Born on January 14, 1960, Eric Alterman holds a B.A. degree in History & Government from Cornell University, an M.A. in International Relations from Yale University, and a Ph.D. in U.S. History from Stanford University. Formerly an Adjunct Professor of Journalism at NYU and Columbia University, Alterman has been a Professor of English at Brooklyn College since 2004. He also taught at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism in 2007. In addition to his work in academia, Alterman is a senior fellow at both the Center for American Progress and the World Policy Institute (New York), and he serves as the “Liberal Media” columnist at The Nation.
It was as a freelancer with The Nation, that Alterman launched a journalism career in 1983. He also has written for such publications as The Washington Monthly, The Daily Beast, The Forward, Moment, Mother Jones, The New Republic, Harper’s, Le Monde Diplomatique, Vanity Fair, The New York Times Magazine, New Yorker, Atlantic Monthly, Worth, the Sunday Express (London), and, during the mid- to late 1980s, The Guardian (a now-defunct Maoist journal affiliated with the Institute for Policy Studies). On a brochure for the Institute for Policy Studies’ 30th Anniversary celebration in 1993, Alterman was listed as one of that organization’s “former Visiting Fellows and Visiting Scholars,” and also as a “current … Fellow” of the TransNational Institute, which was a major source of anti-American, anti-capitalist propaganda.
In 1996, MSNBC hired Alterman as a television commentator and Internet columnist. In 2002 Alterman created Altercation—a daily blog about media, politics, and culture—for MSNBC’s website. In September 2006 he ended his association with MSNBC and was hired as a Senior Fellow by Media Matters for America, which also took over the sponsorship of Altercation. On December 22, 2008, Alterman announced that in 2009 Altercation would be moving to The Nation‘s website, where it would appear “more sporadically” than it had in the past. In addition to Altercation, Alterman wrote a regular “Think Again” column for the Center for American Progress from 2003 to 2013.
In 2000, Alterman was highly critical of Ralph Nader for running a third-party campaign in that year’s U.S. presidential election, arguing that Nader was unwittingly facilitating George W. Bush’s victory by siphoning votes away from Democrat candidate Al Gore. Alterman characterized Nader variously as “Bush’s Useful Idiot,” a “rather brazen liar,” “myopic,” and a “deluded megalomaniac.” In the 2006 documentary An Unreasonable Man, he is quoted as saying: “The man [Nader] needs to go away. I think he needs to live in a different country. He’s done enough damage to this one. Let him damage somebody else’s now.”
Alterman has authored eleven books since 1998, when he received $180,000 from Bill Moyers’ Schumann Center for Media & Democracy to write his first book, Who Speaks for America? Why Democracy Matters in Foreign Policy. In two of his subsequent books—Sound and Fury (2000) and What Liberal Media? (2003)—Alterman claimed that the American media skewed heavily toward the political right. Yet in making this claim, he ignored a vast body of research proving exactly the opposite. In a February 24, 2003 article in The Nation — a piece adapted from What Liberal Media? — Alterman wrote:
In April 2003, Alterman was a signatory to a Statement on Cuba petition that was initiated and circulated by Leo Casey, a Marxist member of the Democratic Socialists of America. This Statement called for the lifting of United States trade sanctions against Cuba, and it blamed Cuba’s economic and political problems in part on “reactionary elements of the U.S. administration.”
Strongly opposed to the March 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, Alterman claimed in May 2003 that the American government’s alleged concern about Saddam Hussein’s possession of weapons of mass destruction “was all a big joke; something for suckers to get worked up about while [President] Bush and company went to war for their own reasons.” Alterman pronounced, further, that “the Likud faction of the Republican Party would like a war without any bothersome discussion beforehand.” He elaborated on this theme in September 2004, with the added suggestion that the Iraq War may have been motivated in large measure by pressure from the Israel lobby. Among Alterman’s assertions were that:
During the run-up to the 2004 presidential election, Alterman publicly lauded the billionaire philanthropist George Soros for having recently announced his intention to spend $15.5 million to help the Democrats defeat President George W. Bush and Republicans at the polls.
When the British Muslim Council (BMC) decided in 2005 to boycott a ceremony commemorating the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz because the event did not honor the Palestinian victims of Israeli abuses, Alterman supported the BMC’s decision. “I’m a Jew,” he wrote, “but I don’t expect Arabs to pay tribute to my people’s suffering while Jews, in the form of Israel and its supporters … are causing much of theirs.” Further, Alterman noted that: “The Palestinians have also suffered because of the Holocaust. They lost their homeland as the world—in the form of the United Nations—reacted to European crimes by awarding half of Palestine to the Zionists…. To ask Arabs to participate in a ceremony that does not recognize their own suffering but implicitly endorses the view that caused their catastrophe is morally idiotic.”
Additional examples of Alterman’s antipathy toward Israel include the following:
In October 2006, Alterman was a signatory to a document titled “We Answer to the Name of Liberals,” which blamed the Bush administration for: launching the “illegal, unwise” Iraq War; having “discouraged the prospects for an honorable Israeli-Palestinian settlement”; its excessive “reliance on military intervention”; its “contempt” for “the rule of law”; its “vast tax cuts to the rich at the expense of policies that strengthen the common ties that bind us together as a community”; its “suppression of votes” at the polls; its “shameful” environmental record; its numerous “human-rights violations”; its “rejection of basic guarantees of due process”; and its failure to protect Americans “from foreign enemies on [9/11], and from the hurricane [Katrina] and flood that afflicted the Gulf Coast in 2005.” This document was co-written by Bruce Ackerman and Todd Gitlin. Additional signers included such notables as Robert Reich and Michael Tomasky.
Alterman was a protege and defender of the late author and journalist I.F. Stone. When historians John Earl Haynes, Harvey Klehr, and Alexander Vassiliev demonstrated in 2009 that Stone had been a Soviet agent who assisted the KGB during the mid- to late 1930s, Alterman swiftly published a response article titled “I.F.Stone Was No Spy.” He characterized the Stone-KGB allegations as “phony,” “pathetic,” unfounded “smears” that were part of “an almost entirely bogus controversy over whether Stone ever willingly spied for the Russians or cooperated with the KGB in any way. He did not.” Alterman also claimed that “the campaign to smear Stone bears the hallmarks of a foundation-funded campaign of right-wing media manipulation.”
Alterman was an identified member of JournoList—a secret electronic listserv of some 400 liberal and left-wing journalists, academics, and political activists who, from 2007-10, colluded to discredit and bury stories that had the potential to harm Barack Obama‘s presidential campaign and political agendas.
In October 2008, Alterman co-authored an article titled “The Uses and Abuses of ‘Voter Fraud’” for the Center For American Progress. Asserting that “voter fraud allegations are frequently based on shaky evidence with partisan goals in mind,” he complained that “members of the mainstream media often give too much credence to empty claims of ‘voter fraud,’ while ignoring the institutionalized disenfranchisement that occurs too often in America.” He cited, for instance, a recently released study by Project Vote which claimed that “charges of voter fraud are used to discredit voter participation efforts and prime the pump for voter suppression efforts, such as the passage of voter ID bills, pushing for proof of citizenship, engaging in draconian voter purge efforts, and imposing severe restrictions on voter registration drives.”
In a 2012 interview with Bill Moyers, Alterman said that “as a society we’ve moved incredibly further to the right since [Franklin] Roosevelt’s time”; that former President Richard Nixon was “more liberal than Barack Obama”; and that “Obama is really quite similar to Dwight Eisenhower, both in terms of the role of government and what it can accomplish.”
Alterman was a signatory to a September 2015 letter that a pair of coalitions called “Partners for Progressive Israel” and “Scholars for Israel and Palestine” sent to every member of Congress, urging the lawmakers to approve the nuclear agreement that the Obama administration and the governments of five other nations were negotiating with Iran. That accord, said Alterman and his fellow signers, would force Iran to: “forswea[r] further development of nuclear weapons, commi[t] to significant reductions in its current nuclear capabilities, and agre[e] to intrusive inspections” that “will greatly reduce the chances of war with Iran and will enhance the security of Israel.” (For details about what the Iran nuclear deal actually stated, click here.) Other noteworthy signers of the letter to Congress included Peter Beinart, Todd Gitlin, and Ian Lustick.
Alterman’s work often gives expression to the author’s general contempt for his ideological adversaries. For example: