Thursday, December 20, 2018


Over the weekend, readers of the print edition of the Sunday New York Times opened the Book Review and found Alice Walker recommending And the Truth Shall Set You Free, a book by David Icke. Some of us knew that Icke is a notorious crackpot who believes that "reptilian entities" run the world; others knew that Icke is a bone-deep anti-Semite. If there was any doubt about Icke's bigotry, Tablet's Yair Rosenberg subsequently laid it to rest; in a long piece, he quotes from several of Icke's works, including the one Walker recommended in the Times, and there's no disputing the anti-Semitism. Rosenberg also noted that Walker had recommended other anti-Semitic works by Icke on previous occasions.

Slate's Laura Miller writes:
Chances are, no one at the Review knew about Walker’s more dubious intellectual enthusiasms before deciding to interview her for the column, and once she’d sent back her response, no one bothered to Google the authors she recommended.
I think this is the problem. Walker wasn't exactly interviewed; she was given a standard set of questions for a regular Book Review feature called "By the Book"; she answered the questions, as is standard practice, via email, and the answers were presented unedited, apart from verification of book titles and authors' names (also standard practice). The editor of the Book Review, Pamela Paul, explains all this in a follow-up interview in the Times. Paul says she has no regrets about publishing the interview without edits or additional context. She also explains why Walker was interviewed:
Why did you choose Alice Walker for this column?

The editor of By the Book chose her because this column was for a thematic Book Review issue on poetry and politics. She is both a poet and someone known to be very political in her work.
And there's the problem: One political poet needed to be chosen, and the choice was Walker, even though she's been open about her profound admiration for anti-Semitic writer.

But Laura Miller is right -- Walker was probably chosen because no one at the Times knew this. The Icke recommendation probably went to press because no one there knew who Icke was.

I'm thinking back to the 1990s, when the right-wing book industry really took off. Bestseller lists, including the one in the Times, were regularly topped by crackpot works such as Gary Aldrich's Unlimited Access, which alleged that then-first lady Hillary Clinton decorated a White House Christmas tree with condoms and syringes. This was the when authors such as Ann Coulter rose to fame. Books were a favored delivery system for the most scurrilous right-wing propaganda.

But the Times and other elite publications rarely reviewed these books. I understand that -- who wants to give crazy ideas oxygen?. But that was a mistake. These books represented a way of thinking that took over conservatism and the Republican Party. At the time, conspiracies dominated right-wing talk about Bill and Hillary Clinton. A decade later, the phony Swift boat conspiracy took down John Kerry's presidential campaign. Conspiracies hounded the Obamas. And now a Republican conspiracy nut is president of the United States.

The Times and other elite media outlets didn't want to pay attention to the fringes then, and the Times doesn't seem to want even a passing familiarity with someone like Icke, even when a much-admired mainstream author embraces his ideas. But being too prim and proper to acknowledge the persistence of unsavory fringe ideas already burned us once. The mainstream media needs to pay more attention to the fringe, because it's impossible to say what ideas won't, in a generation, be fringe ideas anymore.

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