Washington Post media blogger Erik Wemple was a little shocked that The New York Times would assign MSNBC host Rachel Maddow to write a gushing Sunday book review for anti-war favorite Andrew Bacevich. Maddow acknowledged in the review that Bacevich gave her a gushing blurb for her book “Drift.” He’s also appeared on her show, which wasn’t admitted.
The other dishonest note in this logrolling of mutual praise is everyone suggesting that Bacevich is some kind of “crusty conservative,” which in no way matches his actual writing. If he were a conservative, Maddow wouldn’t be praising his takedown of the “warrior myth” of the war-mongers:
Andrew J. Bacevich starts from the assumption that our modern militarism is unsustainable and unwise. He then proceeds to assign blame, mercilessly: to the public (for our consumerist apathy); to the Pentagon (for its "generals who had slept undisturbed back when Warsaw Pact commanders had ostensibly been planning to launch World War III" but who "now fretted nervously over the prospect of their budget taking a hit"); to the contractors (whose profiteering steals honor from the soldiers they serve alongside); and, naturally, to the politicians.
Bacevich dismantles the warrior myth we civilians and politicians so enjoy worshiping from afar, and replaces that idol with flesh and blood, vulnerable humans, who deserve better than the profligate, wasteful way in which we treat them.
This is how Maddow spins his biography:
Bacevich is a retired colonel, a Vietnam combat veteran and a West Point graduate, but his book’s massacre of sacred cows does not spare the institution he served as a career officer for 23 years...
Bacevich does not write crisply and with snark the way [the late Michael] Hastings did. In his late 60s, he isn’t a daring, dashing, liberal magazine journalist; he’s a crusty conservative Catholic professor who now teaches at Boston University. But he is cut from the same cloth. He will never be mainstream.
That’s correct. Bacevich is out on the left-wing fringe with Maddow, but the media elites love to pretend he’s some kind of cousin to Pat Buchanan. This is how Bacevich gushed over Maddow’s book on the back cover:
Here’s this conservative’s assessment of Rachel Maddow’s Drift: It’s scathingly funny, deeply insightful, and informed throughout by a deep and abiding sense of patriotism. Bravo, Rachel!”
Wemple argued "a blurb is a towering favor with business and financial implications: It helps the author sell her book. How does the New York Times Book Review justify such a conflict?" Here’s how New York Times responded to Wemple’s concerns:
If there has been any previous interaction between author and reviewer, then, based on our own assessment of the situation (sometimes we judge the relationship too close or otherwise compromised), we ask if they think they can approach a book under consideration fairly. If they can, we stipulate that anything that could be perceived as a potential conflict is addressed forthrightly in the review. We are not trying to hide anything, and believe our reviewers when they say they are able to judge the work on its merits.
But they hid the Bacevich appearances on Maddow's show. Here's how Paul handled that:
According to Nexis, the Boston University professor appeared on “The Rachel Maddow Show” in 2011 and 2010. Both times, Maddow plugged another of his books — “Washington Rules: America’s Path to Permanent War.” Such appearances were discussed.
Paul writes, “Maddow did let us know that he’d been on her show, but so many people go on all the TV talk/news/debate shows at this point; it didn’t strike us as necessarily grounds for conflict. In our judgment, the blurbing might be perceived as the more significant conflict and so chose to acknowledge that in the review. After taking all this into account, we believed she would be able to write an incisive review without pre-judgment. I thought she did an excellent job.”
PS: Maddow’s book was praised by Times insider Janet Maslin in 2012 as “a sustained, lucid case in which points are made logically and backed by evidence and reason.”