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Andrew Ferguson on Peter Beinart

4:51 PM, Sep 7, 2010 • By JOHN MCCORMACK
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TWS senior editor Andrew Ferguson's latest Commentary column is available online:

Peter Beinart is one of those journalists, common in Washington, who is less interesting for what he says than for who he is, or who he wants to be thought to be. He’s an exemplar, and when, this May, he published an essay in the New York Review of Books announcing that “morally, American Zionism is in a downward spiral,” he deserved the considerable notice that the article brought him. As a piece of reasoned argument, or even as an anguished moral plea, “The Failure of the American Jewish Establishment” was a mess: a goulash of overstatement, baseless accusation, statistical sleight-of-hand, strategic omission, and wince-making self-regard. As a piece of attention-getting, however, it was a masterstroke, and it’s on those terms, rather than its own, that the article and Beinart are best understood.

Beinart is well known among Washington journalists as a quick-witted polemicist and a gifted stylist. He’s also regarded as one of the most energetic careerists anyone has ever seen. Not that there’s anything wrong with that! Banish careerists from the ranks of Washington journalism and the only people left would be a handful of newsroom librarians and a couple of copy editors from Human Events. What makes Beinart’s campaign of self-promotion conspicuous—week after week, year after year-—is its utter lack of inhibition. There’s a kind of insouciance to it.

As far as I know, it first came to general notice in a brief biographical sketch that Beinart circulated early in his career. Having climbed over the bloody, dismembered carcasses of his co-workers and mentors, Beinart was named editor of the New Republic in 1999, at the dewy age of 28. His self-written bio made unsurprising mention of an undergraduate degree (Yale), a Rhodes Scholarship (Oxford), and a master’s degree in international relations (ditto). And then, deathlessly, there was this: “Beinart won a Marshall Scholarship (declined).”

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