Matthew Stoller Misses a Goliath

AND IT’S A BIG ONE

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Liberal journalist, advocate, Harvard grad and all-around guy-on-the-make Matthew Stoller has written a new book about the power of monopoly and its threat to democracy– GOLIATH.

Except he seems to have missed a very big Goliath, one standing directly in front of him. His publisher! Simon & Schuster is one of publishing’s notorious “Big Five” book conglomerates.

How big are they? Take a look at this chart and judge for yourself:

http://almossawi.com/big-five-publishers/

Be sure to scroll down to see all of it.

The chart gives only part of the story. The real clout of these New York City-based conglomerates with their many imprints is their influence over Manhattan media– the scores of publications both print and internet, from the New York Times and The New Yorker on down, which determine which books– which voices– are allowed to be heard in this extremely noisy society. 

Threat to democracy?

In some ways, the Big Five and their many appendages and fellow travelers are the biggest threat to democracy. The most pernicious, most influential concentration of power. All congregated on a single island.

matt stoller(Matt Stoller, looking smug.)

Matt Stoller well knows of course how dominant, how influential they are. Which is why he chose to publish his book with them– and not with one of the many alternative publishers out there. 

Such is the game and how it’s played.
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-Karl Wenclas for New Pop Lit NEWS

Is The Baffler a Leftist Magazine?

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THINK ABOUT IT. The “hard left” publication The Baffler aka “The Baffled” lobbies for the abolition of capitalism and presents itself as having democratic populist solutions for the ills of this flawed-and-ridiculously-complex civilization. They advocate for wrenching changes to do away with the plutocrats once and forever. Yet they, the know-everything prescriptionists, haven’t been able to abolish plutocracy even from their own little enterprise.

In 2015 billionaire Winthrop McCormack donated $3 million to the struggling magazine and installed his son, Noah, as its publisher. The Baffler is a tax shelter, so for the McCormacks it was a win-win situation all around. Nepotism, cronyism, inherited wealth– everything the Baffler editors pretend to oppose.

At least when I ran an activist writers group from 2000 to 2008, we were the genuine article. We lived our ideals– no plutocrats to be found– and still cranked out a shipload of DIY zines, made a hurricane of noise and pissed-off a great many elite people– especially in the island plutocracy of New York City– as a cooperative venture. We were proles for the most part and we slept on floors and endured short rations to keep our rebellion going.

Why do I suspect most of the Manhattanites who staff The Baffler are silk scarf revolutionaries from the Ivy League or similar prosperous spots?

Their editor, Chris Lehmann, product in his own words of downwardly-mobile social workers, has a pronounced fear of poverty, and so is unlikely to buck the system when the shit comes down and he’s required to make a choice. He is, in fact, like the rest of the staff, a Professional Leftist. Like Barbara Ehrenreich, one of their idols, they dip their toe in the real world on occasion and rake in the resulting big-system attention, financial grants, and awards.

In a twitter exchange, Lehmann assured me that “–nonprofit left magazines have always relied on financial angels, and I’m grateful that ours are genuinely principled.”

HOW principled is principal investor Win McCormack?

Win McCormack apparently overlooked the sexual harassment shenanigans of three of his buddies.

Two of them, Neil Goldschmidt and David Wu, are spotlighted here and in other news outlets. The third, fellow blue blood/rich guy Hamilton Fish V, has a long history of sexually harassing women, but friend/crony McCormack, who hired him as publisher of The New Republic when he bought the publication in 2016, just didn’t know! (If you believe that I have some toxic land in Detroit I’d like to sell you.)

This cozy world is the left in America now. Excuse me, “hard left.”

-K.W.

plutocrat

 

 

Revolutionary Wannabe #2

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(Chris Lehmann getting serious.)

Chris “I’m Not an Aristocrat” Lehmann is by all accounts a very serious person. He wants the world to know he’s serious, serious. SERIOUS.

Lehmann blew up at me on twitter earlier this week when I referred to him as an aristocrat. It was a throwaway line– after all, he IS a New York media Insider. I didn’t realize I was messing with his self-image. Lehmann quickly jumped into the discussion to set me straight:

(This is called Too Much Information.)

Chris Lehmann wants to be radical. NO more swanky parties with Ana Marie Cox!

chrislehmannnyobserverpowercouples

One half of him might be attracted to Manhattan glitz and flash– where The Baffler office sits– the other half is as aghast as a New England Puritan minister at the devilish debauched allure of the capitalist world. No! Temptation! Save me! Save yourself! Save everybody! We must march in the Revolution because that upper-crust world I have one foot out of and one foot in is EVIL!!

“I wanna, wanna wanna, wanna wanna wanna, wannabe, wannabe, wannabe, wannabe a Revolutionary! Yes, indeed.”

Lehmann wants to go marching down the street holding signs like Sunsara Taylor, but instead he’s in his office typing away– keys clicking, clicking– conflicted as always.

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(Madcap Sunsara Taylor.)
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Chris Lehmann is a collection of contradictions. In a recent Baffler essay Lehmann, who has worked at or written for New York Observer, Newsday, New York, Congressional QuarterlyWashington Post, Bookforum, NPR, Washington Monthly, Yahoo News, In These Times, Mother Jones, Tikkun, Reason, The Nation— criticizes the new class of “knowledge professionals”; as if he’s not among such class himself. (Remember, not an aristocrat.) He criticizes the existence of a “permanent political class.” But given the media’s power, isn’t it as bad to have a permanent media class? A clubby world where everyone knows everyone else and once you’re through the door, you’re in— as long as your ideas remain properly p.c. and predictable, that is.

That Chris Lehmann, of all people, is editor of The Baffler shows how far the publication has fallen from its days of Do-It-Yourself zinehood, when the upstart journal was part of a scene which believed that, in a democratic society, everyone should be a writer and publisher– the field not restricted to resume’d professional media elites (“aristocrats”) working for magazines whose reason for existence is to serve as glorified tax shelters for billionaires, or for scions of billionaires as a matter of “class inheritance.”

-K.W.

To Be Continued. . . .

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(Painting by Thomas Gainsborough.)

 

An Invitation

invitations

CONSIDER THIS a standing invitation to anyone in the mainstream literary scene to discuss or debate the points made in our seven posts about the National Book Awards. (The posts previous to this one.)

Will anyone take us up on the offer? Not likely! What makes the scene a monolith, beside the fact everyone in it thinks alike, is that not a single contrary thought is allowed to enter into it. It stands impervious, like a block of steel.

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What does a totalitarian intellectual community look like?
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Why do we persist with our News blog, as only an irritant, maybe not even that?

There should be a place for honest news and information about today’s literary scene. Someone has to at least try to ask the tough questions– has to make the attempt, quixotic or not, to stir the lethargic and complacent literary-publishing apparatus and the apparatchiks inside it.

 

Fake Diversity

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NO DOUBT those involved with the National Book Awards are congratulating themselves on the diversity of their selections. Yes, the identity politics crowd is happy. Of the 20 finalists, 11 are persons of color. (Two others immigrated here.) 15 of the 20 are women. Four out of five finalists of the most prestigious category, Fiction, are women of color. For those at home counting, double bonus points. For Fiction alone, there’s a Chinese-American and Korean-American and Cuban-American and African-American.

AS LONG as we’re playing the hyphen game, where are the Polish-Americans and Serbian-Americans and Slovak-Americans? The Croatian/Greek/Hungarian/Ukrainian/Lithuanian/Italian-Americans? Those whose people were brought over here to work brutal jobs in steel mills and coal mines and auto plants– who were never given the privilege to which white skin color supposedly entitles one in the hallucinatory visions of the actual privileged at Harvard, Yale, Brown, Columbia, Princeton, and Stanford; in the imaginings of those who write the PC rules that organizations like the National Book Foundation now follow.

If one is meant to see representatives of identity at such affairs– where’s mine? They’re not in the white publishers pulling strings behind the scenes, with whom I have nothing in common beyond skin color.

If appearances matter, the Awards appear to have eliminated an entire large swath of America from consideration– especially if one adds in working-class whites in Appalachia, Kansas, the Rust Belt, and other parts of the nation overlooked by Manhattan mandarins eager to appear as correct as possible; those who dominate such “charitable” organizations. (The actual charity involved being minimal.)

Fiction Finalist Jesmyn Ward says of the notion of a color-blind America: “I don’t know that place. I’ve never been there.” (This despite achieving degrees at both University of Michigan and Stanford.) Except there’s no choice but to live in a post-racial America if there’s to be any kind of harmony in this chaotic nation.

More important for an arts organization than superficial diversity of the cosmetic or hyphenated kind is diversity of ideas. At the big Awards ceremony Wednesday night one can be assured there will be NONE.

Will there be a single individual holding an opinion on politics and culture different from the rest of the audience? (A Trump voter, for instance?) If there is, the person won’t announce it! (First reaction if did: “How did he get in here?” Second reaction: Naked hostility. Third reaction: Career over.)

Which brings us to the token straight white male among the Fiction Finalists: Elliot Ackerman. A white guy? How did he slip in there??

Working-class whites are readily thrown overboard when equality and diversity become an issue– though few were on board to start with. But there’s always room for the super-elite, or children of the super-elite, and Elliot Ackerman is proof.

Eliot_ackerman_8929(Elliot Ackerman.)
A genuine war hero in the war in Afghanistan, Ackerman, methinks, is on his way to becoming a U.S. Senator. JFK anyone?

(We’ll assume, for the sake of his own survival Wednesday, that he’s a proper liberal. Likely a neo-liberal. Afghanistan may be tough, but inflamed ideologues in a mob are another matter.)

A Marine for eight years, Elliot served as a CIA Special Operations Officer as well. More recently he was Chief Operating Officer of Americans Elect, a political organization founded and chaired by his father. Elliot was a White House Fellow in the Obama Administration. He’s written for every establishment publication in existence, including The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The New York Times, The New Republic, and others. Conspiracy theorists out there can note he’s also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

THE FATHER
Elliot’s father Peter Ackerman has been a liberal icon, an international scholar, a consultant to student protesters in China, and on the boards of several liberal political organizations. He’s also worked for the investment bank Drexel Burnham Lambert where he made an estimated 300 million-plus dollars, was involved in the Michael Milken junk bond insider trading scandal, and paid a $73 million settlement with the FDIC. In 2005 the U.S. Tax Court ruled that Peter was involved in an illegal $1.7 billion tax shelter. He’s had either an exciting establishment career, or a typical one, depending on how you look at things.

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How did Elliot get his book in the Awards, indeed!

Why focus so much on the writers, anyway? Writers are merely the outward excuse for throwing a lavish party for Bigs of New York publishing, with accompanying tax write-offs. The party, not the writers or writing, is the point.

-MORE TO COME-

K.W.

Where Are the Journalists?

See_No_Evil,_Hear_No_Evil,_Speak_No_Evil

IT’S COME TO OUR ATTENTION while looking into the National Book Awards, whose lavish awards dinner at Cipriani Wall Street is November 15th, that no one covers the established publishing business. NO ONE.

Oh, there are articles. A host of back-slapping herd-following articles. But no one looks beneath the surface of the manufactured glamour and glitz unless forced to– as in the Daniel Handler fiasco at the NBF awards dinner three years ago.

Where the publishing industry is concerned, what we have in New York City and elsewhere are not journalists in any sense of the word, but cheerleaders writing puff pieces.

cheerleaders

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AN EXAMPLE of the tame coverage given PR productions like the National Book Awards is this Los Angeles Times blurb from Michael Schaub. The operating principle: Make No Waves. Note the “see no evil” treatment of Daniel Handler. Schaub is the typical go-along-to-get-along personality type which permeates today’s literary scene. Don’t look behind the accepted version. Give the Big Boys of letters what they want.

schaub(Michael Schaub.)
There’s no need to single Michael Schaub out– though we have. Hundreds are like him– interchangeable cogs. Throw a rock in Brooklyn and you’ll hit a dozen of them. Michael Schaub clones, proceeding obediently along prescribed paths like workers entering Metropolis.

They don’t exist to question. They are not paid to think. Learn the doctrine and the script. “Established lit is wonderful. Our novelists are the best!”
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cipriani
(Book Awards venue.)

Available stories for media:

-How much is Cynthia Nixon being paid to host the National Book Awards? Is the amount more than the awards themselves?

-Is it conflict of interest for those funding and running the National Book Foundation to in effect be nominating for awards their own books? Does this correspond with the proper actions of a nonprofit charity?

-Would there be a less costly venue for the awards than Cipriani Wall Street– so that more of the money raised could be given to the authors themselves?

-Does the extreme ideological slant of the nominations, and the propagandist nature of several of the books, violate strictures of the 501(c)(3) law governing nonprofits– “no substantial part of the activities which is carrying on propaganda”?

AND, one unrelated but topical question:

-What kind of buyout did Harvey Weinstein receive from Hachette Publishing when they dissolved his imprint?

The questions are out there, but don’t expect answers. No one looks into such matters. It isn’t done. Sports reporters, of all people, have more an adversary relationship with the subjects of their coverage than does anyone covering the publishing world.
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The National Book Awards aren’t about the writers, and never have been. They’re a celebration of New York publishing. Of the monolith itself.

Book reviewers and critics on proliferating media sites play the role of affirming chorus to the National Book Foundation’s stage show. One can picture it. Power people at tables in tuxes and gowns applauding as various winners enter the spotlight like vaudeville performers.

stageshow

Cynthia Nixon, soprano, host: “We’ve gathered here to celebrate.”

Baritone chorus: “We here are all so won-der-ful.”

Soprano Executive Director: “We’ve done this year a smashing job.”

Chorus: “We here are all so won-der-ful!”

Huge applause.

This is not a gathering of peers. In the New York publishing pyramid, power is strictly tops-down, with writers at the bottom.

Questions for National Book Foundation

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(Pictured: Cipriani Wall Street, location of 2017 National Book Awards Ceremony.)

NOTE:  We requested an interview with National Book Foundation Executive Director Lisa Lucas about their upcoming awards, but never received a response. Here are several questions we would’ve asked:

1.)  Does New York City exercise too much dominance over American literature?

2.)  Would you say the National Book Foundation is a promotional arm of Big Five publishing? Are New York publishers the foundation’s chief support?

3.)  Is it a mistake for all ten of your 2017 Non-Fiction nominees to be slanted politically one way? Should a tax-exempt arts organization be open to a variety of viewpoints?

4.)  We note the National Book Foundation is sponsoring a reading program in Pakistan. Is this done for political reasons?

5.)  How does one attend the awards Benefit Dinner at Cipriani Wall Street on November 15th? How much are tickets? Is the event not open to the public?

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The Wise Men

American Masters: Plimpton! Starring George Plimpton as Himself

Who steered the direction of American literature after World War II?

Editors like George Plimpton, Robie Macauley, Reed Whittemore, Robert Silvers, and William Phillips. Men on a mission who, as much as they professed no artistic ideology, very much pushed an artistic ideology. They’d been formed by various factors, whether by privilege, or the war, or by disillusion with Communism. By 1950 all were Wilsonians out to save the world by making it “Safe for Democracy”– their own special internationalist version of democracy.

Literature was their tool– they fully believed in the importance of the art. Paris Review (like Encounter magazine in the UK) was founded as a cultural ambassador for Anglo-American liberal ideals– presenting an intellectual alternative to the twin totalitarianisms of fascism and Communism. Liberal Cold Warriors, these editors disdained– or had rejected– the populism of the American past. John Steinbeck and his kind were out. Henry James as the ideal cosmopolitan author was in.

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For our cultural aristocrats, literature, to be safe, must never engage too strongly in ideas. As an editor at New York Review of Books told me in a note in the late 1990’s, characters must never serve as mouthpieces for ideas. George Plimpton told me essentially the same thing on the one occasion I met him, at a literary debate held at CBGB’s in 2001. To these people, burdened– as they saw it– with the task of preserving literature, a broad view of the world was considered dangerous. An Ayn Rand or Frank Norris wrote beyond their well-regulated lines.

Focus moved instead to the delicate sensibilities of the bourgeois self. American literature became gnostic: insular and solipsistic. Cleansed, nuanced, refined; denuded of its loud voice but also much of its energy. For prose: John Updike. For poetry: John Ashbery.  Aesthetics was not the only weapon. No longer could a writer appear off the street like Thomas Wolfe or Jack London and be taken seriously. Writing programs and markers of breeding ensured all who entered the Halls of Approval were thoroughly screened.

Did these men and their journals have influence? Tremendous influence. They understood the concept of leverage; that a publication with a readership of 10,000 could determine who did or did not receive a large book contract– chiefly because that small readership was powerful and elite.

The change in aesthetic direction made the wise men– as well as their sources of money– very happy. Literature came under the control not of the unpredictable American people, but of themselves. The Elect.
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American Masters: Plimpton! Starring George Plimpton as Himself

The thing to know about these men and their journals is that the faces they showed the world were misleading. George Plimpton was a smiling bon-vivant but also much more than that. The notion that he didn’t know the source of Paris Review‘s original funding is an absurdity.

Likewise, New York Review of Books, founded by Robert Silvers and Barbara Epstein, postured for a long while as a radical Leftist publication– yet it was started with Random House money during a New York newspaper strike as a way for the giant book companies to advertise their new releases. It’s always been an extension of New York-based Big Corporate Publishing. Sophisticated PR for them, one might say.

In the New York literary world, nothing is ever as it seems.