By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
In his embarrassing new book about Stalinism (he discovered it was murderous), Martin Amis shrewdly observes that the fall of communism liberated his pal Hitchens' writing by ending its ritual genuflections and obligatory defensiveness. The Nation itself enjoyed no such liberation. And so, rather than rethink the possibilities of a "progressive left" (to use one of its prize terms), the editors have remained content to belabor what its readers already know (e.g., Bush is a bum) while avoiding tough-minded journalistic coverage of the left. It settles for easy analysis, like suggesting that Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney lost her renomination bid simply because of the Jewish money sent to defeat her. Is this really true? The left would be better served if the magazine investigated such claims rather than merely assuming their truth, although this would involve actually going to Georgia.
While The Weekly Standard always lets you know what the establishment right is arguing about -- debates that affect government policy -- The Nation keeps getting lost in internecine bickering and naive boosterism. It covered Jesse Jackson's backside for years and (Hitchens aside) wasted page after page defending Bill Clinton as if he were a put-upon victim. Too often today, the magazine comes across like a house organ of the Democratic Party or a flaccid version of Media Whores Online. To judge from the gushing work of regular correspondent John Nichols (who writes like a gaga press agent), failed Clinton Cabinet member Robert Reich is a bold tribune of The People and Dennis Kucinich has a prayer of becoming president in 2004.
One sign of The Nation's disarray is a tiny illustration in the September 2 issue. In an image seemingly worthy of Der Stürmer, it depicts a building that looks like the World Trade Center being smashed by a crane whose frame is the American flag and whose wrecking ball is imprinted with the Star of David. Is the magazine suggesting that the U.S. and the Jews were responsible for 9/11? Of course not, said editor in chief Katrina vanden Heuvel, when I called to find out. The building isn't supposed to be a WTC tower but a metaphor (it's faintly imprinted with a map of the Middle East), and the Star of David is supposed to represent Israel, not Judaism. "We regret any misinterpretation," she said, rather than openly apologizing or having the courage to endorse a drawing that many readers will find offensive.
This illustration follows with unnerving proximity the uncharacteristic decision to publish Forbidden Truth, the discredited French conspiracy book that suggested U.S. threats against the Taliban on behalf of oil interests provoked 9/11. Although the diluted American version is a best-seller for The Nation, publisher Victor Navasky is reluctant to vouch for the book's truth, telling The Village Voice's Cynthia Cotts, "I'm not a conspiracy theorist . . . but I think it's important to raise questions."
Well, sure. But such unwillingness to stand behind its own drawings and books suggests that those running the magazine have little idea of how it is seen in the larger world. This is hardly surprising, for The Nation all too often seems hermetically sealed in some bubble wrap or time warp. The very symbol of this may be a writer I've long admired, Katha Pollitt, whose two most memorable pieces in years -- a fatuous post-9/11 column saying that she sees the American flag as a symbol of tyranny, and her wonderful recent New Yorker article about learning to drive -- suggest that here is a person who desperately needs to get out more. One might say the same of the senior editors, who are evidently content to keep appealing to the same small group of like-minded people who can't believe the vast majority of America is so benighted. They need to talk to some folks who own guns.