Tuesday, September 02, 2008

The Atlantic Becomes a Laughingstock--Updated--Again, and Bumped--with Final Convention Post

Note: I'm just going to keep updating this thread, so keep checking back.

Double Note: I'm moving what was the final post up to the top, as it seems to be more useful as an into to this discussion, rather than a footer. Here it is:

Final Update of Convention Week: Believe me, I'm more relieved about that than you are. A friend sends along an email with this link and the subject header "Why David Bradley Doesn't Care." I'll spare you the click: It's Sullivan informing readers that his site has gotten 2 million views over the last two days.

So perhaps I should make a little more explicit why I've been so worked up about this whole thing.

I have no particular aversion to the smearing of political figures; or rather, no aversion greater than that of the average reasonable person. I find it ugly and distasteful, but I realize that it's part of the rough and tumble of politics. It has always happened. It will continue to happen. That's why you'll note that I haven't written a single word about what sites such as Daily Kos, Democrats.com, or Democratic Underground have said about her.

And I hold no particular brief for Sarah Palin, per se. As I've written elsewhere, there are reasonable criticisms of her both as a governor and as a vice presidential candidate. I don't think anything I've written about her would count as boosterism. (Although I do make the case that she was the best strategic pick available to McCain, as an analytical matter.)

What's caught my attention here, then is The Atlantic. I am, and always have been, an enormous booster for the Old Media, and smarty-pants general-interest magazines in particular. What's so notable in this whole affair isn't the tarring of Palin but the fact that The Atlantic Monthly is the vehicle for the irresponsible spreading of smears about Palin and speculation so inane that it can't be counted, by any reasonable measure, as analysis. (Here, I'm thinking of Sullivan's claim that he thought it possible both Palin and McCain would relinquish their nominations.)

If Andrew Sullivan were to have written everything he wrote this week at his own website, I wouldn't have said a word about it. The real scandal here isn't Sullivan: It's what The Atlantic has become by publishing him.

As for Sullivan's page views, I sincerely hope that David Bradley isn't making his editorial decisions based solely on eyeballs and dollars. Were that so, you could simply give The Atlantic's pages over to Perez Hilton or Slashdot or Matt Drudge or any other number of content formats. But the point of The Atlantic, like other great journals, is to be something different--to be a stage in the world of ideas, even if it's not the most profitable thing.

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.

Now back to the original thread.

After demanding that he be allowed to inspect Trig Palin's placenta all day yesterday, Andrew Sullivan is now suggesting that he thinks John McCain might withdraw from the election.

Yes, that's right. There's some serious political analysis from one of the nation's most prestigious general interest magazines.

I wonder what the other folks on the masthead think about having their credibility linked with Sullivan's.

Update 1: National Review, another of America's venerable journals, tries to save The Atlantic from Sullivan:

Once a respectable journalist, The Atlantic’s self-declared champion of respect for privacy and of civil discourse now obsesses over Miss Palin, airing baseless and abhorrent questions about the motherhood of Trig, Gov. Palin’s infant son, born this year with Down syndrome. One wonders if David Bradley bought The Atlantic — a venerable institution that once published Mark Twain and Martin Luther King — so that he could associate it with the most despicable ravings of the left-wing blogosphere. What price in reputation is Bradley willing to pay for increased unique-visitor numbers from among the fever swamps?

Sullivan has become a media story in himself. Howard Kurtz and Jim Romenesko should be taking note. There's dissension in the ranks at The Atlantic. Surely this is worth a reporter's call to David Bradley to ask if he stands by Sullivan?

Update 2: Ross Douthat courageously breaks into open warfare against Sullivan:

I think the coverage of Sarah Palin to date - by colleagues I used to respect and publications I normally admire - at least partially vindicates this theory about the reception that would greet the kind of GOP I'd like to see.

Other Atlantic colleagues seem close to doing the same. As I said above, Sullivan's coverage of Palin is becoming a media story in itself. Someone--Jack Shafer, Howard Kurtz, E&P, the NY Observer--should start poking around The Atlantic to see if Sullivan's tenure is sustainable.

Update 3: A friend writes in to ask whether or not the Sullivan taint really does spread to the magazine, since he is, after all, just a blogger. I'd argue that having "The Atlantic" in giant letters at the top of every one of his posts is pretty damaging to the brand. But then there's also this:

Sullivan's reaction to Palin puts his gushing cover story on Obama in an entirely new light. Or perhaps it's the other way around. Neither view is good for The Atlantic.

Update 4: Sullivan continues to demand to know the "details" of Trig's birth. And now he has new justification: Because Trig was present at the convention. Here he his, mere moments into Palin's speech:

Brandishing a Down Syndrome child as a campaign statement is daring the press to ask questions about him. And if you are going to hold the baby in front of the cameras, how can you say that the details of his birth cannot even be discussed?

Yes, we're now six days after Palin's announcement and Sullivan is still insinuating that Trig Palin is not Sarah Palin's child on the web-pages of The Atlantic Monthly.

Update 5: Ace of Spades finds another bit of Trig Palin obsessing from Sullivan. He also gets that Sullivan is single-handedly destroying the reputation of The Atlantic.

Update 6: Now Sullivan responds to Ross Douthat, meaning we have an open, ongoing conflict between writers at The Atlantic.

Update 7: Reason takes note.


tom said...

1. Three of the Atlantic bloggers have complained about it: Douthat, McCardle and Goldberg.

Neither McCardle nor Goldberg mentions Sullivan by name. But both are talking about him, among others. And a Goldberg post earlier in the day was lovingly titled "Andrew and the Jew Baiters".

McCardle: http://meganmcardle.theatlantic.com/archives/2008/09/sarah_palin_the_importance_of.php#comments

Goldberg: http://jeffreygoldberg.theatlantic.com/archives/2008/09/i_know_this_isnt_as_important.php

2. I'd love to see an article contrasting how Dem-leaning bloggers and columnists like Sullivan treated the Edwards nomination in 2004 and his run in 2008 versus how they are discussing Palin. I know people have been comparing her to him over the past few days, but I expect that the words of the Dem-leaners on Edwards would be very funny.

3. Of course, that doesn't cover the real problem with Palin. As McCain has said in the past, a VP is someone who should be somewhat ready from day 1, like Gore, Lieberman, Cheney, Bush the Elder and Biden. Not like Edwards, not like Palin (not like Dean, not like Kaine, not like Obama). But nobody on the Dem side really seemed to care about that in 2004. I'm guessing that Sullivan didn't.

4. Also, remember that Kerry had just recovered from prostate cancer before the campaign started. So there was some reason to be concerned.

5. Maybe people SHOULD have looked at the Edwardses in 2004 the way they are looking at the Palins now? Would Sullivan agree with that?

Mark said...

Just wanted to say that I find your coverage of Andrew Sullivan, in all seriousness, riveting. I check back frequently to see if there are any updates - it would be nice to see if this story can (I think deservedly) take on a larger life outside this blog.

Steven Den Beste said...

Sullivan has become a "Shock Jock". It doesn't matter whether what he says is fair, or honest, or reasonable; all that matters is that it gets a rise out of someone. The goal is to be outrageous.

Mark said...

The complaints just keep on rolling in:


PG said...

Ross Douthat is as reasonable and mild a man as you will ever find in these circles. Which makes this line so devastating:

"I think the coverage of Sarah Palin to date - by colleagues I used to respect and publications I normally admire"


tom said...

Mark, per the link in your comment, Douthat mentions "colleagues I used to respect" and speaks about "hysteria, condescension and demonization". It's the first Atlantic "Voices" bitch-slap! Overdue.

Douthat and Reihan Salam were both given a push by Sullivan early on and guested for him years ago, and both have bent over backwards to address his anti-Right hysteria politely and indirectly.

And Douthat certainly chose his words carefully. He didn't say he was upset about the Palin stuff. He said he's lost respect for Sullivan, which for Douthat probably means f____ you and goodbye to all that.

Douthat did say colleagues, not just colleague, so I wonder who else he's talking about--Josh Green at the Atlantic? http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200809u/palin-eagleton

Mark said...

Used to subscribe to The Atlantic, but when I started getting those issues with Clinton and later Obama on the cover, I didn't see the point of keeping it. I mean, it wasn't doing anything The New Yorker wasn't doing, and I already have a subscription to that.

I'm starting to warm up to Mcardle and Douthat, but I don't think I'd really take the magazine all that seriously unless Sullivan was let go. Sullivan is a symbol of lousy editorial direction the magazine has taken since the death of Michael Kelly. I was surprised they kept it up as long as they did, but I suppose changes were inevitable.

Anonymous said...

This will come as a surprise to JVL, but I think Sullivan should be given the axe. And quickly.


mkl said...

I saw Andrew and Hitchens on CSPAN right after 9-11 and started reading his blog then. I still check his page but usually do alot of scrolling.

This post from last week:


implies that if you call The One a "tax and spend liberal" you're a racist hasn't gotten much attention since he's gotten gobsmacked over Palin, but it's an example of how low Sully has gotten recently.

Why does he hate women so much? There has to be a reason...

tom said...

Is this now considered bear-baiting?

Anonymous said...

Imagine if Trig hadn't been at the speech.

In this alt-universe, Bizarro Andy would have belabored the point that it is basic semiotic theory that the absence constituted a far more powerful presence, and that it was crass and manipulative to leave a poor Down's infant at the hotel in order to call attention to the child.

Honestly, there's no easier job in political commentary than being Sullivan. The copy just writes itself at this point. Give me an electoral scenario, and I can tell you how he'll spin it.

At this point, he's Eric Alterman without the civility and good manners.

PG said...

I'm really just waiting for Sullivan's "David Brock" moment when he simply comes clean and admits he never was a conservative.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Anon 11:37. There are a lot of reasons to disagree with, and even dislike, Andrew Sullivan.

But the reason not to read him is that he has become an utterly predictable and utterly banal writer.

When I read Ross Douthat, I get the sense that there is a mind that is constantly thinking. Same for McArdle--and Coates, Fallows, and all the rest.

(Except Ambinder. Anybody else think he's the most vastly overrated political reporter in D.C.?)

Sullivan, however, is a through-and-through partisan hack. Give me a political news story, and I can tell you with 99% accuracy what his reaction will be. At this point, he's Hugh Hewitt with more elegant and bitchy put-downs.

Heck of a magazine you got there, David.

WershovenistPig said...

At lunchtime today, Sullivan put up a couple of posts linking to Douthat (http://andrewsullivan.theatlantic.com/the_daily_dish/2008/09/attack-mccain.html) and McCardle (http://andrewsullivan.theatlantic.com/the_daily_dish/2008/09/trouble.html). He approves of their arguments. Perhaps Sully is keeping up appearances.

Mark said...

Was that approval? I think he is acknowledging the conflict, but while he might be signaling a tacit agreement with their tactical assessment, his blog entries tell a different story.

Anonymous said...

"Track has a Jesus tattoo on his calf, by the way."

However will the republic survive this dread Christianist menace?

PG said...

This is what passes for insightful political commentary at The Atlantic these days:

"On the larger issue, I'm sorry but she is, alas, not even close to Obama's level. Yes, I am an elitist in as much as I would like the president of the United States to be halfway educated and have more than eighteen months experience in a state of 700,000 people. Of course she can give a good speech written for her. She was a sportscaster. --Andrew Sullivan 9/5/08, responding to an email

Everyone can argue about AID dementia or testosterone injections. Those are nasty arguments that sink to his level. What is apparent, from his commentary on Hillary to Palin, is that Sullivan has some very serious issues with women. His affection for Maggie Thatcher notwithstanding (she's an asexual figure at best), Sullivan has reserved his nastiest commentary for women like Palin, Hillary, Coulter, Condi, etc..
He had issues working for Ana Marie Cox, which is why that only lasted a year.
At some point David Bradley will realize that Sullivan is nothing more than a well spoken Kos Diarist. I maybe I'm just hoping.

Anonymous said...

Ronald Reagan was a sportscaster. No doubt Sullivan will agree that it disqualifies him from the vice presidency.

Oh hell. There's no point in arguing with the guy. He long ago lost interest in honest debate. Now he's a pure, unadulterated partisan and a shameless self-promoter.

At this point, his salary should be counted as an in-kind contribution to the Obama campaign.

PG said...

Andy has lost his fatherfucking mind:

"Will the press perform its constitutional duty?"

I understand Andy is from the UK, but I figured his time in the US has given him some understanding of The Constitution. Apparently not, and now he truly has elevated "the press" to a governmental level on par with the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial branches. The Press now have A CONSTITUTIONAL DUTY.
I understand how The Atlantic might turn a blind eye to his paranoid delusions about Palin and Trig, but to ignore a fundamental misunderstanding of our constitution is really an embarrassment.
At this point I'm very disappointed in Douthat, Crook, and Mcardle for not taking a bigger stand against their colleague.
And while Reihan took a very thinly veiled shot at Andrew in a post yesterday, he followed up in the comments section to inform everyone Andrew was and is still his friend, and has earned the benefit of the doubt.

Sad Sad Sad

Anonymous said...


your final update needs to be a post by itself. it's that good.

Mark said...

I don't know if this story is quite over - it seems to have spilled over into The American Scene. I mean this with all sincerity when I say those guys are genuinely a class act. As for Sullivan, well, I think his posts speak for themselves.


Anonymous said...

While you may deplore Andrew Sullivan's "obsession" with the circumstances of Trig Palin's birth, you can't call it baseless. The description of the actions taken by Palin and her husband at the time simply defy any logical explanation, plus the fact that no one of her acquaintance was aware that she was pregnant when she announced that she was seven months along.

Now all of this may be minor details to you, and possibly none of our business. But if Palin did fake the pregnancy, it's scary to think that anyone would go to such bizarre lengths to achieve a goal, which is not protecting her daughter's reputation, but her own, as an advocate of abstinence only sex education. If she did not fake the pregnancy, her actions at the time of the birth illustrate poor judgment in the extreme. Anyone aspiring to the office of vice-president, especially number two to an elderly man in uncertain health, has simply got to be smarter than this.

Anonymous said...

Anon 4:29
You are pathetic. Can you please cite ANY EVIDENCE WHATSOEVER that Palin faked a pregnancy. This has been so thoroughly debunked that not even the Kos Kids stand by it. Sullivan, and presumably you, are the only people still touting this nonsense. Let me let you in on a little secret: keeping a pregnancy under wraps, especially when you are a public figure, is fairly commonplace. Celebrities often don't announce their pregnancies until they are 5+ months pregnant. Palin announced when she was 5 months pregnant, not 7. When you are a public figure your enemies will do anything to destroy you. Palin has lots of enemies in the Alaska establishment and announcing the pregnancy earlier may have given them ammunition. Furthermore, it is often commonplace to wait until you know the health of a baby, which most often cannot be determined until the second trimester.
You're a moron, and I suspect not a parent, so it's unlikely you would know any of this. Why don't you do yourself a favor and the world as well and just kill yourself. You take oxygen from others that are far more deserving. Your carbon footprint can be used by others more deserving, like dirt, or perhaps single-cell organisms (yes, I know dirt does not require resources, it's a joke).
I am really waiting for someone to mention this Palin nonsense to my face so I can break their jaw and snap their fibula like Steven Segal. Suck on that bitch.

jim treacher said...

I'd call for Sullivan's firing, but I want McCain/Palin to win.

Anonymous said...

Tomorrow I am going to post an online petition to ask The Atlantic to remove Sullivan's name from their Masthead. He can have his blog, but he should not keep the credibility granted as Senior Editor of The Atlantic. Hopefully we can get 100,000+ names on the petition.