Eric Alterman: Blasts Ralph Nader





I see the Ralph Nader documentary is being broadcast on PBS tonight. To be honest, I've never actually seen the thing. When it was screened at Sundance two years ago, it was about four hours long and when I got there, I did not think I could stand it, so I went back to my hotel room for two hours and came in for only the presidential races part. I used to admire what Ralph Nader had done for the country during his career as a consumer advocate, but I no longer do. One of the great mistakes liberals made in the 1970s was to try to win in the courts what they could not win at the ballot box -- thereby allowing their democratic muscles and instincts atrophy and helping to inspire a right-wing backlash against which they were defenseless -- and which now controls those same courts -- and Nader was the leader in this misbegotten movement.

As a presidential candidate, he's been an undeniable catastrophe. What I want to say about the film -- at least the parts that I've seen -- is that I made a big mistake when I allowed its makers to come to my apartment to interview me. They never told me they were Naderites and I -- stupidly -- did not realize that they had an ulterior motive in making the film. In my view, the movie is dishonest in two respects. In the first, when they interviewed me, they kept repeating the same silly points over and over again after I had already answered them. This had the effect of pissing me off, purposely, I'm guessing -- and getting me to look all angry and intemperate -- and gave them the footage they wanted (which is why they use it in the trailer). But that's my problem. The problem with the film -- and why I'm convinced it is largely a propaganda exercise for unrepentant Naderites who prefer a Bush presidency to a Gore one -- is that it only gives the illusion of listening to Nader's critics. Todd Gitlin and myself are given a sentence or two to make each of the many cases against Nader, and then some pro-Nader "expert" is offered an unlimited amount of time to brush us off. This happens over and over and is, as the saying goes, no accident. The point is not screen time, as the filmmakers dishonestly pretended when responding to me on HuffPo. It is intellectual honesty, and that is something that is sadly lacking in this film. Then again, how could it be otherwise with any Nader defender after we've seen seven years' fruit of their Leninist agenda?*

*After the film came out, Nader confused me by buying 1,200 copies of What Liberal Media? and distributing them to every student and faculty member of the Medill School of Journalism. He sent me a mimeographed note saying something like "What do you think of that, Eric?" I think the same thing I thought of the Iraq war, the destruction of the environment, legalized torture, domestic spying, the attack on the Constitution, on choice, on sex education, on science, etc. ... "Thanks, Ralph."

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