Thursday, January 24, 2008

Bill Kristol, Iraq, and the New York Times

The controversy over William Kristol's New York Times gig continues with a piece by Gabriel Sherman over at The New Republic.

Sherman reviews the massive hard-left criticisms of the Times' choice of Kristol as the paper's second right-wing op-ed columnist: Kristol's a neoconservative water-carrier for the reviled Bush-Cheney regime; he's a hack of a writer whose name belongs nowhere near a NYT byline; and, indeed, his debut essay itself illustrated how unfit The Weekly Standard publisher is for the big leagues of print journalism.

But underneath all of this is one organizing thorn: The Iraq war.
Here's Sherman on this:

...behind much of the internal distaste for Kristol lies the paper's complicated relationship with the Iraq war. In an August 2002 column in The Weekly Standard, as the Bush administration began marshaling its case for war, Kristol labeled the Times a member of the "Axis of Appeasement," and a piece in his magazine commented that the paper's bias against the war "colors . . . practically every news story on the subject."
According to a former Times staffer, criticism from Kristol and other conservatives weighed heavily on the Times' pre-war coverage, which turned more hawkish under then-executive editor Howell Raines and Washington bureau chief Jill Abramson. In September 2002, Judith Miller's credulous front-page pieces on Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction began appearing with increasing frequency and were echoed in The Weekly Standard.

Miller's discredited coverage created a near-open revolt in the newsroom, especially in the Washington bureau. Even today, staffers there chafe at Kristol's appointment. "There is a concern internally about Judy. No one wants to go back to those bad old days," the senior staffer said. Another worried that Kristol's columns signaled that "Judy's point of view has returned." (Miller doesn't share her former colleagues' reservations. "[I]t's an appointment that's a long time coming. The page needed balance," she told me. But "an unabashed neocon without remorse is unacceptable to Times people. . . . He's not kosher in that sense.")

More recently, Kristol attacked the Times' publication of a June 2006 piece disclosing the CIA's classified monitoring of international bank transfers. "I think the attorney general has an absolute obligation to consider prosecution," Kristol said on "Fox News Sunday" three days after the article was published.

"My personal opinion is it's an appalling choice," a former veteran Times staffer said of Kristol's appointment. "Not because he's been wrong about so much, but because he called for prosecuting the Times for treason. You're entitled to your opinion, but, in all due respect, go fuck yourself."

(Sulzberger and Rosenthal declined to comment on the appointment; a spokeswoman said the paper had "brought Mr. Kristol on board after a long and thoughtful search." Kristol declined to comment about his column. "I'm going to let the column speak for itself," he said.)
Read the rest. Sherman concludes by joining the attack on Arthur Sulzberger Jr.'s leadership of the paper, noting that the choice of Kristol cast aspersions on his tenure.

Be that as it may, perhaps this will be the last discussion we'll see on the outrage for a while. Kristol's in the slot now, and if his column fails to lift off, he'll be canned at the end of his term. But let me add my own perspective, beyond the couple of quick posts I've already written on this (
here and here).

I've never met Kristol, for one thing, although I've seen him in attendance at American Political Science Association meetings a couple of times. It turns out Kristol's a trained poltical scientist, with a Ph.D. in Government from Harvard. He's certainly got the academic credentials to speak intelligently about politics and policy (even if it's uncouth to appeal to such things).

Not only that, the guy's a successful publisher of one of the most important conservative journals on the market. Sure, the Weekly Standard's a long way from the stature of, say, the National Revew among the mass media elite, but it's no hill of beans either.

Okay, perhaps he's not the greatest writer after all. Still, let's be honest: William Safire -
one of the foremost journalistic experts on the English language - is a hard act to follow. Kristol, in any case, will surely publish both good and bad essays by the bagful. In time, he may even generate some critical praise - and this might perchance result from Kristol himself being acculturated to the very journalistic ethos of the newspaper he once denounced.

Such an outcome would probably never satisfy Kristol's vociferous detractors on the left: The Iraq war will forever consign Kristol to journalistic purgatory among Bush-bashers and antiwar peaceniks.

In that Kristol must be enjoying some delicious schadenfreude, since for all the talk of him being wrong on Iraq, he's been proven right in the most important development of the war: We're winning.

Indeed, not only are we winning, neoconservative ideas
are currently gaining mass popular steam in the candidacy of GOP frontrunner John McCain. A McCain presidency would not only vindicate proponents of the surge (Kristol being one of the greatest), it would possibly extend the life of the most important doctrinal innovations in American foreign policy since the end of the Cold War (the Bush Doctrine of preventive war).

That's what's really driving New York Times readers nuts - their worst nightmares aren't going away any time soon.

Memeorandum for more.