[sixties-l] Scheer Lunacy at The Los Angeles Times

From: radman (resist@best.com)
Date: Mon Feb 19 2001 - 21:05:27 EST

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    Scheer Lunacy at The Los Angeles Times

    By David Horowitz
    Salon.com | February 19, 2001
    URL: http://www.frontpagemag.com/columnists/horowitz/2001/dh02-19-01p.htm

    ON A HOT AUGUST DAY in 1988, I was standing in the New Orleans Convention
    Center with my longtime writing partner, Peter Collier, when an old
    comrade unexpectedly crossed our path. Peter and I had known each other
    since the 1960s, when we were both editors at the New Left magazine,
    Ramparts. We were in New Orleans, as speechwriters for Bob and Elizabeth
    Dole, part of our recent odyssey from the ranks of the left to the other
    side of the political barricade.

    Suddenly, we noticed our former boss, Bob Scheer, whom we had not seen in
    twenty years, since we had overthrown him in a Sixties-style staff
    rebellion and booted him out of the magazine. Scheer was covering the
    Republican Convention for the Los Angeles Times, whose "national
    correspondent" he had become.

    For a beat or two, the three of us just stood there, eyeing each other at
    a distance that might have been forty paces, each trying to make up his
    mind whether to engage or not. "Hi Bob," I said, finally breaking the ice.
    But Scheer was not up for it. Taking a step towards the exit, he looked
    over his shoulder almost in the manner of drive-by, and flung in our
    direction the most crushing retort he could muster to everything we had
    become. "Deutscher was right," he said, and walked away.

    It was vintage Scheer: smug, shallow and intellectually lazy.

    For Sixties veterans like us, Isaac Deutscher had provided the key to our
    continuing radical faith. A famed biographer of Trotsky and Stalin,
    Deutscher had explained the monstrosity socialism had become in a way that
    made it possible for us to retain our socialist beliefs. Deutscher
    described the Soviet Union as still encrusted with the tyranny of Old
    Russia, but transformed by socialist economics into a competitive world
    power. The scientific logic of socialism, he assured us, would soon
    transform the tyranny into a modern democratic state.

    We had a New Left bon mot to sum up this Deutscherian vision. The first
    socialist revolution, we said, would take place in the Soviet Union. It
    was this hope that encouraged us to support the Soviet bloc and believe it
    was still "progressive" despite totalitarian excrescences; and it was this
    hope that made us turn our backs on democratic America as reactionary and
    oppressive, despite its democratic "facade." Scheer's parting taunt to
    Peter and me expressed his belief that the reforms of glasnost and
    perestroika, then taking place under Mikhail Gorbachev, would transform
    the Soviet Union into a modern, democratic socialist state.

    To the true believer, Gorbachev's reforms may indeed have looked like the
    transformation Deutscher had predicted, but the result was obviously
    anything but. A year after our encounter with Scheer, the Berlin Wall came
    crashing down and the Soviet empire with it. Its collapse revealed not the
    superpower of Deutscher's imaginings, but the pathetic shell of a Third
    World backwater, whose economic output was less than South Korea's.
    Contrary to Deutscher's vision, socialism had turned the Soviet Union into
    an economic wasteland. In 1989, after sixty years of Five-Year Plans, the
    average meat intake of a Soviet citizen was less than it had been in 1913
    under the Czar.

    In a landscape devastated by the crackpot Marxism that progressives like
    Scheer continued to embrace, the new era of freedom meant only another
    round of poverty and despotism, albeit not nearly as bad as before.
    Deutscher could hardly have made a bigger mistake. He was wrong about the
    economic achievements of the Soviet past, which turned out to be little
    more than a Potemkin illusion; and he was wrong about the bright prospect
    of the Soviet future.

    Scheer was wrong too, but his retro-Marxism had done nothing to impede his
    upward climb in the capitalist media world he loved to milk and despise at
    the same time. While Peter and I were doing our slow motion disengagement
    from the totalitarian temptation, Scheer, along with an entire generation
    of New Left intellectuals, was burrowing into the institutions they had
    tried to burn down, and busily infiltrating the Sixties into the
    mainstream culture.

    Scheer's own path to success was made a lot easier by his marriage to
    Narda Zacchino, one of the top editors at the Times. In 1976 he was made
    the Times' national correspondent, a post he held for 17 years before
    transitioning to his present role as all-purpose pundit and chief in-house
    columnist. His journalistic fronting for the Clinton White House even
    earned him a spot on Sidney Blumenthal's email list of media friends.
    Scheer's power marriage at the Times helped to insulate him from critical
    scrutiny and created an ideal vantage within a profession that had become
    a left-wing redoubt. Among his many prestigious perks, Scheer was
    appointed to a visiting professorship on the faculty of the prestigious
    Annenberg School of Journalism at USC by its dean, a former Clinton

    An aggressive sybarite even when I first met him forty years ago, Scheer
    had acquired a townhouse, a boat, pals like Barbara Streisand and Warren
    Beatty, and a first name familiarity with some of the finest restaurateurs
    in town -- all the while he continued his sanctimonious attacks on the
    ruling class in his columns in the Times. Nor had he lost the reputation
    for intellectual laziness first acquired among subordinate staffers at
    Ramparts who were conscripted to write his copy. In the early Nineties, I
    had lunch with a city editor at the Times who swore he had never seen
    anyone go so far on so little effort as Bob Scheer.

    Two writing consequences flowed from this general life-approach. In 1961,
    Scheer published his first book -- a celebration of Castro's revolution,
    co-authored with Maurice Zeitlin. But during the next forty years, Scheer
    managed to produce little besides a few collections of articles and a
    pamphlet to show for his effort. Periodically, notices did appear in the
    literary gossip columns, announcing that he had received a six-figure
    advance to write a book on Gorbachev, or the official biography of Jane
    Fonda. But years passed and the books never came. The second result of
    this lassitude was the intellectual shallowness that characterized
    everything he did manage to complete.

    Scheer's column on the power crisis in California -- a story in his own
    journalistic backyard -- affords sufficient evidence of the malaise. By
    general consensus, the California crisis was triggered by the unexpected
    convergence of at least four significant factors, including (1) a thirty
    percent increase in the demand for electricity in one of the nation's
    fastest growing states; (2) a shortage of power sources due to
    environmental attitudes that had prevented the state from bringing on-line
    a single new power plant in 15 years; (3) an increased dependency on power
    from other states in which demand was also rising; and, finally, (4) a
    misguided legislative decision to half-deregulate the industry, allowing
    utility companies to purchase power at market-rates on the supply-side of
    the equation, but maintaining regulatory controls on consumer prices on
    the demand side. By 2001, the cost of power to California's utilities was
    more than ten times what they were allowed to charge consumers who
    (because their price was fixed) lacked incentive to restrict demand. This
    put the utility companies on the verge of bankruptcy, unable to purchase
    additional power. Hence the crisis.

    But to Scheer, such complexity was only a distraction from ideological
    clarity. This is how Scheer distilled the situation in a December 26th
    column mixing metaphors of Santa, Disney and Frank Baum, in a hallmark
    style that might be described as Beverly Hills kitsch:

    These Messes Are What Deregulation Gets Us
    By Robert Scheer

    Capitalism is falling apart^. Yes, Virginia, we do need government
    regulation^ because the market mechanism left to its own devices
    inevitably spirals out of control. Recognition of that reality has guided
    this country to prosperity ever since Franklin D. Roosevelt pulled us out
    of the Great Depression. But in recent decades, conservative economists
    and their fat-cat corporate sponsors have led us down the yellow brick
    road of deregulation. Getting government out of the market would free
    creativity and investment, leading us to the magic kingdom of Oz, where
    all would prosper. If anything went wrong, the wizard of Oz - a.k.a. Alan
    Greenspan - would make it all better.

    Like the inscrutable reference to Federal Reserve head, Alan Greenspan,
    Scheer's column never actually got around to the facts of the case (nor
    did Roosevelt's New Deal "pull us out of the depression"). Instead his
    column provided a cook's tour of the author's anti-corporate prejudices
    along with many arcane irrelevancies off the top of the author's head,
    including the AOL-Time Warner merger and Europe's mad cow epidemic.
    Scheer's column concluded with a plea for "passage of the McCain-Feingold
    campaign finance reform" and "the revival of the consumer movement" to
    achieve "more, not less, regulation," which was Scheer's ideological
    solution to the problem.

    I once asked an editor at the Times whether Scheer was, in fact, protected
    by its editorial powers from being held to the journalistic standards
    other writers were expected to observe. The editor replied, "Bob Scheer is
    anointed." It is this latitude, perhaps, that has made Scheer's capacity
    for ignorant mischief seemingly boundless, extending even to matters of
    the nation's security.

    Over the last two years, Scheer has become the nation's leading defender
    of suspected atomic spy Wen Ho Lee, whom he has lauded as "an American
    Dreyfus" and about whom he has written a dozen columns - all proclaiming
    Lee's innocence, while portraying him as a victim of an anti-Asian
    conspiracy. Scheer has now been hired as "technical consultant" to an
    upcoming four-hour whitewash of Lee. The mini-series is to be produced for
    ABC-TV by long-time "peace" activist, Robert Greenwald, whose last feature
    was an adoration of Sixties juvenile delinquent Abbie Hoffman, which
    closed almost as suddenly as it opened.

    Since Scheer has been a leftist since the onset of the Cold War, his
    immoderate defense of an accused spy was reckless enough to surprise me.
    After all, every single Communist spy identified by the FBI in the
    half-century since the Cold War began (the Rosenbergs, Morton Sobell, Joel
    Barr, Judith Coplon, William Remington, Alger Hiss, etc.), had been proven
    guilty beyond any reasonable doubt. At the same time, every one of those
    spies had been defended as innocent by progressives like Scheer and
    Greenwald. Why would Scheer want to expose himself to such embarrassment
    again? The only answer I could come up with was that Scheer had not been
    paying enough attention to realize his exposure.

    The immediate context of the Wen Ho Lee case had been set by a report
    released in May 1999 by the so-called Cox Committee on the theft of
    nuclear secrets. The report, approved by a bi-partisan committee, had
    concluded: "The espionage inquiry found Beijing has stolen U.S. design
    data for nearly all elements needed for a major nuclear attack on the
    U.S., such as advanced warheads, missiles and guidance systems."

    Scheer's journalistic response to these disturbing facts about the
    nation's security, proved to be no different than his approach to the
    California power crisis: Begin and end with an ideological premise; in
    between, stuff the column with half-baked information, unfounded
    accusation, and irrelevant asides.

    On May 11, Scheer answered the findings of the bi-partisan committee on
    the theft of nuclear secrets with the following ludicrous dismissals:

    Our Secrets Are Of No Use To them
    By Robert Scheer

    Let's as those Apple computer ads implore, think different. There are no
    nuclear weapons secrets or, indeed, nuclear 'weapons' for China to have

    Scheer did not actually try to substantiate the claim that the United
    States had no nuclear weapons secrets (he just left it floating in the
    ether). But he did make a stab at the idea that there are no nuclear
    weapons: "Nuclear bombs are not actually weapons because, in today's
    world, they cannot be employed to win battles but can serve only as
    instruments of mass terror." (Think about that one for a moment.) The
    statement - and the entire column -- showed an ignorance of deterrence
    theory astounding for a man whose personal website boasts that "from 1976
    to 1993, he served as a national correspondent for the Los Angeles Times,
    where he wrote articles on such diverse topics as the Soviet Union, arms
    control, national politics and the military." A good thesis for a graduate
    student at the Annenberg School might be to find out what The Times
    editors - other than Scheer's wife - could have been thinking when they
    allowed him to occupy his position.

    Having established that there were "no nuclear weapons secrets" to steal,
    Scheer found it relatively easy to reach the conclusion that the Los
    Alamos scientist Wen Ho Lee was innocent of the suspicions the FBI had
    focused on him, notwithstanding the fact that he had removed thousands of
    pages of classified files from the Los Alamos nuclear weapons lab (in and
    of itself a violation of the Espionage Act). Drawing on years of training
    in the left, Scheer went on the offensive, identifying Lee as the hapless
    target of a racial witch-hunt. Two months later, on August 3rd, Scheer
    wrote his first Wen Ho Lee column which began with the following subtlety:

    The 'Chinaman' did it. The diabolical Asian has long been a staple of
    American racism, and it's not surprising that the folks attempting to whip
    up a new red espionage scare would focus on Wen Ho Lee.

    In making these bizarre accusations, Scheer was obviously aware that any
    such witch-hunt against Lee would have to have been orchestrated by Lee's
    prosecutors - Attorney General Janet Reno, FBI Director Louis Freeh and
    the local U.S. attorney on the case, who happened to be a former college
    roommate and close political friend of Bill Clinton himself. To make the
    persecution of Lee seamless, there would also have to be collusion on the
    part of Acting Deputy Attorney General for Civil Rights, Bill Lann Lee --
    himself an American of Chinese lineage and a hyper-sensitive opponent of
    racial profiling.

    All this did not cause Scheer a moment's second thoughts. Instead he just
    plucked a more suitable culprit out of his journalistic hat. Actually two:
    the Republican head of the bi-partisan nuclear secrets committee (to
    please radical fans) and the chief media rival to his own paper (to please
    editors at the Times). Wrote Scheer: "Facts evidently don't matter to
    those in Congress, led by Rep. Christopher Cox (R-Newport Beach), and in
    the media, where the august New York Times has acted as head cheerleader
    for those sounding the alarm of a Chinese nuclear threat."

    The following day Congressman Cox responded. In a letter to the editor, he
    pointed out that the name Wen Ho Lee had actually not appeared in his
    Committee's report, and that "neither I nor any member of the Select
    Committee had even heard of Wen Ho Lee when we completed our report in
    January." Cox further pointed out that when Energy Secretary Bill
    Richardson actually fired Lee, calling him a man who had "massively
    violated our security system," Cox had issued a widely publicized
    statement criticizing the media's spotlight on Lee, and saying that it was
    wrong, without proof, "to juxtapose him with some of the most serious
    crimes that have ever been committed against our military secrets."

    The fact that the man whom Scheer falsely accused of persecuting Lee had
    actually defended him, did not prevent Scheer from repeating the slander
    in a column the following month (September 14, 1999). "It's time to
    pronounce the Chinese nuclear weapons spy story a hoax," he repeated
    himself. Turning to the alleged witch-hunt of Lee, he said its rationale
    was provided by an investigation "led by an outraged Cox, who represents
    the more right-wing fringes of Southern California, eager to find a new
    evil empire as justification of a military buildup, once the staple of
    that region's economy."

    In even more ungrammatical prose than usual, Scheer had managed to start a
    witch-hunt of his own, tarring Cox, a respected congressional leader, as a
    member of the farthest right fringe. Scheer's September 14th column, which
    was called "Time To Say Farewell to Spy Scandal," provoked a joint
    rebuttal from Cox and the ranking Democrat on the committee, Norm Dix, a
    liberal from Washington: "[Robert Scheer's] column asserted four main
    'facts;'" their letter asserted, "each of them is false."

    Five days before Scheer's column appeared, the National Intelligence
    Estimate, representing the consensus of the entire U.S. intelligence
    community, had been released. The estimate stated that China was ready to
    test a longer range, intercontinental missile than it previously had (this
    was one of the secrets that had been passed to the Chinese) which would be
    targeted primarily against the United States. This missile technology had
    been shared with Kim Il Sung's loony police state in North Korea. The
    letter also stated that the missile would be fitted with "smaller nuclear
    warheads - in part influenced by U.S. technology gained through
    espionage." It was the W-88 warhead, small enough to fit a missile, that
    Wen Ho Lee was suspected of stealing.

    In the midst of Scheer's false claims and accusations (his articles
    continued into the following year), he got a break. On September 13, 2000,
    the government announced that it was dropping 58 of the 59 charges against
    Lee. President Clinton even volunteered an apology, as though some kind of
    injustice had been done. This didn't prevent him, however, from flying to
    New Mexico the very next week to raise campaign money for Lee's
    prosecutor. The New York Times also apologized. Janet Reno and Louis Freeh
    did not. Freeh told a congressional committee: "The Department of Justice
    and the FBI stand by each and every one of the 59 counts in the indictment
    of Dr. Lee. Each of those counts could be proved in December 1999 [when
    Lee was formally indicted], and each of them could be proven today."

    I wrote a column about Freeh's statement for Salon ("Wen Ho Lee's Reckless
    Defenders," October 3, 2000). In the article, I recalled an episode that
    had taken place when Peter and I were running Ramparts, after we had fired
    Scheer, in the early Seventies. We were planning to publish an article by
    a defector from an American spy program and thus to break the same
    Espionage Act that Wen Ho Lee had violated in removing secret files from
    the Los Alamos Lab. In my column, I recalled how I had been advised by
    Charles Nesson, then as now a left-wing law professor at Harvard, on how
    to get away with the crime. Nesson advised us -- with a cynicism that I
    will never forget - that since we lived in a democracy, in order to
    prosecute us for treason the government would have to prove in open court
    that we had damaged national security. In other words, it would have to
    reveal to the court and to our country's enemies far more than it would be
    willing to reveal. Hence, if we had the nerve to do it, we would most
    likely get away with what we were planning, which was to print national
    secrets in the pages of our magazine.

    I was sure that it was just this cynicism - use the privileges of American
    democracy to attack it - that lay behind the calculations of Wen Ho Lee's
    defense lawyers, and of course everything that Scheer wrote.

    In my article for Salon, I even included some sentences about a Scheer
    column on Lee. Because I was convinced that Scheer's motivation in
    defending Lee and the Chinese Communists was a bedrock of conviction that
    had not really changed in forty years, I put in the following sentence:
    "While we were divulging the secrets of America's electronic intelligence
    agency in the pages of Ramparts, Scheer was joining the Red Sun Rising
    Commune [in Berkeley] and becoming an acolyte of North Korean dictator Kim

    This sentence did not appear in the Salon article, however. A Salon editor
    had called Scheer before publication to ask him if the statement about his
    dalliance with Kim Il Sung was true. He said flatly that it was not. Even
    though I pointed out that I had already printed these facts in Radical Son
    without contradiction from Scheer, and pressed for a change in the text
    that was already on-line, the editor remained adamant. Scheer had
    categorically denied that he was ever a supporter of Kim Il Sung, she
    said. Unless I had sourced proof to the contrary, they would not take my
    word against his.

    I knew that I was right. When I called my old Ramparts co-editor Peter
    Collier, he reminded me that Scheer had taken a delegation from the Red
    Family Commune to visit Ramparts editor and Black Panther Minister of
    Information, Eldridge Cleaver, who was a fugitive in North Korea, having
    ambushed two San Francisco police officers and fled the country in 1968.
    The Red Family was a "guerrilla foco" that Scheer and Tom Hayden had
    formed. A member of the Scheer delegation, named Jan Austin, was a copy
    editor at Ramparts and she came back with glowing tales about North Korean
    Communism and Kim Il Sung's "Palace of the Children," and the gourmet
    spreads the government had laid out for them. Subsequently, a carton of
    the "Collected News Conferences of Kim Il Sung" had arrived, by mail, in
    the Ramparts office and Peter and I had amused ourselves by opening one
    volume which began with a question to Kim, and was followed with a
    300-page answer.

    Thirty years is a long time, however, and even though I was familiar with
    Scheer's brazenness, I could not help but be shaken by the absolute
    character of his denial to Salon. Maybe Jan Austin's opinions were hers
    and hers alone. Thirty years is a long time, so what was at stake? What
    would Scheer have to hide but the embarrassment of youth? I let the
    incident pass.

    A few months later, however, I had cause to mention Scheer in another
    Salon column, this one about the nomination of John Ashcroft for Attorney
    General. ("First Blood: The Fight Over Bush's Cabinet," January 8, 2001).

    Scheer had attacked Ashcroft and since the nominee's past political
    opinions were an issue for his attackers, I thought it appropriate to
    bring up the political lineage of one of them as well. Again my text was
    challenged by a Salon editor, and under his pressure, I again agreed to
    drop my reference to Scheer's infatuation with Kim. But I was still sure
    that my memory was correct.

    Then a funny thing happened. Peter had become the publisher of Encounter
    Books, and a week ago he sent me the manuscript of one of his upcoming
    titles. The book was Commies: The Old Left, The New Left and the Leftover
    Left, which is the autobiography of another old friend Ronald Radosh. I
    had not discussed these Salon incidents with Radosh, because he had been
    an East coast radical, and I had no reason to think he had spent time with
    Scheer in his Red Family days. But last week, when Peter asked me to read
    the manuscript of Commies, I came across the following passage:

    At the time [circa 1969], my friend Louis Menashe and I had a regular
    radio program on the Pacifica Network, a weekly political discussion show
    in which we interviewed Movement figures and engaged in political and
    theoretic discussion. Since Scheer was still considered an important
    figure on the Left^I got out my trusty, top-of-the-line SONY that WBAI had
    recommended we purchase, and began the interview. Scheer, however, said
    that he would talk on the record about only one topic - the only topic
    that mattered - the realization of the socialist utopia in Kim Il Sung's
    North Korea.

    For over two hours, Scheer talked and talked about the paradise he had
    seen during a recent visit to North Korea, about the greatness of Kim Il
    Sung, about the correct nature of his so-called juche ideology - evidently
    a word embodying Kim's redefinition of Marxism-Leninism in building
    Communism against all obstacles and with the entire world in opposition^
    At one point, I asked him incredulously: "Bob, do you really believe this
    crap?" Scheer responded with complete earnestness that he did - that Kim
    had charted out a path that other nations could and should take as an
    example of the art of the possible^.[Finally], the interminable interview
    ended, leaving me recalling Woody Allen's famous words to Annie Hall's
    demented brother: "I have to go now. I'm due back on planet earth."

    Me too.

    David Horowitz is editor-in-chief of FrontPageMagazine.com and president
    of the Center for the Study of Popular Culture. 

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