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Alterman v. Cox

This one is good, but did you hear about next week's catfight between Paula Froelich and Francis Fukuyama? Stay tuned. For those just joining us, here's how it all went down: Ana Marie Cox waited a good, career-affirming while before … Read More

By / April 27, 2007

This one is good, but did you hear about next week's catfight between Paula Froelich and Francis Fukuyama? Stay tuned.

For those just joining us, here's how it all went down: Ana Marie Cox waited a good, career-affirming while before deciding that, um, her semi-regular guest stint on Imus's radio show would probably have to come to an end after the host reduced the Rutgers women's basketball team to a malicious caricature of neo-minstrelsy. A courageous stand for civil rights, one might think, especially coming from the former Wonkette and late-minted establishment Beltway editor of Time. However, Eric Alterman was not amused that Ms. Cox was even hired by Time since what that weekly really needed to combat its cavalcade of conservative apologists (apparently, Andrew Sullivan still counts as one of these) was a substantial liberal pundit like Eric Alterman, not a comely hack whose chief credential was making "ass-fucking" something you read rather than watched on the Internet.

Anyway, Ana was none too pleased by being treated as potty-mouthed arriviste, so she confronted Alterman at a brunch with a sympathetic New York Observer writer and a tape recorder. The transcript of their exchange is available here. Gawker, still loyal to old sister-site proprietors, swooped to Ana's defense and chided Alterman. Alterman shot back with a HuffPo post of what he must have thought was self-vindication.

Now, in recent development that I think seals the envelope on the 2007 Media Solipsism Award, Chris Lehmann, Ana's brainy, Dwight Macdonald-alluding-to husband, has gallantly rescued wifey's honor from the impugning of one very self-aggrandizing Nation columnist:

And speaking of surroundings, why don't we have a look at the drive-by charcterization of Ana that touched off all this in the first place? Here is Alterman in his June 12, 2006 Nation column, "Time is on Their Side": Recently, Time added to its stable Caitlin Flanagan, who debuted with an unsourced attack on Democrats for family hating. They [sic] also added Ana Marie Cox, a putative liberal whose specialty on her blog, Wonkette, were posts about–sorry, Mom–"ass-fucking," as if to prove the conservatives' point about liberal perversity. (Were Kinsley, Garry Wills, Molly Ivins, E.J. Dionne, Bill Moyers, Josh Marshall, Arianna Huffington, etc. all unavailable?) Lay aside the sneering, ill-informed "putative liberal" crack–but do note he is talking about a former editor for Mother Jones and the American Prospect. (Or is Alterman's tacit point that anyone to the right of, say, Monthly Review or the Sparticist Daily Worker only a "putative liberal"?) Consider the well-worn plaint that my coarse, perverse spouse somehow "specialized" in producing an unending stream of blogposts about "ass-fucking." In reality, Wonkette–always more of a satire outlet than a "gossip" site on her watch in the first place–first employed the "ass-fucking" phrasing to ridicule the Bush administration's proposed consitutional ban on gay marriage. The idea at the time was to call out the thing that the administration actually wanted to outlaw by its true name–"the federal no-ass-fucking amendment." So I would again suggest to empirically minded readers that when Alterman makes a show of apologizing to his Mom, he is either showing an altogether deficient grasp of satire in English, or indulging in a lazy bid to dismiss three years worth of blogging on all manner of issues, from Falluja to Hurricane Katrina as one long gay-porn clip reel. He is, in other words, gleefully taking up the same blunt cudgel that conservative writers have been applying to Ana ever since her online career took off in earnest (or, as is my larger point here, not-so-earnest). So forgive me, marital rooting interests aside, for failing to follow the reasoning that this one fateful phrase is somehow a grievous betrayal of the liberal faith–and to wonder a bit at how comfortable a putative liberal pundit feels in casually reducing a female writer's career to a description of a sexual practice.

Title: What Ass-Fucking Media? The filigreed Johnsonian prose here impresses, as does Lehmann's word count on showing that his beloved is not the most famous blond purveyor of nostalgie de la boue but an acute satirist of American venality and power.

Yet a carefully elided detail in Lehmann's household defense is that Wonkette earned its name by outing Jessica Cutler, the representative-humping D.C. intern who kept an online diary of her extra-cameral activities, who then went on to ride ill-repute into a book deal that may or may not have been more lucrative than Ana Marie's own. Not exactly Katrina or Fallujah, but short of seeing Bill Moyers come down off of ecstasy, the most fun you're likely to have had as a lefty in the age of Bush.

[Full disclosure: I (badly) guest edited Wonkette for two weeks and was rather fond of Chris Lehmann, an anti-Clinton, Nader-voting lefty who probably does read Monthly Review with amusement.] 

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