In response to:
'The New Republic,' cont'd from the May 9, 1985 issue
To the Editors:
Michael Straight is still unhappy [NYR, May 9] that The New Republic did not publish his August 1982 letter cancelling his subscription. We did not publish his letter for two reasons. The first and most crucial was that after our then editor Hendrick Hertzberg asked him not to cancel, he in fact relented and cancelled his cancellation. The climax of his letter was then altogether moot. The second reason is that a short declarative letter of cancellation, even one from Mr. Straight, had he in fact ultimately cancelled, which he did not, is not news. Unaccountably, Straight believes his most simple acts are fraught with social significance.
Straight writes that his 1982 letter was prompted by my article, “Lebanon Eyewitness,” which was published in the August 2, 1982 issue of TNR upon my “return from Israel.” What he contrives to omit by that last phrase is that I had spent almost a week in Lebanon. My piece did not “condone” the war; it was not really about the war. It was about press coverage of the war, and my travels convinced me that press coverage had in many ways and for many reasons been irresponsible and that in some cases it had been downright dishonest. No, there had not been 10,000 civilian dead in the first week (or, for that matter, in the whole war) or 600,000 refugees or a new Israeli weapon called the vacuum bomb or a firestorm in Beirut. It was of such matters that I wrote. By now only the journalists’ mutual aid society is satisfied with how the media covered the Lebanon war.
Straight now also complains that I distorted his book, After Long Silence, when I wrote that he had “started his career as a volunteer in Stalin’s espionage network and ended it as an enthusiast and servant of Richard Nixon.” He does not say where I am wrong in this characterization of his life’s path. But his own narcissistic memoir tells the awful story. Let the readers decide; my guess is that they’ll come down on my side—and also that of most reviewers.