How Did A Shoddy Article Get in “First Things”? Humm!

by Steve Ray on December 1, 2005

I asked myself, how did an article like this make it into a normally reputable magazine like First Things? I had just started reading the article and was disappointed from the beginning. Even before I saw my name mentioned I thought the author was a whiner with little new to say other than to rehash trite old complaints about the internet.

When I reached the middle of the article I noticed my name. I was flattered at first until I saw what it said. It was a misrepresentation maligning me and my work. I was stunned. The article was wrong, not only about me, but about others – some whom I happen to know. Why didn’t the writer do his homework first? Was he short of time? Was he just grabbing for last minute examples to use? Was he “filling the page” trying to meet his quota of required words—even though he really had little to say? Didn't he have time to contact those he was maligning to get his facts straight? I don’t know—but I wish I did.

I was all the more puzzled with how such an article made it into First Things. Was the editor asleep at the wheel? Was the editor short of time, unable to insure quality and integrity in the articles he approved? I don’t know—but I wish I did.

Not only did the author—with the obvious and  unfortunate consent of the editor—malign me and my motives, but he boldly claimed to read my mind—stating I had selfish and base purposes for starting a website and what I do for Our Lord. He said the main purpose for my website was to “hawk wares” and to “push products” in his section on “the tyranny of the banal” and the “web’s general disposition toward consumerism.”  He even had the audacity to include me in those internet “stores and businesses designed to siphon money from the faithful.”

And Jonathan Last (with the approval of the First Things editor) didn’t just implicate me, he slandered and maligned other good folks as well—folks who have generously given of their time and talents for Jesus Christ (www.ExceptionalMarriages.com for example). People and websites that have every much a right to sell products on their websites as The Weekly Standard and First Things do—and both of them do sell products or have stores ready to open soon. (Does anyone smell a bit of hypocrisy here?)

Why did Jonathan Last do it? But even more importantly, how did he get that article in the magazine?

I decided to do a little research today and was a little surprised—though not shocked—at my initial discoveries. I am not drawing any dogmatic conclusions (like J. Last did in his article) but I did get my curiosity up. My research gave me a sneaking suspicion.

I am giving them a chance to explain—something they failed to grant me and many others mentioned in their article. I will edit my blog based on their response, something they can’t do for all those they have vilified in the printed magazine.

Here’s what I found:

Jonathan Last is the author of the article in question, God and the Internet . He is also the “On-line Editor” for The Weekly Standard.  You can see his picture and title in the bio from The Weekly Standard website.

And then the interesting thing. I also found out that the editor for First Things seems to be relatively new since he was recently the Books & Arts Editor at—you guessed it, The Weekly Standard. You can see his recent picture and title on his bio from The Weekly Standard.

Was I a little suspicious when I discovered that until very recently Joseph Bottum, the new editor at First Things, worked together with, and was a colleague of Jonathan Last, the On-line Editor at The Weekly Standard? Maybe a friendship developed as they worked together. Not all co-workers form bonds of friendship, but many do. Maybe this explains how such a weak article made it through an otherwise careful editorial process.

 

Two things came to my mind.

First, I wondered if Joseph Bottum had set aside his journalistic integrity and his publisher’s caution—for a friend. Maybe Mr. Last got his article published for reasons other than journalistic excellence. Since it was such a shoddy piece filled with cheap shots at good folks, I wondered if someone hadn’t turned a blind eye for a friend and close colleague. Then again, maybe the new editor was just young and inexperienced. Maybe he was preoccupied and failed to notice that innocent people would be hurt unjustly. I don’t know—but I hope to find out.

Second, it made me wonder if the apologies that are owed would ever be given since friends tend to defend friends against the unknowns, even if they are good folks who have been unjustly besmirched and maligned. Will they have the integrity to apologize and make a retraction? I don’t know—but we will all find out.

I may be way off, I don’t know. I am open to listen. I am afraid their largest obstacle to an apology and to rectify the situation will be intellectual snobbery, though I hope not. I hope they are good humble men, but I don't know. I hope I can meet them someday.

Thus far the article, the correspondence, the refusal to offer a simple apology, and the interesting relationships between these men have raised cause for questions, at least in my mind. Maybe there is something funny going on in a magazine not known for being funny.

*****************************

I will write the magazine a letter demanding an apology — and if you think an apology is owed to a number of good folks, I suggest you write the magazine too. If you want to write a letter, you can reach them at Joseph Bottum, First Things, 156 Fifth Ave., Suite 400, New York, NY 10010.

 

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