February 13, 2003

Several readers have emailed to

Several readers have emailed to let me know that Eric Alterman, to their own evident amusement, agrees with my view of Michael Kelly's warped presentation of Paul Berman's Joschka Fischer. "Say it ain't so..." "There must be some mistake..."

No mistake. Alterman writes that Kelly:

takes Paul BermanŐs brilliant 25,000-word-essay-that-should-be-a-book about German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer and shamelessly manipulates it into implying exactly the opposite of BermanŐs nuanced and complex article.

I'm not about to endorse Alterman's evident personal vendetta against Kelly. And shamelessness in op-ed page polemics isn't exactly in short supply these days. Nonetheless, this is quite right. So is this:
the Berman piece is one of the single greatest works of journalism to appear anywhere in the past decade. Offhand, I canŐt think of a better one. Set aside some time to read it if the topic even remotely interests you.

I second that emotion. Yet the way Alterman frames his post illustrates precisely why many find his writing so irritating, even when they might agree with any points he makes.

"Speaking of blinkered editors," writes Alterman, "Michael Kelly, who managed to outdo Andy [Sullivan] as TNR's worst editor ever, is now competing for the hard-to-win title of worst Washington Post columnist ever."

Do people go through life maintaining a carefully-updated little list of All Time Worst Ever Editors of the New Republic or keep a running scorecard on the stiff competition for Absolute Most Definitely Worst WaPo Columnist in the Entire History of the Whole World?

People do.

Or rather, Alterman does. By casting his valid criticism of a slanted editorial as yet another of his snarky attacks on fellow pundits, he undercuts his own point. The "Fischer Affair" itself has been lost in the fog of inter-journo sniping, which I'd wager only a tiny fraction of his readers is even remotely interested in. "If you're like me, and you hate Michael Kelly and Andrew Sullivan, you'll probably want to read the Single Greatest Work of Journalism to Appear Anywhere." Compelling stuff. I know he sees himself as a scrappy attack dog, mixin' it up with the best of them. Sic 'em, Eric. But for a professional writer, this seems to me to reflect astonishingly poor communications skills.

Posted by Dr. Frank at February 13, 2003 02:55 PM | TrackBack