Monday, March 23, 2009

A comradely call on Nick Cohen to stop shouting

Observer letters yesterday. Via Nick Cohen who says:

If you are tempted into going along with their complacent belief that all is well with the liberal consensus check out the case I present to the contrary in Waiting for the Etonians available here at the ridiculously cheap price of £7.19!


But... WftE is a collection of columns and the letter starts with "Nick Cohen needs to find a new column to write." And it continued:

Yet again last Sunday, he declaimed that the liberal-left has failed to engage or support liberal Muslims, asserting that leading voices and institutions refuse to challenge Islamist extremism as well as opposing the BNP. But this is nonsense. It can be easily disproved by what we have all said and done.


Sunder Katwala et al allege that Nick Cohen misrepresents them. Nick's response is - "find out what they're really like, from me." Nick, give Norman Geras a call. He understands logic.

Update March 26 6:30 am. Ooh. Support for NC from Martin Bright. "But this is just bullying isn't it?" No, it isn't.

37 Comments:

Anonymous andrew adams said...

Oh fuck, he's been interviewed here by Chas Newkey-Burden

But mostly I adore him for his courageous writing. His book What’s Left is a shudderingly great attack on the hypocrisies and other ugliness of the modern British Left. Reading it encouraged Julie and I to write Not In My Name. She once described herself and I as “like Nick Cohen, but the K-Tel version”. I wish.

!!!

3/23/2009 11:08:00 PM  
Blogger Sangiovese Fellow said...

Yes, I'll grant you that Geras understands logic, but alas that's unlikely to be sufficient to get him correcting Cohen. After all, logic's purpose is to help in determining truth, and for a long time now Professor Geras has been maintaining that the key test of moral goodness in evaluating recent Middle Eastern affairs is that the truly good person must have been as appallingly, devastatingly and catastrophically wrong about Iraq as he was. If you used logical reasoning to make predictions about Iraq that turned out to be true, then clearly you must have been motivated by crazed anti-Americanism and/or fascist sympathies and thus deserve no moral or intellectual credit ever again. Reason, as Hume maintained, "is and ought only to be the slave of the passions", and if only Hume had been born a couple of centuries later, I dare say big Norm would even now be trying to get him to correct the famous quotation into "is and ought only to be the slave of the passions of Norman Geras, Nick Cohen, Oliver Kamm and other signatories of the Euston Manifesto". So dear old Nick can perpetrate as many howling errors of logic or crazed distortions of fact as he likes - it's only the shared passion for Western military interventions that has to remain consistent.

3/24/2009 03:53:00 AM  
Anonymous Der Bruno Stroszek said...

Re: Julie Burchill. There's something particularly distasteful about having your democratic credentials challenged by the British press's most ardent supporter of Milosevic, isn't there? I wonder if any of the Decents, many of whom were pro-intervention in the 1999 Balkan war, ever haul her up on this?

My own suspicion: once you've been baptised into the Decent faith, all prior sins are forgiven.

3/24/2009 07:34:00 AM  
Blogger Bruschettaboy said...

I think Slobo might be due for a Decent reappraisal. After all, he was sound on Israel.

3/24/2009 08:14:00 AM  
Blogger Matthew said...

I think we're due a launch of a K.A.M today, as Nick is being attacked from all sides.

3/24/2009 10:01:00 AM  
Blogger ejh said...

What's "the liberal consensus"? Where can it be found? How do I identify it?


(Verification "valse". That's nice.)

3/24/2009 10:08:00 AM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

If you are tempted into going along with their complacent belief that all is well with the liberal consensus check out the case I present to the contrary

Isn't the whole point of the letter and its myriad signatories that there is no real liberal consensus - and that Nick is actively ignoring this and pretending otherwise?

Nick is floundering here. He's finally named names on who he considers 'Fascist-appeasers' but, inevitably, it turns out that they're nothing of the sort, and as a byproduct of this it also turns out that Nick doesn't actually follow what left-wing think tanks do at all, because he is an outspoken fan of/plugger for Policy Exchange.

He'll know better for next time - if only he'd left out the word 'Fabian' from the column he'd still be fine. This is where relying on HP and Policy Exchange for all your 'facts on who is combatting Islamism' leaves you.

Also, if he's concerned about people who profess to be left-wing siding with hardline right-wingers, I can suggest a supposedly left-wing columnist who has been enthusiastically endorsed - and seemingly given his endorsement to - a hardline Likudnik who seems to support, on religious grounds, a previous ban on gay parades in Jerusalem.

From the interview, I'd like to know who actually said this to Nick: 'the Israel “lobby” organised the second Iraq War'. It strikes me the person who said it to him was actually a commenter on Harry's Place who was distorting the ideas in M&W's book.

I do sometimes wonder about Nick and the middle east in general. He seems far too easily swayed by clearly partisan, pro-Israeli govt accounts of the middle east; he doesn't really seem to understand any of the issues surrounding Israel/Palestine and barely ever comments on it aside from labelling anyone who opposed IDF actions 'antisemitic'.

Newkey-Burden even manages to invent a 'spat' between Cohen and George Monbiot in order to crowbar a plug for his and Burchill's book into the interview. A trend that Nick is not unguilty of at the moment - every blog post is a plug for his book, the contents of which are all available for free from... his blog. Someone should tell him that this isn't actually what blogging is meant to be about - he was on much firmer ground when simply reproducing his articles on his website. Incidentally, Etonians is currently 70th in the Amazon political books sales rank... currently below such new releases as Aristotle's Politics and Mill's On Liberty.

And is it only me who doesn't understand why this is meant to be funny:

The great and the good - if that’s the right description - were complaining about my Observer column of 15 March on the willingness of Labour, the Royal Family and the judiciary to go along with Jamaat-e-Islami, a remarkably ugly religious group.
Last Sunday I wrote about the willingness of doctors to go along with remarkably ugly standards in NHS hospitals. The comment editor has just warned me that a round robin from Lord Winston, David Tennant, Miriam Stoppard and Harold Shipman is on the way.


Isn't that actually an indictment of Nick's scattergun writing, rather than of the letter-writers?

3/24/2009 10:20:00 AM  
Blogger Bruschettaboy said...

I think the presence of David Tennant (Dr Who) and Harold Shipman (Dr Death) on the list are probably meant to be the joke there.

Newkey-Burden is in the category "dangerous if anyone cared about him". He also believes that there is no such thing as an illegal settlement and that Yisroel Beitenyu is not a racist party. He's a "Likudnik" in the sense that he supports them in elections (despite not being Israeli), but I suspect that the Likud Party would not particularly welcome his support.

3/24/2009 10:26:00 AM  
Blogger frunobulax said...

"I think Slobo might be due for a Decent reappraisal."

Hardly. Though, over at Greater Surbiton MAH is doing a fine job on Tudjman.

3/24/2009 11:15:00 AM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

I still don't really get Nick's joke. But hey maybe it's just me. David Tennant is no longer a doctor either...

My own suspicion: once you've been baptised into the Decent faith, all prior sins are forgiven.

I think it's more a case of, if you say something a Decent agrees with, they don't need to bother themselves with any of your other dodgy views since you're clearly on the good side of TGISOOT. Thus Melanie Phillips is a 'comrade' cos she hates teh islamists. and Burchill is a 'comrade' cos she makes fun of 'lefties'.

This doesn't work the other way around, of course.

nothing the lib dems have ever said can be correct since they opposed the Iraq war. And since Chomsky opposed said war, we should investigate his output on Milosevic. But not that of Burchill on Milosevic of course because she is on the right side of TGISOOT. etc etc.

3/24/2009 11:44:00 AM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

I think the presence of David Tennant (Dr Who) and Harold Shipman (Dr Death) on the list are probably meant to be the joke there.

Ah, for a moment, I though Miriam Stoppard had been ennobled, so Lord Winston... Hamlet, Price of Denmark ... though Harold Shipman would have been a bit of a chin-stroker.

David Tennant is no longer a doctor either...

That's a wee bit pedantic. Can you name the new one? And what do you mean 'a' doctor?

Bonus Miriam Stoppard factoid: "Her niece is the former MP Oona King.[1]" Wikipedia.

Captha: untangs

3/24/2009 02:05:00 PM  
Anonymous Chris Baldwin said...

Question: What the hell is this "liberal-left" that Nick Cohen talks about so much? I'm sure I'm the kind of anti-war lefty he despises, but last time I checked I was still a socialist, so what gives?

3/24/2009 02:38:00 PM  
Blogger The Couscous Kid said...

From the Introduction to What's Left? [p.14]

"I use the liberal-left as a cover-all term for every shade of left opinion."

3/24/2009 02:42:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here's Nick on the Suzanne Moore/Alastair Campbell bun-fight:

The Observer and Evening Standard columnist Nick Cohen, who himself parted company with the New Statesman in acrimonious circumstances, said: "For a long time there's been a danger that the New Statesman goes along with a highly conformist and narrow intellectual view of the left."

In what way does Campbell editing the NS (and getting all his mates in to contribute) support this argument - especially given Campbell's role in prosecuting a war Nick supported? Moore's departure isn't really 'proof' of Nick's view of the NS as quoted here, unless he's reading it as a sign of the NS 'coming to its senses' in favour of the Decents).

keyword 'unrotcht' - sounds suitably Frankfurt School, nicht wahr?

3/24/2009 03:18:00 PM  
Blogger Andrew Bartlett said...

I know you present that definition as a 'quote', but surely... he's not... really, he is that stupid?

3/24/2009 03:20:00 PM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

Yeah I noticed that about Cohen's quote - very odd and also very funny. And yes, I think he really is that stupid. Or possibly he's still angry, he seems to have been seething ever since Etonians came out.

Incidentally he's speaking at soemthing in Bristol soon, in conversation with one of the people who signed the Obs letter...

3/24/2009 03:39:00 PM  
Anonymous Chris Baldwin said...

'"I use the liberal-left as a cover-all term for every shade of left opinion."'

Oh my god! Lib Dems and anarchists!

3/24/2009 04:00:00 PM  
Anonymous gastro george said...

"I use the liberal-left as a cover-all term for every shade of left opinion."

That, in itself, condemns anything he has to say, as it covers groups and groupuscles of completely disparate views.

3/24/2009 04:43:00 PM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

That, in itself, condemns anything he has to say, as it covers groups and groupuscles of completely disparate views.

Cohen also considered himself left-wing at the time of writing the book, and still does so now, so it should in theory mean that everything he writes is tarnished.

But there is one set of rules for the 'liberal-left' and another for Cohen and other true left wingers (as oposed to leftists, or something) who are immune from the criticisms in Cohen's book...

3/24/2009 05:06:00 PM  
Blogger Sunder Katwala said...

I referenced this AW post in a further response to NC's latest.

The difficult art of polemical persuasion

What's Left? is mainly about the contortions of the illiberal left, on which NC often has a point. It is his fervent conviction that the SWP-Trot-Respect-Chomsky-Indy-Guardianista-democraticsocialist-Labour-Fabian-socialdemocratic-LibDem-liberal-left is now all one thing, opposed only by the sanity of Cohen, Amis and the right which seems to have sent his political analysis just mildly askew.

3/25/2009 11:00:00 AM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

What's Left? is mainly about the contortions of the illiberal left, on which NC often has a point.

At times he does but the instances cited in the book are really very isolated, and not really evidence of anything general about the British left as a whole, let alone the 'liberal-left' which seems to be a term he imported from the right-wing american blogs he seems to enjoy reading. trying to extrapolate anything about the left as a whole from the actions of Gerry Healy says it all really. The problem is that the book is built on weak-as-hell foundations, and once you start to unpick the dubious stuff which he cobbled together from websites, the rest of it falls apart as well. He's also been riding on its laurels ever since it came out, regularly repeating stuff from it in columns, which might explain why his new book has been reviewed so badly, and sold so few.

As Couscous Kid said, this sentence, in the book's introduction, renders the entire thing null and void:

I use the liberal-left as a cover-all term for every shade of left opinion.

Nick has spent the last four or five years attacking a straw-man 'liberal left' for being 'in bed with fascists', with no proof given in the vast majority of cases. It's unfortunate that when he finally named names in his Obs column it was spectacularly easy to demonstrate just how misguided he is - how much he genuinely seems to believe his own bullshit and the bullshit he parrots from policy exchange.

It's his embrace of Martin Amis - who has not only specfiically advocated racist responses to the threat of Islamist terror, but also expressed his admiration of Thatcherism in an interview with Nick Cohen last year - that seems most odd. Even the nutbags at Harry's Place aren't keen on Amis.

3/25/2009 11:12:00 AM  
Blogger ejh said...

What's Left? is mainly about the contortions of the illiberal left, on which NC often has a point.

See, it's this sort of stuff that I don't like much - as far as I'm concerned it's too much "do it to them, not to me". And how plausible is it? I mean if Cohen (or whoever) is wrong, on a hysterical level, about people a little left of centre, why would he be right about people a long way to the left? It's the same person, so you're getting the same basic approach, the same carelessness for facts, the same inability to distinguish what people say from what they haven't said and so on. You wouldn't expect it to be accurate.

But there are some people who don't mind if mud is thrown at people to their left as long as it's not thrown at them. And when the mud is then thrown at them, same mud, same reasons, they're surprised.

So when it happens, I'm not always wholly sympathetic.

3/25/2009 06:34:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Won't Nick see this criticism from liberals, fabians, swpers and anarchists as proof that he's right to lump them all together?

I mean, if you all disagree with me you must all be part of a dastardly alliance, right?

3/25/2009 07:25:00 PM  
Anonymous Der Bruno Stroszek said...

It's his embrace of Martin Amis - who has not only specfiically advocated racist responses to the threat of Islamist terror, but also expressed his admiration of Thatcherism in an interview with Nick Cohen last year - that seems most odd.

It's just "one rule for thee, one rule for me", though, isn't it? Nick Cohen's entire circle now seems to be neoconservatives, old-fashioned Tories and 'lapsed liberals' who are now pretty unambiguously right-wing, and he thinks that shows that he's operating a sensible bipartisan big tent strategy. As soon as somebody he doesn't like associates with somebody who has illiberal views on anything, however, they can expect a nasty string of insults in Sunday's papers.

The other thing, possibly, is that he now has an entrenched us-v-them worldview, where anybody who agrees with him on TGISOOT is given a Hail Mary pass on absolutely everything. This makes me worry that the letter in the Observer isn't going to have any effect, as he'll just use it as yet more proof of the left losing its way and ganging up against him, as I was saying to my good comrade Michael Gove etc etc.

3/25/2009 07:26:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

here anybody who agrees with him on TGISOOT is given a Hail Mary pass on absolutely everything

Unless I'm missing something, this is rather an odd phrase. You do know what a Hail Mary Pass is?

3/25/2009 09:10:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Has it been noticed yet that Nick Cohen’s website now looks slightly more like a proper blog, less just an anthology of his columns, and has room for comments and all? So far the comments are few and pretty fawning. I was going to write about a comment from Nick himself in which he refers to a previous commenter (‘Andrew’), whose comment he must have deleted. I would have observed that NC hasn’t quite got the hang of this yet. But now Nick’s comment isn’t there either (so, he’s learning).

K

3/25/2009 10:26:00 PM  
Anonymous Agamemnon said...

"Reading it encouraged Julie and I to write Not In My Name. She once described herself and I as “like Nick Cohen, but the K-Tel version”.

Chas has clearly never heard of the accusative. Reading a book written by him and Burchill should surely be banned under the Geneva Convention

3/26/2009 05:32:00 AM  
Anonymous Der Bruno Stroszek said...

Unless I'm missing something, this is rather an odd phrase. You do know what a Hail Mary Pass is?

Whoops! No, I'm clearly getting this confused with some other phrase, but I can't think what it is. Basically they're absolved of everything if they agree with Cohen on anything, is what I was trying to say.

3/26/2009 08:59:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's just "one rule for thee, one rule for me", though, isn't it? Nick Cohen's entire circle now seems to be neoconservatives, old-fashioned Tories and 'lapsed liberals' who are now pretty unambiguously right-wing, and he thinks that shows that he's operating a sensible bipartisan big tent strategy. As soon as somebody he doesn't like associates with somebody who has illiberal views on anything, however, they can expect a nasty string of insults in Sunday's papers.

Spot on: 'What's Left' was Nick's first album of his new career; 'Etonians' was 'The Difficult Second Album'; his next will fully embrace the very people Der Bruno Stroszek refers to. It's textbook stuff.

[redpesto]

3/26/2009 09:50:00 AM  
Blogger ejh said...

No, I'm clearly getting this confused with some other phrase, but I can't think what it is.

Free pass? Get Out Of Jail Free card?

3/26/2009 10:42:00 AM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

So far the comments are few and pretty fawning.

it's cos he doesn't let anything even vaguely critical through.

the free pass sounds like a papal indulgence to me... Martin Bright is really not much good in that post, is he?

I'm sure many of the signatories to the Observer letter didn't realise what they were doing. But that makes it all the more shocking. Picking on someone for a purpose is one thing, picking on someone for the sake of it is just horrible.

But they're not picking on him for the sake of it at all. This is quintessential of Decents when faced with criticism - they ignore the points being made and pretend they're something else while copying a bunch of poorly-researched guff and tenuous insinuations from Harry's Place, before launching a will-you-condemn-a-thon.

If the MCB can't distance itself from the absurd Hamas-sympathasir Daud Abdullah, then why should the government engage with it?

Presumably the govt should also stop any kind of engagement with a periodical that still employs Taki, as well...? This kind of 'look at who you are aligning yourself with, well actually he's ok, but someone else he's vaguely connected to is evil' stuff is pissweak.

3/26/2009 11:35:00 AM  
Blogger ejh said...

a periodical that still employs Taki

Or Ray Keene.

3/26/2009 12:29:00 PM  
Blogger Matthew said...

Or Mad Mel.

Could beat the 100+ comments record with this one.

3/26/2009 12:48:00 PM  
Anonymous andrew adams said...

Also from Bright's piece

But readers would be forgiven for thinking the signatories to the letter are telling the Observer to stop Nick's column and with it his livelihood (disgraceful).

Well I might forgive them if they were five years old. And couldn't speak English.

3/26/2009 02:10:00 PM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

Intentionally misreading things, and the drawing of deeply dubious inferences, seem to be another two hallmarks of Decent output on the Cohen/Fabian issue.

I appreciate that Nick's Standpoint columns are off limits but this quotation from his new (very boring) one raises a chuckle. He's writing about BBC management, but it seems to apply pretty well to a certain N. Cohen...

Their sheltered lives mean they are more likely to be swayed by populist or pseudo-populist outbreaks of emotion than reporters and editors who have experience of the complexities of reporting the world.

In the same piece, the British media's second most vocal fan of Harry's Place complains about 'synthetic net-led protests'...

3/26/2009 03:57:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

http://londonersdiary.standard.co.uk/2009/03/chaos-on-the-animal-farm-.html

3/26/2009 05:11:00 PM  
Blogger Sangiovese Fellow said...

"But readers would be forgiven for thinking the signatories to the letter are telling the Observer to stop Nick's column and with it his livelihood (disgraceful)."

As already observed, they could only be forgiven this if they were infants and/or possessed of a poor command of the English language. If they are telling the Observer anything in relation to Nick's column, it is that honest journalism centrally incorporates respect for truth, is based upon real facts and the intellectually honest interpretation of them, and that a journalist has a civic and professional duty to engage with these, and to respond to criticisms of their claims on the genuine factual grounds. To ask that a journalist do this, and to point out with demonstrable facts that he has consistently and deliberately failed to do so, is not to engage in "bullying": on the contrary, it is merely to insist on protecting the standards of honesty, accuracy, self-discipline and professional integrity on which public respect for a free press is based. Though honest errors are inevitable in any human endeavour, journalists who are persistently unconcerned with factual accuracy, who prefer unsubstantiated smears and distortions to the use of reason and evidence, and who are unwilling or unable to support their claims when challenged on the facts show that they have contempt for truth, contempt for their fellow citizens and contempt for the highest purposes of their profession. As such, for a group of free citizens to point out the failings of such a journalist to that journalist's employer in the hope that this may force the journalist in question to learn again to respect facts, is not to engage in bullying but rather to oppose it; it is to demand that such an individual live up to the proper duties of their public role and inform the public of facts and how they might be interpreted, rather than using their prominence to poison the public discourse with fantasy, smears and vindictive innuendo. There is no right to a "livelihood" for a journalist from continuously and unapologetically spreading demonstrable falsehoods, and what is truly "disgraceful" is that there are now journalists who, it seems, seriously believe that this is their inalienable entitlement.

As a point of interest I come from a family of journalists, and was brought up with considerable exposure to the old-fashioned professional code that used to dominate the profession. I know from them that things have changed a lot in the profession, and mainly not for the better, but used to believe that Cohen was one of the old school. He manifestly isn't, at least not any more, and it seems that our great principled left-winger is now taking his cue on journalistic standards from Rupert Murdoch just as he has his foreign policy views dictated by Policy Exchange and Paul Wolfowitz.

3/26/2009 06:00:00 PM  

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