Extra! Let NYT Off the Hook on Books
I would like to take issue with Steve Rendall and Zachary Tomanelli’s handling of book reviews in the latest Extra! (“Who Gets to Review and Be Reviewed?,” 8/10).
First, I question giving primacy to ethnicity and gender as opposed to political ideology. The former two are easier to handle, but aren’t they important mainly because of their effects on political outcomes? At the same time, aren’t political outcomes somewhat obscured by focusing on ethnicity and gender by themselves? Wouldn’t it be important to study closely which specific ethnic group and gender representatives are selected by the media? If the latter chosen are folks like Juan Williams, Peggy Noonan, Cherie Blair, Linda Chavez, Shelby Steele or Walter Williams, isn’t that important to make clear?
Second, I don’t see why “left/right” is more “subjective” than “left/centrist/conservative.” In fact, leaving conservative as the only option on the right is arguably highly misleading. Do the right-wingers who urge us to go right to war with Iran, or to completely dismantle the welfare state, want to “conserve,” or are they reactionaries who want us to go backwards or into chaos? Is Frank Gaffney a conservative? Isn’t it too easy to put somebody in the “centrist” class just because there are people to their right? If folks like David Broder and Cokie Roberts, who you label centrists, support each and every U.S. war, the Military Commissions Act, and are now on the cut-back-deficits- and-entitlements bandwagon, aren’t they conservatives or even reactionaries even if there are folks to their right?
Third, I am surprised that you put Gregg Easterbrook as a centrist when his main claim to fame is as a pioneer in aggressive anti-environmentalism. Even more surprising is putting Paul Hockenos on the left. It is true that he is the In These Times writer on Eastern Europe, but he was also the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe’s PR man in its occupation of Bosnia, and has been a notorious apologist for the NATO wars in the Balkans.
Fourth, I don’t see how you can say that ideological diversity is shown in the New York Times or After Words based on your few selected items from 100 or more reviews. You could have said that there was ethnic and gender diversity by taking a few such cases from your set, if you hadn’t featured the total figures.
And I think you are quite wrong on New York Times ideological diversity. Paul Ber-man and Niall Ferguson will always be reviewed there, and by a sympathetic reviewer; a rightist like David Aaronovitch even gets two reviews; but Chomsky’s Hopes and Prospects and Failed States aren’t reviewed, and if they do review a book by him, as they did his Hegemony or Survival, they give it to somebody like Samantha Power to put down. We need a serious quantitative study of the political choices in books selected for review and reviewer bias. I feel confident that the results for the New York Times will demonstrate a poor showing on ideological diversity.
Edward S. Herman
Penn Valley, Pa.
The editors respond: We don’t find race and gender to be secondary to ideology; even among progressives, a diverse group is quite likely to raise different perspectives and concerns than one that represents only one gender or ethnicity. And representation—people getting to speak for themselves—should not be dismissed as a trivial matter.
As for ideological diversity, Ed’s disagreement with us about the classifications of Easterbrook and Hockenos demonstrate the difficulty of such categorizations.
As a University of Chicago graduate student researching the coup in Honduras, I came across an article by Alyssa Figueroa (8/10) titled “Honduras Down the Memory Hole: U.S. Media Ignore the Aftermath of Dubious Elections They Praised,” where she states:
Such coverage is no surprise, given the media’s enthusiastic response to Lobo’s election in January. After the June 28, 2009, coup, the U.S. and many Latin American countries said they would refuse to recognize the elections in November if Zelaya wasn’t restored to office to finish out his term.
Porfirio Lobo was “elected” in November; elections were held on November 29, 2009 and he was inaugurated on January 27, 2010.