Eric Alterman is very very upset at William F. Buckley, Jr.! Sure, he’s been dead for a few years. But that won’t stop Alterman from saying what he’s finally worked up the courage to say!
You see, it turns out that the esteemed WFB once, get this, published a letter Alterman had written. What’s that? An editor published a letter addressed to the editor about an issue of the magazine that the editor edited?
Sorry, I caught a slight case of the vapors. I’m back. Here’s Alterman:
I had been making a decidedly meager living as a lefty freelance writer—the future prospects of which had sent me back to graduate school—and here I was being cited as an authority on a big topic by a big man in a big way. The “old” right was paying tribute to the “new” left. I imagined the phone call that would invite me on sailing trips in the Côte d’Azur with “Kenny G” (as I thought I might call Galbraith) and a princess or two. We’d all fly back on Buckley’s private plane in time to knock off a Firing Line before a midnight meal at ‘21.’ I wrote Buckley a thank-you note and that, dear reader, is where my troubles began.
Buckley published my letter without my permission in National Review. This drove me crazy. I had written (in confidence, I thought) that I had just been turned down for the job as The Nation’s Washington editor—something I really didn’t want people I knew to know. Gore Vidal had written a then-infamous, rather anti-Semitic essay in The Nation’s 125th anniversary issue, and I also told Buckley that I had, much to my chagrin, agreed more with Neocon sourpuss Norman Podhoretz’s attack on Vidal and The Nation than with Nation editor Victor Navasky’s defense of said article. I had told Navasky this at the time—but I didn’t want anyone thinking myself disloyal to the man who had helped to launch my career, and would become a close friend and frequent mentor (as well as the chairman of this magazine). Rather presumptuously, moreover, I saluted the “care and grace” Buckley brought to the topic of anti-Semitism.
I was shocked by the cavalier disregard with which Buckley felt free to treat what I understood, and certainly intended, to be private correspondence.
Now, I actually get where Alterman is coming from. (I do, honest!) I feel that there is a presumptive “off the record” setting when chatting with friends or trading emails, and I’ve been known to get testy when someone I’m friendly with quotes me, by name, in a situation in which I had just assumed we were off the record.
But let’s be clear here: Alterman didn’t say that his correspondence was not for publication and he and Buckley weren’t buddies. He was responding to a piece published by an editor. The editor then published that letter, as editors are wont to do.
I just don’t see the outrage here. I can kinda understand why he would be annoyed by the reprints, but the cat’s already out of the bag, y’know?
Then Alterman does the same thing again! He sends Buckley another letter, that letter gets printed, and OUTRAGE! Lawsuits are considered!
It’s all quite funny.