Joe Conason's Journal

Readers react to my defense of Sullivan. Plus: Jeb Bush's strange complaint of Christian persecution.

By Salon Staff

Published September 10, 2002 3:44PM (EDT)

Regarding Andy
Irritated as some of my readers were by yesterday's item about Andrew Sullivan, they have since briskly instructed me that they don't object to his ideology; no, they only object to his journalistic dishonesty. And regardless of how much they otherwise value Salon, his weekly appearance is unacceptable and invokes punishment.

"I won't give money to a publication that gives money (and more important, exposure) to the likes of Horowitz and now Sullivan," protested a reader who refuses to subscribe. "I read Salon because the mainstream press is biased and deluded. I want the truth from people like you. I don't want to read the distortions and lies of the right." (A nice compliment -- even if she isn't willing to pay a penny for my brand of "the truth" five days a week.)

Andrew will face a tough challenge in reaching the large contingent of Salon readers who wrote me to say they utterly distrust him. "The point isn't that Sullivan's perspective is distasteful to liberal sensitivities, the point is that Sullivan deliberately lies, and I use the word 'deliberately,' well, deliberately," was a common reaction. "Known liars do not challenge my (sometimes liberal) views, because I'm not dumb enough to listen to them." Another typical response came from a subscriber who complained that, "by paying my subscription fee, I in some small way help Sullivan and David Horowitz earn money, and that thought is repugnant to me." And: "Sullivan, unfortunately, is a liar and a dissembler. He can only coarsen and pervert the debate. My subscription cancellation, like my original subscription activation, is simply a consumer applying pressure with his pocketbook."

Quite a few insist they'd like to read an "honest" conservative on Salon, but only one proposed alternatives. "Among the many, many conservatives I'd rather see published in Salon than Sullivan: Marshall Wittman, Brink Lindsey, Rich Lowry, Jonah Goldberg, Christopher Caldwell and Eugene Volokh. I'd certainly welcome such other liberal-balloon-prickers as Virginia Postrel, Ken Layne, Matt Welch and even Professor InstaPundit. Every single one of them ... has a better track record of honesty and avoiding the ad hominem than either Sullivan or Horowitz." Others see little reason to disfigure these pages with conservative opinion at all: "I have no objection to Sullivan, Horowitz or Paglia having someone to publish their propaganda; surely, their ideological brethren are wealthy enough to publish them anywhere they choose. I don't think it's Salon's job to give them a pulpit."

A smaller cohort was prepared to allow Sullivan the benefit of the doubt, at least by comparison: "I can't say I was too happy to hear Andy will be a regular on Salon, but he's better than Horowitz at least." One reader was looking forward to Andrew's contributions, predicting that "if the editors at Salon refuse to publish distortion-laden columns and really make Sullivan hew to the facts, the column could be quite interesting. But it's a very big if." While several offered friendly comments about me and other Salon writers, only a couple substantially agreed with my points. "You made a strong argument for subscribing to the Premium section which I will do immediately," wrote one. Others made less friendly comments but were happy to see Andrew. "As a Salon Premium subscriber, let me say how pleased I am that Mr. Sullivan has been added to the prestigious Salon roster. My enthusiasm for holding my nose as I hack through the overfilled waste bin of leftist propagandistic garbage in search of the occasional Gem of Reason by your more free-thinking contributors had waned since the departure of Camille Paglia ..." Et cetera.

Inevitably there were a few who resented my presumptuous scolding of them. "[P]lease do not lecture us Salon subscribers for objecting to the inclusion of Sullivan's column at the website; and please do not presume to instruct us as to how we should feel at his inclusion. Sullivan provokes a very visceral reaction in many people -- a sort of literary Montezuma's Revenge, if you will." (I know that will thrill him.) "I must say that if anything inspired me to cancel my subscription, it would be your high-handed sanctimony toward a readership that objects to underwriting a forum for the likes of Andrew Sullivan. The decision to hire him was an insult to Salon's readership, and so was your column today. You owe us all quite an apology." Sorry, no apologies today -- Im entitled to my opinion, too -- but many thanks for all the thoughtful, funny (and outraged) letters.

[3:03 p.m. PDT, Sept. 10, 2002]

What America Still Needs
Today's meandering New York Times interview with Sen. Richard Shelby of the joint congressional intelligence committee probing 9/11 eventually gets to the point on Page 3. The Alabama Republican, a veteran of these exercises, thinks that the FBI and the CIA stiff-armed this investigation and that, inevitably, there will be an independent commission with more time to delve into those agencies' failures. Shelby is right. In memory of those who died and in the interest of protecting the living, let's get on with it now. Monuments and speeches and television specials are fine, perhaps, and surely inevitable -- but what the bereaved families have wanted since last fall is an honest, open, thorough investigation. This anniversary presents an opportunity to brush past the president's stonewalling and conduct the people's business. That means you, Majority Leader Daschle.

Talk of the Town
If you have the patience to read only one editorial about the meaning of this week's anniversary, I would recommend this essay in the current New Yorker by Hendrik Hertzberg and David Remnick.

Dark Relief And if, on the other hand, you feel the need to laugh amid the jingoistic speechifying and solemn self-congratulation by politicians and pundits, Get Your War On's latest strip may help. It's at least as funny as most of what passes for humor in the Weekly Standard. (And no, this doesn't mean I'm against the "war on terrorism.")

The Afflictions of Jeb
Those searching for humor shouldn't neglect the governor of Florida (who may seem less amusing to people who live there). Jeb Bush evidently believes that when the media report the peculiar views about child-beating and subjugation of women expressed by his new child welfare director, this is actually a form of religious persecution. So he indicated in an e-mail reported last weekend, when he wrote, "I am no longer amazed at the anti-Christian feelings in the press."
[8:42 a.m. PDT, Sept. 10, 2002]

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