Generally, the appearance of a new in-house blog at one of the country’s major media organs arouses in me roughly the same degree of enthusiasm I feel when the Yankees sign yet another star free agent. Granted, there are some fine journalists doing casual posts for The Atlantic and The New York Times (and presumably for less money than Matsui). But with various parent corporations already feeding me much of what I read in print or see on the tube, I’m content to reserve my time online for voices from outside The Glittering Heart Of It All. That said, I was pleased last week to see that The New Yorker’s George Packer has launched a blog.
You see, I’m one of the “predictable” yahoos who happens to feel that Packer’s coverage of the Iraq War and its discontents has been more incisive, forthright, and morally engaged – more, in a word, serious – than almost anything else in the major- or minor-league media.
It is true that Packer has declined to flagellate himself publicly for his initial support for the war. Nor has he attempted to dissemble. His “ambivalent,” liberal-interventionist stance is announced early (and without undue pride) in his book, The Assassin’s Gate, whereas the paragraph that summarizes every last damned wrong thing about the war is held until well after page 400. Indeed, it is part of the structural and ethical intelligence of The Assassin’s Gate that most of what comes in between focuses on the people Packer interviews and the things he sees. As Lawrence Weschler might put it, Packer “reports the s–t” out of this story, without trumpeting the risks he runs to do so.
That The Assassin’s Gate emphasizes the tactical as well as moral folly of the war may suggest to ideologues of a different stripe that Packer still sees the war’s goals as “noble.” A considerably more nuanced reading of the book suggests that Packer hopes to illuminate anew how hell is reached through good intentions as well as bad. Which is crucial in an age that has, in Frederic Jameson’s formulation, forgotten how “to think the present historically” – that is still shucking and jiving about what went on five years ago. In struggling to correct for ideological bias through the careful accumulation of evidence, Packer managed to convince me (who marched against the war) that the harm of our continued presence outweighs our responsibility to buy what we broke. His subsequent reporting has strengthened, not softened, this conviction.
Though I recognize that aiming for the Ideal may be the surest way to change the Real, I’m not certain that the ideological purity tests rampant among my fellow leftists haven’t contributed to a political muddle that continues to permit this war. Indeed, they sometimes strike me as a form of blindness. In declaring his own politics as such and then reporting facts that expose them as misbegotten, George Packer has been, it seems to me, precisely and honorably opposed to Christopher Hitchens. And for that matter, George Bush. Moreover, though a pageant of public contrition may be something we’ve come to expect from our presidents, of our reporters we should merely ask them to report. On the evidence of his first few postings to “Interesting Times,” George Packer continues to do just that.
(Click here to read “Inter Alia #1: Notes Toward a Sporadic Column.”)