December 7, 2021

When people die, I almost always subscribe to the "if you can't say anything nice" philosophy. But goddamn, the canonization of Fred Hiatt deserves at least a little comment from the perspective of those actually affected by the domestic and international policies he prescribed from on high. And this Morning Joe segment sent me over the edge.

First of all, it's important to remember that, like the Sunday shows, the Washington Post's op-ed page isn't for people like us. It's really the NextDoor comments section for Beltway Villagers, and Fred Hiatt, who went to Harvard and whose father was a Harvard dean, was steeped in the Beltway Way.

And he, more than most, beat the drums of war after 9/11. He was wrong, of course -- but he was so nice! People loved him! He defended human rights!

He sounds like a wonderful boss and mentor. Sorry for your loss, folks. May his memory be a blessing. Etc.

But he was a neocon. He was also one of the people who helped turn deficit austerity into a moral crusade -- and, as you may have heard elsewhere, a budget is a moral document. Fred led the charge to turn budgets into immoral documents. As in, ever-expanding Pentagon budgets GOOD. Taking care of working Americans? BAD. "Are there no workhouses?"

He was a fervent believer in both-siderism and moral equivalence, which led directly to the fascist threats of today. Surely someone else has noticed?

Oddly enough, in newspapers, the gathering at which the next day's news is hashed out is called a "budget meeting." Newspaper budgets are a moral document, too. It's not always what is said so much as what is not.

He seemed to like war. It was the chance for U.S. military might to flex in front of the world! (Like most war cheerleaders, he never actually served. I wish Fred Hiatt could have heard the Iraq war vet who lived across the hall wake up screaming in the middle of the night, the same vet who pulled a gun on me.)

Fred Hiatt gave valuable op-ed real estate to the loathsome likes of Marc Thiassen, George Will, and Hugh Hewitt, just to name a few. Because Both Sides! At least three of his columnists expressed their support for torture. (By a strange twist of fate, many of his conservative hires like Jennifer Rubin, Bill Kristol, and Dana Milbank grew into their prominence overnight when confronted with the fascist impulses of Donald Trump. Good for them! So there's that.)

He also hired bloggers like Greg Sargent and Paul Waldman, two stellar writers who are notably aware of actual people outside the Beltway. So that was good.

Ruth Marcus told Joe and Mika this morning that Fred was a big believer in the marketplace of ideas (i.e. "both sides"). Well, as philosophies go, it's a bad one. As Jay Rosen calls it, it's The View From Nowhere.

The fact that Fred Hiatt was a kind, generous, and thoughtful man, according to the people who worked for him, does not negate the power of his bad ideas, nor his weak moral discernment.

He so rarely annoyed the rich and powerful. "Both sides!" I'm sure they'll hire someone just like him to replace him. The king is dead, long live the king!

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