Sunday, December 03, 2006

The One About The Nation

As we noted in another feature, The Nation has some problems. Kat and C.I. were on the road last week speaking about the illegal war and they're both used to hearing complaints about the magazine (all of us who have spoken to students have heard the complaints).

What happened Thursday, with one group, wasn't a few complaints. The way the speaking gigs work is that C.I. talks for a bit and then anyone else along speaks. After that, it's an open discussion on Iraq. This group of very active, very political students (all were poli sci majors) wanted to identify one problem, one reason they felt the illegal war continues: The Nation magazine.

They could offer specific examples. (Kat wrote about this on Thursday.*) This included failure to cover topics and it included presentation of topics. Shortly after they returned Friday night, a friend of C.I.'s came over to gripe about the writers for other magazines that are being given space in the print issue. What had him so outraged?

A dumb ass in the December 4th issue. C.I. no longer reads the magazine the dumb ass works for (few people do -- our parody focusing solely on it will be written when it announces it's gone belly up). Dumb Ass plugs Thomas Frank ("Oh, Ellen Willis, you are missed especially now," says C.I.) and writes, "There was more than a whiff of demagoguery in John Kerry's nomination acceptance speech about 'closing firehouses in America' while opening them in Baghdad (why shouldn't Iraqis have firehouses?)."

The whiff's coming off Dumb Ass' crack and we'd suggest he wipe on toilet paper and not the pages of The Nation. If Dumb Ass can't grasp it, let's put it real simply, before you purchase groceries for someone else, you need to be sure your own family's fed. Bully Boy wanted his illegal war and got it.

But possibly Dumb Ass can't grasp that. Can The Nation grasp that Dumb Ass not only doesn't deserve a grant, he shouldn't be published without serious vetting of everything he cites. Dumb Ass, in his own crap magazine he writes for, got giddy as a school girl over Moronic Mars and declared it to be about the 'haves' and the 'have nots' and Moronic was the story of the class war. As Ava and C.I. replied to that idiotic, non-fact based claim, "Yes, it is -- if you believe that the class war will be costumed by Nordstrom Brass Plum and Neiman Marcus." As they noted, it took only one phone call to find out where Moronic's wardrobe came from (and came from for both seasons he was addressing before Dumb Ass attempts to weasle out).

That matters, when you're reviewing a show and claiming Moronic is about the class struggle, if she's wearing duds from high price boutiques, you're obviously talking out of your ass. Dumb Ass does it again (does it quite often actually) when he says John Kerry's firehouse remark came in the acceptance speech. The Washington Post has the speech posted here. Find the remark.

"And we shouldn't be opening firehouses in Baghdad and shutting them in the United States of America." That's what Kerry said in the acceptance speech. Not "closing." That line, that Dumb Ass is referring to, is from the ads broadcasting in Iowa in November of 2003, "We shouldn't be cutting education and closing firehouses in America while we're opening them in Iraq."

Does it matter? Yeah, it does. You can't put something in quotes and say it was said somewhere when it wasn't. It's sloppy, it's bad journalism and it may be in keeping with the rag Dumb Ass works at but it shouldn't appear in The Nation.

Where's the correction? (Probably in the que right behind the correction to the 'facts' offered in the Courtney Love CD review -- and we're not talking about the 'let me repeat rumors' heavy review, we're talking about what the writer stated factually about the album -- including song lengths -- that was incorrect.)

Long before Little Lee Lee went down in flames, C.I. and Jess addressed him here and why The Nation shouldn't be publishing him. At The New Republic(an), you can apparently both Be All That You Can Be and Be As Many As You Can Pretend To Be. (Which is how Little Lee Lee became his own fan base in comments he posted to his pieces under phoney i.d.s)

If there's not a damn bit of difference between The Nation and other magazines for the left, exactly why should anyone go with The Nation? At a recent event in California, a person on the editorial board of another magazine appeared and promoted themselves as being with The Nation. That doesn't cut it. In fact, though we love Tom Hayden, we skipped the event because of the person in question. We had no use for her talk of Iraq -- she was one of the first out of the gate post-2004 election trying to clamp down on the anti-war sentiment. We don't care for her for a number of reasons but we're not going to sit through some event where she poses as staff at The Nation when she's on the masthead of another rag no one buys (for good reason).

The Nation nees to get it together pretty damn quick. They just lost a dedicated subscriber in Oregon. We mention him because we were surprised he'd decided not to renew. He was one of the magazine's chief supporters. Early on when this site started, he'd e-mail and ask us to note the magazine more, state that The Nation was the only magazine he trusted. He just walked away from it. His reasons for walking away were similar to the complaints that Kat and C.I. heard on Thursday.

People are tired of the magazine's inability to address Iraq. They're angry that a blog post was written about the peace movement (one of the few times the magazine's ever noted the peace movement since the illegal war began) and it exists just to slam the peace movement. They're outraged that a new article (which we haven't read -- subscribers have to wait) read as though, as one woman put it, "It was written by George Packer." That's the one by "Mr. Bill," which is how he's addressed by Iraqis. "Mr. Bill," "Miss Daisy," not a long drive to make. But apparently one that no one picked up on at The Nation which can't cover the war resisters but it happy to put up a "I'm doing my job in Iraq" piece by a major. Is it a class issue like Ruth wondered?

It's something because the magazine has yet to print one damn article on the war resisters of this summer. Now the AP has filed piece after piece. The Nation?

Here's the problem the magazine's not grasping, it's the reason the students were outraged and it's the reason they just lost a long term subscriber in Oregon, what cut it in 2003, isn't bravery in 2006. By 2005, the shift away from supporting the war was there for anyone who bothered to look. It's only increased in 2006.

The tag line in the ads, "Nobody owns The Nation," is becoming a joke as 'addressing the war' means hiding behind ex-generals and refusal to cover the peace movement or war resisters. (Yes, Dumb Ass is writing or has written an article on the man who burned himself in protest of the war. Our flesh is crawling just picturing the 'thought' that's gone into that non-thought piece.) It's not cutting it. We've all heard the complaints when we've visited campuses including the ignoring of student activists to focus on, as a student in Iowa dubbed it, "Eisenhower Democrats."

Kat just listened when the students were ripping the magazine apart. ("I wasn't getting into that, they were like a lynch mob and I didn't want to be caught in the crossfire.") After they'd all shared their examples, C.I. asked what sort of statements they'd like to read in The Nation (The Nation wasn't a topic C.I. brought up, the students brought it up noting they were "disgusted" with the magazine). As they offered their thoughts on that, C.I. said, "Well, you've just described Alexander Cockburn." While they agreed they had, they also noted that they can read Cockburn via CounterPunch and avoid The Nation all together.

Kat took notes during most of the examples. We could go item by item but we're not sure at what point C.I. would then say, "Take my name off the piece." We'll note there were no complaints about David Corn (or, obviously Alexander Cockburn). Others? Everybody else? A long list of complaints.

We'll give one example (okayed by C.I.), Katha Pollit (whom we like). She was brought up. They wondered how she can write a feminist beat column and never note Abeer? They were very offended by that. And they were very disappointed. Raped, murdered, her family murdered, and one of the US soliders involved confessed in court to his actions and testified to the actions of the others involved. That doesn't rate a column?

In terms of the rest of the writers (whom we won't name because it was much harsher than noting that Pollitt hadn't covered Abeer), they're sick of the 'profiles' of Democrats. One man pulled out a story he'd clipped from Tuesday's New York Times. A new member of Congress, just elected, served on Douglas Feith's 'intelligence' unit in charge of tasking Iraq. Shouldn't The Nation have covered that during the election, especially since, here's the kicker, he's a Democrat. [Added: He is Chris Carney of Pennsylvania. We're adding that and apologize to the readers who have e-mailed "What!!!!!" James Risen writes about it in the November 28, 2006 edition of The New York Times, page A18, "A New House Democrat With an Insiders' View of Iraq."]

This was followed by a woman asking, "What the f--k was the point of that 'We won't endorse any candidate who supports the war' editorial if they refused to cover the candidates, of all parties, that were opposed to the war?" The woman noted that the last issue out before the elections contained the puff piece on Harold Ford Jr and stated, "Puff pieces are an endorsement. Coverage is an endorsement."

Which is when the topic shifted to war resisters that don't get covered by the magazine (two pieces on Ehren Watada ran at the website, they did not run in the magazine -- Watada is the only war resister to make headlines since June that they've covered -- he's "Lt. Watada" so possibly that helps).

"'Kid Today, Oy Vey,' they have time for, even giving out prizes for that bulls--t, but honest to God activists on campus, where the hell are they?" wondered a man leaping into the conversation. (At which point, it got very loud and Kat says it continued at a fast pace and a loud volume for over fifteen minutes.)

And what did we get last night on RadioNation with Laura Flanders? No, we're not talking about Flanders. We're talking about the guest who wanted to argue the James Baker Circle Jerk with her. "You didn't list the Democrats!" he whined, when in fact, she had, when in fact, she'd listed names of some of the Democrats and some of the Republicans. He wanted to argue that it was a centrist group when, as Flanders pointed out, it's a center-right group.

Now we're confused, how does a LaRouche supporter (that may not be how his name is spelled and we honestly don't give a damn) infamous for tales of "Zionist plots" end up at The Nation?

Or for that matter, when we're supposed to appalled by Mark Foley's behavior with sixteen-year-old males (online sex play), how does a writer who the mainstream press has reported was arrested twice in recent times for solicity sexual hook ups with FBI agents he thought were fourteen-year-old girls get published in the magazine?

What are the standards because factual doesn't appear to be one and behavior that's criminal (such as soliciting 14-year-old girls for sex) doesn't appear to be one and, there's last night's guest.

He couldn't shut up about "the establishment" and, possibly, when your own past actions are such that you should blackballed, you especially need to cowtow to "the establishment"?

We're fully aware someone (we can guess who) will e-mail about our supposed war with The Nation. This isn't a war. We enjoy the writing of many of the people at the magazine. We've noted many here (Pollitt, Patricia J. Williamson, David Corn, Alexander Cockburn, Richard Goldstein, etc.). We've all backed away from The Progressive. Even the community's tired of that magazine ("Truth" will sap a person's strength and goodwill). Those of us still subscribing will let that lapse. (Elaine will continue to purchase issues with Howard Zinn's writing in them. C.I.'s weighing the "Am I part of the problem if I continue to subscribe" issue and hasn't decided yet.) We'd prefer not to walk away from The Nation.

We're fully aware that a sizeable portion of the Iraq coverage came from Naomi Klein and she's been on leave finishing her book. But there seems to have been no effort to pick up the slack on Iraq while she was gone. (Cockburn and Corn continued -- continued -- to address it. They weren't picking up slack, they were already writing about it.) We've done features here like "Hint, Hint." We've done features where we've bit our tonuge (and we're biting it now, there's a hysterical remark that a student made on Thursday but we know if we put it in, C.I. walks from this feature with a "Take my name off it" comment). We've done features urging that the peace movement be covered. What was this summer but one long plea to independent media (and supposed independent media) to cover the war resisters?

We're tired of it. When C.I. was confronted with Dumb Ass' article on Friday we were all surprised to hear, "Give me a minute to read it." The friend was surprised as well because C.I. had previously read every issue, from the letter page on through. But there's little point in reading it cover to cover these days. (We were and are surprised that C.I. had agreed with our opinion on that.)

We've tried parodies, we've tried pleas (and please). The Nation's the becoming the non-comic version of Saturday Night Live where, because they're supposed to be left, we're all supposed to be thrilled that they weigh in on this and that and a lot of stuff that quite frankly doesn't matter. And if we wanted to read certain writers, we'd still be reading the rags we stopped when they decided they wanted to be a 'fun' and 'cultural' magazine (cheap topics covered on cheap stock). (And we love the survey question they're asking that one reader e-mailed us: "Would you like shorter articles?" As the reader noted, "They must mean one paragraph articles because there's so little writing in there as it is.")

In terms of the magazine (The Nation), we think it's alienating the audience its built up and we base that on what we've heard on campuses across the country. We think featuring writers from other 'left' publications is destroying the brand. In terms of influencing the national debate, that won't come about by feather kisses to centrists and worse. And it won't happen by avoiding the topic of the war. We read the coverage, what little makes it into print, and it's not 2003 so this timid approach isn't cutting it. We do wonder if those who came of age after Vietnam have internalized the revisionist myths and that's why they won't cover the peace movement or war resisters?

Students are tired of the 'inspirational and motivational' pieces on candidates. If they wanted that, they'd read The American Prospect. The Nation didn't pull ahead of every other political magazine (not just the ones on the left) in circulation because of its election coverage. It pulled ahead because it had something to say about the war. It'd be a real shame if two years on down the line, when circulation is tanking, if the magazine suddenly realized it had blown its moment.

So if someone wants to see this as a "war," distort how ever it makes you able to justify the current state of the magazine. But the reality is someone needs to speak up before it gets worse.

[*When Kat wrote her post, she identified the magazine as "The Nation." Before posting it, she went back and changed it to "The Elector" -- the name of our parody of three magazines last week. She did that because she didn't want to hurt C.I.'s feelings -- C.I.'s a big supporter of the magazine. When C.I. finished speaking and came back to the hotel, Kat had skipped the last speaking gig, she was surprised when C.I. told her, "You should have the left the title in." And before the Cindy Brady of the faux left curses again, let's note that we don't even have a war with him. We think of him as our new whipping boy and look forward to much hilarity as he continues to perform his tired act that should play in Vegas -- in the lounge, not the main room. Lastly, the illustration is inspired by the paintings of William H. Johnson, in particular, Children Playing London Bridge. What does that have to do with the magazine? Our nation includes miniorities and it would be nice to see that reflected in more than just the occassional Brown v. Board of Education anniversary story.)

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