carl william spitzer iv cwsiv_2nd at JUNO.COM
Sat Dec 1 17:22:13 MST 2001

                         October 3, 2001

          THE  voice  on my answering machine belonged to  a  re-
     spected  reporter for one of the nation's  glossiest  month-
     lies.  She  was working on  an article  on the  difficulties
     some people  are having  in expressing "dissent" against the
     overwhelming  national consensus  on  the  need for a war on
     Osama bin Laden and terrorism.  I called her back.  She said
     she wanted  to  talk  to me because  I  had written a column
     about two such responses  to the Sept.  11 attacks  - one by
     Susan Sontag in The New  Yorker  and  one  by Joel Rogers in
     the  Nation.   My  words  against  them were "vituperative,"
     the reporter  said.   And views like mine were having an im-
     pact she evidently  considered worrisome.

          Didn't I know that reporters at two newspapers - one in
     Texas  and  one in Oregon - had been  fired  for  expressing
     anti-war  and  anti-Bush views?  And what  about  the  death
     threats  received  by  Peter Jennings,  the  ABC  anchorman,
     following  an inaccurate account of something he  had  said?
     Seems  like  it's getting dangerous to  express  a  contrary
     opinion  - didn't I think?  Now that's what I call  balanced
     questioning.  Any time somebody tells you there's no liberal
     bias  in the media, make sure they speak to  a  conservative
     who's  been  interviewed by a journalist  for  a  mainstream
     publication.   The  scorn  and hostility  in  the  questions
     themselves are patent, and all the more striking because the
     questioners  are usually entirely unaware of the  bias  they
     are  expressing  with every breath.  My  main  objection  to
     Sontag's  screed  was her comparison between  the  unity  of
     America's  politicians  in  the wake of  the  worst  foreign
     attack on American soil since the War of 1812 and the  unity
     expressed  by Soviet officials in the darkest days  of  that
     totalitarian  empire.  Sontag's view was "hateful,"  I  told
     the reporter.  She recoiled at the word.  Wasn't an  opinion
     like mine going to produce a "chilling effect" that  stifled
     opposing  views?   I said I sure hoped so.  I  am  concerned
     that Sontag's view of the United States will prevail,  which
     would be very harmful to the

          United States.  This is an argument I want to win,  and
     I want her to lose.  If, by subjecting her freely  expressed
     views to an equally free expression of outrage, I might play
     a  role  in making the further  expression  of  Sontag-style
     beliefs  less acceptable in elite circles, I will have  done
     my job.  The right to express views, which is a glory of the
     United States, does not shield anyone from the  consequences
     of  doing so.  Those consequences include being attacked  by
     other writers - and even being fired by a boss who is embar-
     rassed by what you've said or worried that what you've  said
     might cost him advertisers and readers.  That's part of  the
     free  market in ideas.  Now, death threats are not  part  of
     that currency, certainly.  They are illegal - they represent
     the limit of free speech.  The comparison of an angry  arti-
     cle taking issue with Susan Sontag's spurious and defamatory
     views of the United States to illegal death threats on Peter
     Jennings  is itself an effort to introduce a  "chilling  ef-
     fect"  on public debate.  It suggests there's no  difference
     between  taking someone to task for what he says and  threa-
     tening  his life.  Note, please, that the reporter  and  her
     magazine aren't doing an article on the outrageous and anti-
     patriotic things that are being said by the "dissenters."

          They  might have conceived a piece on how  lefty  anti-
     Americanism is now pass.  But they didn't.  The subject they
     did  choose  indicates the hunger on the part  of  Manhattan
     glitterati to find a way out of the "superpatriotism" of the
     moment  (the word was the reporter's).  The  cognitive  dis-
     sonance  is too great, what with all the flags and the  "God
     Bless  Americas"  and  everything else they  would  tend  to
     consider  Babbity and provincial.  Like everybody else,  the
     Conde  Nasties want the world back the way it was  on  Sept.
     11  - when they were sure George W.  Bush was  a  blithering
     idiot and Susan Sontag was a giant.

          Everything's  upside down, in their view.   And  rather
     than experience their new consciousness as a rare moment  of
     clarity,  they  yearn for the muddled tunnel vision  of  the
     recent  past.  Sad.  But predictable.  After all, vanity  is
     never fair.  E-mail: podhoretz at un

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