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Who's Really Screwing Up America?

This column was written by Katrina Vanden Heuvel.

If you want to understand how the right debases our political culture, take a peek at Bernard Goldberg's screed "100 People who are Screwing up America (And Al Franken is #37)," which, as of yesterday, was number five on Sunday's New York Times bestseller list. The author of the best-selling books "Bias" and "Arrogance" has another smash hit on his hands -- and it comes with all the vitriol and truth-twisting you'd expect from a man who's profited enormously from his role as cog in the right-wing smear machine.

Goldberg rails against liberal villains who, he claims, are out to weaken the very fabric of America. Who's Number #2? That dangerous radical Arthur Sulzberger, scion of New York's establishment and publisher of the New York Times. According to Goldberg, Sulzberger has "done more than anyone to destroy the confidence of millions of ordinary Americans in the fairness and basic integrity of the so-called mainstream media." He's got to be kidding.

If Goldberg's nasty mud-slinging was confined to one guy or one book, we could shrug it off. But he represents a far wider problem. How do people like Goldberg get away with pouring their toxic waste into our weakened political and media circulatory system? One reason, as Nation columnist Eric Alterman tells us, is the mainstream media's willingness to roll over. The right's truth-twisting pundits and commentators distort and debase our political culture. And they rarely get called on it by the so-called MSM.

Fox News' Bill O'Reilly is one of America's most skilled mudslingers. Talking about Alterman, not that long ago, O'Reilly called Eric a "Fidel Castro confidant." (In this case, O'Reilly had to backtrack quickly when threatened with a defamation suit.) Then there's the inimitable Ann Coulter, who told the New York Observer this past January that "it would be fun to nuke North Korea" and that she was "fed up with hearing about...civilian casualties in Iraq").

In a smart piece posted at, Columbia University journalism professor Todd Gitlin argued that right-wing pundits and commentators should hold themselves to a higher standard. "A sense of decency should not be a sometime thing," he argued. When commentators write or say things that are either "flatly untrue...plain loathsome...or murderous," the slanderers should be exposed and should not be "invited back, and back, to talk shows."

Higher standards of decency and truth in our media are a worthy goal at any time, but in these last days, it's been heartening to see how some mainstream TV journalists have shed their usual reluctance to ask tough questions, tried to hold those in power accountable and raised long ignored issues of poverty and race. It's as if a window has opened. We need to monitor the truth-twisting rightwing media to make sure the window doesn't close, because if we ever needed a caring, aggressive, watchdog press, it's now.

(As for Goldberg, watch for Jack Huberman's forthcoming "100 People Who Are Really Screwing Up America," a spirited liberal riposte to Goldberg's latest screed, to be released by NationBooks.)

By Katrina Vanden Heuvel
Reprinted with permission from The Nation

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