Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Thermite At A Funeral

Ta-Nehisi Coates comes not to praise The New Republic, but to bury it under big neon signs pointing to evidence that it was a festering canker of “liberal” racist drivel. He gives the publication and its more famous staff no less than they deserve.

That explains why the family rows at TNR’s virtual funeral look like the “Whites Only” section of a Jim Crow-era movie-house. For most its modern history, TNR has been an entirely white publication, which published stories confirming white people’s worst instincts. During the culture wars of the ’80s and ’90s, TNR regarded black people with an attitude ranging from removed disregard to blatant bigotry. When people discuss TNR’s racism, Andrew Sullivan’s publication of excerpts from Charles Murray’s book The Bell Curve (and a series of dissents) gets the most attention. But this fuels the lie that one infamous issue stands apart. In fact, the Bell Curve episode is remarkable for how well it fits with the rest of TNR’s history. 
The personal attitude of TNR’s longtime owner, the bigoted Martin Peretz, should be mentioned here. Peretz’s dossier of racist hits (mostly at the expense of blacks and Arabs) is shameful, and one does not have to look hard to find evidence of it in Peretz’s writing or in the sensibility of the magazine during his ownership. In 1984, long before Sullivan was tapped to helm TNR, Charles Murray was dubbing affirmative action a form of “new racism” that targeted white people. 
Two years later, Washington Post writer Richard Cohen was roundly rebuked for advocating that D.C. jewelry stores discriminate against young black men—but not by TNR. The magazine took the opportunity to convene a panel to “reflect briefly” on whether it was moral for merchants to bar black men from their stores. (“Expecting a jewelry store owner to risk his life in the service of color-blind justice is expecting too much,” the magazine concluded.) 
TNR made a habit of “reflecting briefly” on matters that were life and death to black people but were mostly abstract thought experiments to the magazine’s editors. Before, during, and after Sullivan’s tenure, the magazine seemed to believe that the kind of racism that mattered most was best evidenced in the evils of Afrocentrism, the excesses of multiculturalism, and the machinations of Jesse Jackson. It’s true that TNR’s staff roundly objected to excerpting The Bell Curve, but I was never quite sure why. Sullivan was simply exposing the dark premise that lay beneath much of the magazine’s coverage of America’s ancient dilemma.

And Coates continues with his vicious slashing, like a literary velociraptor let loose in a sheep pasture, the whole article is breathtaking. Was everybody at the magazine complicit in this? No, but that’s irrelevant, frankly. As far as I’m concerned, Chris Hughes’s massive techbro hubris actually did the world a favor for once, and mortally wounded something that should have been taken out back and shot years ago. And Sully, Marty Peretz, Charles Murray, Stephen Glass, all those guys can go straight to the septic tank of history as far as I’m concerned along with their damn “liberal” New Republic.

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