda Chavez moved me to write you about that term, “coconut.”

I doubt it will surprise you to learn that it is also applied to Canadians and Americans of Indian origin. In university, I was often accosted by Indo-Canadians (I hate that term, for the record) who would rail against me for dating white women (as they put it), or not listening to bangra music, and accuse me of “selling out” and not having cultural pride.

Anyway, I would question my accusers about their knowledge of India — and, beyond bangra, Bollywood, and butter chicken, they didn’t know much. I suspect that La Raza types and their fellow travelers in other “ethnic communities” are similarly limited. How utterly tragic.

In that same column, I discussed a cultural-linguistic conundrum: I had always understood that the bag for toiletries — the bag you put in your suitcase — was called a “Dobb kit.” Come to find out — at a very late date — it’s a “Dopp kit” (although variations are allowed, or at least abound). WTF?

This prompted a ton — or semi-ton — of mail, and I provide a sample:


I’ve never heard of a “Dobb” (or “dobb” or “DOB”) kit. My wife and I — both Californians — have always called it a “ditty bag.” I don’t know if this is a regional thing or what. Anyway . . .


Dear Jay:

My (English) father always referred to his “hussif.”

One more:

Hi, Jay,

I always heard my father say “Dobb kit” — but it came out sort of like “dawb.” And I always thought the word was “daub,” as in the verb. ’Cause the kit has cremes and stuff you daub onto your face and other sundry parts.

I’m just sayin’, is all.

And I’m just sayin’ — see you next time.


Sign up for free NRO e-mails today:

NRO Polls on LockerDome

Subscribe to National Review