by Scoobie Davis
Kelly’s Loss Is Journalism’s Gain
I haven’t checked the blogosphere but if anyone gets mushy about the tragic loss to journalism due to Michael Kelly’s death, I have one message: get real. Certainly, it is a personal tragedy for those who were close to him. However, Kelly’s death will improve the quality of American journalism and political discourse significantly (unless, of course, the Washington Post replaces him with someone just as egregious as Kelly was). I can think of few pundits who had so many opportunities to shine but who were as lazy, intellectually dishonest, and derelict in their duties as Kelly. Kelly’s death was a tragedy, but so was his wretched career.
I first became acquainted with Kelly when he was editor of The New Republic back in the 1990’s. I subscribed to TNR because it was supposed to be the voice for progressivism. For those of you not familiar with this web site, the 1990’s were important because of the savage nature of the American right and its media—in the form of talk radio, TV preachers hawking conspiracy tapes, Scaife-funded toadies, and Fox News; President Clinton was mauled by a loosely organized dirty tricks operation that cared nothing about the truth, common decency, or mercy. Let me describe the agenda of the hard right of the 1990’s: It was entirely dishonest, cheap, low. It was utterly hollow. It was bereft of policy, of solutions, of constructive ideas, very nearly of facts--bereft of anything other than taunts and jibes and embarrassingly obvious lies. It was breathtakingly hypocritical, a naked political assault delivered in smarmy tones of moral condescension from a man pretending to be superior to mere politics. It was wretched. It was vile. It was contemptible.
The words in bold are not my words, there were Kelly’s words—not to describe Limbaugh, Joseph Farah, or Chris Ruddy in their heyday. No, they were the words Kelly used to describe Al Gore when he dared to criticize the foreign policy of the man who usurped his position. Those of us who spent our money for TNR and who wanted to read Kelly using these kinds of words to describe Limbaugh or any of the other miscreants of the anti-Clinton right faced weekly disappointment. In fact, during the 1990’s, not only was Kelly silent on these matters, but also he was part of the problem. A case in point, Kelly wrote a jaundiced piece on Clinton, portraying him as a corrupt lackey for Tyson Foods (a good account of some of the errors and distortions in the piece can be found on pp. 151, 152 of The Hunting of the President). Finally, in 1997, Martin Peretz canned Kelly, but it was too little too late. Those who fought a dishonest war against Clinton got away with it because people like Kelly didn’t do their jobs.
Kelly never learned from his mistakes—nor was he held accountable for them. During the 2000 election campaign, he was a hack who repeated GOP talking points even when he knew they were not true. Of course, during the Florida recount, Kelly was an intellectually dishonest hack. Along with Peggy Noonan, Kelly was behind the blue state/red state smear of Paul Begala (Begala received numerous death threats as a consequence). Those of us who read opinion columns deserved better. It’s my hope that the Post will replace Kelly with someone who is at least intellectually honest; I’m not holding my breath.
UPDATE: On Kelly's posthumously published book