[Note: I started writing this a long time ago. It really could use a lot of updating, but fuck it, it’s pretty good and I have a pile of work to do.]
When I thought about writing the Hack List 2017 some time back I was overcome with emotion because partisan and generally shitty journalism is a topic dear to my heart. But almost immediately I began to grapple with the inherent challenges, both personal and professional, of ranking America’s worst political reporters.
First off, it was the holiday season and my attention, like most everyone I imagine, was focused on the NFL and the Nazis. (And it still is, and that was some time ago, as I mentioned.) But even putting that aside (momentarily), it’s easy to identify 100, or even 1,000, truly terrible journalists, but narrowing that down to a Top Ten or Eleven or Twenty, as seemed prudent, appeared to be a scientific impossibility and roughly equivalent to making a definitive list of my favorite Nazis. However, if pressed, when it comes to Nazis, I could indeed make such a list. Say, in rough order, Reinhard Heydrich, Adolf Hitler, Josef Mengele, Heinrich Himmler, Joseph Goebbels and Tom Brady.
Hence, I pondered, how difficult would it be to come up with a similar list of the nation’s top propagandists, pathological fabricators and ass-kissers? Well, dear readers, it was far harder than I had imagined, especially because I obviously didn’t want something as serious as the Hack List to degenerate into redundant ad hominem name calling and personal attacks. Nor was I interested in settling scores with people I have previously written about and/or who have fired me because, for reasons that remain inexplicable, they deemed me difficult to work with. Finally, I didn’t want to include people who can’t really be called journalists by any reasonable definition of that word, but who, like Rachel Maddow or Sean Hannity, are tiresome and mindless PR drones.
As I scratched my chin in contemplation, another concern arose. In the unlikely event that I opted to go the ad hominem/score-settling route, might my important intellectual message be lost, namely that American journalism really sucks? Now more than ever?
In any event, I was reluctantly forced to drop many, many otherwise perfect candidates for reasons of space and clarity. Let me, purely for purposes of illustration, name a few.
—Clayton Swisher, a blundering lummox who was appointed to run Al Jazeera’s investigative unit despite having no real journalism experience because he is a pliant fool with moronic views on the Middle East, has no regard for the truth, and is eager to serve his paymaster, the government of Qatar. I suppose it’s probably worth noting here that for a month or so in 2013 I was employed at Al Jazeera and would prefer to be buried alive than work there again.
Swisher fired me for alleged insubordination because I refused to travel to Paris to work on his patently dishonest documentary that alleged that Israel murdered Yassir Arafat by poisoning him with polonium. Israel routinely murders its “enemies” and runs an apartheid state, but Arafat, who I long admired, was by then a corrupt poster boy for the Middle Eastern branch of NAMBLA and quite apparently died of complications related to old age. In seeking to prove that Israel murdered him with polonium, Swisher deliberately twisted and falsified information provided him in advance by a Swiss lab that worked closely with him on the story. (Note: I had already traveled to Paris once, and saw The Swish in action. I know of what I speak and that’s why I refused to have any further part of it.)
—Howard “Howie” Kurtz, a former Washington Post media critic and ethics guru who, according to one well-placed source, has not had sex in the current millennium (or the last) and who now, having found his natural bottom, works at Fox News. (Disclosure: Kurtz once attacked me for doing an undercover story for Harper’s, during which I exposed some of the nation’s worst lobbyists — and Kurtz’s sources — saying it showed I was unethical. Also, it’s not clear to me that Kurtz still works at Fox.) Tina Brown of Newsweek (or wherever she is now. Awful.) once fired Kurtz for “serial inaccuracy.” In an unrelated fuck up, Kurtz once wrote a story in which he quoted Congressman Darrell Issa, but he hadn’t spoken to him. In reality, Kurtz had interviewed an Issa aide who he mistook for the congressman.
—Joe Conason, a one-time Salon columnist, Democratic Party hack and MSNBC bloviator who I once described as “an irrelevant joke” in the New York Observer. (Where Conason once worked and where I remain, to the best of my knowledge, a columnist.) Conason, it’s worth noting, did not challenge that characterization or many others allegations I raised in the Observer. As I noted in the column – which focused on the former journalist Sidney Blumenthal, a close friend of Conason’s and one of the most amoral political hatchet men/women of this or any time — Conason began following me on Twitter but I didn’t follow him back because what he thinks is of less interest to me than Global Warming. (Disclosure: I don’t care much about Global Warming, beyond favoring it generally because I hate winter and future generations can deal with the problem as far as I’m concerned. And now that I’ve moved to sunny Miami I’m even less concerned about it.)
—Eric Alterman, a former or current Adjunct Professor of Journalism who I once described in a Village Voice story as “3/4 brown noser, 1/4 cheeky chappy” and who once righteously criticized celebrity journalism and then, shortly thereafter, wrote a fawning profile of Melanie Griffith for Vanity Fair in a “prose style resembling a dog in heat,” as I put it in the Voice. Griffith did not, to my knowledge and lucidity, sleep with Alterman, which was clearly his delusional hope when writing the story.
Disclosure: In 1998, Salon’s media columnist, Susan Lehman, libeled and/or slandered my story on Alterman as a “vicious hatchet job.” About a decade later I remarked upon Alterman’s remarkable talent as a political prognosticator after he predicted that either Hillary Clinton or John Edwards would be the Democratic candidate in the 2008 election (he said he “loved” Barack Obama but that he was far too black to win the nomination) and wrote that Fred Thompson had “already won” on the GOP side. On an unrelated note, Alterman thinks it’s groovy to worship Bruce Springsteen, who he actually wrote a book about.
Anyway, as noted above, I thought about including these people on the Hack List but sadly, I concluded, I must omit them entirely and include other names.
One that came to mind was Voice of America vet Jamie Kirchik, who is a neocon tool and professional liar. But why solely single out Kirchik when there are hundreds more like him? To name only a few neocons who can’t distinguish between fantasy and reality, there is William Kristol of the Weekly Standard, who somewhat recently declared his support for Dick Cheney for president; Judith Miller*, the ex-New York Times reporter who, after discovering WMDs all over Iraq prior to the U.S. invasion of 2003 moved on to Fox News and Newsmax; Zionist entity Eli Lake, who not only discovered WMDs in Iraq before the invasion but found them years later as well (based on the word of one of Lake’s more credible sources, a deranged lunatic named David Gaubatz who in 2008 wrote a post about Obama at jihadishere.blogspot.com that read, “We are now on the verge of allowing a self admitted ‘crack-head’ to have his finger on every nuclear weapon in America”); Josh Rogin, Lake’s shoeshine boy; or Fred Hiatt, the white, non-Jewish editorial page editor of the Washington Post, who advocated invading Iraq, North Korea, Libya and Iran and who is relatively currently – and I say this only based on the sophistication of his past work – writing an editorial that calls for a preemptive strike on Saskatchewan because it is harboring ISIS remnants.
(*Note: My great friend Charles Glasser, who touchingly calls me “100 percent mental,” says Miller, cited above, is a credible journalist nowadays. But Charles is on drugs, legal ones as far as I know, they make him sleepy, or so he claims when we’re on the phone. That’s fiery rhetoric, Charles, do not sue!)
After discarding these conservative writers, I mulled over and rejected a number of boring liberal pontificators on the same grounds of irrelevancy, predictability, partisanship and lack of gravitas. To quickly mention a few there is smarmy, annoying TV personality Rachel Maddow, cited above, of MSNBC; Richard Cohen, the torture-loving, sexually-harassing Washington Post columnist who Alex Pareene named No. 1 on the 2010 Hack List and who thinks it’s brave to attack Nazis and is afraid of African-Americans (like all good Post liberals); Jeffrey Goldberg, who found WMDs in Iraq on behalf of the George W. Bush White House – with the help of a mentally ill prisoner who falsely claimed to have met Osama bin Laden, either in a tent or in a house, depending on which reporter he was lying to — which cited his work in justifying the 2003 invasion, and who also thinks Bruce Springsteen is jiffy; Mother Jones Washington bureau chief David Corn, who also thinks Bruce is AWESOME and who, as I have noted, can reliably be counted on to serve as a mouthpiece for the Democratic Party and who regularly attends events like the White House Correspondents Dinner, the annual suckfest at which Washington journalists and politicians do what they do best: pretending they have an adversarial relationship while kissing each other’s asses.
I also considered including a few people on the Hack List whose politics can’t readily be defined, mostly because they are mentally vacuous. I was tempted to write about, for example, the New York Times‘s Thomas Friedman, who composes most of his copy in cabs between overseas airports and luxury hotels, and whose only identifiable sources are taxi drivers, corporate CEOs and monarchs, but it would be hard to top Matt Taibbi’s work on him and I wrote about him once too (“It can be dangerous to disagree with me, for one reason,” I quoted him, accurately, as saying. “I don’t know anything.”); Bob Woodward, who was dishonest even in reporting Watergate, as Renata Adler has wonderfully described, and whose biography of John Belushi was so outrageously wrong that the actress Penny Marshall is reported to have said after reading it, “It makes you think that Richard Nixon may have been innocent”; and David Broder, the beloved Washington Post reporter who perfectly captured the established wisdom in Washington and who, like Woodward, I once busted for taking huge speaking fees from corporate interests without disclosing it to the public or the Post, in violation of the newspaper’s own rules. (Notes: The Post predictably let them both get away with it. Also, I decided not to include Broder on the Hack List because he’s dead.)
After a great deal of anguish, I finally settled on a few names. The key to making the selections was the realization that I didn’t want to randomly cast aspersions on journalism bottom-feeders; I also wanted to make thoughtful, reflective insights into the current state of the news business. Hence, I decided that to be worthy of inclusion on the Hack List, it wasn’t enough to be a simple moron; you had to cause real damage as well.
That’s why I settled on (among others) New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, a sanctimonious buffoon who a few deluded souls actually consider to be a real reporter. Kristof, who trots the globe with the White Man’s Burden (WMB) hanging heavily on his back, is the co-author with his wife, Sheryl WuDunn — a “senior banker focusing on growth companies” and a former private wealth adviser with Goldman Sachs — of Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide.
Sorry, I’ll be right back, I need to have a good cry and admire Nick and Sheryl’s heroism and courage.
Coming soon: Nicholas Kristof, far from the top of the list.