Powered by Google
Editors' Picks
Arts + Books
Rec Room
- - - - - - - - - - - -
Adult Personals
Adult Classifieds
- - - - - - - - - - - -
FNX Radio
Band Guide
MassWeb Printing
- - - - - - - - - - - -
About Us
Contact Us
Advertise With Us
Work For Us
RSS Feeds
- - - - - - - - - - - -

sponsored links
- - - - - - - - - - - - -
Sex Toys - Adult  DVDs - Sexy  Lingerie

  E-Mail This Article to a Friend

Steyn’s way (continued)

STEYN WAS NOT interviewed for this piece. I sent him an e-mail requesting an interview on June 8. Two days later one of his assistants, Tiffany Cole, e-mailed back to me, "Mark isn’t sure what he’s done to merit the attention of the Boston Phoenix, but he wishes you all the best with the piece. He says he prefers not to speak to writers on these kinds of stories because ‘he always sounds like a jerk in interviews.’" Despite the rejection, I followed up later that day with detailed questions, including the matter of the Globe and the fake-rape pictures. This past Monday another assistant, Chantal Benoît, e-mailed to me that Steyn is traveling while doing research for a book, and had not seen my questions. "I do not think it would make any difference, so by all means move ahead," she wrote.

I mention this because I want to make it clear that Steyn’s staff knew I was preparing a harsh profile, and that I had given him ample opportunity to respond. That is precisely what Steyn himself did not do last February, when he attacked former Georgia senator Max Cleland, who has played a major role in Senator John Kerry’s presidential campaign. Steyn mentioned Cleland in several different versions of his column, which he rewrites slightly for different papers. But in the Chicago Sun-Times version, he included a bonus paragraph about the grenade explosion that cost Cleland both legs and an arm:

"As Ann Coulter pointed out in a merciless but entirely accurate column, it wasn’t on the ‘battlefield.’ It wasn’t in combat. He was working on a radio relay station. He saw a grenade dropped by one of his colleagues and bent down to pick it up. It’s impossible for most of us to imagine what that must be like — to be flown home, with your body shattered, not because of some firefight, but because you made a stupid mistake. Once upon a time, Cleland loathed the Silver and Bronze Stars he’d been given: He was, in his words, ‘no hero’ — which is true. He was a beneficiary of the medal inflation that tends to accompany unpopular wars. But Cleland learned to stop hating himself to the point where he’s happy to be passed off as a hero wounded in battle because that makes him a more valuable mascot to the campaign. Sad."

Well, now. According to Cleland’s 1980 autobiography, Strong at the Broken Places, Steyn’s account, by way of Coulter, is accurate only if you ignore the context. Several days before his accident, Cleland had fought bravely in a battle that cost the lives of several of his fellow soldiers, and for which he won the Silver Star. Cleland did write that he didn’t deserve it — but, as he admitted in the introduction to the 2000 edition of his book, he was still bitter in 1980. Today he calls reporters’ attention to the official citation, which cites him "for gallantry in action" at Khe Sanh, a battle for which he volunteered. By the time the accident occurred, the fighting had indeed stopped. But to suggest that he was injured in a non-combat situation is obscene. The fact is that Cleland lost three of his limbs carrying out a necessary mission in a war zone.

"The right wing concludes who it wants to destroy first, then it finds a rationale in order to do it," Cleland told me in an interview. "With Coulter and this guy [Steyn], neither one of them contacted me, neither one attempted to verify any particular fact or series of facts." He called their columns part of "this massive Karl Rove right-wing slime machine" aimed at undermining Kerry’s presidential campaign.

The Steyn twist-o-matic was also at work in January 2003. The object on that occasion: Charles Pierce, who’d just written a profile of Ted Kennedy for the Boston Globe Magazine. In a passage dripping with sarcasm and irony, Pierce wrote this: "That’s how you survive what he’s survived. That’s how you move forward, one step after another, even though your name is Edward Moore Kennedy. You work, always, as though your name were Edward Moore. If she had lived, Mary Jo Kopechne would be 62 years old. Through his tireless work as a legislator, Edward Kennedy would have brought comfort to her in her old age." Now, I’ll grant that without the full context, it might not be immediately obvious that Pierce had just dropped a two-ton pile of fertilizer on Kennedy, but it was pretty damn clear to anyone who read the full article. I wrote at the time that the passage was "brutally vicious." Conservative James Taranto, who compiles "Best of the Web" for the Wall Street Journal’s OpinionJournal.com, called it a "paragraph of pure poison." A letter-writer to the Globe Magazine called it "truth, even though it is a savage attack that strikes too close for comfort."

Yet here is what Steyn wrote in the National Post: "Mr. Pierce’s point is a simple one: Sure, 34 years ago, Teddy fished himself out of the briny, staggered away and somehow neglected to inform the authorities until the following morning that he’d left some gal down there. But, if he was too tired to do anything for her back then, he’s been ‘tireless’ on her behalf ever since....

"But among the orthodox left the ... Pierce view is the standard line: You can’t make an omelette without breaking chicks. This is subtly different from arguing that a man’s personal failings are outweighed by his public successes. Rather, they’re saying that a man’s personal flaws are trumped by his ideological purity, regardless of whether or not it works. I doubt whether a 62-year-old Mary Jo would regard Senator Kennedy as ‘bringing comfort’ to her old age."

A more willful misreading of Pierce you will not find. Unfortunately for Pierce, Steyn’s interpretation was echoed by Bernard Goldberg in his book Arrogance: Rescuing America from the Media Elite. From there, it was only a short journey to the right-wing, irony-challenged Media Research Center, which, in its annual "Dishonor Awards," gave Pierce its "Quote of the Year."

"My only contact with the guy was with him being enormously dishonest about something I’d written. And, I think, knowingly dishonest," says Pierce of Steyn. "If a guy who is that nakedly, intellectually dishonest can become a successful conservative writer, then conservative intellectualism is dead in this country. If it began with Buckley and the people who taught him, it ends with the likes of Mark Steyn."

page 1  page 2  page 3  page 4 

Issue Date: June 18 - 24, 2004
Click here for the Don't Quote Me archive
Back to the News & Features table of contents
  E-Mail This Article to a Friend

about the phoenix |  advertising info |  Webmaster |  work for us
Copyright © 2005 Phoenix Media/Communications Group