On the front lines of the culture wars, where explosive salvos are fired routinely, accuracy is a requirement. Arguments cannot be won with major misstatements of fact. This is lost on Eric Alterman. In his new book "Why We’re Liberals," he takes up the controversy generated by Hollywood, but only to malign and mischaracterize.
Alterman decries "the hysterical language conservatives routinely employ when pontificating about Hollywood." His first example of a hysterical conservative is … me. Horror of horrors. I’m attacked because I’ve ridiculed "political dilettantes" and "leftist celebrities" whose qualifications as political advisers "include starring in ‘Hello, Dolly’ and ‘The Prince of Tides.’" This language comes from a column I wrote in 2002. At that time, Barbra Streisand had sent House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt a memo that misspelled his name "Gebhardt" and misquoted Shakespeare. I labeled Streisand a celebrity dilettante, because she is. That makes me a "hysterical conservative" in Alterman’s mind.
Alterman argues that conservatives loathe Hollywood because they, like the rich everywhere else, are expected to "embrace the right-wing politics that would benefit their economic self-interest and leave the opinion business to the professionals." What conservative in his right mind has ever uttered this thinking? What conservative having lost his mind advances this belief?
Once he moves beyond politics to cultural rot, Alterman rolls his eyes at the national disgust at Janet Jackson’s "barely visible" breast-baring conclusion of the Super Bowl halftime show in 2004. Alterman implied America was chock full of hypocrites because the Jackson incident was widely reviewed on the Internet. They also reviewed footage of the Twin Towers collapsing on the Internet. Does that make them hypocrites in opposing terrorism?
Alterman mangles the story of the PBS children’s series "Postcards from Buster," which attempted to take a cartoon bunny into the home of two Vermont lesbians to learn about multiple mommies and maple sugar. Alterman claims that when Education Secretary Margaret Spellings complained about the episode, she hadn’t been sworn in yet (wrong) and that in the offending show, the lesbians "never actually appeared on screen." A quick YouTube search shows Alterman’s dead wrong there, too.
So much for the book’s acknowledgments, where Alterman thanks his "meticulous" fact checker. The year is young, and we already have a nominee for Dumbest Book of the Year. Even liberals can’t trust it.
Since he’s thriving on inaccuracy, Alterman then turned to the old canard that complaints to the FCC are a "right-wing Potemkin production." Alterman repeats a flimsy fairy tale from inside the commission that they received only 159 complaints about Fox’s smutty show "Married by America." Never mind that the Parents Television Council (which I headed during this time) documented several thousand complaints from its members. Never mind that there were countless other non-PTC complaints. Never mind the facts.
To Alterman, conservatives are all hypocrites. "But of course this kind of personal hypocrisy pales when compared to that of Rupert Murdoch’s empire," Alterman continues. After dismissing Janet Jackson and "Married by America," Alterman suddenly turns on a dime and describes in detail the truly offensive parts of "Married by America" and another short-lived Fox series, "Keen Eddie," the series that attempted to mate a prostitute and a horse.
Were those shows offensive, and should the Fox Entertainment Network be criticized? Of course. But Murdoch has never claimed to be an indecency crusader. I have never claimed to be a fan of these smutty Fox shows, and the PTC was often the first to expose them, whether they flop (like the pornographer vs. cop drama "Skin") or thrive ("Family Guy"). Where’s the hypocrisy?
It’s also untrue that everyone petitioning the FCC with grievances — in Alterman’s mind, "censors" — can be placed on the "right wing." There are conservatives who oppose televised indecency in front of their children. Other conservatives don’t. There are many liberals and moderates who oppose televised indecency in front of their children, and some who don’t. The PTC has all kinds of members across the ideological spectrum. The usual cozy categories don’t apply when it comes to children bombarded with oversexualized or ultraviolent TV content. The most inconsistent advocate in the debate is Alterman.
All of which calls to mind the old quip from Sen. Moynihan about how you’re entitled to your opinion, but you’re not entitled to your own facts. Being "hysterical" isn’t required when describing what Hollywood’s entertainment factories are manufacturing. A cold recitation of the facts is shocking enough.
Had Alterman also devoted himself to the cold recitation of the facts, he’d have nothing to say.