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MICHAEL TOMASKY Printer Friendly Page

The "Civil, Non-Partisan" Left-Wing Media?
By PowerLineBlog.com
August 7, 2003

 


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  • Editor of Guardian America 
  • Former executive editor and co-editor of The American  Prospect
  • Has written articles for The Nation, Dissent, and other publications of the hard left
  • Was a featured speaker at the Socialist Scholars Conference in 1997
 

Michael Tomasky is currently the editor of Guardian America, the U.S. online version of the British publication The Guardian. He was formerly the executive editor and co-editor of The American Prospect. His freelance articles have appeared in Dissent, George, GQ, Harper's, Lingua FrancaThe Nation, The New York Review of Books, and the Village Voice, and as well as in The New York Times Book Review, the Wall Street Journal, and the Washington Post.

Tomasky was born in Morgantown, West Virginia, which he has described as “one of the most Democratic [places] in one of the most Democratic states” in the U.S.  His father was a mining union leader.

In 1995 Tomasky found work as a political columnist at New York magazine, a job he would hold until 2003 when hired as executive editor at The American Prospect.

In 1996 Tomasky published his first book, Left for Dead: The Life, Death, and Possible Resurrection of Progressive Politics in America. The left, he argued, needed to jettison its “inflexible ideology,” reestablish contact with the values and concerns of middle-class Americans, and recapture the Enlightenment belief in “democracy and reason not as dead ends but as unfinished works that can and must be improved.”

In 1997 Tomasky was a featured speaker at the Socialist Scholars Conference in New York City, where he participated in a panel discussion of “The Death and Rebirth of American Radicalism.”

In 2001 Tomasky published his second book, Hillary's Turn: Inside the Improbable, Victorious Senate Campaign. “I was fascinated by the very fact of her normalness,” wrote Tomasky of Hillary Rodham Clinton in this pro-Clinton, anecdote-rich chronicle of her successful race for the open U.S. Senate seat in New York in 2000. He described Mrs. Clinton as more of a pragmatist than a leftwing ideologue, and as someone who had been “misinterpreted ideologically [and] … mischaracterized personally.”

In 2003 Tomasky was granted an exclusive interview with Bill Clinton, in which the former President said that Democratic candidates cannot win elections if voters perceive them as being too far to the political left.  Mr. Clinton also urged Democrats to publicly and repeatedly accuse Republicans of practicing “class warfare.” Tomasky devoted one of his regular columns at The American Prospect to explaining and justifying what Clinton had told him.

In Spring 2003 Tomasky was a Shorenstein Fellow at Harvard University, where he produced what the media largely characterized as “a Harvard study” purporting to have found that editorials in the liberal press were more “civil” and “non-partisan” than those in the conservative press. While Tomasky's report was widely publicized, it was highly subjective and not at all scientific. The most extreme example of conservative nastiness which the author cited came from a Wall Street Journal editorial likening supporters of President and Mrs. Clinton to “pod people”; but Tomasky deceptively quoted those words out of their humorous and innocuous editorial context.

In 2003 Tomasky contributed a chapter to the book These United States: Original Essays by Leading American Writers on the State of Their State Within the Union. Edited by John Leonard of The Nation magazine and published by Nation Books, most of this volume's chapers were composed by leftists, including the long-deceased Marxist W.E.B. DuBois writing about his native Georgia, and columnist Molly Ivins discussing Texas. Tomasky, for his part, penned a chapter which Nation Books described as an exploration of “West Virginia’s sense of cultural insularity as a state teetering between North and South.”

That same year, Tomasky also contributed an essay -- titled “Between Cheney and Chomsky: Making a Domestic Case for a New Liberal Foreign Policy” -- to the book The Fight Is for Democracy: Winning the War of Ideas in America and the World. (Tomasky's references were to Republican Vice President Dick Cheney and radical scholar Noam Chomsky.) In order to successfully “contend against Cheneyism,” wrote Tomasky, “liberals must make a clear break with Chomskyism as well.” He urged liberals to “separate themselves explicitly and conclusively from the Left, and from those vestiges of the liberal foreign-policy argument that suggest equivocation about America's capacity as a moral force.”

In advance of the 2004 presidential election, Tomasky was angry that longtime leftwing activist Ralph Nader had decided to run against incumbent George W. Bush and Democrat challenger John Kerry. Fearing that Nader's candidacy would siphon many potential votes away from Kerry and thereby hurt the leftist cause, Tomasky wrote (in The American Prospect) that Nader "is obviously out to kill the Democrats.” "The collateral damage," he added, "to regular citizens whose lives are directly affected by which party is in power, is not his concern. He has long since quit caring about that. It's time a Democrat killed back." Tomasky urged Democrats to attack Nader "with lupine ferocity."

Following the Islamist terrorist attacks of 9/11, The American Prospect initially echoed left-liberal criticisms of Republican President George W. Bush, the war on terror, and the American military incursion into Iraq. But in the wake of Bush's 2004 re-election and evidence of his success in removing tyranny in Afghanistan and Iraq, Tomasky and two other American Prospect co-editors, Robert Kuttner and Paul Starr, co-authored a noteworthy March 1, 2005 article titled “The Liberal Uses of Power: Clarity in Dealing with Terrorism, Yes; and Also in Living Up to Our Highest Ideals.”

This piece said that by “mixing liberalism with realism in foreign policy,” former Democratic presidents such as Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman and John F. Kennedy “were not afraid to use power…. In that tradition, we believe that America can be and should be an assertive force for good in the world. And, as liberals, we also believe that America faces a mortal threat from Islamist terrorists that will require every asset we can bring to bear, including military force.”

Tomasky and his co-editors continued:

“The first imperative of America's defense and foreign policy is to protect our security, and today Islamist terrorists with global reach pose the greatest immediate threat to our lives and liberties. We ... face a struggle with the jihadists that we have no alternative but to win.... [Islamic fundamentalism's]goals for the world are so profoundly inimical to ours, and its methods so intolerable, that negotiation ... is impossible.... When facing a substantial, immediate, and provable threat, the United States has both the right and the obligation to strike preemptively and, if need be, unilaterally against terrorists or states that support them….”

While a departure from Democrats' general opposition to the war, this article was hedged with qualifiers and criticisms of Republican policies and strategies. It ended with calls for multilateral cooperation in fighting terrorism, global poverty, and environmental problems.

In a March 6, 2005 New York Times roundtable discussion with New Republic editor Peter Beinart and The Nation editor Katrina vanden Heuvel, Tomasky's tenor was much more stridently critical of the Bush administration. "I think the war in Iraq was a catastrophic mistake," he said. "It was not part of the war on terror."

“Liberal” may have become a dirty word to many Americans, Tomasky conceded in the Times roundtable, but “liberal concepts still have more resonance than you might think. Polls continually show that people are rhetorically conservative and operationally liberal or progressive.”

Over the years, Tomasky has contributed money to the campaigns of several political candidates, all Democrats. The most notable donee was Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia.

 

 

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