What gives with The New Republic? What was once a serious neo-liberal magazine increasingly reads like a blog post at DailyKos.
Exhibit A is its recent attempt to brand Senator George Allen a racist because he once displayed a Confederate flag at his home and wore a flag pin on his high school jacket lapel. Anyone remotely familiar with the culture of the South likely found that hilarious and could be forgiven for thinking that TNR was reprinting a scoop from TruthOut.org.
Apparently we’ll be seeing more political dirt-slinging from TNR, if the editorial published last week is any indication. The editors take after anyone who dares question Al Gore’s new movie, An Inconvenient Truth. But they are past arguing with Gore’s critics, preferring to libel them. Last year I wrote the following about how environmentalists treated their opponents on global warming:
Unable to win the public policy debate fair and square, environmental groups are falling back on an old stand-by — they attack the integrity of their opponents by dragging a corporate bogeyman out of the closet. Disgruntled green groups failed to win passage of global warming regulations in the recently passed energy bill, so they are resorting to claims that ExxonMobil buys off everyone who doesn’t take their side. Some strategy.
You would expect this from Greenpeace and the Natural Resources Defense Council, but not TNR, which once published sensible pieces by Gregg Easterbrook. Yet its editorial dismisses global warming skeptics as “Exx-Cons” (Exxon Conservatives). They are called a “network of oil-funded think tankers and conservative media outlets.” A Fox News documentary is dismissed because it “featured the entire cast of Exx-con luminaries, including Patrick Michaels, John Christy, Roy Spencer, and Senator James Inhofe.” So is an article in National Review that “relies on research from three scientists connected to the energy industry.” The Competitive Enterprise Institute likewise lacks credibility on global warming because it has taken “over $1.5 million in donations from ExxonMobil alone since 1998.” “Washington think tanks are not always paragons of intellectual integrity,” TNR intones, “but we can’t quite remember the last time that an institution ostensibly devoted to research so transparently whored itself to corporate backers — in this case, the oil industry.” The lesson of the TNR editorial seems to be that if you tar your opponents as corporate flaks often enough, you don’t have to bother much with their arguments.
TNR also gripes about the new ad campaign launched by the Competitive Enterprise Institute:
The two 60-second spots created by the oil industry-backed Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) — over $1.5 million in donations from ExxonMobil alone since 1998–will be remembered for breaking the barrier between advertising parodies and actual ads. In “Energy,” a young girl dreamily exhales carbon dioxide while evergreen trees soak in the life-sustaining compound. Our right to freely exchange this compound, CEI suggests, is now under attack. The ad makes the War on Christmas look like a mild skirmish compared with the impending confrontation over CO2. “Carbon dioxide,” an announcer intones. “They call it pollution. We call it life.”
That paragraph will be remembered for how it breaks the barrier between opinion journalism and distortion. The CEI ad doesn’t suggest that we won’t be able to breathe out CO2 if Al Gore has his way. Rather, it points out that in order to meet our energy needs, U.S. industry produces CO2. And our right to produce energy efficiently by permitting emissions of CO2 in that way is under attack. The Kyoto Protocol would require the U.S. to cut CO2 production below 1990 levels, as does the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) recently adopted by seven Northeastern States. Or does TNR assume that major environmental organizations aren’t really serious when they endorse CO2-limiting agreements? CEI takes CO2 restrictions seriously and argues that they are seriously mistaken.
And what’s wrong with CEI using a young girl in its ad? TNR implies that it’s unseemly. But did TNR have a conniption fit when Environmental Defense (ED) did the same thing? In an ED ad called “Tick” children warn against “massive heat waves,” “severe droughts” and “devastating hurricanes.” Another called “Train” shows a child about to be hit by a locomotive. It’s supposed to be an analogy for how global warming will affect the future. Was that tacky? Funny, I can’t find the TNR editorial denouncing those ads.
What is behind TNR‘s Kos-tic outbursts? Someone who thought like a TNR editor might reason that the magazine is trying to win back its former subscribers on the Left. In 2002 and 2003, TNR broke with the left to support the Iraq war — and watched its subscriptions slide. In one year, 2003-2004, TNR‘s “total paid and/or requested” circulation fell from 61,723 to 51,723. Despite its later apology for supporting the war, circulation has continued to decline — to 50,403 in 2005. Meanwhile circulation is way up at leftist magazines that opposed the war, like the American Prospect, the Nation, and the Washington Monthly. Maybe TNR is rebuilding its credibility among lefties — and its circulation — by printing articles that make it indistinguishable from a blog rant.
Is that insinuation fair? You say I’m only attacking motives instead of making an argument? Fair enough, but maybe TNR should think about extending the same courtesies to global warming critics. That won’t happen in TNR‘s new world of bad faith attack journalism. Its editors will just dismiss me as another Exx-Con.