July 18, 2003

The Myths of Eric Alterman

In the ideological chaos of MSNBC Eric Alterman is a kind of house liberal. Alterman's made a name and a game for himself by asserting, among many other myths of our age, that 'there is no liberal bias in the media.'

Sensible people of all stations and positions scoff at this, but there is a certain hard core of people in the media with a strong liberal bias who need to hear on a regular basis that they don't exist. Alterman is the Fool in the Liberal court. He has claimed the cap and bells and no one else may wear them.

Like many men who become good at fooling themselves about one thing, Alterman has now managed to fool himself about another. Just as there is no liberal media in the Alterverse, so is there no anti-semitism in France that is not caused by Israel. And what there is doesn't really matter very much. It makes me wonder if Alterman was paying attention during his previous life as an American Jew.

When this new Alterman view surfaced a few days ago in his oh-so-provocatively titled MSNBC blog "Altercation" (Get it?), it proved to be a bit too much for his readers and for a few of the more heavily-armed bloggers. The phrase that stuck was Eric's blithe assignment of the hate-crimes that have been rising in France to the existence of Israel. The real French had nothing to do with it. He didn't see it as a group of Islamic and French anti-Semites beating and bombing and otherwise terrorizing French Jews, but as just an unfortunate series of incidents that could be cleared up at once if only Israel would do the right thing and commit suicide.

The exchange to date is nicely encapsulated in Roger Simon's ALTERMAN ALTERCATION! in which Simon writes:

Michael J. Totten and Jeff Jarvis -- two card-carrying members of the smart squad -- are taking Eric Alterman to the woodshed for making what Jarvis calls "the moral mistake of the age: trying to rationalize hate crimes" (in this case the anti-Semitic attacks in France).

I don't read Alterman often, because he's... to be kind... not exactly a Hitchens when it comes to prose style, but the brouhaha sent me over there. Unfortunately, this confirmed my opinion. His responses to his critics (go read them if you have a lot of time on your hands) are so cliche-ridden and off target I wonder if he even believes them himself.

With Totten, Jarvis and Simon weighing in, there's not much I can do to hasten the funeral.

But the last question of Simon's set me thinking about what little I know of Alterman and his ilk from observing them over the years when I lived and worked among them in New York City.

Alterman is a type you come across often in the New York Media World - the 'pleasing ideologue.' He doesn't please everyone, he doesn't have to. He merely has to locate a patron in some postion of power who has friends in other positions of power, and please that single person. If that person is pleased than so are the others, and that's how media careers are born. Indeed, that's how many different careers are born, but we just don't have to read about them or witness them on a semi-regular basis.

With Alterman, because he has made himself as much a fixture in New York media as a faucet, is someone who will be irritating us for a long time to come. He has no shame and he won't go away because, frankly, where would he go? As such he's all too typical of the shallow pool of pundits flipping handsprings in the New York media circus.

Simon writes: "I wonder if he even believes [his opinions] himself."

My take is, and I mean this precisely, that Alterman can no longer afford not to believe them himself.

Over the past few years he's sort of stumbled into his own niche in the media ecology - the man who, when speaking of bias in the media, says "Who are you going to believe? Me or your lying eyes?"

He's become very, very good at this and many things have flowed from it, not the least of which is a steady stream of income that is larger than it was before, the sort of reptile fame that comes from being a professional denier, and no shortage of dinner party invitations from the east and west sides of town that enhance his stature and improve his prospects.

We are creatures driven by money and status or at the very least we feel their lure. Once gotten they are hard to give up and the lack of them makes them harder to resist.

Alterman discovered that there was a large built in audience for his schtick; a deep need for someone who would insist that "liberal" was "objective" until the last ding-dong of doom. He has been rewarded for it. Not richly, but enough to keep him in the game. Should he cease to play his single hit at every concert he'll risk sliding back into obscurity. Nobody likes to give up their perch even when it is covered in slime and crusted droppings as long as the feeders keep the snacks coming.

So he can't give it up and yet, who can live easily with a lie? Few. The solution is to take the lie and, in the small dark laboratory of the soul, transform it into the truth. And then believe in it regardless of all the evidence to the contrary. So he has become the most tedious of all scribes and screeders, the True Believer.

It doesn't matter that what Alterman believes is false when what he believes puts food on the table and invitations in the email box. Those things tell him that it is true.

He's not the only True Believer on the left or on the right, but he's a shining example of the con man who has finally bought what he sells.

Posted by Vanderleun at July 18, 2003 10:31 PM
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