Monday, August 07, 2006


As a baby boomer, I have a lingering affection for The Rolling Stone, and not only because I read its music reviews obsessively back in the day. The Stone also gave Hunter S. Thompson a platform for his brilliant quasi-political ravings.

Musical trends being what they are, I stopped reading Rolling Stone a good while ago, but after getting quoted briefly in a piece about MoveOn last year (an event that impressed my teenaged stepson more than all the NPR appearances imaginable), the DLC press office gave me a copy. What struck me most was the 10-1 ratio of upscale apparel ads to all the other content put together, but what the hell, somebody's got to pay the bills.

Still, I was moderately intrigued a few weeks back when my colleague Will Marshall, president of the Progressive Policy Institute, told me he had taken a call originally intended for me, from a Matt Taibbi, who was writing a piece for the Rolling Stone.

"Jesus, Will," I replied. "Don't you remember Matt Taibbi? He's the guy who did the New York Press piece a while back exposing you as the author of the 'loathsome' NewDonkey blog. You know, that fine bit of reportage accompanied by the crude grade-school drawing of Marshall Wittmann being sodomized by a moose."

"Wish I had remembered his name," said Will. "I've done hundreds of interviews with hostile reporters over the years, but nothing like this. The guy apparently just wanted to shriek at me; he already knew the answers to all his questions."

Taibbi's piece, which appeared last week, was about what you'd expect from a guy who knows all the answers before he asks the questions. The crux of his "analysis" was a lurid interpretation of the use of the terms "liberal fundamentalism"and "purge" in a New Dem Dispatch (which I drafted as editor of the NDD, but which, as always, reflected an institutional take, not necessarily my own) about the national campaign against Joe Lieberman. Check this out:

Let's be clear about what we're dealing with here. These people are professional communicators. They don't repeatedly use words like "purge"and "fundamentalist" -- terms obviously associated with communism and Islamic terrorism -- by accident. They know exactly what they're doing. It's an authoritarian tactic and it should piss you off. It pissed me off.

Aside from the fact that Taibbi appears to be perpetually P.O.'d without any particular encouragement, his "reasoning" on this point is a classic example of a smear posing as the exposure of a smear. As the NDD in question explicitly noted, the DLC started warning about the perils of "liberal fundamentalism" back in the 1980s, when nobody outside the CIA had ever heard of Osama bin Laden; then as now, "fundamentalism" refers to any set of intolerant, self-righteous beliefs. And I don't know where Matt Taibbi gets the idea that the word "purge" is any more associated with communism than with any other political movement. I probably know as much as any blogger in Christendom (with the exception of my colleague The Moose) about the history of communism, and I sure as hell don't "obviously associate" the term with Reds of any hue.

But nevermind. Taibbi's shrewd explanation of my nefarious intentions was the necessary windup to the mighty anathema that concludes his piece:

The DLC are the lowest kind of scum; we're talking about people who are paid by the likes of Eli Lilly and Union Carbide to go on television and call suburban moms and college kids who happen to be against the war commies and jihadists.

The fact that nobody at the DLC has ever actually "gone on television" to say anything like that is inconvenient to Taibbi's "analysis," and thus not worth researching, much less modifying or discarding. As for the tedious "corporate paymasters" crap, Taibbi does not bother to find out, much less explain, why an organization "paid by the likes of Eli Lilly" opposed its top legislative priority of the last decade, the Medicare Rx drug bill. Or why us "paid agents of the commercial interests" have loudly, consistently, and repeatedly opposed Bush's economic policies, most especially each and every one of his tax cuts. Or why the "organization founded to help big business have a say in the Democratic platform" practically invented the term "corporate welfare," and has endlessly and redundantly called for ridding the federal budget and tax code of corporate subsidies.

But why bother with such complications when you already know what the DLC is up to?

Maybe the editors at The Rolling Stone, or some of its readers, think of people like Matt Taibbi as successors to the explicitly non-objective political commentary of Hunter Thompson. And to be sure, HST was capable of prophetic abuse like no one else. But he generally relied on his own interpretation of actual facts, not just his prejudices, and was more than capable of non-predictable positions, like his early support for Jimmy Carter's nomination for president in
1976 (a position that would, if extrapolated to today's inter-progressive politics, undoubtedly be excoriated as support for Holy Jimmy, a reactionary corporate-backed warmongering southerner).

Matt Taibbi's style of gonzo journalism, if that's what he's trying to practice, is more reminiscent of The Doctor's sad declining years, when he could still write the abusive catch-phrases, but forgot how to give them life, or a sense of decency and truth. Taibbi's sophomoric jibes are only ha-larious to people who already agree with him, and aren't particularly interested in any sort of nuance or persuasion. And the cheerleading for his piece in various segments of the progressive blogosphere is far more discouraging than all the fact-based DLC- or Lieberman-bashing past, present or future.
-- Posted at 10:57 AM | Link to this post | Email this post

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