THE SEPTEMBER 27, 1999 issue of The New Yorker features a politically motivated caricature of myself (The Cold War Thrives in Sunny California) by Jane Mayer, co-author of the diatribe against Clarence Thomas (Strange Justice) that was recently made into a film for TV. When Mayer called to interview me for The New Yorker, I told her my low opinion of her "journalism" and suggested that in light of the Clinton–Lewinsky follies, an apology by her to Clarence Thomas was in order. She pretended not to understand what I said.
I cooperated with her anyway. It was not because I had expectations that she would report fairly on what I said, but because I didn’t want to give her the opportunity to print an extreme caricature of myself and punctuate it with the statement "Horowitz would not answer my calls."
For the record, let me say that since, in my opinion, Jane Mayer was incapable of reporting a story accurately, and that she was only going to use the occasion to write a political smear, I was hardly surprised by the result. There is thus no reason to write this response at all, except that it affords me the opportunity to throw light on the techniques by which a great American jurist was tarred and feathered by a dishonest and mean-spirited partisan of the left, posing as a journalist.
Jane Mayer’s caricature purports to inform New Yorker readers of a vendetta I am alleged to have carried out against Steve Wasserman, who is the book review editor of the Los Angeles Times, and against the Los Angeles Times itself. The impression it leaves is pretty much summed up in Wasserman’s snide comment: "It’s very tedious to deal with what should rightfully be called by its proper name: Red-baiting."
Readers will note that while Steve Wasserman’s words and opinions inform ninety percent of the article’s perspective, not a single statement of mine made during a long interview with the author is referred to in the published piece. Not even an attitude of mine is reported. Mayer should have saved The New Yorker’s dime and our time, and just taken down Wasserman’s whine and left it at that.
The story Jane Mayer tells is simple. Steve Wasserman came to Los Angeles to edit the Los Angeles Times Book Review. An ex-radical named David Horowitz, who (unlike the rest of us) has not yet gotten over the Cold War, was lying in wait for Wasserman. The minute the unsuspecting Wasserman settled into his editor’s chair, Horowitz pounced on him, accusing him of making bombs, then attacking him for publishing a review of the Communist Manifesto by a "Marxist historian" and then writing "vitriolic columns in Salon accusing the LA Times of harboring leftists…"
Not only is the reality pretty much the opposite of the picture Mayer presents, but the facts are all in print, so that even if Mayer didn’t believe a word I said in my lengthy interview with her, she could have referred to the documentary record to check her opinions with the evidence. Obviously this was not something that interested her.
If she had looked at the files of the Los Angeles Times, for example, she would have noticed a lengthy, nasty, politically motivated profile of David Horowitz that shortly preceded the arrival of Steve Wasserman and any vitriolic columns David Horowitz wrote about the LA Times. Would this attack from the left in the pages of a major metropolitan newspaper qualify as carrying on the Cold War? Or is it only conservatives who can be guilty of this offense?
The facts are these: When Steve Wasserman arrived at the LA Times, Catherine Seipp, a reporter for Buzz magazine, called me for my opinion on his appointment and for any Wasserman anecdotes I might share with her. In the Sixties, it should be mentioned, Wasserman, and I were members of the New Left. Mayer’s article, of course, tells the reader nothing about Wasserman’s biography, which makes my comments on him seem strained and conspiratorial. In fact, in the Sixties when I first met Steve Wasserman, he was a youthful follower of the "Red Family," a group of Berkeley urban guerrillas. (They had an official "Minister of Defense," named Andy Truskier, who trained them in weapons as they plotted to initiate "wars of liberation" in American cities). The group, which studied the writings of their political guru, Korean dictator Kim Il Sung, was led by Tom Hayden and Bob Scheer, the latter of whom was Wasserman’s mentor then and for years afterwards. (Wasserman even ghosted a book for Scheer.) Scheer, whose views have only marginally adjusted to the changing times, is now a "national correspondent" for the Los Angeles Times and was probably responsible for the recruitment of Wasserman.
I told Seipp that I thought it was both culturally indicative and somewhat comical that a major newspaper like the Los Angeles Times was beginning to look editorially like Ramparts, the radical magazine Scheer and I had edited in the 1960s. (In the 1970s, I led a staff revolt at Ramparts against Scheer and fired him from the magazine just before he joined the Red Family—a deed for which he has never forgiven me.) I told Seipp what I knew about Wasserman, both the good and the not so good. I noted that Wasserman was a protégé of Scheer’s. I recalled someone telling me in the Sixties that Hayden had taught Wasserman, who was then a high-school student, how to make explosives. I thought it was an interesting oddity (and a colorful anecdote) that a bomb thrower was now a literary editor. I then spent a considerable amount of time describing my impressions of Wasserman since the Sixties, and why I thought he had shown himself to be a fair-minded leftist, earning my respect.
I have not called Catherine Seipp to see if she has a tape of our interview or notes she may have taken at the time, which would confirm this memory. But that is not necessary in order to know how I actually responded to the editorial appointment of Steve Wasserman. When the Buzz article appeared, it was quite negative and Wasserman called me in extreme pain to beg for my help in protecting him from any damage the story might do to him in his new job. He asked me to write a letter to the editor of Buzz. Since I had no ill-feelings towards Wasserman or his appointment—quite the contrary—I gladly agreed to do so.
Before I quote this letter in full, let me remind the reader of its importance in understanding Jane Mayer’s underhanded "reporting" of her story. (For the record: I told Mayer about this letter and described its contents at length, and offered to provide her with a copy.) In the September 27th New Yorker, Mayer writes of me: "Horowitz’s attacks began almost as soon as Wasserman took over the book-review section."
As my letter to the editor shows, she might well have written "Horowitz’s defense of Wasserman began almost as soon as Wasserman took over …":
April 18, 1997
Los Angeles, California
I want to thank Catherine Seipp and Buzz ("Media Circus," May 1997) for noticing the malicious personal attack on me posing as a profile in Narda Zacchino’s Style section of the L.A. Times and for recognizing my unflattering portrait of Zacchino’s husband Bob Scheer in Radical Son as a probable inspiration for the hit. However, as the source of the anecdote about Steve Wasserman being taught how to make bombs by Tom Hayden, I have a correction to make. I told the Buzz fact checker at least three times to check the story with Steve because I had heard it second-hand at least twenty years ago. Steve now informs me that the story is untrue and I have no reason to disbelieve him. Moreover, although Steve is indeed an old friend of Scheer’s, it is wrong to suggest that Scheer’s partisan malice has rubbed off on him. I have kept in contact with Steve over the years and have found him to be gracious and fair-minded in my dealings with him. As editor of Times Books, Wasserman was the publisher of Newt Gingrich’s Contract with America and bought an important project on the Panthers (as yet unpublished), which will confirm the allegations made in Radical Son about their criminal activities. Under Wasserman’s direction, the Times’ Book Review is already an improved section of the paper, and this conservative wishes him well.
An honest reporter might have concluded that it was these high expectations I had of Steve Wasserman, and the fact that he soon disappointed them, that led to the "tensions" between us. I knew that Steve was a leftist. But this did not bother me any more than the fact that my Salon editors are politically left. I welcome dialogue on political issues. Indeed, it would be odd for a "red-baiter" to be a regular columnist for a leftist magazine like Salon. But, acknowledging this would also be somewhat inconvenient for Mayer’s purposes. So she simply ignores the fact.
My defense of Wasserman led to an invitation to lunch and even greater expectations that he might end my isolation, along with that of other conservatives, who were excluded from powerful literary institutions like the Times Book Review. I imagined Wasserman would invite me and other conservatives to write in his pages and to engage in a robust political dialogue with his friends. Alas, it was not to be. When it became clear to me that Wasserman had no interest in developing such a dialogue, and had contempt for me and for my work, I finally gave up and began a public criticism of his performance. I wrote two articles in Salon describing the progressive stages of my disillusionment—the so-called "vitriolic columns" that Mayer refers to. (Calibrating the Culture War and Karl Marx and the Los Angeles Times; they are linked here so readers can decide for themselves whether they are witch-hunting diatribes or reasoned contributions to an important cultural debate).
The trigger of my disillusionment was this: After being ignored by Wasserman in the year that followed our lunch, I was finally invited by him to write a 250-word contribution to a symposium on the Communist Manifesto. But, when the symposium appeared, I discovered that he had cut my 250 words in half to make room for a 3000-word celebration of the Manifesto by Eric Hobsbawm, a Communist Party hack who had joined the Stalinists in the 1920s and stayed through all the mass murders and crimes right up until 1990. When Hobsbawmhe "left" the Communist Party, it was only because the Party failed to ask him to renew his membership card when it lapsed, thus wounding his amour propre. (I was told this story by Christopher Hitchens over a very pleasant and warmly remembered dinner we had recently in Washington.)
My real battle with the Times (as anyone reading my columns could see) was not to purge the Reds but to get Wasserman to live up to the standard of fair-mindedness I had set for him in my original letter defending him. In particular, I wanted him to open the Times Book Review section to conservative viewpoints, which had been virtually excluded.
The one redeeming aspect of Mayer’s gross misrepresentation is its conclusion. Here she refers to a study that Carlin Romano, a literary critic for the Philadelphia Inquirer and a Nation contributor made of my "charges." Romano examined 194 issues of Wasserman’s Book Review and came to the conclusion that Wasserman’s regular reviewers "are almost uniformly writers identified with the left." But, Romano added, this bias only balances that of the New York Times, which "favors neo-conservatives." Now if a man who writes for The Nation, and thinks the New York Times has a neo-conservative bias, comes to the conclusion that Wasserman’s reviewers are almost uniformly to the left, you know who’s keeping the Cold War going.