The liberal crocodiles at The New York Times are shedding tears for National Review magazine. The headline of media reporter Tim Arango's piece is "At National Review, a Threat to Its Reputation for Erudition." It is a curious topic for the Times, which usually treats the idea of intellectual conservatism as oxymoronic.
Arango mourns that the tenor of debate at National Review Online, the magazine's Internet sister, "devolved into open nastiness" over the question of Sarah Palin's fitness for the vice presidency, "laying bare debates among conservatives that in a pre-Internet age may have been kept behind closed doors." Arango claims that the coarsening effect of the Internet has damaged NR's "reputation as the cradle for conservative intellectuals and home for erudite and well-mannered debate prized by its founder, William F. Buckley Jr." [Full disclosure: my uncle.]
Such tender concern for the fate of the conservative movement and its leading periodical is almost amusing, given that the Times spent decades savaging the magazine's founder. Anyone who has followed National Review over the years -- which seemingly excludes this Times reporter -- would know that rousing debates are an NR tradition. Anyone who follows the fellowship and fencing at NR's blog The Corner knows there is vigorous argument and disagreement about many different subjects.
In bold letters, the Times emphasizes its topic sentence: "The magazine's civil tone of debate is missing on the Web." But then the Times broadens the issue of civility at NR far beyond the actual NR website: "National Review, as the most pedigreed voice of conservatives, has often been tainted unfairly and by association, some argue by the tone of blogs, reader comments and e-mail messages."
This is where the many Times readers who've avoided NR like Manhattan elitists avoid a K-Mart are kept blissfully uninformed. Unlike many websites, National Review Online offers its readers no space to leave their comments. Their bloggers may occasionally post e-mails they've received, but they do so often to dispute negative comments they find amusingly uncivil and unconvincing. How is it fair for the Times to scorn the disappearing "civil tone" of NR by the tone of negative private e-mails that most people will never see, because of NR's policy against posting them? Would it be fair to decry the civility of the Times by the thousands of nasty unpublished e-mails that have been sent to them?
Arango and the Times are trying to construct a different narrative, that dissent is being smothered, and that the "threat" to NR's "erudition" is causing the writers who opposed Palin to walk away. Dissent from conservative orthodoxy and "erudition" are implied to be one and the same.
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