Friday, February 01, 2002

CENSURE AND MOVE ON: As a part-time "student of human nature," what I find myself most often struggling to understand is why some people will expend their limited time and energies in an unbiased search for the truth, wherever it shall lead -- surely as noble a goal as can ever be -- while others go to great lengths, performing tortuous leaps of logic and devising fantastic fictions, to avoid facing up to truths that may be painful yet objectively self-evident.

I think that what makes Andrew Sullivan a "complicated" man -- as Michelangelo Signorile has generously described him -- is that, in the course of championing a political and social agenda (which I in no way presume to judge), Sullivan has at some point closed his mind to new information. He may have once set out on a good mission to seek and purvey truth, but lately he has become corrupted by the (real or imagined) power that has been bestowed upon him by his visibility in the mainstream media.

To maintain his visibility, fortify his career, and press his agenda forward, Sullivan must now willfully blind himself to certain difficult, painful truths -- to construct "alternate" theories of the truth where it conveniently suits his purposes -- and most especially irritating -- to designate scapegoats for real and imaginary failures of moral standing, by which to elevate his idols (Bush, Peggy Noonan, et al -- not to mention himself!) by comparison.

Without that support structure, the delicate house of cards from which he issues forth those proclamations would come tumbling down. And yet, the structure is self-defeating, because under close scrutiny the flaws are revealed and it all comes tumbling down anyway.

For one final example -- and this is what drove me to dredge up that quotation from Flatland earlier in the week --

What incredible solipsism -- what unmitigated gall -- for Sullivan to publish on his website that (liberal columnist) Joe Conason "agreed" with him about the (liberal economist) Paul Krugman's "dismaying" ethical failings. To read that throwaway remark without context, you'd think so extraordinary a meeting of minds had taken place that Shiva himself had come down from heaven to broker the deal. And Vishnu too.

In fact, the entire thrust of Conason's latest New York Observer column, beginning to end, was to lay bare the corruption of Sullivan's friend (and conservative pundit) Bill Kristol. In fact, Conason barely at all acknowledged Krugman's involvement in PunditGate with a courtesy slap-on-the-wrist, while giving Kristol a merciless professional drubbing for the far more blatant and profound ethical lapses to which he had recently admitted (and flippantly shrugged off).

Elsewhere, and more than once, Sullivan has duly noted Kristol's conflict and held him accountable. This would have been a fine opportunity to note that he and Conason were, amazingly, of one mind on the issue of Kristol's accountability.

Instead, Sullivan read 1,000 words about Bill Kristol -- the last six of which call for Kristol's resignation! -- and imagined that the point of Conason's column was located in the three sentences which mention Paul Krugman.

Amazing. Like Abbot's Point, the New Monarch of Pointland acknowledges no external facts. He perceives only his own existence, knows only his own mind, and hears only his own voice.

I'm not really interested in being a full-time anti-Sullivan crusader. My own shrillness is hurting my own ears -- and it's probably fair to say that I'm not convincing any of his supporters to look deeper and reconsider. I guess that's the part of human nature I still don't get: that some folks see only what they want to see, and disregard everything that doesn't fit their world view. But no matter. The man's house of cards is collapsing of its own weight. I've censured ... and it's time to move on.

UPDATE: Salon's Eric Boehlert asks the probing question: Why is Andrew Sullivan most angry at the one liberal journalist who cashed in? Also: Your complete guide to whose pockets were lined, and by how much.

UPDATE: WSJ Opinion Journal takes another chink out of Sully's armor for recycling a Wall Street Journal op-ed piece to a foreign paper. Sully calls it a "minor misunderstanding" for which he had profusely (and privately) apologized -- but what does "minor" mean when moral relativism is your stock in trade?

UPDATE: Ted Barlow visits Bizarro Andrew Sullivan's website here. Barlow's been at this for barely a fortnight, but already his blog is on my must-read list. I'm promoting him from Essential Pets to Substitute Essentials immediately!

Thursday, January 31, 2002

Here's proof. (Not for the squeamish.)

Wednesday, January 30, 2002

"You see," said my Teacher, "how little your words have done. So far as the Monarch understands them at all, he accepts them as his own -- for he cannot conceive of any other except himself -- and plumes himself upon the variety of 'Its Thought' as an instance of creative Power. Let us leave this God of Pointland to the ignorant fruition of his omnipresence and omniscience: nothing that you or I can do can rescue him from his self-satisfaction."

Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions
(Edwin A. Abbot, 1884)

FULL DISCLOSURE: Justin Slotman reminds me to mention that Michelangelo Signorile has long been at odds with Sullivan for one one thing or another.

That said, my beef is solely with Sullivan's overzealous, hypocritical demand for redundant and picayune conflict of interest disclosures by every practicing journalist other than himself. I don't know how Sullivan can just shrug off this accusation -- except that he's had a lot of practice shrugging off the tough ones lately. (Did no one else notice the professional thrashing Sullivan received at the hands of Joe Conason in a "debate" on Salon earlier this month? I'd provide the link, but it's "premium content" -- you gots to pay.)

None of this is to take away from Sullivan's remarkable skills as a critical essayist. His take on Dubya's State of the Union this evening was astute, eminently fair, and posted in record time.

UPDATE: Tony Andragna makes the case that the Sullivan-Signorile feud has little to do with journalistic ethics and standards, and everything to do with the obsolesence of conventional political alliances. (But, Tony -- even if Signorile does have a private agenda, how can you gloss over the facts he lays bare?)

Tuesday, January 29, 2002

SULLIVAN UNRAVELLED AGAIN! Stop the presses! Just when you thought the whole manufactured controversey had run its course, Michelangelo Signorile, writing for that "dirty Bushie tab," The New York Press, discloses -- on behalf of a bashful Andrew Sullivan -- that
Sullivan himself has been taking money from a man who is a George W. Bush buddy, a brother of a major Bush fundraiser and a covert p.r. operative who has schemed and scammed for Philip Morris and was exposed a few years ago for creating a front group for Big Tobacco. And Sullivan hasn’t disclosed the cash transaction when he’s written glowingly of this noted gay Republican -– not to mention when he’s penned endless love letters to Bush.

Sullivan lives in a glass house within a glass house within a glass house, and as usual it is shattered by one of his own huge stones. He has a list of benefactors on his website -– you have to search around to find it –- and one of the people at the top of that list is Bush friend and public-relations operative Charles Francis, a man to whom Sullivan gave a glowing writeup only days after Francis appears to have given Sullivan some cold hard cash.

It was last December, about a week after Francis’ name was listed on Sullivan’s site as a Sullivan benefactor, when the pundit wrote in his "Daily Dish" on the home page how "the work of Charlie Francis is of enormous importance –- not just for gay Americans but also for Republicans who want to see their party grow and breathe and unite." (Francis is a founder of the Republican Unity Coalition, a gay-straight alliance.)

Francis was certainly not identified as a Big Tobacco lobbyist, nor was there any disclosure -– within the text itself, as Sullivan is demanding of Krugman and others -– that "Charlie" gave Sullivan a wad of cash to keep his website going; one has to go find that information where it’s buried away elsewhere on his site. When you do find it, Sullivan doesn’t disclose the exact dollar amount (as he also has demanded of Krugman). We are only told that Francis is a Gold Sponsor -– the top donor group, comprising people who gave $1000 and up to the site.

And Francis may be just the tip of the iceberg: there are 59 other contributors named on Sullivan’s site (and then there are the ones he says don’t want their names used), some of whom must have conflicting business interests according to the all-new Sullivan Standards of Journalism.

I've just pulled quotes here. The entire article is a must-read. To paraphrase Virgina Postrel -- I think Signorile's research will be fatal to Sullivan's career.

PARTING SHOTS: Virginia Postrel, in so many words, concedes that the whole KrugmanGate debacle boils down to Andrew Sullivan's one-man crusade against a pontificating gasbag -- and that Krugman's greatest error in judgment was that he rose to take the bait.

MIND OVER WHAT MAILBAG: The eminently sensible Mark Evanier -- whose POVonline website has lately morphed into what I would describe as the preeminent blog about comics, popular culture and show business -- adds this P.S. to my coverage of KrugmanGate:
Did Krugman poison Andrew Sullivan's lhasa apso or something like that? The whole dispute sounds very personal; like the latter has just been waiting for an opportunity to dump on the former. ... Amidst the steaming pile of debris that is Enron, the worst possible interpretation of Krugman's ethics is a gnat-bite compared to some of the tiger maulings that are now being revealed.

Something personal between Sullivan and Krugman? Yeah, I think there must be a dead dog somewhere in the picture. Either that, or Sullivan can't admit that he'd staked out a target that didn't really deserve more than an asterisk's worth of ire, so he's ratcheted up the stakes to cover his error in judgment.

I don't want to repeat myself endlessly on a subject that should have played itself out by now -- but even as I type these words, sure enough, here's none other than Andrew Sullivan popping up on local talk radio, taking yet another opportunity to bash Krugman after promising on his website today that he was finally ready to let it go. Oh, wait -- actually, Sullivan gave himself an escape clause: "I’m gonna lay off," he said,"(unless I can’t help myself)." Good enough for me. I, too, hereby promise to move on to another topic -- unless I feel like reneging on that promise tomorrow.

Monday, January 28, 2002

Reader John W. Braue, III takes me to task for perpetuating a common misconception:
Enron was only the FIFTH largest contributor to the Republican National Committee in 2000. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the top five contributors to the RNC in 2000 were:

$992,115 - AT&T
$988,774 - Philip Morris
$913,905 - MBNA Corp
$900,290 - Credit Suisse First Boston
$888,265 - Enron Corp

For the record, the top five contributors to the Democratic National Committee in 2000 were:

$3,423,400 - American Fedn of St/Cnty/Munic Employees
$1,516,100 - Service Employees International Union
$1,358,400 - Intl Brotherhood of Electrical Workers
$1,237,500 - Vyyo Inc
$1,131,500 - Communications Workers of America:

All numbers from the CRP's website at

(...When you add in their contributions to individual races, Enron may well be the largest contributor, but I don't feel like doing the arithmetic).
John ''Akatsukami'' Braue