Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Kristol Clear on the Right

Guardian Comment is Free, full text,

1 January 2008
I am all in favour of a good verbal punch up, and have often played the role of liberal lion thrown to the Christian Right, (indeed not always "Christian right") on the likes of Fox News. The rules of the arena are usually refreshingly simple. The conservative anchor always has the last word, and often brings on tag teams of alleged experts for the baiting. All you have to do is to confound their prejudices - expressing dislike for Clinton and or Albright usually throws them off completely, allowing a few facts to enter the debate while they try to reprogram.

But conservative newspapers rarely if ever allow a left or liberal voice unmoderated, unchallenged or unanchored on their pages - which probably accounts for the wails of horror from the American left at the news that the New York Times has engaged Bill Kristol as a regular columnist.

However, this should only be a shock to the deranged conservative bloggers and Fox pundits who think that the Gray Lady is a liberal publication. In fact, to have a hereditary joke like Kristol on board is entirely fitting for a newspaper that for so many years tolerated "Out of my mind" Abe Rosenthal as the regular conduit for neoconservativism. One of my favorites was the one where he described Kofi Annan as "Saddam Hussein's greatest single asset at the UN."

There is a circularity in Abe's son, Andy Rosenthal, the NYT's editorial page director, now appointing Bill, the son of Irving Kristol, the former Trotskyist who coined neoconservativism with its twin faces, that Israel could no wrong and the Soviet Union no right.

The New York Times always pretended to a spurious objectivity in its news pages, claiming to keep analysis and commentary to the op-ed page, but the Judith Miller escapades rather dented that "just the facts" posture, revealing the "never mention inconvenient facts."

But the contract really does defy logic. Kristol, deservedly known as "Quayle's Brain," is a light weight, recidividist wrongist, whose magazine, the Weekly Standard, makes massive losses for Rupert Murdoch, its owner. These conservatives go on about market disciplines, but it is noteworthy how many of their thinktanks and publications - the Standard, the New York Sun, the National Review - depend on the kindness of strangers to reason, eccentric billionaires with political agendas. Their minute circulation suggests little or no backing in the marketplace, but their editors and pundits are elevated by all that patronage to slots on Fox and the rest of the conservative echo chamber. How else could someone like Kristol still get a platform for his Panglossian view of the Iraq invasion? I really suspect that if Murdoch endowed the Flat Earth Society, his organs would soon carry solemn pundits exposing the myth of Columbus and the moon landings.

There was a time when newspapers felt that the sound of a rabid rightist dog barking on their editorial page was necessary to keep up with the Murdochs, but the Financial Times, for example, realized that the likes of Amity Shlaes gave the editors too much work to do. The newspaper is much improved by her absence.

In contrast, the Wall Street Journal, perhaps with the prophetic aberration of Christopher Hitchens, has never really felt compelled to find a liberal commentator to balance its columns. Amid all the gasps of horror at Murdoch's acquisition of the Journal, one really has to puzzle how he could shift the op-ed pages any further to the right. Indeed, one rather suspects that whenever his commercial and political interests dictate, he may even push them towards sanity and bring them down from the extraplanetary ideological orbit they are now parked in.

Murdoch will almost certainly have a similar baleful effect on the Journal's news coverage as he has on his other acquisitions, but since his aim is to sink the New York Times, I would not be entirely surprised if he were to bring on board some more balanced columnists for the WSJ.

And that raises the question of why Murdoch's targeted victim, the New York Times, should hire the continuing editor of a News Corporation publication as a columnist, when its readers certainly have not asked for it. One hopes they have budgeted for extra fact checkers as well.

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