Max Blumenthal and the Politics of Incitement
Let me state, from the outset, that I view Max Blumenthal as one of today’s most perceptive political writers. Republican Gomorrah stands as a devastating work of investigative, socio-psychological probing into the heart of America’s conservative, Christian sub-culture. And his writing on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is irreplaceable.
That said, one thing Blumenthal has a tendency to do, particularly in the short-hand, Twitter universe, is partake in name-calling and unnecessary incitement, often for the attention it drives. Forget for a moment that he often does this in response to offensive triggers pulled by others. The fact is this: Blumenthal sometimes goads, inciting with defamatory or insulting language that implicitly screams, Hey you, wanna fight?
Let’s examine such a moment, shall we? On May 5, Blumenthal offered this Tweet:
Some context is necessary to understand Blumenthal’s subtle and biting slight. The journalist in question, Jeffrey Goldberg, authored a highly controversial and well-read article in The Atlantic last year in which he argued – based on dozens of unnamed sources – that Israel would likely bomb Iran within a year’s time. Critics of Goldberg’s piece accused him, among other things, of ratcheting up the issue in a sensational manner that both benefited him as well as proponents of military engaging with Iran.
And so we have Blumenthal’s Tweet, which was intended more as a slap to Goldberg’s face than the passing on of essential information. (It should be noted that the news element in Blumenthal’s Tweet – Barak trying to tamp down fear of Iran – was a significant statement, considering that his Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, had made comments to the opposite effect just days before.) Blumenthal could have ended his Tweet with the article link; there was no need to mention Goldberg, as the information was important enough to stand on its own. And there was certainly no need to attach the faux military title (“Cpl. Jeffrey Goldberg”) to his name, the move meant to express Blumenthal’s view of Goldberg as being a war-mongering and fear-spreading Zionist (not to mention Goldberg’s own service in the IDF).
But he did. Perhaps trying to inspire a response from Goldberg. A heated, good-for-the-box-seats confrontation. A confrontation that (fortunately) never came.
The example cited above is a subtle one, and unfortunately just one of many that can be found peppered amongst Blumenthal’s mostly outstanding offerings. Whether he engages in such intentional incitement out of frustration, anger, or a less noble effort to cause discord as a way to generate eyeballs, I cannot say. But what I can say is this: such moments cheapen the integrity of his work.
My intention in illuminating Blumenthal’s occasional penchant for inciting others with defaming and derogatory terms is not to somehow place myself above him. I am as guilty of slipping as anyone. However, I feel compelled to single out Blumenthal precisely because much of his writing that I admire is centered around exposing those truths that might lead to an eventual resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. His writing often illuminates or analyzes those events not often treated by mainstream elements, and I can only speculate from his own words that one of his primary motivations is to assist those who need defending with the pen (and not the sword).
Which is why, whenever I see Blumenthal devolve into name-calling or goading – whenever it appears he’s asking for a fight – all I can do is look away.