May 12, 2018

GREAT MOMENTS IN GASLIGHTING. In “Kanye West and the Question of Freedom,” Andrew Sullivan writes:

I remember a different time — and it wasn’t so long ago. A friend reminded me of this bloggy exchange Ta-Nehisi and I had in 2009, on the very subject of identity politics and its claims. We clearly disagreed, deeply. But there was a civility about it, an actual generosity of spirit, that transcended the boundaries of race and background. We both come from extremely different places, countries, life experiences, loyalties. But a conversation in the same pages was still possible, writer to writer, human to human, as part of the same American idea. It was a debate in which I think we both listened to each other, in which I changed my mind a bit, and where neither of us denied each other’s good faith or human worth.

It’s only a decade ago, but it feels like aeons now. The Atlantic was crammed with ideological opposites then, jostling together in the same office, and our engagement with each other and our readerships was a crackling and productive one. There was much more of that back then, before Twitter swallowed blogging, before identity politics became completely nonnegotiable, before we degenerated into these tribal swarms of snark and loathing. I think of it now as a distant island, appearing now and then, as the waves go up and down. The riptide of tribalism can capture us all in the end, until we drown in it.

Indeed. Flashback to September of 2008, when the Atlantic ran a cover story headlined “Why War is His Answer – Inside the Mind of John McCain” by future Obama administration stenographer Jeffrey Goldberg and employed photographer Jill Greenberg who admitted:

When The Atlantic called Jill Greenberg, a committed Democrat, to shoot a portrait of John McCain for its October cover, she rubbed her hands with glee…..

After getting that shot, Greenberg asked McCain to “please come over here” for one more set-up before the 15-minute shoot was over. There, she had a beauty dish with a modeling light set up. “That’s what he thought he was being lit by,” Greenberg says. “But that wasn’t firing.”

What was firing was a strobe positioned below him, which cast the horror movie shadows across his face and on the wall right behind him. “He had no idea he was being lit from below,” Greenberg says. And his handlers didn’t seem to notice it either. “I guess they’re not very sophisticated,” she adds.

Beyond the deliberately harshly lit cover photo, Greenberg would use one of her outtakes to Photoshop lipstick, fangs, and blood dripping from McCain’s mouth with the caption “I Am a Bloodthirsty Warmonger” above the altered shot.

Concurrently, Sullivan himself was busy, as PJM alumnnist Bryan Preston wrote, hounding Sarah Palin “to prove that her son, Trig, is in fact her son. There was and is no evidence that Trig Palin is not Sarah Palin’s son, but that never deterred our Utero-5-0 investigating agent, Andrew Sullivan. He pestered her for her medical records, speculated irresponsibly that Bristol Palin is actually Trig’s mother, and generally exposed himself as an ignorant buffoon on the subjects of women, child birth, life, the universe, and everything. (Useful summary and takedown here, written by Justin Elliott.)”

As Jonathan Last of the Weekly Standard noted at the time, “The Atlantic Becomes a Laughingstock,” with a prophetic warning:

I find the prospect of The Atlantic devolving into some version of Free Republic or Daily Kos to be immensely worrisome. Hopefully David Bradley will do something to put his house in order. Soon.

In retrospect, that was a nice little mile marker on the road to Trump. Too bad the Atlantic didn’t heed Last’s warning; the Daily Kos is very much what the Atlantic devolved into, as witnessed by their distaff columnists’ hissy fit over Goldberg’s hiring of Kevin Williamson.

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