I’ve been too busy to get deep into the swirl of charges and canards that have been flying around the progressive blogosphere ever since the YearlyKos conference in Las Vegas, and plenty of other people are doing a good job of rebutting the worst (such as David Brooks’ ridiculous NYT column that called readers of DailyKos “cultists” and “rabid sheep.”) But when I saw my old Nation colleague Christopher Hitchens adding to the muck by telling listeners of the Hugh Hewitt show that Kossacks were conspiracy nuts of the worst order, I felt the need to write him an email and try to correct at least one small piece of the record. Here’s our email exchange. I wish it were more satisfactory.
Longtime no speak. I hope you and yours are well.
Someone sent me this transcript from you on the Hugh Hewitt show and I was pretty amazed by what you said about the DailyKos folks. I bolded it below. The source is here: http://www.radioblogger.com/#001710
I write as your friend. I think you are completely ill-informed about the people who were at YearlyKos and what they believe. I was there in Las Vegas. I spoke on a panel on election reform. The audience was serious and focused on real problems and solutions. There was nobody making claims that Bush blew up the World Trade Center, etc. Nor did I see anyone selling videos and books making such claims.
Christopher, we don’t agree on everything but I have always thought of you as fiercely honest. Perhaps the person who transcribed the show got it wrong. Did you really say this? Do you believe it?
HH: There is a debate underway in the United States Senate this day, and joining me to discuss that debate, Christopher Hitchens, contributor columnist to Slate, as well as to Vanity Fair, and many other places that you can read his work. Christopher Hitchens, have you been following the debate in the Senate?
HH: Well, I’m going to make you do it. I hate to inflict this on you, but…
CH: I mean, I do follow the debates, but I haven’t today been doing so.
HH: Well, I’ve got lots of tape of Hillary, and Christopher Dodd, and Ted Kennedy and Joe Biden. And I thought it would be useful to our audience if you could respond in real time to the various assertions made by these Senators. And I’d like to start with Senator Clinton. Cut number 8, please:
HRC: Let’s be clear about what this debate is about. My friends on the other side of the aisle believe that the status quo is working in Iraq. They do not believe we need a fundamental change in policy. They choose to continue blindly following the president. We Democrats disagree. We believe we need a new direction in Iraq that will increase the chances for success on the ground. Now I may disagree with those who call for a date certain, for a withdrawal, but I do not doubt their patriotism. I may disagree with those who believe in an unconditional commitment without end, but I do not doubt their patriotism, either. Sadly, however, there are those who do doubt the patriotism of many who raise serious questions about this war.
HH: Christopher Hitchens, are you aware of such people?
CH: Yes, Mrs. Clinton, had she been in Las Vegas for the Kos conference, could have met them for herself. They’re a very large force in her own party. These are people who think George Bush blew up the World Trade Center, and the Pentagon, openly say so, and circulate books and videos to that effect, and hold conferences to try and prove it, people who compare the Zarqawi gangsters in Iraq to the American founding fathers and the Minutemen, and who, well, shall I…do I need say more?
Here’s Hitchens’ reply:
You are right twice: I am both honest and fierce.
And I was wrong to conflate the DK people with the Chicago conference on 9/11, and you can tell anyone that I said so. It’s partly the exigency of radio, but I shall make sure to tell Hewitt, if he asks me again, to let me make a clarification and distinction.
It can’t be a completely clean distinction, because many of the DK types do believe that Bush did the WTC and the Pentagon, was holding OBL for an October surprise in 2004 and all the rest of it. The Nation and its publishing arm have circulated the same trash, under Vidal’s name and in a book by some Frenchman. Michael Moore has not been denounced by the anti-war movement for what he said about the Minutemen, nor have Galloway and Ramsey Clark been disowned for acting as mouthpieces for the Ba’ath.
However, this doesn’t license me to say anything I please, and you are free to show this email to anyone.
I hope you thrive.
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I titled this post “Hitchens Retracts (Sort Of)” because his reply is hardly a full apology. “Many of the DK [DailyKos] types do believe that Bush did the WTC and the Pentagon” is still an unfounded slander. And his conflation of whatever stupid things The Nation’s publishing arm, Michael Moore, Gore Vidal, George Galloway and Ramsey Clark may publish or believe with the “DK types” believe is just plain sloppy reasoning. What do any of them have to do with the DailyKos community of 90,000 diarists? Last I checked not one of the people Hitchens named was a registered diarist at DailyKos, and I don’t think Markos Moulitsas or any of his guest editors has ever endorsed any of those views. Requiring people to denounce other people’s views and them chastising them for failure to do so is a slippery slope, is it not Christopher? Far better to hold people responsible for what they do say, no?
HH:….I want to give you a chance to what? Make nice with the Daily Kos crowd?
CH: Yeah, why not? Just to show how furry I am. No, seriously, Hugh, if I can call you that, last week, when you asked me about Hillary Clinton’s allegations and accusations of unpatriotism and so on, and I said well, if she’d been in Las Vegas, she could have heard all these people talking about how Bush did 9/11, and all of that. And in my mind, I was partly thinking of this other convention that had recently taken place, or is about to take place in Chicago, of all the people who say the administration pre-arranged the whole thing. And though there are some people who overlap in these camps, it isn’t fair, wasn’t fair of me to say that the Daily Kos promulgates that kind of stuff. So I thought…a couple of people wrote to me quite decently about it, and I thought I just ought to take the opportunity.
HH: I saw that. Micah Sifry is one of them, and he’s a very fine guy, actually. He’s wrong…
CH: Yeah, he’s very good, yeah.
HH: He’s wrong about most things, but he’s a very fine guy. On the other hand, I don’t want you to apologize too broadly. It was, after all, Kos who accused Marty Peretz of being the Joe Lieberman-loving, neocon owner. That’s a little code there for you. And…
CH: Well, right. You know what? I mean, there’s nothing factually wrong with that.
HH: Nothing factually, but what do you think he intended?
CH: Not only that, but Al Gore-loving.
HH: But what did you think he intended to intimate there?
CH: Even worse. No, look. Some of the ways the Daily Kos expressed itself are quite repellent to me, and I don’t take any of that back. But there was a specific innuendo that I didn’t mean, and that isn’t fair.
That Hugh Hewitt character…he’s a very nice guy, even if he is wrong about most things.
And Hitchens used this little episode as the jumping-off point for one of his typically challenging and infuriating columns in Slate. Challenging because he asks hard questions of critics of the Iraq War; infuriating because he’s arguing with a straw man made of the furthest-out reaches of the anti-war movement.