Letters from our readers.
July 20 1997 3:30 AM

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Quoth the Maven

Apropos of free speech and responsible journalism, what do we say about journalists quoting people without checking to see if the quotation is accurate? Neither Jacob Weisberg, in "The Conintern," nor David Brock in the "Dialogue" on right-wing journalism, checked to see if I tried to intimidate Tucker Carlson or prevent him from criticizing Grover Norquist, although they both condemned me for it. Had I said it, I would have condemned myself, but I didn't say it. I had a conversation with Carlson before his article was published (I offered to help, he asked questions and I answered them). I said some positive things about Grover and some critical things, but I certainly didn't suggest a "line" that Tucker should follow.

When the nasty remarks from Weisberg and Brock surfaced here, I was concerned that Tucker might have misunderstood something I said and taken it as an attempt to intimidate him, so I checked it with him, just to make sure my failing memory isn't even worse than I think it is. He remembers it as I do.

For the record, the one journalist who did have the professionalism to check was Howard Kurtz.


--Michael A. Ledeen American Enterprise InstituteWashington

Jacob Weisberg replies: Tucker Carlson tells me he most definitely does not remember the conversation as Michael Ledeen does. Carlson says he has contemporaneous typed notes of the conversation, and that Ledeen used exactly the words Carlson attributed to him.

The Revolution Will Not Be Criticized

Slate is, of course, quite correct in Franklin Foer's "But Is It Art Criticism?" description of "the Stalinist aesthetics of the Weekly Standard." How often have I, the author of nearly 20 literary reviews for the Standard, cursed as the jackbooted minions of editors Kristol, Podhoretz, and Barnes pounded on my door in the dead of night, delivering the latest Politburo ukase on the proper interpretation of 20th-century literature.


But though I may grumble under my breath, I know my duty to the Revolution. Once, indeed, on the occasion of my appointment as a contributing editor for literary matters, I was taken, blindfolded, to John Podhoretz's secret dacha, where the Great Leader sits at a plain pine table smoking American cigarettes and planning the glorious overthrow of the reactionaries at the New Republic and New York Review of Books.

"Comrade," he said to me, "our Five Year Plan for the People's Aesthetics proceeds on schedule. We have reclaimed as revolutionary heroes George Orwell and Lionel Trilling. We have exposed the counterrevolutionary machinations of Richard Ford and Amy Tan. But still Wendy Wasserstein eludes us. The Revolution can never be secure until all know her crimes."

"Yes, Comrade Leader," I replied, and every writer for the Standard has since devoted every waking hour to this glorious task. Your June 28 report on our success is gratefully received.

--J. BottumFirst Things New York City


Standard Deviation

The Weekly Standard is Stalinist for preferring a conservative view of the world in Franklin Foer's "But Is It Art Criticism?" The Republicans are the Comintern for trying to have some party discipline in Jacob Weisberg's "The Conintern."

First, as Orwell first discussed, such use makes the terms meaningless. If the Weekly Standard is Stalinist, then what word is used for describing the government of the Soviet Union during the 1930s?

Second, it shows a shrill desperation on the part of some reviewers. One could say that the Weekly Standard is narrow-minded, or parochial, or old-fashioned, or many other things. (I myself find their reviews helpful, if a tad predictable.) To call it "Stalinist" is simply to smear it, and to smear a whole school of thought. The Republicans may be the Stupid Party, but surely every organization is entitled to seek certain goals and to expect its members to pursue those goals.


Third, the conservatives and anti-Communist liberals of the '30s--and the '40s and '50s--were indeed combating real, literal Stalinists. The anti-Communists were indeed in a struggle with the Comintern.

To blur those distinctions is to distort history far more than a mildly conservative magazine, or a lukewarm "conservative" party, is likely to do. It also lowers the standards of literacy and fairness and open-mindedness Slate seems to aspire to.

--James E. TynenPittsburgh


Seth Stevenson's excellent "Apologies" covered most of the big ones, from Tyson to the aborigines.

I am disappointed that he missed perhaps the granddaddy of them all, one that once again broke into the front pages this last week. I refer to the apology that the human race owes the Neanderthals, whom we apparently wiped the European floor with around 100,000 years ago.

--Arkie KoehlSan Francisco

Children of the Horn

I don't normally do this sort of thing, but I am concerned by your summary, in David Plotz's "In Other Magazines," of my U.S. News piece on attachment disorder. To characterize it as being about "[o]utwardly normal" children who are "anti-social monsters" is to miss a central question raised by the piece, which is whether adopted children are diagnosed with attachment disorder indiscriminately by people who often don't know what they're doing. It is to further miss the concern that the language these therapists use (and you borrow) is dangerously extreme.

--Miriam HornU.S. News & World Report New York City

Land of the (Sluggishly) Rising Sun

Jodie T. Allen's "NAFTA Math" is right on, except when she remarks that Japan "continues to enjoy" much higher growth than the United States. Japanese growth was considerably below that of the United States in 1993-94, and about the same in 1995. It's true that Japan grew faster last year as it emerged from recession, but in 1997 it looks as if the United States will again post faster growth.

Japan's tendency to poor-mouth its economy isn't entirely a plot to divert attention from its trade surplus--there's actually an element of truth to it.

--Peter LandersFar Eastern Economic ReviewTokyo

We Hold These Truths

John Patrick Diggins is living in a world of phantoms when he uses the myth of Lincoln as a hammer to smash the myth of Thomas Jefferson's record on individual liberty and civil rights in "Nothing to Declare," his review of Pauline Maier's American Scripture.

By now we all know that Jefferson was a slaveholder, and that he protected slavery as an institution in order to include the South in the revolution against England and the formation of the United States. We also know that he viewed blacks as inherently inferior to whites, and advocated their return to Africa. To call these views racist is fair enough in our day and age, but it hardly takes into account the liberal moderation by which Jefferson would have been judged on these issues in his own time. To actually see blacks as one's literal equal was one of the rarest of virtues in his time. I don't know of many, or perhaps any, whites who advocated such a view. Perhaps Sally Hemings was as close as Jefferson dared to come on this issue.

Diggins forgets, in his discompassionate and deluded rewriting of history, that Lincoln was no NAACP poster boy himself. He publicly declared on many occasions that blacks would never be the functional equals of whites in intelligence, ability, creativity, or social and economic skill, but that they must nevertheless be given their freedom and some basic legal rights. He was never an advocate of integration of the races, and felt that they would always be separate and unequal as a matter of society. He also at times sympathized with the notion of American blacks returning to Africa. So how, exactly, does Diggins find Lincoln to be such a sterling moral example, fit to shame Jefferson?

Jefferson made a huge leap forward in human and civil rights merely by so powerfully advocating them as a legal basis for political agreements between men. It was a huge step forward, but neither perfect in conception or in deed, as the preservation of slavery proves. Lincoln's accomplishment was another huge step forward, but likewise imperfect. He freed the slaves, but had no intention of making them equal. Yet the direction of both men is clear and unmistakable, and was brought to an even higher plane of vision and deed by Martin Luther King Jr. and many others in the modern civil rights movement. To condemn Jefferson for his failings, you must also condemn Lincoln, but to condemn both is to throw out the progressive historic tradition by which the present civil rights movement gains its legitimacy. How will we be judged in 100 or 200 years, when I would hope our ideals and deeds have advanced beyond their present poor state? I would hope more compassionately and with greater understanding of the unique fabric of our times, and the humility to appreciate the giant steps made by those in the past, than such liberal mythologists as Diggins.

--Conrad GoehausenSan Rafael, Calif.

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