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Eric Boehlert

Eric Boehlert

Posted: September 25, 2006 09:02 AM

The New York Times Book Review Cheap Shot


You know there's something deeply dishonest about a book review when it ignores the entire premise of the book in question. For a perfect example, see Sunday's New York Times Book Review critique of Sidney Blumenthal's "How Bush Rules."

The book, a collection of Blumenthal's Salon and Guardian essays, is built around two simple ideas; that Bush's presidency has been a radical one and a failed one.

Yet the Times review refuses to address either point, choosing instead to dance around the edges, belittling Blumenthal for being too angry and too serious. I kid you not. Blumenthal lays out in excruciating detail the sins of the Bush administration--lives lost, billions squandered, international reputations diminished--and the Times deducts points because the book isn't funny enough. (What's funny is the fact the Times didn't assign the review to a Washington political pro or presidential historian, but a MSM Gotham City magazine writer who's recent articles have included stories like "My Life as a Thin Person" and "Are Jews Smarter?")

Every author understands that the politics of book reviews can be complicated and infuriating, and for the most part it's every man and woman for themselves. (Disclosure: Blumenthal is a friend and former colleague of mine.) But what makes this review so irksome is it doubles as a swipe at an entire political movement; a calculated attempt to dismiss and ridicule Bush critics who time and again have been proven right about his incompetence, yet remain MSM targets. Indeed, the Times critique strains mightily to paint Bush critics as "smug," "unglued," "condescending," "berserk", and "not wholly credible" "loathers" who reside beyond the mainstream.

The Times stumbles repeatedly though, in its effort to marginalize Blumenthal. For instance, when not bemoaning the book's lack of belly laughs, the critique charges Blumenthal is guilty of "gerrymandering evidence so that inconvenient facts don't make it onto the map." But that's exactly what the New York Times Book Review is guilty of when it incorrectly states Blumenthal "claims Bush had "plenty of information" to act on before Sept. 11, but fails to produce anything more specific than the findings of the 9/11 Commission." Wrong. Blumenthal also includes an interview with General Donald Kerrick, who served as deputy national security adviser under Clinton and remained on the NSC in the early Bush administration. Kerrick told Blumenthal that he warned Bush officials about the looming terrorist threat only to be ignored. (Pg. 47)

When Blumenthal takes Bush to task for his failed handling of Hurricane Katrina,and notes the war in Iraq distracted the administration and strained U.S. resources, the review dismisses the charges: "As if dozens of other factors hadn't conspired against the poor city." But "How Bush Rules" spends several pages (259-261) detailing the many other factors that lead to the disaster.

The review suggests the book was sparked by events that have transpired "since the president's re-election," when in fact the first 31 columns published are clearly dated prior to Bush's re-election.

And on and on it goes. The review does not represent serious journalism or criticism as much as it does the latest round in the MSM game of gotcha against Bush critics who have the nerve to say what most CW-loving media insiders don't want to hear--Bush's presidency is a radical one and a failed one.