From Eric Alterman, The American Prospect <[email protected]>
Subject Altercation: The Media Always Sees Democrats in Disarray
Date August 27, 2021 12:09 PM
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The Media Always Sees Democrats in Disarray
And they always see wars as worth fighting

"Whether it's Barack Obama negotiating a nuclear deal with Iran or
Biden drawing down in Afghanistan
explains my good friend and America's single most valuable
foreign-policy thinker, Bernie Sanders aide Matt Duss, in Greg
Sargent's Washington Post column, "it's crazy that Democratic
presidents face more aggressive criticism from their own party for
trying to end wars or prevent them through diplomacy than they do when
continuing decades-old wars or launching new ones."

The thing is, there's an unspoken conspiracy between so-called
Democrats and "savvy
members of the mainstream media to undermine the priorities of the vast
majority of the party's voters (and, according to almost all
public-opinion polls, those of most Americans). It reveals itself most
obviously in two types of stories. The first is the "Dems in Disarray"
narrative. Republicans can eternally march in lockstep with a
psychopathic, racist, sexist, proto-fascist, mentally unbalanced con man
rapist, and yet reporters are most interested in the thoughtful
"misgivings" of Democratic centrists who have "concerns" about the
priorities of their party.

The folks at Politico Playbook may not be the worst of the bunch. I
don't watch enough cable TV or pay attention to talk radio, trash
Twitter, or whatever to really say. They do, however, produce the most
annoying entry into my mailbox every day. The thing about Politico's
reporting is that, save for rare circumstances, its afterlife is only
guaranteed to last as long as it takes you to read the article. This one
which showed up Tuesday morning, entitled "Pelosi Underestimates Her
Moderates," lasted only a few hours and made me angry that I bothered to
read it in the first place. Yet it's a near-perfect specimen of
breathlessness combined with thoughtlessness to fill your mind with
pointless bullshit that-thanks to Nancy Pelosi doing what she does
every damn time one of these silly episodes arises
itself irrelevant a few hours after it was written. Take a look,
however, for posterity's sake.

The article reads as if Politico's owners were sponsoring a cliché
contest with cash prizes. It kicks off

with the headline "DEMS IN DISARRAY, PART XLVII" right after the words
"Fucking Assholes." Curses and clichés in one headline-if it
weren't so early in the morning, I imagine they would have been
breaking out the champagne. In just the first few hundred words after
that, we encounter a "budget standoff," an "impassioned plea," "gross
underestimations" of people "playing a little hardball," with members
"rolling their eyes" over the failure of "tired and grumpy" holdouts
while "spicy" Nancy Pelosi watched the unhappy fate of the Democrats'
"best-laid legislative plans." Yes, folks, it took four writers to
polish all those diamonds, all about a House vote that was well on its
way to being worked out when this ruined my morning coffee. (On a
related note, did someone at The Washington Post decide to hold this
determining the already-resolved Pelosi/moderate showdown
"unresolvable," just long enough to humiliate its author?)

The second place that this unspoken conspiracy rears its head is when it
comes to war. "Centrists" love wars and so do savvy reporters, most
especially the star members of the punditocracy. If you think I
exaggerate, I offer you these two examples from the two people I
judge-and I get to judge because I wrote this book
the two single most important and influential foreign-policy pundits in
the United States:
* Fareed Zakaria's Greatest Hit

* Thomas Friedman's Greatest Hit

This is the belief structure that lies beneath the relentlessly negative
narrative adopted by the mainstream media in their coverage of the Biden
administration's attempt to extricate the United States from a
20-year, $2.4 trillion-dollar foreign-policy catastrophe that has helped
no one, save arms dealers and corrupt Afghan warlords (and now, thanks
to a gazillion dollars' worth of military materiel, the Taliban). War
may or may not be the "health of the state
," as Randolph Bourne
put it back in 1918, but it is certainly the foundation of an awful lot
of journalistic self-regard. It is also the source of a plethora of
casual, but almost always costly, misinformation.

For example, TAP alumnus Josh Marshall has some harsh words

for The Atlantic's George Packer, who had written that the "private
rescue effort in Afghanistan is basically running separate from the
United States government's Operation Allies Refuge; it became
necessary because the official evacuation is beset by chaos and
bureaucratic blockage." Josh responds: "To portray this as some solo
effort amidst US abandonment and an 'overwhelmed' US government is
as remarkable as it is, frankly, gross." In fact, as this fine New York
magazine piece by Eric Levitz demonstrates, the evacuation was truly an
amazing accomplishment
and was forced on the Biden administration by the fecklessness of the
Trump administration
, despite
the disappointment of both George Packer and the geniuses at Politico
, and
yes, despite even the lamentable terrorist bombings of Thursday morning.

Josh's observation sent me back to a seminal article that Packer
published in The New York Times, just as he was on the cusp of becoming
a famous foreign-policy pundit, and as the nation debated an invasion of
Iraq. In it, he valorized the efforts of liberal hawks

to convince the rest of us to get on board with George W. Bush's jihad
(now widely recognized as the worst foreign-policy blunder in all of
American history, and I included both Vietnam and Afghanistan in that
calculation. See here
if you disagree). I won't quote directly from the piece because almost
all of the people quoted in it are either friends or ex-friends or
ex-colleagues of mine who look like massive jerks today, and that would
make me appear petty. (Michael Walzer
is a welcome exception.) Packer
and I were friends back when he wrote this, and he came to my apartment
to interview me for the piece. I knew the war would be a disaster
and so I could not countenance any of the arguments he wished to
highlight. I was, therefore, left out of the piece. But nearly 20 years
later, what I remember best from that afternoon was Packer's
argument-made over and over-that even if Bush could not be trusted
to brush his own teeth without screwing up, there was a "danger" of
liberals failing to recognize situations where the use of military force
was actually a good idea, and refusing to get on board, because we were
wimps. I replied that while this might be theoretically possible, the
reality was that the far more likely scenario was the embrace of what
then-brand-new Sen. Barack Obama called "dumb wars
which were being pushed by the punditocracy and what we now call "the

The liberal hawks, as Jacob Heilbrunn has written, somehow viewed their
own ideas "as weapons in a moral struggle
They knew virtually nothing about Iraq or even war itself. They brushed
aside obvious evidence of the Bush administration's lethal combination
of arrogance, fanaticism, cluelessness, and dishonesty, which was
certain to make a hash of whatever it was they thought they were doing.
As Christopher Hitchens would (finally) admit in his 2010 memoir,
Hitch-22, they "rather tended to assume that things of [the] more
practical sort were being taken care of
(His armchair warrior co-commando, Andrew Sullivan, voiced his primary
concern that the "decadent left in its enclaves on the coasts is not
dead-and may well mount a fifth column

These attitudes were-and remain-impervious to reality. When the
scope of the catastrophe revealed itself, Packer accused those who had
been prescient about the coming catastrophe-presumably people like
Obama, Ted Kennedy, and Al Gore, to say nothing of the more than 650
security scholars who signed this letter
possessing "second-rate minds
The hawkish liberal pundit Richard Cohen, borrowing (rather crazily)
from the French ex-Stalinist Pierre Courtade, insisted, "You and your
kind were wrong to be right; we were right to be wrong
Thomas Friedman accused opponents of the war of "deep down
wanting America to fail in Iraq because "they thought the war was
wrong." His colleague Roger Cohen wrote, amidst attacks on TAP alumni
Mike Tomasky and Matt Yglesias, that the problem was merely
"hyperventilating left-liberals [whose] hatred of Bush is so intense
that rational argument usually goes out the window
." And
yet, as Slate's Timothy Noah, a repentant war supporter, noted back in
2008, "Five years after this terrible war began, it remains true that
respectable mainstream discussion about its lessons is nearly
exclusively confined to people who supported the war
which is one reason we are where we are.

Whether it's cheerleading for war or elevating the deep seriousness of
the corporate wing of the party, somehow America's punditocracy always
ends up telling us the same damn story.


is a 2014 debate that Michael Walzer had with yours truly and Jeff Faux
about the value of U.S. military power, among other things, in solving
the world's problems, published by Dissent.

And this terrible review of John Mueller's book, The Stupidity of War
, in The Washington
Post offers further evidence of the punditocracy's infatuation with
war. The review's author, Marvin Kalb, describes himself as "a former
network correspondent and Harvard professor ... a senior fellow at
It's hard even to imagine better Beltway qualifications to pontificate
about the wonders of war ...

Of course, Edwin Starr said much the same thing in a song

that is, unfortunately, an evergreen; So, alas, is this
and this song and this

song and this

The death of Charlie Watts

can only mean the death of the Rolling Stones, tour or no tour. Here

is the band in 1975 when I was lucky enough to see them as a 15-year-old
kid, and here they are, sadly, for "the
last time" in 2019.

And here
finally, is undoubtedly the greatest of the many great songs that Tom.
T. Hall
who also died this week, ever composed. Look him up if you are

See you next week.


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Eric Alterman is a CUNY Distinguished Professor of English at Brooklyn
College, an award-winning journalist, and the author of 11 books, most
recently Lying in State: Why Presidents Lie-and Why Trump Is Worse
(Basic, 2020). Previously, he wrote The Nation's "Liberal Media"
column for 25 years. Follow him on Twitter @eric_alterman

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