Posted tagged ‘Moral failure’

Why We Don’t Have A Better Press Corps: Howie Kurtz, Helen Thomas, and Marty Peretz edition

September 21, 2010

I’m preparing a belated longer post on Marty Peretz latest self revelation as a man no civil society should acknowledge.

But for now, I just want to post w/out much comment the last graf from today’s Guardian article on objections emerging at Harvard to the notion of accepting the donatino that would create an academic chair named in Peretz’s honor. Chris McGreal, a Guardian Washington correspondent asked the correct question:  given the storm that blew away Helen Thomas’s career over her nasty and foolish comment about Jews going home to Germany and Poland, why wasn’t the American media roasting Peretz for his much more grotesque claims — as in his statement that “Muslim life is cheap, most notably to other Muslims,” and that “this is a statement of fact and not value.”

That question is, of course even more pointed when you realize, as Ta-Nehisi Coates points out, that Peretz is vicious and broad sprectrum bigot who has been spewing this crap for decades.  Most important from my point of view, is that he has been doing so from his position as owner of an influential opinion magazine, which means that Peretz’s contemptible behavior has significant potential impact on real people’s lives.  Again, see TNC for a taste of the kind of journalism Peretz presided over, and its implications for actual human experience.*

So why not?  Let’s turn to the man who may well be the top arbiter of the Fifth Estate’s behavior within the inner circle of Washington Village media.  Here’s The Guardian’s reporting on Mr. Howard (“he playing dead”) Kurtz’s reaction to Peretz’s outbursts:

Howard Kurtz, the media editor of the Washington Post, was among those journalists critical of Thomas, suggesting that she should “go home” to Lebanon and that she is a heroine to Hezbollah. Asked why the mainstream media has largely ignored Peretz’s views over the years, Kurtz replied: “I’m afraid I just haven’t focused on the subject.”

Graham Greene in Our Man in Havana caught the essence of what’s going on here in a passing conversation between Jim Wormwold — a vacuum-cleaner salesman pretending ineptly to be a spy — and Captain Segura, the Cuban policeman who suspects him of potentially fatal fecklessness.  Late one evening, Segura educates Wormwold on the ways of the real world:  there are those who are members of the tortureable class — Greene had a gift for the diamond-cut phrase — and those who aren’t.

Peretz is such an untouchable, and he trades on his membership in the in group which protects even its brutes, the non-torturable elites for whom actual damage is always someone else’s problem.  Kurtz’s studied and careful assertion of meticulously nurtured ignorance is just how its done:  get used to it, folks.  TheVillage protects its own.

Peretz is beyond shame at this point in his life, I feel pretty sure, though I still believe that the proper response of anyone or institution that wishes to be thought civilized is to shame and shun him.

But I’m a fool and I still hold out hope against all evidence that a media that once aspired to”comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable might yet find a way to express outrage at the thought of justifying the murder of innocents. (If that seems strong, ask yourself what “Muslim life is cheap” actually means.)

I should know better by now.

Which is why Mr. Kurtz cannot bring Marty Peretz into sharp focus.  And that is all ye need to know about why our democracy is in such trouble.

To channel Brad Deling (sic…! heh.) Why, oh why can’t we have…hell just a clear eyed press corps.

*All of which is to say, no sympathy here for notions that, as Sullivan has argued, we should give Peretz a pass for his contemptible and cowardly attempts to relegate 1.5 billion people to the role of the expendable other, just because he published some of his favorite Harvard students writing “edgy” stuff, nor for Jack Shafer’s “that’s just Marty being Marty” apologetic.  Jack argues that if we choose to contemn Peretz for his, in essence, incitements to violence now and over a decades-long career, “let’s make ourselves uncomfortable by also acknowledging his contribution to journalism and thought.”

When your contributions to journalism includes the trifecta of a completely fabricated attack on black New Yorkers in the notorious Glass taxi piece, (see TNC above); the credulous and quantitatively illiterate pimping of the attack on people of African descent the world round represented by The Bell Curve, and the actually deadly destructive coverage of the Clinton health care reform, I’m afraid I can’t feel uncomfortable at the thought that public discourse and America itself would have been better off if Marty Peretz had not completed his one true success in life:  marrying enough money to indulge his vainglorious proprietorship of TNR.

Image: Hieronymous Bosch, “Table of the Mortal Sins (Hell),” 1500-1525.

Pope Blames Atheism For Holocaust

September 16, 2010

Really.  He did, right up there on his hind legs in front of the Queen and England and all.

Here’s the Guardian’s excerpt of the relevant remarks:

“Even in our own lifetime, we can recall how Britain and her leaders stood against a Nazi tyranny that wished to eradicate God from society and denied our common humanity to many, especially the Jews, who were thought unfit to live,” he said.

“I also recall the regime’s attitude to Christian pastors and religious people who spoke the truth in love, opposed the Nazis and paid for that opposition with their lives.

“As we reflect on the sobering lessons of the atheist extremism of the 20th century, let us never forget how the exclusion of God, religion and virtue from public life leads ultimately to a truncated vision of man and of society …”

I’ll still attempt to be slightly cagey about my own place in the unbeliever-believer-crazed religious fanatic spectrum (remember, I said “slightly”), but as I sit here near the end of the Days of Awe, reflecting on who among my friends, colleagues and acquaintences I need to ask forgiveness for what acts committed over the last year, and thinking about what I wish to think about tomorrow at the beginning of the Day of Atonement, I can be clear about this:

For this Pope — anyone, really, but especially this ex-Hitler youth Pope — to tell me or anyone that the problem of evil can be explained away by blaming those who do not believe, is an abomination.

That’s high-falutin.  Let me try again in more simple language.

Asserting that the Holocaust is in essence the punishment unbelievers bring on the world is a variation on the blame-the-victim strand in writing on this evil.

Ben Zion-Gold, the rabbi who married my wife and me, is a Holocaust survivor.  He lost his entire family in the camps.  He has spoken about the viciousness of this line of explanation, and of the destructiveness of it to any claim for the value of revealed religion.  No god worth believing in can be imagined to use the faithful instrumentally, as lives that must on occasion be snuffed out, no matter what their individual worth, to serve the greater good.

Bluntly, I’d say Christian Europe has a great deal of introspection yet too do on the entanglement between religious commitment and the Holocaust (and much else besides.)

The Pope is correct that a few priests and other ministers resisted Nazi demands.  He omits other, less convenient facts. And in the end, the point remains:  it wasn’t atheists that set the Holocaust in motion, nor atheists who devastated Rwanda, nor pagans who massacred my own country’s native Americans, nor … you get the idea.

It was Germans, it was Rwandans, it was devout colonial Protestants (first, in my home area of Massachusetts) and so on.  Individual agents, many of them by their own lights wholly religious people, have over history committed crime after crime after crime.

If you want to say that the intellectual context in which they lived mattered to their crimes, if the ideas that animated them helped drive their actions, well and good.  But then a measure, just a tithe, even, of intellectual honesty would note the Christian strains in the context of so many mass killings, including the Holocaust.

Please note, in this argument, I am explicitly not doing what Pope Benedict has done:  it was not aggressive Christianity that caused the Holocaust, any more than did “extremist atheists” (whatever that vacuous phrase might mean).

Hitler and his circle set it in motion, thousands of Germans, many of them Christians, some of them not, and many more allies and collaborators, executed it, and millions across Europe passively enabled it — and unless we confront the specifics of how each of those levels of engagement emerged, operated, and convinced itself of the tolerability of the actions involved, then we are left undefended against any repetition.

In that context, Pope Benedict’s vicious nonsense on this matter only deepens that vulnerability.  (I.e., rooting out “atheism” is not, IMHO, going to reduce the risk of the next genocide.  It is far more likely to be the occasion for it.)

Enough.  To put it as plainly as I can:

When the Pope tries to use the sufferings and death of millions (of Jews!) to advance his claims of Christian truth, then he is himself committing an act of moral viciousness.

The Jews of Europe, and the gay men and women, the gypsies, the Slavs and all the rest murdered by the Nazis did not die so that Joseph Ratzinger could try to shift the focus of moral attention from what actually happened — including the entanglement of religious believers in the Nazi program — to what he wishes we would believe happened.

Instrumentality again: those deaths, no one’s death, should be morally available as an means to advance some other program.

Joseph Ratzinger should be ashamed of himself.