October 16, 2016


"The Paranoid Style," redux : A review of Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right by Jane Mayer (James Piereson, March 2016, New Criterion)

We are reminded once again during this election season that national politics is an arena increasingly dominated by angry and suspicious participants. This is true of both the Left and Right. The different sides are angry and suspicious about different things, to be sure, the left of the rich and the big banks, the right of "the establishment." In framing narratives about these targets, both sides are prone to exaggerate the influence of their respective bogeyman or to understand them in terms of malignant conspiracies that are only loosely correlated with reality. In many cases, these narratives are backed by impressive-seeming compilations of facts and figures and argued with impressive sophistication. Many voters lack the information or the resources required to sort through the charges and counter-charges. Amid the cacophony of national politics, it is a challenge for anyone to maintain a balanced perspective.

These ruminations are occasioned by a recent reading of Jane Mayer's new book, Dark Money, a tedious investigation into the influence of "right wing" money in national politics. Ms. Mayer, a staff writer for The New Yorker, is a respected journalist who, before joining The New Yorker, served as White House correspondent for The Wall Street Journal. She writes well and bolsters her arguments with an assortment of facts, quotations, and citations, the products of years of research. She has written several previous books, including The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned into a War on American Ideals. These two titles--Dark Money and The Dark Side--provide a window into her mindset, that of a crusading journalist bent on exposing dark plots against the public interest. For a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail-- and for a crusading journalist, especially a left-wing crusading journalist, the world must be full of right-wing conspiracies. Such an author may be entirely honest and honorable, as Ms. Mayer undoubtedly is, and still be fundamentally wrong because she lacks the perspective to assess the subjects she is writing about. Dark Money is a fact-filled book, but it contains a much exaggerated and misleading thesis.

Posted by at October 16, 2016 6:20 PM