February 14, 2003

Beato-gate I hate to bring


I hate to bring up Alterman again, but I think Matt Welch's comment on the Beato-gate scandal (details here and in Matt's post) is worth quoting:

I make a point of not busting anyone's chops for what they do on their personal websites. It's a free world out there, and you get what you pay for. But for a journalist to apply a political litmus test for linkage-- that's just shameful, in my perhaps antiquated view of what journalism should be all about. For a progressive journalist to insist on the tribute of a link as the minimum pre-condition to even be considered-- words defy me. That said progressive journalist is busy peddling a book about the myth of liberal media bias-- you can fill in the rest.

Well said. Eric Alterman's program, from the beginning of his stint as a professional blogger, appears to have been to attempt to build an Alterman op-celeb franchise along the lines of that of his arch-enemy Andrew Sullivan. Accordingly he has created an Eric "Left Wing" Alterman persona to match his own Andrew "Right Wing" Sullivan caricature. In Alterman's corporate-funded weblog, this "Andy" represents, or rather symbolizes, the aggregate of "wrong-thinking" voices that Alterman would like to see shouted down. Eric has elected himself, and has been engaged by MSNBC, to do the shouting.

It's not that all of his criticisms of "Andy" (the explicit ones and those hinted at by his own topsy-turvy self-parody) are all unfounded: Sullivan has a slant, an agenda, a set of biases, a cluster of blind spots, a tendency toward nastiness when attacking the usual suspects or hyperbole when riding one of his hobby-horses. But he also has a soul, and an obviously genuine interest in the subjects he addresses in and of themselves rather than only as ammunition to fling at his enemies, petty and otherwise. Alterman, on the other hand, is pure nastiness. When he has a point, he tends to make it in the form of an attack on some member of the "competition," "Andy" or some other appropriate stand-in. It doesn't, in fact, make for the most interesting reading, unless you're fascinated by journo-on-journo sniping and feeble attempts at one-up-manship. In this regard, Alterman, it seems to me, has more in common with some of his other, less distinguished targets such as Ann Coulter or Rush Limbaugh: all attack, no debate, end of discussion.

Sullivan's not immune to this tendency of course. None of us are. But ultimately, Alterman's role as anti-Sullivan is unsuccessful because he has failed to understand the appeal of the man he has been attempting to imitate by reverse cloning: he tends to focus on the snarkiness at the expense of content. Sullivan has many left-of-center readers who disagree with him on almost everything, but find his commentary stimulating and engaging, even when maddening; I rather doubt Eric has any readers of this sort. He's explicit about whom he hates: Andy, Michael, Robert, Ann, Rush, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, the New Republic, the Selected President, Ayatollah Ashcroft, etc. You get the idea pretty quickly. He just doesn't seem to spend much effort explaining why. Sometimes the schtick is amusing, but only sometimes. The Byzantine quid pro quo linking policy and ideological litmus test referred to above are yet another indication: Eric doesn't seem completely "for real."

Okay, so this post is itself pretty much an ad Alterman attack. But I have no pretensions as a journalist. I'm just a guy. What's Eric's excuse?

Posted by Dr. Frank at February 14, 2003 10:30 AM | TrackBack