mj article

Doug Henwood dhenwood at panix.com
Fri Sep 4 11:47:53 PDT 1998

[Since I pointed folks to the Salon article on Mother Jones, it's only fair to forward fired editor Kerry Tremain's response.]

Mime-Version: 1.0 Date: Fri, 4 Sep 1998 09:41:41 -0700 To: ktremain at earthlink.net From: Kerry Tremain <ktremain at earthlink.net> Subject: mj article

This is a response to an article at http://www.salonmagazine.com/media/1998/08/24media.html

>Dear editor,
>Ashley Craddock, who wrote "Will Mother Jones become more politically
>correct?" (Media Circus, August 24, 1998) was an intern at Mother Jones
>for a year, an accomplished one, I always thought. But the magazine and I
>(I was an art director, creative director, and executive editor there over
>a ten-year period) apparently failed her in basic training. Her article is
>not only a grotesquely biased account of the magazine's recent history,
>apparently based on chats with her unnamed circle of friends, but is
>riddled with factual errors. She does not acknowledge her closeness to the
>story and a particular group of participants with axes to grind, nor that
>of a significant number of Salon editors who worked for Mother Jones, some
>with long-standing resentments towards the magazine and Adam Hochschild,
>its founder and funder, in particular. Most egregiously, she declined to
>interview principal figures, like me, who she must have known would
>disagree with the cosy consensus of her social group. Thus, she violates
>basic standards of journalism that I'd hoped we inculcated at Mother
>Jones, and her editors let her get away with it.
>Hochshild is depicted (without any apparent attempt to get a response from
>him) as an ideological diehard who ousted the ever-brave and freethinking
>editor, Jeffrey Klein. Perhaps. But the two of them have a rivalry of over
>two decades in duration and Greek in its proportions, one riddled with
>professional and personal jealousies over money and power. As a result,
>Craddock misses many of the central dimensions of the story. The 1997
>deficit, for instance, was in large part a result of a significant decline
>in Hoschshild's contribution. This could have been made up by the
>board-formerly a group of Adam's friends, but now an extremely wealthy
>group with different views of the magazine's role, and not a few
>rivalries. Klein lost a power struggle in which he tried to fashion a new
>board coalition against Adam's still powerful group. Craddock gives us the
>interns-eye view, based on the after-work grumbling of her buddies over
>micro-brewed pints.
>Craddock's portrait of me and my tenure as editor is an insulting
>caricature drawn in large part by friends of hers who resented my
>promotion to head the editorial department (in 1996, when Klein's wife
>grew sick and died, not 1997 as reported). Klein's charismatic, almost
>guru style of leadership bred fierce loyalties and equally deep
>insecurities on the part of some younger staff members. At its best, he
>inspired people to outperform themselves. But it was also a regime based
>on fear and rivalry, and led to cruelties. In the year before he left, he
>and I had been tag-teaming on many of the magazine's major stories. I won
>the respect of some of my colleagues, but others could not put aside their
>irritation that a former art director had taken on such a major editorial
>role, nor cope with Jeffrey's departure. They were also deeply upset, as I
>was, over his personal tragedy.
>I couldn't, and didn't want to be Jeffrey Klein. Our editorial concerns
>had a different cast. My principal concern (which I shared with Klein, but
>which Craddock characteristically attributes to him), was to provoke a
>discussion of a new American progressivism that could revive itself in the
>next century. Dating from the mid-1970s, I viewed the American left as,
>with some exceptions, being in a period of broad decline. The left has yet
>to fully confront the failures of socialism and Marxism. It put aside any
>real interest in a reform agenda in favor of nostalgia for a chimeric
>revolutionary solution or worse, for nihilistic accounts of "capitalist
>and patriarchal hegemony" issued by tenured professors. It had failed to
>address the disparities of wealth that have developed with reforms that
>could win broad support, preferring to battle on the treacherous cultural
>terrain of gender and race.
>To achieve my goals, I ran a series of articles that challenged left
>shibboleths and suggested meaningful reforms. Paul Hawken contributed a
>major piece on emerging innovations in the areas of ecological economics
>and resource efficiency. It addressed the central question of how we can
>possibly sustain large increases in global population and pursue
>development in poor countries without collapsing our natural systems. The
>article became a popular reprint, distributed by dozens of schools and
>organizations, including the President's council on sustainability. In
>front of the Sierra Club board, David Brower called Hawken's article the
>most important one on environmentalism in years. Ashley Craddock called it
>"about as alluring as tucking into a plate of day-old liver."
>I convinced top-flight political writers like Michael Lind and Walter
>Russell Meade-who were skeptical-that Mother Jones wanted to encourage a
>more wide-ranging and fundamental discussion of the meaning and
>possibilities of progressivism. Lind contributed an innovative series of
>articles on political reform (e.g. how about dividing California into six
>states to address the white, conservative drift in the way the Senate is
>elected?) Meade wrote a trenchant analysis of globalization that
>challenged the left's default positions on free trade.
>Lind also wrote a closely-reasoned analysis of the profoundly misguided
>assumptions at the heart of the left's favored "rainbow" politics, the
>idea that "people of color" will lead a new and powerful left coalition
>against Europhile America. He showed how this myopia has led and will lead
>progressives to disempowerment and ethnic conflict. In the apparently
>infamous "race" issue, under the influence of post-ethnic writers like
>Jorge Klor de Alva, David Hollinger, Richard Rodriguez and Randall
>Kennedy, I tried to suggest a politics that, while recognizing past racial
>injustices, created the possibility that people's life choices could be
>less and less determined by their membership in a racial or ethnic group.
>Among other things, such a politics would have to account for the
>fast-changing complexion of America's ethnic/racial groups, and relearn
>the distinction between "culture" and "race". In particular, we need a
>more sophisticated understanding of Mexico and Mexicans.
>While I never felt the caliber of intellectual or political discussion at
>Mother Jones to be that high, the response to this issue was particularly
>dismaying. Mainly, it was attacked for having too many white writers (and
>even mischaracterized as having only white voices). I never heard a
>serious engagement of Lind's arguments; he was usually just attacked for
>being white. Staff and board members were "embarrassed" by the issue
>because its challenge to affirmative action discomfited them, not, as
>Craddock suggests, because the issue lacked political sophistication.
>Undoubtedly, the issue had many inadequacies and shortcomings. Probably
>its biggest mistake was the overblown idea that any editor could do
>justice to the topic in an issue. But I also got an object lesson in the
>limits of Mother Jones culture, and just how sacred sacred cows can be. I
>don't think it is an exaggeration to say that I was vilified for my
>efforts. I was certainly canned for them.
>Craddock is correct that the race issue, and the one on spirituality that
>followed, incensed some members of the board. I can't claim credit for the
>spirituality issue, though I thought it was well done. It was mandated by
>Klein (the same guy Craddock claims eschews soul-searching essays for
>hard-edged political investigations) and brilliantly executed by Marilyn
>Snell. The criticism of it, repeated by Craddock, that spirituality has
>nothing to do with progressivism, and had no place in the magazine, is
>narrow and dumb. The names of Frederick Douglas, Ghandi, Cary Nation,
>Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Dalai Llama come to mind.
>All of the above is characterized by Craddock as the "predictable" output
>of a "New Age granola muncher with no interest in investigative work and
>little understanding of politics." As one of the few people at Mother
>Jones who had had any real and broad involvement with movements,
>organizations, left publications (I helped start two of them), electoral
>campaigns, and the like over a twenty-five year period, the last charge is
>a little irritating. No one with any real acquaintance with my record or
>character could honestly describe me in the way she does. The unnamed (may
>I say "gutless"?) colleague who did was clearly acting out of politically
>correct arrogance and professional jealousy.
>While it is true that I am not an investigative journalist, nor
>particularly skilled in that area, I did lead at least one significant
>investigation with a noticeable political impact, about the attack on
>Social Security led by financial interests who stand to make billions if
>it is privatized. I also played an important role in the much-heralded
>tobacco exposé. I certainly tried to encourage Kerry Lauerman, who was put
>in charge of our investigations. This accusation is also a little hard to
>take from Craddock. I spent days with her on the big investigation she did
>at Mother Jones, patiently trying to turn her complex story into a
>compelling presentation in the magazine. It was my job, but I was also
>trying to encourage a young talent who I thought might turn into an
>effective reporter.
>Craddock underestimates the intellectual courage that was required to
>confront the limitations of Mother Jones political culture, and that of
>the broader remains of the New Left establishment. By trying to paint me
>as a know-nothing art director wrongly given editorial responsibility, she
>suggests I was fired for incompetence, while crediting Klein with bravely
>challenging the board. Ironically, she does so based on articles mostly
>done on my watch (no board member objected to the Gingrich or tobacco
>exposés). This is painfully, grossly insulting to me. That she did so
>based on talking to her pals, and refusing me the dignity of responding,
>is just shoddy.
>One thing Craddock does seem to have picked up during her training at
>Mother Jones is the smug know-it-all attitude that I've always thought was
>the worst feature of the magazine's voice. This attitude is the true
>anti-politics that has cut Mother Jones off from real engagement, and
>fostered the irrelevancy she bemoans. It is cynical and destructive, a
>defense against doubt masked as superior wisdom. I hope it's not too late
>for her to learn a different, more professional style.
>Kerry Tremain

....................... Kerry Tremain SOL EDITIONS 510 525 2557 510 527 1916 (fax) 1400 Shattuck Ave. Ste.7-172 Berkeley, CA 94709 USA

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