Monday, June 26, 2006

Barbarians with Keyboards

I noted previously that Markos Moulitsas Zuniga (agent code name: Kos) hadn't really done himself any favors with his handling of the accusations against both himself and his co-author, Jerome Armstrong.

The controversy itself is a mix of the germane and the mundane, with a heavy dose of malarkey. On the one hand, the allegations against Armstrong, although perhaps old news peddled by a "nemesis of wayward capitalists," are troubling and worthy of discussion, investigation, and a good public airing.

On the other hand, the idea that Kos sends out marching orders to the left half of Blogistan (including, I suppose, me) and that we all obey said marching orders is, to borrow Glenn Greenwald's polite phrase, "too stupid to merit a response." Most of us can't even agree on whether Bill Maher is a liberal comedian or a pompous blowhard, much less which candidates we should all support.

"The whole story would have had a greater impact if The New Republic hadn't overshot its load," observes Amanda at Pandagon. Faced with declining circulation and even more rapidly deteriorating relevance, however, the editors and reporters at The New Republic decided to call Kos's histrionics and raise him by several piles of sophistry. The ploy worked. Once again, they're the talk of the town, even eclipsing last week's flavor, Coulter Ice.

Roger Ailes (the good version) summarizes everything nicely:
This week has turned out to be The New Republic's biggest embarrassment since it employed Mickey Kaus Fred Barnes Mort Kondracke Charles Krauthammer Jim Glassman Andrew Sullivan Stephen Glass Ruth Shalit Michael Kelly Gregg Easterbrook.

First, TNR reporter Jason Zengerle boosted his journalistic credentials with a fake source. Then, TNR culture critic Lee Siegel chimed in with not one, but two way-way-way-over-the-top posts on his blog condemning, um, blogs; comparing the sudden ascendancy of Daily Kos to the donning of brownshirts ("hard fascism with a Microsoft face"); and providing proof, if you needed it, that Kos's personal brand of anarchic politics were (I kid you not) formed by the time he was nine years old.

Siegel's trenchant entrenchment resulted in a Final Snark Offensive that forced Digby to resign from the field in disgrace, Yglesias to surrender in horrified mortification, TRex to hole up in the castle broadcasting signals over the heads of the invading Kossack mobs, and Wolcott to offer to conduct negotiations between the Allied and Axis forces.

For me, however, the defining moment of Web War III was the extraordinary sighting of the heroic TNR editor-in-chief and co-owner Marty Peretz, who emerged from the bunker he's been sharing with Cheney ever since the onset of the comparatively insignificant and short-lived Iraq War and who graced us all with what I believe may be his first-ever attempt at a blog entry.

Alas, it disappoints. Peretz's rambling post is little more than a defensive rant complaining about Kos's defensive rant. What could be more surreal than an "editor" calling Kos illiterate in a rambling diatribe composed almost entirely of sentence fragments, half of which begin with conjunctions?

Look again, above, at the struck-out roster of reporters in Ailes's quote. That's quite an inning; most teams, I think, are allowed only three outs. (Hey--I'm just proving that I can switch metaphors faster than Peretz can pen a grammatically correct belch.) Pondering that list of all-stars, one can understand why Peretz hesitates to reclaim the words progressive or liberal when describing his magazine. Instead, he settles for heterodox. Whoa, baby: now that's a tag the circulation director can use for the next subscription campaign. TNR: "The magazine with so many opinions you can't say we have any."

Peretz so clearly longs for the day when decent people would send in the annual subscription check, read a few articles, look at the all the pretty advertising, and then just shut the hell up. Oh, sure: if you had an advanced degree from an Ivy League school or could prove your landed British ancestry, your letter to the editor might be read and, if you were super-dooper nice, even published. Or, if you objected to the caliber of one of Stanley Kaufmann's genteel movie reviews, you were encouraged to dictate to the secretary a short essay explaining why those birds in that "stupid" Hitchcock movie really did scare the bejesus out of the wife and kids.

In those serene and not-so-long-ago days, the gatekeepers were better able to keep anyone else from going public with their response. Letters neglecting the Queen's English, notes defying the Protocol of the Stiff Upper Lip, hastily penned rants against the Establishment, well-reasoned treatises signed by unpronounceable names--they all were tested for anthrax and filed safely away, or they were occasionally forwarded to the proper authorities.

The unwashed masses, really, had no right--and the very worst thing that could happen to proper civilization was that the mob might find the wherewithal to cast away their mimeograph machines and enjoin the battle on an equal footing. After all, it had taken decades for glossy magazines and four-color newspapers to quash the sort of cheap pamphleteering practiced by the likes of the "illiterate" Thomas Paine and the "ungrammatical" Ethan Allen. Egad, Peretz sighs, what a horrid invention, that thing they call the Internet. What it hath wrought too closely resembles (shudder) a democracy.