“Publishers Weakly”

Norman Podhoretz’s new tome, World War IV: The Long Struggle against Islamofascism, hasn’t even appeared in bookstores yet and it’s already been slammed. Book buyers surely know that Amazon.com regularly offers book reviews from Publishers Weekly that accompany monographs for sale. Although Publishers Weekly doesn’t advertise itself as a lefty outfit, a quick perusal of its reviews of political books demonstrates that it’s determinedly anti-conservative.

Here, for example, is the Publishers Weekly précis of Mr. Podhoretz’s forthcoming work:

One of the few proud neoconservatives remaining, Podhoretz offers an impassioned defense of President Bush’s foreign policy, gleefully attacking those on the left and the right who harbor suspicions that Bush fils is less than infallible. Convinced that we are in the middle of the fourth world war (the Cold War was the third), he attempts to steel us for the years of conflict to come. But Podhoretz’s argument falls flat because of his refusal to face difficult realities in Iraq. He insists that the media has resolutely tried to ignore any and all signs of progress and repeatedly asserts that those with whom he disagrees are committed to seeing the U.S. fail in Iraq in order to enhance their professional reputations. Even in describing how the events of September 11 drew America together, Podhoretz cannot resist partisan sniping: [E]ven on the old flag-burning Left, a few prominent personalities were painfully wrenching their unaccustomed arms into something vaguely resembling a salute. Podhoretz’s take-no-prisoners writing style will delight his partisans while infuriating his ideological opponents, whom he brands as members of a domestic insurgency against the Bush Doctrine.

From the very first line of this hit-job, you can tell that the anonymous reviewer maintains distinct hostility to Mr. Podhoretz’s point of view. After all, the opening claim that Mr. Podhoretz is “[o]ne of the few proud neoconservatives remaining” seems dubious. It’s as if the reviewer believes that the American Enterprise Institute has just closed shop.

But perhaps, you might think, Publishers Weekly‘s negative review pertains to the obviously polemical character of Mr. Podhoretz’s forthcoming tome. Maybe the magazine treats all partisan books in this manner.

Well, then, just take a gander at Publishers Weekly‘s take on Eric Alterman’s screed What Liberal Media? The Truth about Bias and the News:

While the idea that a liberal bias pervades the mainstream media has been around for years, it gained new currency with the 2001 publication of Bernard Goldberg’s Bias and its 2002 successor, Ann Coulter’s Slander. Alterman (Sound & Fury; Who Speaks for America?; etc.) now seeks to debunk the notion and goes so far as to argue that bastions of alleged liberalism like the Washington Post and ABC News “have grown increasingly cowed by false complaints of liberal bias and hence, progressively more sympathetic to the most outlandish conservative complaints.” He largely succeeds: whatever your politics, Alterman delivers well-documented, well-argued research in compulsively readable form. His chapter on business journalism, for instance, is a thrill-ride through the excesses of late 1990s optimism and the subsequent crash in stock valuations and mood. But he also counters that while the economy was peaking, major media outlets virtually ignored traditional left-wing issues like labor rights, which had been neglected, and income inequality, which was growing. In contrast, he says, the media fawned over chief executives while almost totally failing to confront corporate fraudsters. Alterman also observes that the center of American politics has shifted to the right in the last several decades, which he attributes to efforts by conservative think tanks and their financial backers. Whether readers agree with Alterman or not, his writing on the business of opinion making is eye-opening. This book will be required reading for anyone in politics or journalism, or anyone curious about their complicated nexus.

Alterman’s book, we should add, is riddled with dubious arguments that only a fellow ideologue could find convincing. It also routinely engages in ad hominem cheap shots against conservative journalists and intellectuals. Ah, but Publishers Weekly thinks it’s an “eye-opening” must-read.

These examples could easily be multiplied. Publishers Weekly loves Norman Finkelstein and loathes Dore Gold. It esteems Rashid Khalidi and detests Bruce Bawer.

Why must such a partisan outfit be treated as the go-to publication for short reviews? Why read Publishers Weekly when you can just pick up a copy of The Nation instead? At least The Nation is honest about its politics.

(Note: The crack young staff normally “weblog” over at “The Hatemonger’s Quarterly,” where they, in typical Publishers Weekly style, are lauding Michael Moore’s Stupid White Men as a landmark work of Western culture.)

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