Harvard Magazine and the Left’s Andrew Sullivan love affair

Speaking of Harvard, I just got a gander at Harvard Magazine, which has a smugly grinning Andrew Sullivan on the cover, as the exemplar of “The New Media.”  I thought the article would be about bloggers generally, but the table of contents tells me I’m wrong:  “World’s Best Blogger?” it asks.  It then explains that the article is about “Andrew Sullivan, fiscal conservative [huh?] and social liberal, navigates the changing media landscape.”  Turn to the article itself, and the caption says:  “World’s Best Blogger?  Andrew Sullivan’s views are predictable in only one way:  always stimulating.”

To give you an inkling of the level of research that goes into this type of sycophancy — sycophancy that’s mailed on a regular basis to all Harvard grads — get a load of this exchange between one reader of the article (which is on the internet) and the article’s author, Jesse Kornbluth.  First, the reader comment:

Andrew Sullivan didn’t engage in partisan speculation (or, for that matter, ascribe partisan blame) after the Tuscon shootings?? Really??

What world are you living in??

Perhaps it is the same one Sullivan is living in, there one where he still believes that Sarah Palin faked her pregnancy.

The guy is one step short of wearing tin foil on his head. If that’s your criteria for world’s best blogger, then you’ve made a very good choice. Just ask yourself this question: If Andrew Sullivan were as “relentless” in asking Barack Obama for HIS birth certificate, would you still consider him the blogger of the year?

Yeah, didn’t think so. (nor should you; but I guess it’s OK, because his utter lunacy is directed at someone you both mutually hate).

Second, Jesse Kornbluth’s polite, but utterly clueless, reply:

As the author of the piece, I could respond better to these charges if you’d cite some specifics. Namely: could you provide a link to Sullivan’s Tuscon coverage in which he points a finger at a group or person who directed the shooter? And, in regard to Governor Palin, could you provide a link to a passage in the Dish where Sullivan makes the claim that she’s not Trig’s mother? Many thanks. JK

In about one second, any doofus can summon up myriad posts Sullivan did about Palin and Trig, or can find conservative comments castigating him for his lunatic monomania.  Here are a bazillion such links.  The same holds true for Sullivan’s hysterical screeds about Tucson.  But someone who wrote an entire article about Sullivan for the glossy Harvard Magazine was not only unable to find evidence of his quixotic little obsessions in the first place, but also was either unable to do so (or couldn’t be bothered to do so) in the second instance, when someone brought those facts to his attention.  You’d think that a Harvard grad (Class of ’68) could do better than that.

Andrew Sullivan is a bright guy.  He’s also one of the people I credit with helping me cross the Rubicon from political Left to political Right.  I was a New Republic subscriber for years.  When he took over as editor, his editorials were so ludicrous and hysterical, I started getting jaundiced with the magazine and ended up being open to new influences.  (Same holds true for Paul Krugman, whose anti-Bush hysteria leeched out any credibility from his writings, again sending me looking for more intelligence in political and economic commentary.)  I have reason, therefore, to be grateful to Sullivan.  But to laud the guy as a great thinker — he’s simply not.  And for someone to write a whole laudatory article about the man without being aware of one of his overriding political passions (that his, his obsession with the identity of Trig’s birth mother) or of his ill-informed, partisan, post-Tucson rants, reveals lazy thinking, lazy research and lazy writing — which, sadly, is about all I expect from a lot of Harvard’s brand nowadays.

Cross-posted at Right Wing News

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  1. Charles Martel says

    Sullivan’s blog was part of my daily rounds until about 5 years ago when he began slipping into dementia. The guy’s obsession with his and everybody else’s boldily orifices, including Sarah Palin’s, started me thinking about him the way I think about Ralphie in ”The Simpsons:” He’s tedious, he’s grotesque, and he’s something to be ignored.

  2. Libby says

    I stopped reading Sullivan’s blog during the 2004  election – it was apparent then that he was deluding himself with his claims of being a conservative while embracing Kerry and all of the Democrat positions against the wars, etc.. What excerpts I’ve seen on his Trig Truther posts have been absolutely vile.
     
    And if this Jesse Kornbluth had done any research on Sullivan, he would have also uncovered that Andrew Sullivan has ghost bloggers – four at last count – that Sullivan mentioned recently when recounting his “going cable” (24/7 blogging) following the AZ shooting. So how much of what is on his blog is actually his writing?

  3. says

    Phillips1938:  Isn’t the son of the two registered comics Josh, not Jesse, Kornbluth?  In the early 1990s, Josh did a show about red diaper babies, but I remember him because, before that, he did a very funny one-man show about working as a paralegal in San Francisco’s largest law firm.

    (By the way, it’s nice to hear from you.  I was just thinking about you yesterday and wondering whether we can do lunch again sometime this spring.)

  4. Jesse Kornbluth says

    Bookworm is eloquent about my inadequacies as a journalist, but she’s chosen the wrong tool for the job. I asked for specifics. I’m posting now — here and on the Harvard Magazine site — to ask for them again.

    In my profile, I did not deny, overlook or obscure that Sullivan wrote a great deal about Sarah Palin’s pregnancy. My challenge was: Show me a post in which Sullivan writes some version of these words: “I believe Sarah Palin is not Trig’s mother.” I repeat the challenge.

    While we’re waiting for a response, cooler heads might like to read one of Sullivan’s posts on the Palin/Trig question:

    http://www.theatlantic.com/daily-dish/archive/2008/12/a-fourth-picture/207848/
    I begged the McCain campaign by private email and in a private meeting to give me something — anything — to kill the story off. I promised to run any evidence that would blow this out of the water. That offer still stands. Please make me look like an idiot for asking these questions.

    As for Sullivan’s “hysterical screeds” about the Tucson shooting, Bookworm mistakes persistence in writing about an event for obsession. The simple fact was this shooting obsessed the nation for a week. A great many people — from Sarah Palin to Paul Krugman — wrote or said things about the alleged shooter’s motives they had reason to regret. My question was: Did Sullivan — like many others — suggest a conspiracy or a political/ideological reason for the shooting? Again, I ask for a citation that shows he did.

    While waiting, it might be instructive to read Sullivan’s live blog on the day of the shooting. Consider, please, the context. As you may recall, the air was thick with accusations that day. On his way to the hospital, Congresswoman Giffords’ father was asked if his daughter had any enemies. His reply: “Yeah, the whole Tea Party.” Also on that afternoon, a video surfaced in which Giffords spoke about a graphic on Palin’s website: “We’re on Sarah Palin’s targeted list, but the thing is, that the way that she has it depicted has the crosshairs of a gun sight over our district. When people do that, you gotta realize there’s consequences to that action.”

    On that Saturday, when emotion and politics and violence were cooked into a nasty soup, here are some of Sullivan’s posts. The complete 6 hours of blogging is here: http://www.theatlantic.com/daily-dish/archive/2011/01/an-assassination-attempt-in-arizona-live-blogging/177552/

    3:15 PM This is so awful that political grandstanding seems both inappropriate right now, and yet also very appropriate. An attempted political assassination is a political act and deserves a political response. We cannot wish this side of the question away. We do not yet know the motives for this excrescence.

    3.49 PM Various Palin sites are frantically removing various incendiary materials — -which is both gratifying, but also, it seems to me, an acknowledgment of previous rhetorical excess. TakeBackThe20.com is in meltdown, images like these are being removed ASAP, and Palin’s Facebook page simply cannot cope with the number of commenters blasting her.

    4:52 PM We’re live-blogging and piecing shreds of information together as best we can. That means that information is provisional and any attempt to understand a mind like Loughner’s is close to impossible at this propinquity and with this amount of information.

    5:47 PM I have no expertise in this at all, but my impression of his writings and web presence does indeed suggest to me that some mental illness is probably a key part of this. But this does not exonerate violent or excessive rhetoric from the far right or far left: it’s precisely the disturbed who can seize on those kinds of statements and act on them. The danger of violent rhetoric, especially involving gun violence, is its interaction with the disturbed…

    These posts consider possibilities and suggest avenues of investigation. They are remarkably free of accusation — even Sarah Palin is treated fairly. To me, this is blogging at its best and one very good reason for my high opinion of Andrew Sullivan.

    I realize that Sullivan is widely hated by conservatives and that, for some readers, Harvard=liberal — or worse. But I hope that those who disagree with me will cease their amped-up rhetoric and begin a fact-based conversation worthy of Harvard and Harvard Magazine.

     

    • says

      Thanks for following up on this, Jesse. I’ve got an extremely early morning, followed by a day away from my computer, so I’m closing up shop for the next 20 hours or so. I will get back to you on your points — either to concede or to dispute — when I get the chance.

  5. Charles Martel says

    Here is quote from the masterful blogger that Jesse Kornbluth so admires and defends. It’s Sullivan’s response to the disgraceful Wonkette hit piece on Trig.

    “I feel as queasy about this flexing of Palinite muscle as I do about the original, disgusting, asinine story. In some ways, I see a legitimate come-uppance for a tacky site that published a simply inexcusable piece of mean-spirited dreck using a child who cannot defend himself, treating him as if he were subhuman, which he most definitely isn’t. But I also recoil from mob action like this, for the impact it has on fearless free speech and the chilling effect it will have on an already cowed and defensive MSM when covering the truly tough stuff about Palin.”

    Where to begin with this dishonest, semi-coherent ramble? “Palinite muscle?” I thought Sarah was an opportunistic illiterate, incapable of getting anybody to follow her except similarly disfunctional people. How the hell would such flex any mental or media muscles when they can barely feed themselves?

    “Mob action?” Decent people protesting the downright viciousness of the Wonkette mugging are members of a mob for calling it to task? Wow. I guess this means Jesse Kornbluth could accuse Bookworm of being a mob for daring to call his writing to task. (But he doesn’t. Maybe he has a better grasp on proportionality than the hero in his Harvard Magazine piece?)

    “. . .for the impact it has on fearless free speech?” C’mon, attacking a retarded child whose mother happens to be the woman “progressives” dread and hate the most is “fearless?”

    “The chilling effect on an already cowed and defensive MSM when covering the truly tough stuff about Palin?” Who, outside of New York, San Francisco and Washington, could read a sentence like that and not start howling in laughter? I hadn’t noticed that the “cowed and defensive MSM” have let up in the slightest on Palin. But, then, I’m one of those people they would have dragged away for noting that the emperor’s new clothes were doing a bad job of keeping his dong warm.  

  6. Jesse Kornbluth says

    3,467 words. Whew! (Okay, that includes generous quotations from my article and message board post.) If length mattered, Bookworm, you prevail.

    We can kick this back and forth forever, but on the assumption we both have more serious work, let me make a very few points, in as few words as possible.

    First, your take on my conduct as a professional journalist. The important words are “careless” and “laziness” — I am “as lazy a writer and researcher” as you had supposed. And why? Because I could have answered your charges had I done any research; instead, I challenged you to look for links that I should have discovered myself, if only I had done any research at all.

    This is a remarkable accusation. It is credible only to those who think that a former Contributing Editor to Vanity Fair, New York, Reader’s Digest, Departures, Architectural Digest and The Los Angeles Times Magazine — and an occasional contributor to the New Yorker, The New York Times, Esquire and many other magazines — either 1) built a career on lazy, fraudulent reporting or 2) had a loss of professionalism when the subject was his favorite blogger or 3) found in Harvard Magazine (of all places!) a journal that did no fact-checking or shared his views on Sullivan so completely that it didn’t give a damn what I wrote about him, as long as I burnished his halo.

    Which of those do you believe?

    If you believe that whatever meager reputation I have built over a 40-year career is built on deception or that I am in my dotage and unable to do my job properly or that all those East Coast publications that have published me are liberal-left and lack the high standards of [name any conservative publication], then nothing I say will make any difference.

    Or we could consider what actually happened here.

    l) All those links you cite, Bookworm? I read almost all, if not all, of them while I was working on the profile of Sullivan. A chore — and a bigger chore than usual, because I’ve been a regular reader of Sullivan’s blog for years and I’d read most, if not all, of them before. If that is “lazy,” please define “conscientious” for me.

    2) “…it’s reasonable to believe that, because he was not looking for evidence [of] Sullivan’s periodic monomanias, he did not find that evidence.

    Did you read my profile of Sullivan, Bookworm? I presented Sullivan as “an intellectual diva, prone to epic battles.” I noted his obsessions: Israel, torture, gay rights and, yes, Palin and the use of language in politics. Anyone who reads Sullivan knows that these topics will come up again and again. Monomania — an obsession with a single subject or thought — is, for Sullivan, no more than a description of his method of blogging. In this, I plead guilty. And so should you, Bookworm. We all ride our little hobbyhorses.

    3) Bookworm writes:
    “What bothered me was that Kornbluth failed to discover that Sullivan has taken a fair amount of deserved flack for (a) obsessing about Trig Palin’s putative maternity….”

    Failed to discover? Then how do you explain this — from the Harvard piece:

    Andrew Sullivan did not support John McCain in 2008. The torture flip-flop would have been enough of a reason. Then McCain added Sarah Palin to the ticket. The combination of her scant government experience and “raw political talent” terrified Sullivan—and with only two months between her nomination and the election, he started hammering.
    “I was told: ‘Don’t touch this, it will hurt your reputation,’” he says. During a campaign when most pundits were, at worst, quizzical about Palin, Sullivan filled his blog with questions she was never going to answer. Did he pay a price? “I have become more of an outlaw in this town because I couldn’t hide my amazement from my peers—I’ve definitely become more alienated from mainstream media.
    Since the election, Sullivan has continued to press for clarification about a rumor the mainstream media won’t touch: that Trig is not Palin’s son. Sullivan hasn’t flung any accusations at Palin; he’s just pounded her ever-changing stories about Trig’s birth, and her unwillingness to provide a birth certificate for him. In the heated conversation that surrounds all things Palin, nuance has been lost—and Sullivan has been cast as a crank who takes pleasure in badgering a woman who may have no political future. His response: “Early on, I figured out that anything I write about her can only help her, but I don’t care about that. The job of a journalist is to find the truth..

    Is it not obvious that “don’t touch this” refers to the questions about Trig? And that, from this passage, Sullivan knew he would be criticized? And that he was criticized? And that I knew he had been, because I asked him about it?

    [You’ll hate me for this, but the Harvard snot in me compels me to point out that you misspelled a key word. A “flack” is someone who works in public relations --- essentially, what you think I do. “Flak” means criticism and is derived from warfare --- anti-aircraft guns and the bullets they fire.]

    The bulk of your response, Bookworm, is an analysis of Sullivan’s blogging. How he dances right up to a statement, then pulls back, disingenuously. Well argued, though this doesn’t require your a-game. Yes, he doubts that Palin is Trig’s mother — that’s why he writes about the “question” so often. And of course he’s going to examine all the rhetoric around the Tucson shooting — his hero is George Orwell.

    Finally, re Tucson, you write:
    I find it peculiar that Kornbluth defends Sullivan’s journalistic acumen by saying that “the air was thick with accusations that day.”  It shouldn’t have been.  The air should have been thick only with known facts that day.

    “Should,” Bookworm? That’s not a word I associate with journalism. JFK shouldn’t have been shot. We shouldn’t have invaded Iraq. Donald Trump shouldn’t make an ass of himself. Yes, the air “should” have been thick with facts that day. Sadly, that wasn’t what happened.

    So, to the facts, which you concede: Andrew Sullivan never said, in so many words, “Trig is not Palin’s kid.” Nor did he say, “Tucson was a conspiracy.” As for what he did write, why not take it up with him?
     

  7. Danny Lemieux says

    “This is a remarkable accusation. It is credible only to those who think that a former Contributing Editor to Vanity Fair, New York, Reader’s Digest, Departures, Architectural Digest and The Los Angeles Times Magazine — and an occasional contributor to the New Yorker, The New York Times, Esquire and many other magazines — either 1) built a career on lazy, fraudulent reporting or 2) had a loss of professionalism when the subject was his favorite blogger …”

    Well…now, since you put it in those terms, it does go without saying, doesn’t it?

  8. Charles Martel says

    “This is a remarkable accusation. It is credible only to those who think that a former Contributing Editor to Vanity Fair, New York, Reader’s Digest, Departures, Architectural Digest and The Los Angeles Times Magazine — and an occasional contributor to the New Yorker, The New York Times, Esquire and many other magazines — either 1) built a career on lazy, fraudulent reporting or 2) had a loss of professionalism when the subject was his favorite blogger or 3) found in Harvard Magazine (of all places!) a journal that did no fact-checking or shared his views on Sullivan so completely that it didn’t give a damn what I wrote about him, as long as I burnished his halo.”

    This is one of the most blatant—and inept—appeals to authority I’ve ever read. (First of all, continuing in Jesse’s snide Harvard vein, contributing editor isn’t capitalized when describing a generic function common to almost all magazines.) If Kornbluth were as curious and painstaking as he claims, he would realize what contempt in which most conservatives hold several of the publications he mentions: The New York Times, Esquire, Vanity Fair, the New Yorker—all elitist, agenda-driven pubs that have driven away millions of serious readers away over the years.  

    I note, too, the attempt to head us off at the pass. Kornbluth presumes to tell us that the only people who can criticize him are those who =wink, wink= believe such incredible, silly things as the three possibilities he lists. How clever: by listing exactly what most of us here think happened here in one combination or another, and then sneering at it, he has brilliantly defanged us. (I didn’t know Andy was Kornbluth’s favorite blogger. Thank God for his consummate professionalism in describing Andy and his obsessions in such detail and so objectively!)  

    In any case, Book, congrats. You needled one of the big boys and rattled him enough to make him feel compelled to come here and expound on his wonderfulness. He’s made his point and we probably won’t see him again, but you did a good job of doing the one thing he gave up doing long ago: speaking truth to power.

  9. BrianE says

    Kornbluth wouldn’t be the first writer in history to be guilty, even singularly, of 1), or reveal his biases in 2), but personally I’d vote for 3).
    .

    He takes umbrage with “should” after taking literary license with “the air was thick with accusations that day”.
    I think he’s confusing clever writing with journalism.
     
    Defensive, eh?

  10. Jesse Kornbluth says

    One of your message board commenters has said you’ve heard the last of me. Not so. I was raised to write thank you notes, and I do want to thank you, Bookworm, for taking the time and thought to deal both with my piece and my defense of it.
    And I also wish to encourage you. You say you were not among those who doubted Barack Obama’s citizenship, but you do want to investigate his alleged brilliance as a student. You write:
    As for me, I’m much more interested in Obama’s college and law school grades. I’d be interested to see whether they support the narrative that he [is] an unusually brilliant man. Since I find his off-teleprompter speech limited, unmusical and ill-informed, I have my doubts.
    I can only speak to this investigation as it refers to Harvard. Consider:
    BARACK OBAMA
    — He was the first African American president in the history of the Harvard Law Journal. [This is generally considered the highest honor you can get at Harvard Law School.]
    ANDREW SULLIVAN
    — Harkness Fellowship to the Kennedy School
    — His Harvard doctoral thesis, “Intimations Pursued: The Voice of Practice in the Conversation of Michael Oakeshott,” won the government department’s Toppan Prize, for the best dissertation “upon a subject of Political Science.”
    JESSE KORNBLUTH
    summa cum laude thesis, “The Contradictions of Commitment in the Work of George Orwell”
    magna cum laude Bachelor of Arts degree in English Literature
    Just on the record of those three Harvard guys, you should feel encouraged to persist in this effort.
    All best.
     

  11. says

    Lacking core strength or real accomplishments, bereft of the courage of their convictions, the only thing the low quality human has is the self-aggrandizement through the praise of others.

  12. Charles Martel says

    Wow. All that intelligence and not a whit of self-awareness.

    So Obama was the first African American president in the history of the Harvard Law Journal. Aside from his skin color, and Kornbluth’s reassurance that this position was a high honor, what else did Obama do with the title? Any great legal insights or treatises that we are ever going to know about?

    Andy Sullivan wins a department prize for his doctoral thesis—a thesis that has made no difference whatsoever in the  discourse on political blogs, which is the subject of Book and Kornbluth’s exchange. That’s because nobody reads PhD theses unless they’re assigned or remaindered. If you sample some poages of the book on Amazon, it quickly turns into a plod as the compuslory morte main academese kicks in almost immediately. (By the way, the book is a typical academic rip-off: $39.95[!] when $7.95 will get you a 32-tab supply of Sominex.)

    Note, too, the absence of any awards beyond the fond recognition from the small world that helped Sullivan produce his work. Where are the raves from the New York Times and the New York Review of Books, and the other usual applause gallery members?

    Kornbluth won his honors how many years ago? (I won the American Legion Award in junior high, the top honor at my school. My award predates Kornbluth’s by four or five years. Pretty impressive, no?) I do admit to being impressed by the magna and summa labels on the cum laudes. Back when Kornbluth attended Harvard, the school actually had a reputation to protect, and nabbing an honor was a real thing. Now the school is self-parodizing, with something like 90 percent of all grades given being A’s.

    So, who the hell cares what these Harvard boys won years ago? The current dispute is over Sullivan’s vicious innuendoes about Sarah Palin and Kornbluth’s hagiographical writing about that wretched man. As for Obama, it would have been better for Kornbluth to have left him out of this. Obama personifies what has gone wrong with a once great school—the elevation of form over substance, the cheap grace of affirmative action, and the manufacture of empty suits occupied by minds that think listing awards forms an effective argument.

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