NYT v. NYT: 'Splendid Provocation of a Book' vs. 'Book That Gives Feminism a Bad Name'

October 23rd, 2007 1:38 PM

After dedicating nearly 10,000 words over two months to promoting feminist author Susan Faludi's bizarre screed "The Terror Dream: Fear and Fantasy in Post-9/11 America," the New York Times finally ran into some opposition: its own book reviewer.

Clay Waters described the paper's September 27 interview with the author here. It was one of five articles the paper dedicated to the book, which argues that the reaction to the 9/11 attacks amounted to little more than an attack on feminism.

Today, the paper's book reviewer, Michiko Kakutani, cuts right to the chase: "This, sadly, is the sort of tendentious, self-important, sloppily reasoned book that gives feminism a bad name."

Keep in mind, the review totaled little more than 1,000 words. That leaves the Times dedicating about 9,000 words to sloppy reasoning on a very important subject. But, given the paper has great influence over how history is written, this dissent -- the shortest of the five pieces on the book, including an October 22 reprint of the whole first chapter -- should be noted, especially because Kakutani's effective shredding of Faludi's theory stands in such contrast to the four, earlier puff pieces.

A week before Kakutani pointed out the obvious, the paper's Sunday Book Review was heralding it as a "splendid provocation of a book." Contributor John Leonard, of Harper's Magazine, used his review to agree with Faludi that "the script America reverted to in the fall of 2001 was the oldest in our literary imagination, our frontier fear that savages (‘dark-skinned, non-Christian combatants') would seize our defenseless women..."

Kakutani wasn't drinking the Kool-Aid:

These efforts on Ms. Faludi's part to use the terrorist attacks of 9/11 as an occasion to recycle arguments similar to those she made a decade and a half ago in her best-selling book "Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women" (1991) feel forced, unpersuasive and often utterly baffling.

To begin with, the reader wants to ask: What disappearance of female voices?

What "bugle call" to "return to Betty Crocker domesticity?" Since 9/11, Hillary Rodham Clinton has become the leading Democratic contender in the race for the White House, with a good chance of becoming the first female president in history; Katie Couric was named anchor of the CBS Evening News; and women like Lara Logan of CBS and Martha Raddatz of ABC have been reporting from the frontlines of the war in Iraq.

She goes on to pick apart Faludi's feminist tract so thoroughly, it's a wonder if editors read the book before agreeing to reprint the first chapter in the paper:

Not only are many of these assertions highly debatable in themselves, but Ms. Faludi's overarching thesis in this book rings false too. In fact, her suggestion that the 9/11 attacks catalyzed the same fears and narrative impulses as those unleashed by our frontier ancestors' "original war on terror," leading to a muffling of feminist voices and a veneration of "the virtues of nesting," runs smack up against her own "Backlash," which suggested that similar assaults on women's independence were being unleashed in the 1980s - a time not of war or threat but a decade that witnessed the fall of the Berlin Wall and the coming end of the cold war.

Again, Kakutani's review was the shortest of the five items the Times ran promoting the book. But its effective smashing of leftist theory is important: "Such errors of logic are typical of this ill-conceived and poorly executed book - a book that stands as one of the more nonsensical volumes yet published about the aftermath of 9/11."

It's important because it is now a matter of record that the Times wholeheartedly embraced a book that its own reviewer correctly labeled "nonsensical."