Saturday, November 10, 2012

Statement on my firing

On Thursday afternoon I was fired from my position as literary blogger and book critic for Commentary magazine. The facts are these. At about 4:20 p.m. I posted the piece directly below, entitled “The Conservative Case for Gay Marriage.” The original post contained two sentences at the end of the first paragraph that I deleted, for obvious reasons, when publishing it here instead:My post yesterday [“The GOP Can’t Be the Party of Old White Men”] was only the opinion of this author, who also happens to write for COMMENTARY and speaks for no one else; my post did not reflect an editorial shift on the part of the magazine. It is, in fact, a testament to his editorship that John Podhoretz encourages a diversity and even a clash of opinions here at COMMENTARY.A little more than an hour later I received an email from John Podhoretz, telling me that I had been terminated. I removed the offending post almost immediately.

Whether I was fired for the substance of what I wrote or for violating the magazine’s procedures is unclear even to me, especially since my followup emails have gone unanswered. Since I do not have the right to quote the message in which Mr Podhoretz terminated me—he never called—I can only summarize his objections. If I understand him correctly, he considered my defense of gay marriage to be political, and thus inappropriate for a literary blog, and he could not understand why I did not seek prior approval for it.

Now, I did not conceive of my post as political; it was, to my mind, a literary and philosophical defense of gay marriage, derived from my reading, utterly silent on questions of public policy. Moreover, I had written explicitly political posts in the past, most notably my attack on, without objection—except from the likes of Salman Rushdie, who tweeted his disgust. And in the sixteen months I wrote Commentary’s literary blog, I was never once required or reminded to get prior approval before posting. I was given, and I assumed that I had, complete editorial independence.

All of this was naïve of me—gobsmackingly, blindingly naïve. My wife says that I have “never learned how to play the game.” The argument is the only thing that matters to me—and too often I have pursued it in heedless disregard of any other consideration. What’s more, as an academic for more than twenty years, I have become too comfortable with intellectual autonomy; I clearly and admittedly did not show the proper deference to Mr Podhoretz’s authority. On the other hand, he had approved a post by me the day before—Wednesday, the day after the election—calling upon Republicans to “drop their opposition to gay marriage.” It never dawned on me that a followup to that earlier post, developing one of its premises, would be wrong.

Was I fired for writing in defense of gay marriage? Well, I think it’s equally naïve to think that I would have been sacked if I had used any other political topic as an occasion for literary and philosophical reflections—the topic of illegal immigration, for example. I’m the last one who could say for sure.

Addendum: I remain grateful to John Podhoretz for giving me the opportunity to write Commentary’s literary blog and fiction chronicle, and I wish him and the magazine nothing but the best.

Update: John Podhoretz gives his side of the story here. Over at the New York Daily News blog Page Views, Alexander Nazaryan offers a balanced account of the mess. I consider the matter closed and shall have nothing further to say about it publicly.


  1. Unbelievable and dismaying news. Commentary has made a regrettable mistake.

  2. I found your essay and argument thoughtful and compassionate. To me, the subject needs to be argued in this manner within the conservative community and I expected some thoughtful and compassionate replies would be published in Commentary and other conservative publications.

    I will continue to follow you on this blog and thank you, in particular, for presenting Paul Auster's writing to me.

  3. You have courage, but the man who fired you did not. You can not blame yourself for doing something you believed you had the authority to do which was write an opinion. Obviously, you violated some unknown and unwritten rule or policy. They are the lesser men for fearing ideas and words. Democracy thrives on ideas and discourse. No man is omnipotent. But, today we do not argue to learn and discuss. We argue to shout the other down. Try not to let this episode silence you in the future. You are only speaking for growth and evolution of a segment of mankind. If you are silent in the future because of this, your critics will have won and democracy will lose. If your ideas have merit, they will develop a life of their own. Good ideas and truth can not be stifled. And, you will find another job.

  4. Those who refuse to learn from history (in this case the history of the Soviet Union) are condemned to repeat it.

    Did you really think playing with Leninist friends who belong to a Leninist party would not play out much the same way as it did a hundred years ago?

  5. "I remain grateful to John Podhoretz for giving me the opportunity to write Commentary’s literary blog and fiction chronicle, and I wish him and the magazine nothing but the best."
    Uh huh. Could you pls add your wife's opinion, too? From your remark about her reaction, I assume she's a very street smart person and I guess her statement would make more sense to me! :D

  6. I'm very sorry to hear this, David. Based on the evidence you've presented, it seems a difficult decision to defend (and certainly a bad one on the intellectual and aesthetic merits). If anything, your second post on the subject was much less directly political, and much more built on the history of literature and ideas, than the first.

    {As for the idea of failing to show proper deference to a boss: it's something I've noticed working in the fringes of the academy, just how much I take for granted the fact that my superiors want to hear the best arguments from me rather than whatever will match their preconceived opinion. It would be tough to adapt after all these years.)

    Here's hoping you find a more congenial home for your writing soon.

  7. If more people become aware of your good work David because of this incident, at least some good will have come from it.

  8. So sorry to see this on my return from out of town--hope you are ensconced somewhere interesting soon!

  9. I have read your posting, and I have read Podhoretz, and I remain confused about what seems to be the central issue: In what obsolete universe are social and political issues not part and parcel of literary criticism? I guess one answer is the universe of New Criticism, about which I would normally have some positive observations, but perhaps I am being too simplistic in my analysis of the central issue.

    Hang in there, David. You know that I have always enjoyed your thoughtful literary criticism. While we may disagree now and then about the social and political implications of (and in) literature, I remain a champion of your style and clarity.

    All the best from your Redneck Riviera friend.

  10. Moreover, what does this incident say about two others issues: (1) the evolving world of online publishing, and (2) the political and social polarization of American culture, resulting in censorious editorial intolerance?

    When the dust settles and the frayed nerves are calmed, will you be seeking another, different outlet for your commentary?

  11. Sure they are unable to do this? That's really sad news. The silence from Commentary must really be annoying you to?

  12. It appears that political correctness is no respecter of ideologies. I'm sorry to learn that you lost the gig, although unlike you I hold John Podhoretz in slender esteem. I hope that an equally rewarding, less constricting platform turns up shortly.

  13. Sorry to hear of this sad affair. The loss is Commentary's, really.


  14. Sorry to hear about your termination.

  15. Very sorry to hear this. I'm canceling my subscription to Commentary. Such an intolerant editorial policy (intolerant of controversy I mean) cannot produce a valuable magazine.