Top ten stooges, part two

Yesterday we revisited five of our top ten useful stooges of 2016. Here are the other five, who happen to have one thing in common: a readiness to defend Islam, the premier totalitarian force of our time. 

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Ben Norton

He hates Israel, calls the U.S. a “rogue state,” celebrates the legacy of the Black Panthers, and reflexively responds to each new act of terrorism by fretting about anti-Muslim backlash and smearing critics of Islam. He’s boy scribe Ben Norton, who when he’s not writing for Salon – an execrable enough venue – can be found at such vile pro-jihad sites as Electronic Intifada and Middle East Monitor. Instead of condemning the murderers of the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists in January 2015, Norton slammed the victims as racists. Instead of writing about the massacres in Boston, San Bernardino, and Orlando (media attention to such events, he argues, only boosts bigotry), he penned an entire article about a white lady who’d jumped a hijab-clad woman on a Washington, D.C., sidewalk.

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Laurie Penny

Laurie Penny was born into a prosperous family (both her parents were lawyers), went to a posh English public school, studied at Oxford, and was soon a highly successful journalist and author. But she’s still (as she constantly whines) a victim of sexism, a member of an “oppressed class.” And every man’s an oppressor – except, note well, for those Muslim males who act on the permission their religion gives them to beat, rape, and even kill women with impunity. So it was that when gangs of “refugees” committed mass rape in Cologne last New Year’s Eve, Penny turned her ire not on the rapists, but on the “racists” who responded to this crime by criticizing Islam. 

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Sally Kohn

It sounds like a set-up for a bad joke: a Jewish lesbian defending sharia law. But it’s no joke – it’s Sally Kohn, who after holding a series of jobs as a sleazy political operator and PR flack is now a CNN talking head. Even worse than her utter lack of a decent education is her utter lack of embarrassment about it: when an editor commissioned her to write about Amsterdam, she admitted she didn’t even know what country it was in – but that didn’t keep her from visiting it for a few days and banging out a piece accusing the natives of (what else?) Islamophobia.

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Owen Jones

“Modern capitalism is a sham,” advises British lad Owen Jones, and “democratic socialism is our only hope.” A Guardian columnist, Oxford grad, and son of Trotskyite parents, Jones is a consistent whitewasher of Islam who turns every act of jihadist terror into an excuse to denounce critics of Islam.

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Will Smith

Finally, there’s movie star Will Smith, who this year called for “cleans[ing]” America by eliminating Trump supporters. (He didn’t say how we should do it.) He also condemned America’s “Islamophobia” and extolled Dubai, which, he claimed, “dreams the way I dream.” Never mind that the UAE, where Dubai is located, is a sharia-ruled country where you can get stoned to death for being gay: Smith, a self-styled “student of world religion,” claimed that if Americans have a bad image of the place, it’s entirely the fault of Fox News.

Happy New Year!

Owen Jones: Britain’s answer to Ben Norton

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This is Norton

Recently we spent several days getting acquainted with Ben Norton, a baby-faced American whose callow, knee-jerk-leftist pieces for Salon and elsewhere have caused him, inexplicably, to be taken seriously as commentator on world events. He is a walking poster boy for unthinking ideological conformity: he hates his own country, he despises Israel, he’s been a consistent apologist for chavismo in Venezuela, for the Kirchners in Argentina, and for Brazil’s Dilma Rousseff, and he’s a staunch defender of the Palestinians, Hamas, Hezbollah, and Islam generally.

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This is Jones

You could be excused for getting Norton confused with the equally boyish-looking Owen Jones, who is currently a columnist for the Guardian. Jones used to write a column for The Independent, and has also contributed to the New Statesman, Mirror, and other leftist outlets. Like Norton, he’s also a fixture on political TV programs. The main difference between these two lads is that Jones is British. Otherwise they’re both singing almost exactly the same tune: anti-American, anti-Israeli, pro-all those Latin American socialists, and, last but far from least, pro-Islam.

Jones, an Oxford grad, has a far-left pedigree: his grandfather was a member of the British Communist Party, and his parents met as members of a Trotskyite group. So he’s not exactly a rebel; he’s just gone into the family business. At 31 (though he could pass for a high-school student), he’s already written two books: Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class (2011), which made his name and resulted in his gig at The Independent, and The Establishment: And How They Get Away With It (2014). His rise, like Norton’s, has been lightning-swift: in 2013, The Telegraph named him the seventh most influential member of the British left.

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His masterpiece

What has he done to earn all this attention? As with Norton, one is compelled to conclude that he’s become a welcome voice in the pages of the left-wing press and on the politically oriented chat shows because, first, his views are entirely predictable and thus perfectly suitable for the crude this-side-vs.-that-side mentality that governs much of the legacy media and, second, he’s young and cute and lively, a creature of the social-media age whom the powers that be at geriatric media organs like the Guardian, the Beeb, and Sky News think will help improve their sickly readership/viewership numbers among members of his generation.

Certainly he hasn’t brought any fresh thinking to the table. “Modern capitalism is a sham,” he has written, and “democratic socialism is our only hope.” He has made this same statement over and over again, using somewhat different words each time, in innumerable pieces and media appearances.

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Sadiq Khan

As for the Islam issue, Jones, like Norton, is less interested in writing about cases of mass slaughter by jihadists than about incidents in which, say, some non-Muslim is alleged to have pulled a hijab off of a woman’s head or to have yelled some naughty word at her on the street. Indeed, his standard response to those giant terrorist attacks is to wring his hands about anti-Muslim backlash. Last November, he wrote that “in the US Muslims have to endure growing threats of violence and abuse.” He routinely spreads disinformation about Islam (“the Qur’an forbids the killing of innocent people”). This spring, he vocally championed the successful candidacy of Sadiq Khan, a Muslim, for mayor of London, despite Khan’s ties to a radical imam and Islamic State supporter. (Khan, who has supported the “right” of women in the UK to wear full burkas, has already ordered a sharia-like ban on images of “indecently” clad women on public transport and refused  to ban Hezbollah from London.)

What about that little above-mentioned detail about his own personal life – namely, the fact that he’s gay, and would therefore automatically be imprisoned, tortured, or executed in Islamic countries? We’ll get to that tomorrow.

The callow Kirchnerite: Ben Norton

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Ben Norton

This week we’ve been perusing the writings of highly prolific Salon contributor Ben Norton, who in a career that is now barely three years old has established himself as a leading American champion of Islam and hard-core socialism and a major detractor of the U.S., Israel, and “neoliberalism.”

Before we say goodbye to Norton, let’s take a quick look at another frequent topic of his work – namely Latin America. Unsurprisingly, he’s heaped praise on socialist leaders – such as Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela and Cristina Kirchner in Argentina – who’ve damaged economies, arrested opponents, and suppressed civil liberties (after all, their hearts are in the right place!), while predictably demonizing “neoliberal” leaders who’ve brought their countries freedom and prosperity. Citing such far-left sources as Noam Chomsky and Glenn Greenwald, Norton has referred to the impeachment of Brazil’s leftist president, Dilma Rousseff, as a “right-wing coup.” In May, he attacked New York Times editorial-board member Ernesto Londoño, who in a recent article had done two things of which Norton disapproved.

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Glenn Greenwald

What two things? First, Londoño had committed the unpardonable act of “bashing Venezuela’s elected leader.” In fact, what Londoño had done was simply to criticize the human-rights violations committed by the government of President Maduro – who, as Londoño truthfully noted, had become “a petty dictator.” Second, Londoño had praised the man Norton referred to as “Argentina’s new right-wing [read: non-socialist] President Mauricio Macri,” whom Norton criticized for having “capitulated to vulture funds” and for “forcing through brutal neoliberal cuts.” In reality, Londoño, in commenting about Marci, had merely noted with obvious admiration Macri’s longstanding criticism of chavista human-rights abuses.

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Ernesto Londoño

What about those “vulture funds” – the Kirchner crowd’s disparaging term for the U.S. hedge funds to which Argentina owned billions of dollars, but that Cristina Kirchner refused to pay a single peso, preferring instead to vilify her creditors and let her country default on its sovereign debt for the second time in fourteen years? Londoño hadn’t said a word about those funds; but Norton apparently couldn’t forgive Macri for having decided to pay his country’s debts and move beyond Cristina’s disastrous default. As for those “brutal neoliberal cuts”? Londoño hadn’t mentioned them, either. Of course, to Norton, neoliberalism is a dirty word, and budget cuts are by definition brutal. But the plain fact is that Macri – who appears to understand economics a good deal better than Norton does (and better, for that matter, than Chávez or Maduro or Kirchner or Rousseff) – is simply trying to keep Argentina from heading down the same road that has led Venezuela to utter economic ruin.

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Mauricio Macri

But what does Ben Norton know or care about such realities and responsibilities? Or about the long-term impact of capitalist vs. socialist economics on the everyday lives of ordinary people? Or, again, about the reality of day-to-day life in free, democratic societies vs. day-to-day life under putatively progressive autocrats or Islamic totalitarians? Again and again, he has shown that the lessons of the twentieth century are lost on him. He seems to bang away at his articles in a child’s little corner of world, sheltered from the ugly, distant realities of theocracy and despotism and clueless about how fortunate he is to be living in a free, prosperous country that he’s been taught to regard as the planet’s chief purveyor of evil. In every word that he writes, in short, Ben Norton comes across as an utter naif – which is to say that he is every bit as callow about the way the great world operates as he appears to be in his photographs.

David Sirota’s Venezuelan “miracle”

In a recent series of posts, we explored the puzzlement that is Mark Weisbrot, an American economist who – for reasons either ideological or pecuniary, or both – has persisted in lauding the socialist economic policies of Venezuela and Argentina, even as those policies have dragged those countries’ economies into the mire.

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David Sirota

Another commentator who’s taken the same line on the same topics is David Sirota. Who? Born in 1975, Sirota has worked as a left-wing radio host, a contributor to Salon and The Nation, and a political operative for a long list of Democratic politicians, centers, foundations, and the like. Among his career highlights are stints as a spokesman for Bernie Sanders and as a fellow at the Center for American Progress, a left-wing spin machine. In 2003, Newsweek described him as “well schooled in the art of Washington warfare.” A New York Times review of his 2006 book Hostile Takeover said Sirota possessed “a take-no-prisoners mind-set” toward Republicans and centrists. Election handicapper Nate Silver has accused Sirota of “playing fast and loose with the truth.”

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The Boston Marathon bombers

In the immediate aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings, Sirota gained plenty of media attention with a Salon article headlined “Let’s Hope the Boston Marathon Bomber Is a White American.” Why should we have such hopes? Because of “the dynamics of privilege.” Sirota explained: when members of unprivileged religious or ethnic groups commit mass shootings, the groups they belong to are “collectively slandered and/or targeted with surveillance or profiling (or worse).” Not so “white dudes,” who, when they commit mass shootings, are treated as “lone wolf” types. The word jihad, of course, did not appear anywhere in Sirota’s article; to recognize that religious identity tends to be a highly relevant detail in acts of terror committed by Muslims is to violate the kind of reality-challenged political correctness for which Sirota (like Salon) stands. Islam expert Robert Spencer called Sirota’s piece “appallingly stupid”; Greg Gutfeld of Fox News wondered aloud if, in hoping that the terrorist attack in Boston had been committed by a white American, Sirota had meant white Americans “like the Occupy Wall Streeters on trial in Cincinnati? Or Bill Ayers, the nutty professor?”

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The late, great caudillo

Sirota is, then, a creep and a clown on a number of fronts. But for now, we’re concerned about his views on Latin American economies. In March 2013, he actually published a piece – once again in Salon – entitled “Hugo Chavez’s economic miracle.” Sirota began with a sneer: for a long time, Americans of certain political persuasions had treated Hugo Chávez as “a boogeyman synonymous with extremism,” made him the subject of “over-the-top political rhetoric,” acted as if he was a “radical.” While making the pro forma acknowledgment that “Chavez was no saint,” for example on “human rights and basic democratic freedoms,” Sirota was quick to make the leap into moral equivalency (America, he proposed, had recently been guilty of “drone assaults, civil liberties abuses, and [a] war on voting”) and to accuse Chávez’s critics of hypocrisy (“it is not as if [America’s] political establishment sees an assault on democratic freedoms as deplorable”).

No, Sirota insisted: what made Chávez “the bugaboo of American politics” was not the bad aspects of his record, but the good ones – namely, the “indisputably positive results” of his economic policies, which, for the American establishment, raised uncomfortable questions about, say, the wisdom of nationalization and of aggressive income redistribution. But now that Venezuela’s economic success was so utterly undeniable, America had to stop demonizing “everyone from Martin Luther King to Michael Moore to Oliver Stone to anyone else who dares question neoliberalism and economic imperialism.”

Quick note: MLK has a national bank holiday; Moore and Stone have won Oscars. So much for “demonizing.” Anyway, that was Sirota in 2013. And since? We’ll get to that tomorrow.

Doublethink: Trumbo and the critics

Back in November, we took a good long look at the new movie Trumbo, which makes a hero and martyr out of blacklisted Stalinist screenwriter Dalton Trumbo. During the last couple of days we’ve been examining reviews of the picture by critics who’ve somehow failed to grasp that, while the Hollywood blacklist may well have been a bad thing, that doesn’t mean that Stalinism was anything other than evil. 

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Bryan Cranston in Trumbo

We’re not done, because (as it turns out) there are plenty more clueless critiques of this film to ponder. Take this bemusing sentence by Steven Rea in the Philadelphia Inquirer: “Set in the years after World War II, when fear of the ‘Red Menace’ – of creeping communism – spread across America, Trumbo details how fear and suspicion wormed their way into the movie biz, with actors and filmmakers branded as Stalinist sympathizers.”

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A protest to free the Hollywood Ten, with Trumbo third from left

But of course it wasn’t just “fear and suspicion” that “wormed their way into the movie biz”; Communism itself wormed its way into the film capital, as part of a highly calculated plan hatched within the walls of the Kremlin itself. And saying that Trumbo and his cohorts were “branded as Stalinist sympathizers” is like saying that Harry Truman was branded as a Democrat. Or a male. Or a Missourian. These guys were Stalinist sympathizers. They were Stalinist tools, Stalinist operatives – conscious and willing enemy soldiers in the war of ideas between the free world and the Soviet bloc. They were, quite simply, Stalinists  – full stop. Rea writes as if all this was invented by paranoid right-wingers, as if the “Red Menace” and “creeping communism” were nothing but feverish fantasies, as if Americans’ “fear and suspicion” of Communism were as unfounded as a fear of ghosts or vampires or werewolves.

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Trumbo wrote in the bathtub

One of the signal attributes of the totalitarian society depicted in George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984 was something he called “Doublethink” – the “power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them.” That’s what going on in many of these reviews: even while the critic accepts the fact that Dalton Trumbo was a Communist (how could he not?), he ridicules the “Communist witch hunt” as a paranoid, hysterical effort to unearth enemies of freedom where none at all existed.

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Cranston as Trumbo, writing in the tub

Then there’s Salon‘s Andrew O’Hehir, who knows very well what Stalinism was (and is), and who doesn’t try to disguise his fondness for it. “I cannot pretend to any objectivity when it comes to this subject,” he admits. “My mother and her first husband (who many years later was also her third husband) were both members of the Communist Party. My stepdad knew Dalton Trumbo, and worked on the defense committees for both the Hollywood 10 (a group of movie people, including Trumbo, who went to federal prison for refusing to answer questions before Congress) and for Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, American Communists who were executed as Soviet spies.”

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The Rosenbergs

These are, it must be said, rather curious formulations: of course, the Hollywood Ten weren’t just “a group of movie people” but a group of dedicated members of the Communist Party, all of whom were dedicated to the overthrow of democracy in the United States; and the Rosenbergs weren’t just “executed as Soviet spies,” they were Soviet spies, who passed the atom-bomb secrets on to the Kremlin. (Ethel Rosenberg even lied to her two sons, assuring them in a goodbye letter that she and their father were innocent – a claim proven false many years later by declassified KGB documents.)

Yes, there have been a couple of intelligent, well-informed reviews of Trumbo. We’ll get to them tomorrow.  

 

 

“Lessons” from Roger Waters

On April 28, Salon ran a remarkable piece by Roger Waters, the musician and former member of Pink Floyd. In it, Waters addressed an upcoming Tel Aviv gig by British singer Robbie Williams. Noting that Williams was “UNICEF’s UK ambassador and a declared supporter of its Children in Danger campaign,” Waters charged him with “showing a chilling indifference” to the well-being of Palestinian children and called on him to cancel his appearance.

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Robbie Williams

“Dear Robbie,” wrote Waters, addressing the singer directly, “playing this concert on May 2 would be giving your tacit support to the deaths of over 500 Palestinian children last summer in Gaza…and condoning the arrest and abuse of hundreds of Palestinian children each year living under Israeli occupation.” Informing Williams that Israeli officials are racists who view Palestinian children merely “as grass to be mowed,” he told Williams that

If you cannot see yourself in the eyes of a Palestinian father, you should do the decent thing and resign from UNICEF, or failing that, UNICEF should let you go.

Waters actually had the nerve to close this arrogant edict as follows: “Love, Roger Waters.”

Williams went ahead with his concert. But that didn’t discourage Waters. Only a couple of weeks later – again in Salon – he was haranguing singer Dionne Warwick, who, like Williams, was planning to perform in Israel. “I believe you mean well, Ms. Warwick,” he wrote, “but you are showing yourself to be profoundly ignorant of what has happened in Palestine since 1947.”

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Mark Blacknell

Meanwhile, yet another voice of reason had tried to get through to Waters. Writing in the Times of Israel, film director Mark Blacknell reminded the Israel-obsessed Waters that the target of his wrath enjoys such charming neighbors as Hezbollah, “Assad the Butcher,” ISIS, Al Qaeda, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the “Houthi Shiite rebels in Yemen,” the “jihad-plagued, complete insanity of Sudan,” the “ultra-religious, feudalistic Mecca of Islam, Saudi Arabia,” and the “’end of days’ cult of the Ayatollah in Iran.” Blacknell asked Waters why, if he cares so much about Palestinians, he doesn’t “talk about the historically brutal Jordanian oppression of Palestinians, the Egyptians’ crackdown on Gaza or the hellish conditions in the Palestinian camps of Lebanon and Syria.” Why, he asked, “has no Arab nation granted Palestinians a place in their societies? Why won’t you criticize Jordan, Egypt, Syria or Lebanon for their treatment of innocent Palestinians?”

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Roger Waters

Blacknell made a couple of points worth repeating. First, he noted that pollsters had recently asked Israeli Arabs the following question: “If Palestine becomes a fully independent state will you renounce your Israeli citizenship and become a Palestinian citizen?” Seventy percent had said no. Blacknell also recalled that during the two years he’d spent making a documentary about Jews and Arabs, he’d had to face some unpleasant truths. “Every Israeli I interviewed said something like this, ‘I don’t hate Arabs, I just don’t think there’s anyway to satisfy them, so we have to protect ourselves?’ Every Palestinian I interviewed, said something like this, ‘The Zionist regime is occupation. It must be destroyed.’” If only “Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Fatah and their supporters in the Arab world acknowledged and accepted Israel today, the era of peace would begin tomorrow and Israel would lead the way.” That being a seemingly impossible dream, Blacknell had a proposal for Waters:

Supporters listen as Ismail Haniyeh, prime minister of the Hamas Gaza government, speaks during a Hamas rally marking the anniversary of the death of its leaders killed by Israel, in Gaza City March 23, 2014. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem (GAZA - Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST ANNIVERSARY)
A March 2014 Hamas rally in Gaza City

Since Israeli fans no longer deserve your presence in the only democratic nation of the Middle East, I encourage you do a show in the heart of Gaza City. You could float one of your giant, pig balloons in the air with an Islamic Crescent moon and caricature of Muhammad on it. Then, you could utilize the freedom of speech that you currently use to voice your sophomoric (at best) understanding of the Middle East by telling Hamas that it’s the real enemy of the Palestinian people. I think only then, as the crowd publicly stomps you into the ground and drags you half-alive through the streets of Gaza, will you understand the true nature of Israel’s predicament.

But we’ll save Blackwell’s best sentence for last, and italicize it for emphasis:

What is presented to you as innocent victims struggling for freedom, is in reality uncompromising cultural intolerance at a level so antiquated that is difficult for many westerners to comprehend.

Not even this, however, stirred Waters out of his moral slumber. In fact – as we’ll see tomorrow – he took his attacks on fellow performers to a new height.

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.