Joe Conason's Journal

Does Sullivan sully Salon? Plus: Which GOP House member had secret meetings with the Taliban?


Salon Staff
September 10, 2002 1:45AM (UTC)

My New Colleague
A number of readers have objected vehemently to Andrew Sullivan's appearance as a weekly columnist in Salon. Numerous similarly worded letters have arrived protesting that Sullivan is identical to Ann Coulter, complaining that this is taking encouragement of diverse opinions too far, and warning that support for Salon, in the form of premium subscriptions, is sure to decline as a result. A friend whose opinion I respect wrote a personal note on the same subject: "It's not possible to have a discussion with somebody who repeatedly falsifies and distorts."

Defending Sullivan, whose assessments of me have been none too kind, is a task I don't feel qualified to undertake. He wasn't grateful when I eviscerated his argument blaming Bill Clinton for Sept. 11, and although he never replied to my rebuttal, he eventually took the opportunity to brand me a stupid philistine. While I don't share some writers' obssesion with exposing Sullivan, I haven't hesitated to expose his errors and I've expressed doubt about his integrity. He is actually no worse in that respect than David Horowitz or William Safire or Bill Kristol or any of the other wingers whose lies I've felt obliged to correct occasionally. His distortions are often awful, but they're also rather typical of current debating tactics at his end of the spectrum. I expect that Salon's editors will hold him to a higher standard than Sullivan requires of himself on his own Web site, and that Salon's readers will hold him accountable, too.

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Some have objected to his viewpoint being expressed on Salon at all. However strongly I may dispute him about almost everything, I bristle at the notion that those wrongheaded opinions should exclude him from Salon's pages. Sullivan's views are surely no more repugnant than those of Horowitz or Camille Paglia, both of whom have written truly disgusting personal attacks on their adversaries. If anything, he seems a bit more thoughtful than either of them.

The silliness of comparing Sullivan with Coulter -- who has denounced him as a "liberal" and who openly urges lethal violence against her political adversaries -- should be clear to anyone who reads this scathing essay. Read him or ignore him, and I've done both, Sullivan is a polemicist with a distinctive point of view. That's his job here -- to challenge liberals and progressives with vigor and originality. His first column was snide, but he didn't tar opponents of war with Iraq as "fifth columnists." Maybe a new environment will improve Andrew's character.

Whether his column succeeds or not, it saddens me that anyone would seek to damage this publication because its editors decided to give weekly space to a conservative writer. Obviously, there's nothing wrong with criticizing the editors' choice, or blasting away at Sullivan in response to every word. But the threats of cancellation are offensive and ultimately self-defeating. To me, what those gestures reveal is the immaturity of those who would damage an important source of independent journalism for the sake of a momentary tantrum.
[1:33 p.m. PDT, Sept. 9, 2002]

Show and Tell (and Distort)

As we think about the democratic ideals that make us different from the totalitarian fundamentalists who attacked us a year ago, there is one that seems especially relevant: We don't follow leaders without asking hard questions. In their drive toward war with Iraq, George W. Bush and his aides insist they have "proof" that Saddam Hussein possesses or will soon possess nuclear, chemical and biological weapons of mass destruction. If such proof exists, it will certainly bolster the arguments for action against Baghdad; nobody can contemplate the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iraqi dictator with equanimity.

Already, however, the president has been caught in two embarrassing misrepresentations of the supposed basis for his alarms. On Friday at his press conference with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Bush cited a 1998 IAEA report on Iraq's nuclear program and a satellite image of a former nuclear installation near Baghdad. Over the weekend, those claims were effectively debunked by Robert Windrem, one of the best and most experienced journalists at NBC News. What Bush said was wrong, and what the photos showed wasn't much.

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The abuse of photographic and other "evidence" to promote war is an old tactic, as this story reminds us. There were no Iraqi troops looming on the Saudi border in September 1990, although the Pentagon said it has top secret satellite photos showing 250,000 of them there, threatening the oil fields and Western civilization. (The man running the show back then was Dick Cheney, who now tells us he has the proof, again.)

Mullah Omar's GOP Pal
What the hell was Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, the wacky California right-winger, doing in secret meetings with the Taliban? His Democratic opponent isn't the only one who wants to know, but so far the only media outlet with the courage to cover this story is the Orange County Weekly. Both the Orange County Register and the Los Angeles Times are averting their gaze from this bizarre and troubling story. [6:25 a.m. PDT, Sept. 9, 2002]

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