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November 19, 2008

Barry, You'll Find A Little Something Extra In Your Paycheck This Week: Your Complete And Utter Humiliation

I'm sure it's nice to work for the New York Times and get the excellent health insurance, the good pension, the snazzy company windbreaker, and so on. On the other hand, they require that you publicly humiliate yourself on a regular basis.

Take Barry Gewen, an editor for the New York Times Book Review. Apparently it was his turn in the chute this week, because here's what he wrote while explaining why Harvard shouldn't give a journalistic prize in I.F. Stone's name:

[I]t might have elected to name its medal after another American journalist who ran an important magazine of his own for a while, who was a paragon of the “independence, integrity, courage and indefatigability” that the Nieman Foundation claims to value, who could, it is true, make political and cultural mistakes (the price of his independence), but who never was seduced by totalitarianism. He saw the truth more clearly than I. F. Stone ever did, and seems to me a more appropriate model for young journalists. (He was a better writer too.) His name is Dwight Macdonald.

What Gewen obviously knows but feels he must omit is that Macdonald spent time as an editor of the magazine Encounter—which was funded by the CIA. (Macdonald later said he was unaware of this, although you had to have been pretty dense not to figure it out.) Say what you want about I.F. Stone, but there's no evidence he was ever funded by the KGB.

How incredibly embarrassing to have to pretend to be a moron in order to keep your job. I couldn't do it, but I guess Barry Gewen has a higher tolerance for degradation than most people.

AND: Please decapitate me if I ever begin something like this:

Like millions of others, I have long been troubled by the philosopher Martin Heidegger’s political associations...

Right. "Like millions of others, I have often reached down and begun to vigorously stroke Barry Gewen's wang..."

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at November 19, 2008 08:52 PM

Well... journalism is a field where awards are named after some of the scum of the occupation. In a field where one of the highest honors is the Pulitzer Prize perhaps it would be fitting for Harvard to have named its award after Mr. Macdonald

Posted by: Benjamin A. Schwab at November 19, 2008 10:40 PM


The media and CIA. In bed together. A damned orgy. And we end up getting screwed.

Posted by: Bob In Pacifica at November 19, 2008 10:42 PM

I agree on Stone.
The Encounter story is a can of worms. I heard Frances Stoner Saunders talk about her book at Olsson's (now gone)--"The Cultural Cold War: The CIA and the World of Arts and Letters." Bought it that night and, as I recall, she did a great deal of research on what happened with the CIA's greatest cultural "asset - Encounter." Certainly, many if not most contributors knew nothing. The editors--another story. Did the CIA control or interfere with the magazine's content? Nobody has, so far, shown that what she found was not accurate or complete.
I suspect current editors of the NYT know shit about this, and care less. Their loss is our loss too.
Stone was great. Macdonald did some first-rate stuff too. But Stone had a spine, and that is rare. Universities shouldn't get into the journalism racket, but then they are known for their Schools of Business. Levels below the Chiropractic.

Posted by: donescobar at November 19, 2008 11:21 PM

I now wonder how much the CIA infiltrates OUR day to day lives? Seems like they finance anything I might read and it NEVER occured to me until recently.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at November 19, 2008 11:24 PM

Most J-school grads I've known or worked with were suckers for authority, sniveling careerists who put personal ambition over any concept of journalistic "integrity," whatever that is at the corporate level. So Harvard shouldn't name the prize after Stone. Prizes are for rubes at the county fair.

It shouldn't name it after Macdonald, either. While his time at Encounter was state-backed, Macdonald did some fine work in his career, from his days at Partisan Review, where he worked with James Agee (who was a much better film critic, in my humble), to his own little journal, politics, which opposed global systems from a weird anarchist angle. That he got the Red Scare heebie-jeebies in the 50s shouldn't sink his entire rep, especially given his opposition to the Vietnam War and mentoring of the New Left.

If Harvard needs a name for its merit badge, why not Thomas Friedman? Or Hitchens?

Posted by: Dennis Perrin at November 20, 2008 08:32 AM

Even better -- Albert Goldman.

Posted by: Dennis Perrin at November 20, 2008 08:34 AM

Like millions of others, I have long been troubled by the actor Kelsey Grammer's political associations. What does it mean for those of us who still enjoy Frazier? Why, entire shelves of books have been written on the subject.

Now where's my paycheck, Mr. Sulzberger?

Posted by: SteveB at November 20, 2008 09:06 AM

So much idle talk.

Heil Hitler,

Posted by: Martin Heidegger at November 20, 2008 10:49 AM

Actually, only one of the coeditors (Melvin Lasky) of Encounter was aware of the CIA funding. Stephen Spender, the English poet, resigned from the magazine when that came out. You can't blame Macdonald for not knowing what he had no way of knowing.

Macdonald was a worthy figure, though he had his foibles (as Dennis mentions above). He's worth reading today, particularly on cultural issues. But to say he saw the truth more clearly than Izzy Stone is ludicrous - they weren't remotely in the same league.

Posted by: Jay Gold at November 20, 2008 11:26 AM

I.F. Stone had something in common with Studs Terkel.
Whatever that something was it sets them apart, while at the same time it invites their championing.
I.e. Schwartz, here, this.

Posted by: roy belmont at November 20, 2008 02:13 PM

Heidegger lebt!
Zumindestens im Netz.

Heil, mein Philophenkoenig.

Posted by: donescobar at November 20, 2008 03:18 PM


Encounter did have some list of contributors, David Riesman among many.
Did Henry (nee Heinrich) Kissinger ever write for them? I don't remember. The bastard still gets published, regularly in the WaPost, almost automatically elsewhere.
Who says war crimes don't pay?

Posted by: donescobar at November 20, 2008 03:48 PM

I thought the CIA was not 'allowed' operations on US citizens. (or something like that)

From their website:

Collecting information that reveals the plans, intentions and capabilities of our adversaries and provides the basis for decision and action.

Good to see who they consider their adversaries.

Posted by: tim at November 20, 2008 05:05 PM

And heeeere is my favorite Barry Gewen quote From a speech at --where else -- Harbvard in Feb. 2007):

"One has to have a hard heart at the Book Review. If some of you are offended by the casualness of all this, I would remind you of those poor Holocaust survivors who are not getting their books reviewed also."

A hard heart, but a soft mind bordering on mindlessness.

That's what really offends. That much stupidity in one head. By comparison, Macdonald was an intellectual giant. This guy is an intellectual and moral pigmy.

Posted by: donescobar at November 20, 2008 06:36 PM

That Heidegger opening would make a worthy contender for the Bulwer-Lytton award!

Posted by: Wayne at November 24, 2008 04:27 PM