Derb-land After John Derbyshire

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
April 9 2012 2:02 PM

Derb-land After John Derbyshire

[I'm on vacation for a couple of days, but poking my head into the blog when the news cycle demands it.]

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel, a former Slate politics reporter, is a reporter for Bloomberg Politics

On Saturday, National Review "parted ways" with columnist and author John Derbyshire. The move was presaged when the magazine's editors started hemming and hawing about whether "Derb" could continue. Jonah Goldberg, Ramesh Ponnuru, and Rich Lowry all took to the web to announce -- as if there was doubt -- that they didn't sign on with Derbyshire's out-and-proud racism.

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What will happen to the magazine? Interesting, loaded question, but I'd guess that a firing over a holiday weekend was a good way to triage and move on. What will happen to Derb? I see that VDare.com, run by the far more eccentric Peter Brimelow, is now trying to raise money off of a columnist's martyrdom. Brimelow cites my friend and old colleague Spencer Ackerman's old JournoList email about how liberals might respond to the 2008 Jeremiah Wright blow-up.

One Spencer Ackerman, then of the Washington Independent and now with Wired, urged his fellows to distract attention from the embarrassing issue of radical Rev. Jeremiah White’s links with Obama (a story broken by Steve Sailer on VDARE.com) by randomly picking conservatives—
"Fred Barnes, Karl Rove, who cares—and call them racists. Ask: why do they have such a deep-seated problem with a black politician who unites the country?"
Ackerman added:
“What is necessary is to raise the cost on the right of going after the left. In other words, find a rightwinger’s [sic] and smash it through a plate-glass window. Take a snapshot of the bleeding mess and send it out in a Christmas card to let the right know that it needs to live in a state of constant fear.”
This is a fair description of what has been happening in American public debate over the last four years. John Derbyshire is merely the latest victim.

No it isn't, and no, he isn't. I wasn't on JournoList at the time, and while Ackerman's post was indefensible* if taken literally, it 1) wasn't taken literally and 2) wasn't meant to be. It was an in-joke about an interview (someone else's, not Ackerman's) with Ledeen that had gone poorly. And nobody ever took the advice. The Wright story petered out when Barack Obama gave his "race speech" and the video trail of Trinity United sermons dried up. There was no wave of metaphorical face-smashing of random conservatives.

Why does it matter? Because Brimelow is blaming liberals and liberal opinion for the Derbyshire ouster. Liberals piled on, sure, but it was the conservative economist Josh Barro who wrote the first "Fire Derb" column, it was RedState's Leon Wolf who pointed out that Derbyshire previously self-identified as a "racist," and it was NR's own editors who decided he was "effectively using our name to get more oxygen for views with which we’d never associate ourselves otherwise." It was useful for VDare to come to get attention from somebody with simpatico views but more mainstream cred. Now, VDare won't have that. It's not any liberals' fault. Blame should be directed at the guy who wrote the column.

Without betraying confidences, I hope that John Derbyshire will resume writing for us—he was prevented from doing so by NR’s current degenerate (and fearful) management.

This is news to me. Derbyshire was not prevented from writing for Taki's Magazine. VDare -- the content of which is currently a little tough to access, because every link takes you to the splash page of Brimelow and his ethnically-correct daughter -- is a far rawer site, loaded with news about illegal immigrants killing people and non-whites lacking some of the native intelligence of whites.

David Weigel, a former Slate politics reporter, is a reporter for Bloomberg Politics

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