Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

July 8, 2006

The New York Press: dogshit on the sidewalk

Filed under: immigration,media — louisproyect @ 2:46 pm

Although it would be difficult to prove, I have a strong feeling that the ability of rightwing millionaires to gain control over the media in New York City, a bastion of liberalism, has been a decisive factor in the election of Rudy Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg. Not only have these Republicans been elected as mayor, the Democrats have moved to the right as well, adopting “law and order” and fiscal austerity rhetoric.

The centerpiece in this media grab is the NY Post, which under former publisher Dorothy Schiff, could be counted on for rock-ribbed New Deal liberalism. When Rupert Murdoch purchased the paper in 1976, it was transformed into a toxic dump of ultraright politics and tabloid sensationalism (“Headless Body in Topless Bar” was an infamous headline.)

Murdoch also bought the liberal Village Voice and although he promised never to interfere with its editorial direction, it began a marked decline both in terms of writing quality and political depth. It is marked by superficiality across the board. Coincidence? Maybe. Maybe not.

There was a brief respite from mediocrity when the Long Island based Newsday (owned by the LA Times) began publishing a Manhattan edition. They had very sharp reporters who were not afraid to go against the Reaganite grain. A memorable article focused on the Nicaragua solidarity movement in NYC. The LA Times eventually decided to stop publishing the Manhattan edition using the excuse that it was not profitable enough. Rupert Murdoch loses money with the NY Post, but gains political clout. So you can see what we are up against.

In 1988, a rival to the Village Voice premiered. Unlike the Voice, the New York Press was free and relied on advertising to stay in business, a strategy that the Village Voice was forced to adopt and something that probably has been a factor in its ongoing deterioration. A quick glance at the NY Press might lead to the conclusion that you were dealing with an “alternative” weekly with its edgy graphics, tabloid brashness and emphasis on the punk music scene. In addition, the paper had the occasional leftist writing for it, including Alexander Cockburn.

But editorially the paper was under the tight control of founder Russ Smith who wrote a prolix and narcissistic weekly column aptly titled “Mugger”. An April 23, 1996 NY Times article described the paper thusly:

The paper’s politics are not easily defined, either. But Mr. Smith describes himself as an economic conservative. There is a libertarian columnist and several writers were quite taken with the Republican candidacy of Steve Forbes.

Russ Smith

This really does not do the paper justice. It seems that the NY Times, with its own mix of conservatives and liberals, might have been projecting itself into the NY Press, However, despite the presence of Cockburn who also wrote for the Wall Street Journal at the time, the NY Press was top-heavy with rightwing ideologues, including the “edgy” rock critic J.R. Taylor whose outlook was epitomized in a profile on Alice Cooper:

Alice won’t stand by while some Aussie talk-show host gets some facts wrong, either. Glib douchebag Andrew Denton was frustrated earlier this summer when his guest eloquently defended the war in Iraq. Denton made the wrong assumptions about Alice–not that the rock star was offended.

Smith likes to represent himself as a Horatio Alger character climbing up from the streets to challenge the media establishment. But in reality he owes his success to the millions pumped into his paper by his brother Randall, a venture capitalist. Back in 1999, in a Village Voice profile on the 2 brothers and their wretched paper, Cynthia Cotts doubted that the paper–like Murdoch’s NY Post–was making a profit. So why would they bother, leaving aside the question of pushing public opinion to the right?

But in this buzz-driven world, does it matter whether the paper actually turns a profit, so long as it is perceived as a valuable commodity? One industry source says, “I think [Smith] could sell that paper tomorrow for triple or quadruple what he’s put into it.” Another claims Smith has attracted potential buyers and predicts the Press will be sold in two years. Smith confirms that he has been approached by “at least seven different investors.” Jim Larkin, CEO of the alternative chain New Times, says, “If I don’t get a chance to bid for it, I’ll be angry.”

Of course, as one might expect in this profit-driven world, the Voice itself was bought by the New Times last year, which has shown every sign of being determined to push the paper even further toward the center. Cott herself quit a year earlier, fed up with management attacks on journalistic freedom.

Smith sold the paper 4 years ago but continues to write his crappy column each week. Here’s something from the latest: “Apparently [Maureen] Dowd thinks Bush should’ve coddled Saddam–maybe inviting him to the White House as often as Clinton did Arafat–and shared non-alcoholic beers with the tyrant during all-nighters in either Baghdad or Crawford.”

I am sure that you get the picture by now. Rightwing crapola camouflaged as hard-hitting “alternative” journalism. If there’s any sign of political progress, it is that the paper is much thinner than it used to be. In the 80s, it was often 90 pages while the latest copy runs to 55.

For the past year or so, I’ve found it easy to ignore the NY Press, sidestepping it like a lump of dogshit on the sidewalk. But on Thursday, I did a double-take as I passed the paper in its dispensary on the way to work. The front page had a graphic of a gun, money and barbed wire superimposed on the American flag with a headline “The Rise of America’s Anti-Illegal Immigrant Movement.”

It featured two articles hailing the growth of closed borders. One was an excerpt from a new book titled “Minutemen: The Battle To Secure America’s Borders” by Jim Gilchrist and Jerome Corsi. According to Media Matters, Corsi is a long-time ultraright activist who co-authored “Unfit for Command: Swift Boat Veterans Speak Out Against John Kerry.” In addition to his print “credits”, Corsi is a frequent contributor to the crypto-fascist Free Republic website. This is typical:

Islam is like a virus — it affects the mind — maybe even better as an analogy — it is a cancer that destroys the body it infects. A throwback, Medieval, anti-modern, anti-science, anti-knowledge doctrine. Then too, Islam is a peaceful religion only so long as the women are beaten, the boys buggered, and the infidels killed. Worthless. No doctor would hesitate to eliminate cancer cells from the body.

While the Village Voice, whatever its foibles, was covering the immigrant’s rights actions in NYC, the NY Press chose to highlight the opponents in this issue:


Anti-illegal immigrant activists in America’s oldest immigrant entry point

By Bret Liebendorfer

In recent days, massive rallies, like A Day Without an Immigrant, drew tens of thousands of flag-waving participants in New York and captured most of the city’s attention regarding the immigrant debate. Most New Yorkers tend to think of anti-illegal immigrant groups as Wild West-style vigilantes patrolling the Southwest border looking for brown-skin invaders. But it has now become clear that these groups are hardly limited to just the border, as the anti-illegal immigrant movement is now targeting New York and working persistently on what they describe as efforts to secure America. With overlapping memberships, it’s difficult to differentiate one group from another, but what their opponents fear most is that some of these incestuous relationships may be marginally linked to America’s white separatist groups. Nevertheless, this negative suspicion has done little to dampen the anti-illegal immigrant movement.

“We, as concerned New Yorkers, got brave enough to voice our anti-illegal immigrant position and are taking it to the streets,” said Joanna Mazullo, president of New York Immigration Control and Enforcement (I.C.E.) on why the group formed. NY I.C.E. mirrors many of the ideals of anti-illegal immigrant groups around the country: They are against the granting of amnesty and driver’s licenses to current illegal immigrants and believe the solution to solving the illegal immigrant problem is enforcement of existing laws.

Last year Bret Liebendorfer was writing for the student paper at Ohio State and included this tag at the bottom of his articles:

Bret Liebendorfer can be reached at liebendorfer.1@osu.edu and prefers booty calls to e-mails telling him how “bad of a writer he is.”

Such is the state of media in New York City that a rightwing pinhead like this can make a living as a journalist. If this is supposed to illustrate “freedom of the press,” I’ll take Pravda circa 1935.


  1. […] The New York Press: dogshit on the sidewalkAlthough it would be difficult to prove, I have a strong feeling that the ability of rightwing millionaires to gain control over the media in New York City, a bastion of liberalism, has been a decisive factor in the election of Rudy … […]

    Pingback by Mr.Endemik » Blog Archive » Canadian Held in New York Tunnel PlotA report about the (Washington) — July 8, 2006 @ 8:53 pm

  2. What is worse, than a rightist trying to be cool, edgy? Nothing.

    Comment by Renegade Eye — July 9, 2006 @ 2:36 am

  3. Unrelated:

    I’m not a Marxmail subscriber, but could you somehow convey this to the list? I’m a little sickened by the stuff Yoshie and others have been spouting about Ahmadinejad and ‘liberation theology’ the past few weeks. I don’t have time to put together a detailed response, but as an Iranian-American leftist and the child, friend and relative of a number of Iranian leftists, can I just emphatically say: Ahmadinejad is NOT ‘Iran’s Chavez’. Saying so is just embarrassing. He’s a fake populist standing at the head of an Islamist regime. If the Western Left gets as starry-eyed about liberation theology now as it did in 1979, it might not be forgiven altogether this time around. Supporting Khomeini was idiocy bordering on treason to the Iranian Left. I hope the same mistake doesn’t get made again. Iran has to be defended from imperialism, but that doesn’t mean embracing yet another venerable bearded ‘anti-colonial’ leader.

    Comment by Poulod — July 13, 2006 @ 10:06 am

  4. I find it grossly misleading and insulting to only post the beginning of my article about the anti-illegal alien movement to booster your opinions of New York Press.

    I direct readers to the entire article at http://www.nypress.com/19/27/news&columns/feature.cfm

    Here you’ll find I’m hardly a “rightist trying to be cool, edgy.” I am, in fact, none of the three.

    It’s sad to see so many people in this increasingly polarized world pick one side and defend it till death.

    – Bret Liebendorfer

    Comment by Bret Liebendorfer — July 27, 2006 @ 4:38 am

  5. Yes, people should read Bret’s entire article. With the exception of a couple of paragraphs at the end of the article citing a SPLC opponent of racist anti-immigration groups, the article could have been written by the racists themselves. Anyhow, I understand why Bret would take a job with the NY Press. A young man coming to NYC needs money to pay his rent and I imagine that writing for this rag is not so nearly as demeaning as being a male prostitute.

    Comment by Louis Proyect — July 27, 2006 @ 2:09 pm

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