Eric Alterman

individual

Overview

  • Media critic who claims that the media are largely conservative
  • Holds conservatives in contempt
  • Protege and defender of the late Communist author and journalist I.F. Stone

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 MonthlyThe Daily Beast, The ForwardMomentMother JonesThe New RepublicHarper’sLe Monde Diplomatique, Vanity FairThe New York Times MagazineNew 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 MoyersSchumann 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:

  • “Social scientists talk about ‘useful myths,’ stories we all know aren’t necessarily true, but that we choose to believe anyway because they seem to offer confirmation of what we already know…. Think of the wholly fictitious but illustrative story about little George Washington and his inability to lie about that cherry tree. For conservatives, and even many journalists, the ‘liberal media’ is just that–a myth, to be sure, but a useful one.”
  • “Republicans of all stripes have done quite well for themselves during the past five decades fulminating about the liberal cabal/progressive thought police who spin, supplant and sometimes suppress the news we all consume…. But while some conservatives actually believe their own grumbles, the smart ones don’t. They know mau-mauing the other side is just a good way to get their own ideas across–or perhaps prevent the other side from getting a fair hearing for theirs.”
  • “Given the success of Fox News, the Wall Street Journal editorial pages, the Washington Times, the New York PostThe American SpectatorThe Weekly Standard, the New York SunNational ReviewCommentary, Limbaugh, Drudge, etc., no sensible person can dispute the existence of a ‘conservative media.’ The reader might be surprised to learn that neither do I quarrel with the notion of a ‘liberal media.’ It is tiny and profoundly underfunded compared with its conservative counterpart, but it does exist.”
  • “Conservatives are extremely well represented in every facet of the media. The correlative point is that even the genuine liberal media are not so liberal. And they are no match–either in size, ferocity or commitment–for the massive conservative media structure that, more than ever, determines the shape and scope of our political agenda.”

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:

  • “The American people were purposely misled and are paying for it dearly, in both blood and treasure.”
  • “The war was planned by neoconservatives, many of whom worked directly with their counterparts in the Israeli government, who helped perpetuate the deception.”
  • “The war did improve the security of Israel, but not that of the United States. No other country’s population thought it was a good idea, including Britain, save that of Israel.”
  • “Pentagon neocons were spying for Israel and using the Israel lobby as a conduit.”

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 2013 he wrote that Israel’s “brutal military occupation of Palestinian land … has not only deeply damaged Israel’s democracy, but also desensitized its citizens to the daily humiliations it inflicts on the Palestinians.”
  • In 2018 he condemned “the brutality and inhumanity of the [Israeli] occupation.”

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 BeinartTodd Gitlin, and Ian Lustick.

Alterman’s work often gives expression to the author’s general contempt for his ideological adversaries. For example:

  • In a May 2004 article, Alterman sarcastically wrote that “when Horowitz finally dies, I suspect we will be confronted with a posthumous volume of memoirs titled ‘The End of History.’”
  • In a 2003 interview with Esquire, Alterman said that America “would be better without [conservative broadcaster] Rush Limbaugh and his 20 million listeners.” Further, Alterman expressed his “wish” that Limbaugh, whose near-total hearing loss had been reversed by a cochlear implant in 2001, “would have gone deaf.” Alterman also told Esquire that “I debase myself every time I say [Ann Coulter’s] name.”
  • Around that same time, Alterman told the Los Angeles Times: “I don’t have to my house for dinner anyone who’s not pro-choice, pro-gun control … pro-campaign finance reform.”
  • In a communication which he posted on JournoList, Alterman characterized conservatives as “fu**ing Nascar retards.”
  • In 2015 Alteraman wrote that “today’s GOP [Republican Party] is just one manifestation of the racist, xenophobic, anti-Semitic, and pro-fascist ideas that [the conservative magazine National Review] has promoted in its pages for the past 60 years.”

Further Reading: “Eric Alterman” (EricAlterman.com, TheNation.com, Keywiki.org); “Eric Alterman: Socialist Journalist Profiled(TrevorLoudon.com, 5-19-2013).

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