Who is Malcolm Harris?

Yesterday we examined a recent New Republic piece in which a writer named Malcolm Harris, who’s connected with an online rag called New Inquiry, strove to pull off a one-man rehabilitation of Communism.

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A photo from the Times profile of New Inquiry (Harris is not in the picture)

Who, we wondered, is this audacious fool? And what, for that matter, is New Inquiry? Well, the New York Times provided an answer to the latter question back in November 2011, when (for reasons we cannot begin to fathom) it ran a full-length profile of the “scrappy” Upper East Side “literary salon” cum online journal whose members, all recent college grads, uniformly came off as obnoxious, privileged brats. One of them whined about not getting a job “at a boutique literary agency”; another (“an aspiring novelist who graduated magna cum laude from Cornell in 2009”) resented having to work at a real job (sweeping movie theaters); yet another had actually secured a job at the New Yorker only to walk away from it in boredom. Harris, then 22, was described as a young man who’d been “sifting through grad-school rejection notices a year ago” but had since “written for N + 1 and Utne Reader.”

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Malcolm Harris

The Times didn’t mention it, but to many observers Harris is best known not an aspiring littérateur but as an early leader of the Occupy Wall Street movement. In a September 2012 postmortem on OWS, Mark Ames, a veteran of MSNBC and The Nation – in other words, a solid left-winger – waxed cynical about the movement, whose failures he attributed largely to Harris, whom he mocked as a self-seeking “twenty-something hipster” and poster boy for a certain “brand of marketing-concocted ‘anarchism.’” Wrote Ames: “one look at Malcolm Harris – his anarcho-hipster sneer, his marketing-guy hipster glasses – and you’ll be reaching for the nearest can of pepper spray.”

10/10/11 New York Broadway and Liberty AV . .A protest on Wall Street is in 4 weeks, with more people showing up every day. The group is still working on its message, and it doesn't really have any demands. But the protesters say they are tired of struggling to make a living while the big banks get help from the government. Original Filename: Wall st Protest 21.JPG
OWS, October 2011

Ames provided some bio: Harris’s father was a “Silicon Valley corporate lawyer turned State Department diplomat.” As for Harris himself, he “was one of the very first to capitalize on the marketing possibilities of Occupy, and how he might exploit the marketing and messaging to quickly build his own brand.” Only a month after OWS got off the ground, it turns out, Harris signed up with a speakers’ agency; when a California branch of the movement, Occupy Redlands, asked him to come address its members, Harris’s agent replied “that if they wanted to hear Malcolm Harris talk about anarchism and the 99%, they’d have to pay him a $5,000 speaking fee. Not including travel and hotel expenses.” The news that an OWS “anarchist” was trying to squeeze five-grand payments out of allied groups around the country spread like wildfire, apparently, and did not exactly make Harris a movement hero.

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Harris in court, December 2012

Then came the lawsuit. In December 2012, after denying for over a year that he and other OWS activists hadn’t been warned by police to stay off the Brooklyn Bridge during an October 1, 2011, march – and hinting through his lawyer that, on the contrary, police had deliberately lured protesters onto the bridge – Harris’s own tweets from that day, which he’d fought to keep secret but which Twitter had provided to the court, showed that he was lying. Facing trial on a charge of disorderly conduct, he pleaded guilty. Even his lawyer was reprimanded for having played fast and loose with the facts.

Harris has continued writing prolifically – and in a thoroughly predictable vein. In January he contributed an article to Al Jazeera’s website entitled “Wealthy Cabals Run America”; in February the same site ran a piece of his entitled “Hooray for Cultural Marxism.” He’s also contributed plenty of articles to Jacobin, “a leading voice of the American left, offering socialist perspectives on politics, economics, and culture.” That there are nasty corners of the Internet prepared to give space to this mendacious young stooge is hardly surprising; but it’s depressing that The New Republic, once known for its staunch liberal anti-Communism, should welcome him into its pages.

Malcolm Harris’s Soviet nostalgia

Occupy Wall Street protester Malcolm Harris sits in the courtroom before a hearing in Manhattan Criminal Court stemming from his arrest in a protest march over the Brooklyn Bridge in New York, December 7, 2012. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
Malcolm Harris

In late April, the New Republic – which until recently was the flagship of liberal anti-Communism in America – published a reprehensible piece, “Who’s Afraid of Communism?,” by Malcolm Harris, a young editor at a website called New Inquiry and a frequent contributor to Al-Jazeera. The essay, an apologia for Communism, began with Harris mocking Hillary Clinton for her praise of NATO, which she’d called “the most successful military alliance in probably human history.” Harris dismissed this as “a bizarre assertion,” maintaining that NATO has only conducted a few “major military operations.” How, then, he sneered, could it be called successful?

Um, how about its four decades of success at keeping the USSR from overrunning western Europe as it had eastern Europe?

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But don’t tell Harris anything negative about the Soviets. He’s quick to remind us that in World War II the USSR “lost the most people, 50 times as many as America did.” He doesn’t mention that while members of the Red Army were fighting to defend their own homeland after it was invaded by Hilter (prior to which their own dictator, Stalin, had been allied with Hitler), America, by contrast, was fighting to rescue fellow democracies from totalitarian conquest by Germany – and, after the war, joined with those democracies in NATO to prevent totalitarian conquest by the USSR.

It’s outrageous to even have to remind anyone of these facts.

Lenin_CLHarris does at least admit that it was America that won the Cold War. But for him, what won was not democracy but capitalism, that ugly thing. For Harris, the USSR was not truly an evil empire but a “bogeym[a]n.” For Harris, U.S. foreign policy during the Cold War wasn’t a matter of the U.S. feeling compelled to align itself with certain less-than-admirable authoritarian regimes in the cause of long-term victory over a far worse totalitarian enemy; no, it was a matter of the US being the villain, and the USSR the hero, in Nicaragua, El Salvador, and elsewhere. For Harris, not only were the Soviets heroic, but American Communists were, too, in the fight against Jim Crow; ditto Cuban Communists, in the fight against apartheid in South Africa. To view things in any other way, claimed Harris, was sheer “bullshit” – an attempt to continue to repress the glorious “story of communism’s struggle against fascism and white supremacy.”

maoNone of this would matter, of course, except that – as Harris himself points out – his own perverse view of things is widely shared among young Americans today. “A new poll of adults under 30,” he wrote, “found that 51 percent ‘do not support capitalism.’” A disproportionate number of those who showed up to cheer socialist Bernie Sanders at his rallies were quite young indeed. What young Americans need, Harris insisted at the conclusion of his piece, is “a more nuanced version of the Cold War narrative.” No. These are kids who’ve already been sold a whitewashed picture of Communism by the media, their schoolteachers, and their college professors; what they desperately need is a thorough, honest education in its barbaric history.

Chris Hedges, morally posturing plagiarist

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Chris Hedges

In our last couple of postings, we’ve pondered the career of Chris Hedges, the self-righteous New York Times journalist turned shrill anti-American polemicist.

What we haven’t touched on yet, however, is a bombshell that hit Hedges’s career in June of last year. In an extensive, carefully researched article in The New Republic, Christopher Ketcham showed that Hedges had “a history of lifting material from other writers that goes back at least to his first book, War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning, published in 2002.”

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Christopher Ketcham

First, Ketcham told about a piece Hedges had submitted to Harper’s in 2010 that had turned out to contain several instances of “flat-out plagiarism” from a series of articles by Philadelphia Inquirer reporter Matt Katz. When confronted about the similarities, Hedges said he had secured Katz’s permission to borrow from his work; but this turned out to be a lie. A Harper’s fact-checker said that Hedges’s stealing was “one of the worst things I’d ever seen as a fact-checker at the magazine. And it was endemic throughout the piece.” When the fact checker spoke with Hedges, moreover, the latter “was very unhelpful from the beginning, and very aggressive” and tried to “intimidate” him. The fact-checker told Ketcham: “Not only was the plagiarism more egregious than I had seen before, but it was shocking how unapologetic Hedges was when it was put in his face. He got very heavy-handed about it.”

Ketcham summed it up as follows: “A leading moralist of the left…had now been caught plagiarizing at one of the oldest magazines of the left.”

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Petra Bartosiewicz

But the Harper’s piece, it turned out, was only the tip of the iceberg. Passages in Hedges’s book War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning, which is revered on the left, proved to contain slightly altered passages from Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms. When a Texas professor brought this to Hedges’s attention, Hedges was, in his words, “dismissive and belittling” – just as he’d been with that Harper’s fact-checker.

There was more: Hedges stole several passages from a Harper’s essay by Petra Bartosiewicz for a Truthdig item; another piece he wrote for Truthdig included a passage about George Orwell and Aldous Huxley that was lifted almost word-for-word out of a work by Neil Postman. (When editors at Salon, where Ketcham’s piece was originally scheduled to run, challenged the editor of Truthdig about all these clear instances of plagiarism, the latter, instead of addressing the alarming facts, accused Salon and Ketcham of trying to damage the reputations of Truthdig and Hedges for “commercial” reasons.) Hedges even stole material from a piece on climate change by fellow Nation writer Naomi Klein. Presented with all these examples of extensive copying, a journalism-school ethics expert told Ketcham they were obviously not just instances of “inadvertent plagiarism…but carefully thought out plagiarism.”

hedges10Hedges, as we’ve seen, represents himself as a media outsider and a lone, fearless voice of truth. Yet Ketcham’s revelations about his serial plagiarism utterly decimated his right to pose as a man of truth. Any ordinary journalist who’d been found guilty of such extensive appropriation of other people’s words would’ve been fired on the spot by any reputable media entity. Yet Hedges’s plagiarism has been shrugged off by The Nation, by Truthdig, and by every other place he writes for.

And that’s not all: Ketchum’s article, as he notes, “first took shape as an investigation for The American Prospect and then for Salon, both of which eventually declined to publish it.” Why? One suspects that neither of those left-wing outlets wanted to cross Hedges. So much for him being a brave and solitary anti-establishment voice of truth – on the contrary, he’s a star in the crown of the left-wing media establishment, which plainly doesn’t care whether he’s an honest man or a thief, so long as he’s ideologically on point.

hedges9aOh well. At least a writer for The Weekly Standard got it, calling Ketchum’s exposé “so detailed, so voluminous, so explicitly damning, that it is difficult to see how any but the most credulous members of the cult can ever take Hedges seriously again.” The Standard writer also lamented the indifference of the editors of The Nation and Hedges’s other outlets to Hedges’s transgressions:

….plagiarism ought to be a capital offense in journalism. It is surely a kind of psychic disturbance in print. Whatever impels writers to steal language from other writers, and publish it as their own, also makes them vulnerable to discovery. Hedges’s demons, which seem so obvious on the page, clearly represent something deeper than politics. The last thing serial plagiarists need is editors willing, in the name of ideology, to ignore their plagiarism.

Chris Hedges, legend in his own mind

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Chris Hedges

He was a New York Times reporter for 15 years, and for four of those years he was the paper’s Middle East bureau chief. But he couldn’t pose as an objective journalist forever, and eventually, in 2005, he left the Gray Lady to write opinion pieces for The Nation, for the Truthdig website, and for other left-wing outlets. Soon the former Timesman became known for his extreme anti-American views – as well as for his self-righteous posturing and over-the-top rhetoric. As Christopher Ketcham noted last year in the New Republic, Chris Hedges “has secured a place as a firebrand revered among progressive readers.” 

Here, from 2007, is a sample of the kind of stuff he churned out after leaving the Times: 

I will not pay my income tax if we go to war with Iran. I realize this is a desperate and perhaps futile gesture. But an attack on Iran – which appears increasingly likely before the coming presidential election – will unleash a regional conflict of catastrophic proportions. This war, and especially Iranian retaliatory strikes on American targets, will be used to silence domestic dissent and abolish what is left of our civil liberties. It will solidify the slow-motion coup d’êtat that has been under way since the 9/11 attacks. It could mean the death of the Republic.

In a 2011 interview on a program broadcast by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, the host, Kevin O’Leary, called Hedges a “left-wing nutbar.” And last December, in an article entitled “ISIS – the New Israel,” Hedges provided a fine example of the kind of writing that has led people like O’Leary to view him as a nutbar: 

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is our Frankenstein. The United States after a decade of war in Iraq pieced together its body parts. We jolted it into life. We bathed it in blood and trauma. And we gave it its intelligence. Its dark and vicious heart of vengeance and war is our heart. It kills as we kill. It tortures as we torture. It carries out conquest as we carry out conquest. It is building a state driven by hatred for American occupation, a product of the death, horror and destruction we visited on the Middle East.

hedges5It’s easy to sum up the thrust of Hedges’s work these days. It is, quite simply, this: that pretty much every bad thing that happens on this planet it ultimately the fault of the U.S. – which, he insists, is, in its own way, as much of a totalitarian power as Nazi Germany or Stalin’s USSR ever were. Specifically, Hedges subscribes to the proposition, advanced by political scientist Sheldon Wolin, that the U.S. is developing a form of government that Wolin calls “inverted totalitarianism.” And if the U.S. is a totalitarian tyranny, what does that make Hedges? Why, of course, it makes him a courageous soul who dares to utter the dark truth about America while the rest of the nation’s journalistic community, as he depicts it, meekly echoes the U.S. government’s lies about itself and promulgates the pretense that American society is free.

hedges6Of course, to call the present-day U.S. a totalitarian state is to dismiss or trivialize the brutal day-to-day reality of despotism in countries like North Korea, Chad, Equatorial Guinea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, China, Eritrea, and Cuba; and to pose as a gutsy hero who risks untold danger to speak truth to power is to insult the genuinely brave men and women who stand up to the Kims and Castros. Hedges’s demonization of the U.S. government has led to teaching gigs at Princeton and Columbia universities and won him the Pulitzer Prize and other awards; for him to present himself as the moral equivalent of human-rights activists in genuinely totalitarian or authoritarian countries – where many of them end up being arrested, tortured, imprisoned, or murdered – is the height of arrogance.

But this is just the beginning of the case against Chris Hedges. More tomorrow.

 

 

The dictators’ D.C. spinmeister

Do you ever get tired of cleaning up after the Clintons?” Fox News host Chris Wallace asked Lanny Davis back in March after the latter – a longtime spinmeister for Bill and Hillary – had spent over nine minutes on Wallace’s show, Fox News Sunday, trying to work his slippery magic on their behalf yet again, this time in regard to the matter of Ms. Clinton’s private e-mail server.

Davis, who worked as a “special counsel” in the Clinton White House, went on afterwards to become a familiar name and face in the media, writing for places like the Huffington Post and appearing frequently as a talking head on the cable news networks. But since the beginning of this year he’s been even more visible than usual, rushing from one TV interview to another to practice his shifty craft. The topic at hand, on each occasion, was supposedly Hillary’s e-mails, but Davis spent the bulk of his camera time skillfully changing the subject, talking out the clock, singing the Clintons’ praises, casting aspersions on his interviewers, and insisting over and over, in direct contravention of the obvious facts, that “you’re not letting me finish.” For all his patently strenuous efforts, he cannot have convinced a single soul: even Salon, a website that tends to be reflexively sympathetic to Democratic politicians, dismissed him a “well-known spinster…whom no one trusts” and who “endear[s] precisely zero people to Hillary Clinton.”

But get a load of this: the shrewd, wily character who went on TV day and night to serve up transparent prevarications on behalf of Ms. Clinton is only one side of Lanny Davis. In point of fact, he’s a highly multifaceted personality; the slimy spinmeister, the Artful Dodger, is only one side of him.

Unfortunately, as it turns out, it’s the more attractive side.

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Lanny Davis

For when he’s not being elusive and duplicitous on behalf of the Juan and Eva Perón of Chappaqua, Davis works as an inside-the-Beltway lobbyist for a list of foreign clients so unsavory that the whole thing reads like some kind of bad joke. In a May 2012 piece in the Atlantic, Jon Lovett called him “a pitchman for warlords” who “carr[ied] the Devil’s water in Washington,” and said that he “represents all that is wrong with politics today.” “The last time we heard from Lanny Davis,” began an August 2013 item in the New Republic by Isaac Chotiner, “he was doing what he does best: representing a dictator.

Details tomorrow.

James Carden, mud-slinger

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James Carden

We’ve been looking at a recent piece in The Nation in which one James Carden spent page after page slinging mud at a report on pro-Putin propaganda in the West. His chief objective, plainly, was to try to salvage as much as possible of the reputation of the West’s #1 pro-Putin propagandist, Stephen F. Cohen, who just happens to be married to The Nation‘s editor, Katrina vanden Heuvel.

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Peter Pomerantsev

As we mentioned, Carden smeared Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the former billionaire imprisoned by Putin, as “corrupt” and “violent” – an apparent effort to distract our attention from the fact that Putin’s own corruption and violence put everyone else in his realm in the shade. That accomplished, Carden moved on to another now-routine pro-Putin maneuver: comparing the critics of Putin, and of his apologists, to Senator Joe McCarthy. Then, just as in the good old days when The Nation was happily flacking for Stalin, Carden pulled out the moral-equivalency card, maintaining that whether or not the Kremlin is actually engaging in disinformation, well, so are the Ukrainians. So there!

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Michael Weiss

The “real goal” of the report’s authors, Michael Weiss and Peter Pomerantsev, Carden averred, 

is not to fight Russian “disinformation” but to stigmatize and marginalize—even exclude from American discourse—anyone with a more nuanced view of Russia’s role in the Ukraine crisis. They are waging this war against enemies real and imagined, and by doing so they are helping to create an atmosphere in which dissenting opinion on US policy toward Russia becomes impermissible.

An interesting allegation, given that it was Carden himself who, rather than addressing the actual contents of Weiss and Pomerantsev’s report, kept busy throughout his piece serving up distractions, playing guilt-by-association games, and engaging in pure name-calling.

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Vladimir Putin

After he was done slandering Weiss and Pomerantsev, Carden moved on to other critics of Putin and his Western apologists. Once again – just in case we’d already forgotten – Carden reminded us that all these people who are daring to reprove Putin’s apologists are practitioners of a brand of “neo-McCarthyism” that reeks “of a barely concealed attempt to censor and intimidate.” Needless to say, none of these Putin critics – unlike Putin himself – have the slightest power to censor or intimidate anybody. All they’re doing is putting their ideas out there, accompanied by evidence and argument – none of which, again, Carden ever deigned to seriously address. Perhaps Carden’s nerviest move of all was his attempt to defile the incomparable Anne Applebaum, one of the most brilliant, best-informed, and ethically unassailable critics of the Putin regime. (Not incidentally, Applebaum has been an outspoken supporter of Weiss and Pomerantsev’s report.)

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Katrina vanden Heuvel, Stephen F. Cohen

Carden saved the real objective of his article – namely, to try to rescue the shriveling reputation of his editor’s husband – for his closing paragraphs. “For much of the past year,” he wrote, “Princeton and New York University professor emeritus Stephen F. Cohen, a leading scholar of Soviet and post-Soviet Russia and a Nation contributing editor, has been routinely castigated in The New Republic, the Daily Beast, The Boston Globe, New York, and Slate as ‘a toady,’ ‘Putin’s best friend,’ and a ‘Putin apologist.’” Yet again, however, instead of examining the actual content of Cohen’s writings on the subject of Putin or the substance of his critics’ charges, Carden simply repeated the tired claim that Cohen’s critics are out to “marginalize” him. No, worse: they’re carrying out “a frontal attack on the core tenets of free speech” – an accusation that could only be made in any sincerity by somebody who doesn’t understand the core tenets of free speech. (But of course, sincerity has nothing to do with Carden’s rhetorical methods.)

cohen-natashaMoreover, charged Carden, they’re following a “policy of belligerence toward Russia” – an interesting formulation, given that the creep for whom Carden, Cohen, and vanden Heuvel are providing cover here, Vladimir Putin, is guilty of real belligerence, using guns and bullets, against his own subjects and the innocent citizens of a neighboring country.

All in all, a disgraceful, dishonest screed. But what else could you expect from a magazine that spent decades spreading Stalinist propaganda?