Malaysia: Social Media Administrators under Pressure


May 19, 2017

Malaysia: Social Media Administrators under Pressure

by Asiasentinel Correspondent

http://www.asiasentinel.com/politics/malaysia-social-media/

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When you cannot face up to the truth (message) you screw up, censor and threaten the messenger (s). Trump should learn from the Malaysian Prime Minister. Remember George Orwell’s 1984. People like Raja Petra and his lot can be consultants to The Trump White House.–Din Merican

With national elections looming, perhaps as early as August or September, the Malaysian government is warning its legions of myriad social media critics to knock off tweeting or posting content the government deems “inappropriate.”

The Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission has promulgated a new “advisory for group admins” that critics say is designed to coerce social media platforms such as Facebook and others in the country to censor postings by opponents of the government.

The Barisan Nasional, the national ruling coalition, has cause for concern. According to Steven Gan, editor of the independent news website Malaysiakini, the next election, which must be held before August of 2018 but is likely to be earlier, is likely to be fought out in social media, with as many as 70 percent of Malaysians online.

With the mainstream media – English, Malay and Chinese language newspapers, radio and television – in the hands of political parties aligned with the government, an increasing number of citizens are turning to the Internet to seek independent voices.

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As Asia Sentinel reported on April 22, opposition websites and independent news publications have been warned to mute their criticism or face being shut down. The Chinese-language newspaper Nanyang Siang Pau was warned over a cartoon satirizing the Speaker of Parliament as a monkey and told to suspend the staff involved.

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The government is running scared for a variety of reasons, the biggest being a massive scandal involving the misuse or theft of as much as US$11 billion from the state-backed 1Malaysia Development Bhd., with at least US$1 billion and as much as US$2 billion having ended up in Prime Minister Najib Razak’s own pockets, according to an ongoing investigation by US authorities looking into the purchase by nominees of houses, apartments, art works and a wide variety of other US assets, and the funding of the 2013 movie Wolf of Wall Street starring Leonardo DiCaprio.

The Barisan Nasional actually lost the popular vote in the 2013 general election but prevailed because the parliament was so thoroughly gerrymandered that the coalition ended up with 133 seats to 89 for the opposition, then headed by Anwar Ibrahim, who was later jailed on sexual perversion charges that human rights critics have characterized as trumped up.

Subsequently rising antipathy on the part of minority races, particularly the Chinese, has cut deeply into the Barisan’s support, leaving it largely supported only by ethnic Malays, who make up at least 63 percent of the population of 30 million. Given rising antipathy on the part of urban Malays, strategists for the Barisan believe the United Malays National Organization, the leader of the government coalition, must win every ethnic Malay vote possible in the countryside – where the mainstream media rule along with UMNO.

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2017–The Way Backward

That means trying to keep out as much chaff from the social media as possible, including people who retweet or post Chedet, the blog of former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, Najib’s most implacable opponent, which gets thousands of readers every day, or the Sarawak Report, which despite being blocked by the communications ministry (along with Asia Sentinel) can draw more than 100,000 readers on a single story.

Mahathir is said to be making inroads among the rural Malays supported by the Federal Land Development Authority, or Felda, which was founded to handle the resettlement of the rural poor, most of them ethnic Malays. The government listed Felda on the Malaysian stock exchange in 2012 and induced the thousands of settlers – whose territory covers 54 of UMNO’s 86 seats in parliament – to invest in the shares. Because of a variety of missteps, the shares have fallen in value steeply, impoverishing the settlers who bought into them. Felda Global Ventures as the public vehicle is now known, may be forced to delist.

Mahathir and PPBM, which he calls Parti Bersatu against the wishes of the government, have capitalized on the discontent to the point where political analysts believe he will pull away a number of those UMNO seats, perhaps 10 or 11 – two of which are held by Najib’s lieutenants.

Thus the Communications Ministry targets “administrators” of group pages hosted on communication platforms such as Facebook, WhatsApp, Wechat, Viber and Telegram, or on similar services, advising them to take a proactive role in monitoring and removing content posted by others to their pages.

“While not a legally enforceable regulation in itself, a warning on the ministry’s Facebook page accompanying the advisory stated that Internet users should ‘be wise in using social media for their own protection,’” according to Article 19, a global rights watchdog with representatives in Malaysia. “This implies that failure to comply with the advisory may make group admins liable for the posts of others, even though this type of liability for third-party content is not currently provided for in Malaysian law.”

As Article 19 points out, a growing number of individuals are being arrested, investigated and charged in Malaysia for online criticism or questioning of the government under the sedition law, a toughened communications and multimedia act and a security act passed last year.

“Article 19 therefore considers that the MCMC advisory is seeking to deliver an implicit threat to social media users, that even if they are not the author of offending content, they can still be prosecuted by association,” according to Kuala Lumpur-based spokeswoman Nalini Elumalai. “This is likely to have the effect of co-opting private internet users into the role of enforcing draconian content restrictions in the online sphere, with victims of this censorship not having any recourse to challenge or seek redress for such removals. This is a concerning direction of travel, in particular if attempts are made to give legal force to the vague ‘advice’ of the MCMC. “

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The advisory by the Communications Ministry appears to violate an agreement promulgated by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Representative on Freedom of the Media, the Organization of American States (OAS) Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information that individuals cannot be held liable for content they have not authored unless they disobey court orders to remove such content.

The UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression also warned that private actors should not be pressured by legal or extra-legal means to take steps that unnecessarily or disproportionately interfere with freedom of expression, including by removing content.

“The MCMC advisory is clearly intended to pressure social media users, against international freedom of expression standards, and against the spirit of the freedom of expression guarantees in Article 10(a) of the Federal Constitution of Malaysia,” Article 19 said. The rights organization urged the communications ministry to “retract the advisory without delay and make clear to social media users that they cannot be held responsible for content created by third parties. We also call on the Malaysian government to engage in comprehensive reforms to legislation that violates the right to freedom of expression, including online, in particular the CMA, the Sedition Act, and the Penal Code.”

Malaysia always in the News for Wrong Reasons


May 18, 2017

Malaysia always in the News for Wrong Reasons

by Dato Dennis Ignatius

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Malaysia’s disgraceful disregard for human rights

 

The  UMNO-led BN government seems to have a penchant for putting Malaysia in the international spotlight for all the wrong reasons. This time Malaysia is being widely criticised for the way it colluded with Turkey to detain and deport suspected opponents of the Erodogan regime.

Last week, three long-time Turkish residents of Malaysia – school principal Turgay Karaman, businessman Ihsan Aslan and academic Ismet Ozcelik – were surreptitiously detained and hastily bundled out of the country before their families could even mount a legal challenge.

The whole manner in which the Malaysian authorities handled the matter – the secretive way they were detained, the constantly changing reasons for their detention, the speed at which they were deported, the presence of Turkish agents – was deeply troubling.

Colluding with the Erdogan regime

It is now clear that their arrest and deportation was in response to pressure from the Turkish government.

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Since the unsuccessful coup in Turkey last year, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has been on a witch hunt against anyone remotely connected with his political nemesis, the US-based cleric Fethullah Gueln. Thousands of military personnel, teachers, civil servants, judges, reporters and others have been summarily detained or dismissed. Turkish agents have also targeted Turkish nationals living abroad, many on spurious grounds.

While many countries have expressed alarm at Turkey’s slide towards authoritarianism, Malaysia apparently has no compunction collaborating with the regime.

The Home Ministry’s insistence that it acted on its own to deport the aforementioned Turks because they were “members of an organization deemed illegal in their country” is disingenuous to say the least.

 

Long history of dubious extraditions

This is, of course, not the first time that Malaysia has engaged in dubious extraditions.

In 2004, Libyan national Abu Abdullah al-Sadiq and his then pregnant wife, Fatima Bouchar, were arrested in Kuala Lumpur, detained for 13 days and then transferred to CIA facilities in Thailand under the now infamous rendition programme. In Thailand Abu Abdullah was tortured before being sent back to Libya where he spent years in prison.

Cynically, while Malaysia was publicly critical of the US war on terrorism, it was quietly cooperating with the CIA in extrajudicial renditions.

In 2012, a Saudi journalist, Hamza Kashgari, accused of insulting the Prophet, was detained while on transit to New Zealand. Despite not having a formal extradition treaty with Saudi Arabia and notwithstanding a high court injunction against his extradition, he was sent back to Saudi Arabia.

Since 2011, Malaysian Police have also been quietly working with Chinese authorities to round up and deport Muslim Uighur refugees fleeing the on-going crackdown in Xinjiang province. Many of these refugees had registered with UNCHR and were awaiting for their claims to be reviewed when they were deported.

It is more than likely that many others may have also been clandestinely detained and dispatched to uncertain fates in unknown destinations.

Transparent rather than secretive

Image result for Malaysia's Human Rights AbusesMalaysia’s  IGP Khalid Ashburn and his henchmen of the Royal Malaysian Police in Service of UMNO

No one is, of course, suggesting that suspected terrorists should not be deported or extradited. Malaysia has an obligation to cooperate with other countries in the apprehension of terrorists and criminals. What is important, however, is for the process to be open and transparent rather than secretive and ad hoc. And, of course, the decisions of the government should always be subject to judicial review.

In April this year, for example, an Iranian national accused of involvement in the 2012 bombing in Thailand was extradited after his case was heard by the Federal Court. Surely that is the way a civilized country does things.

A dumping ground for terrorists

Interestingly, while we oblige Turkey by doing their dirty work for them, they repay the favour by quietly facilitating the passage to Malaysia of known terrorists, as was reported recently. We have apparently become the dumping ground for terrorists that Turkey apprehends. With friends like that, who needs enemies?

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The Three Stooges of Islamic Extremism

In the meantime, while the government deports Turks whose only crime may be their dislike of Erdogan, it opens its arms wide to people like Zakir Naik, an extremist preacher blacklisted by several countries for spreading hatred, funding terrorism and money laundering. India has now requested for an Interpol red corner notice against Zakir, which, if granted, would make him an international fugitive in the fullest sense of the word. Let’s see how quickly the authorities will act to deport him and even strip him of his undeserved PR status, if he is still in the country.

 

Malaysia, UMNO and Zakir Naik: What is the Game here?


May 17, 2017

COMMENT: One of my doctoral students at Techo Sen School at The University of Cambodia who monitors political developments in Malaysia on a regular basis asked me pointedly what is Malaysia’s Foreign Policy? I asked him back, does Malaysia have one in the first place?

All I see I said is a series of politically motivated actions which are contradictory, inconsistent, self defeating, unprincipled and often unrelated to Malaysia’s national interest. Furthermore, I see my present  Prime Minister Najib Razak hoping from one country to another (in recent months  between India and China) with a begging bowl to save his own political skin. His Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Foreign Affairs and other loose cannons in his Cabinet are mere chorus boys  including those  others in the civil service and ulamakdom.

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The Magnificent Men of the 1960’s

Wisma Putra’s influence in the making of foreign policy too has been minimal since that role is supplanted by the so-called policy wonks on the 4th Floor, Prime Minister’s Department in Putrajaya. I expect our Minister Anifah Aman to react defensively with his comments on my blog soon. But he cannot escape the fact that Wisma Putra is today a mere shadow of what it used to be when Tun Muhammad Ghazalie Shafie was Permanent Secretary, Ministry of External Affairs.

As a young foreign service officer in the 1960s, I was taught by Tun Ghazalie  that international relations is about how in the pursuit of its national interest Malaysia relates to and interacts with other sovereign states. basically with members of the United Nations in the realm of politics and security, and geo-economics.We make friends in diplomacy he never ceased remind my colleagues and I. This depends on our foreign policy.

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Prime Minister Najib Razak has yet to come to grips with reality that he is immensely unpopular and cannot be trusted to defend Malaysia’s National Interest.

I define national interest as the sum total of the individual and collective interests of Malaysians, that it is about safeguarding or advancing the collective welfare and economic well being of  all us, not of a single individual like Prime Minister Najib Razak.

Foreign policy is in reality an extension of Malaysia’s domestic policy; it is about how our elected government protects our security, improves and sustains our aspirations and priorities and addresses our concerns and calms our fears and anxieties. This principle No.1 and that is foreign policy begins at home and defines our relations with other nation states. In turn, foreign policy outcomes have a reciprocal effect on domestic political discourse.

As a nation,  Malaysia must see value in an international or bilateral relationship as a way of securing benefits for Malaysians, whether in security, politics or geo–economics. It is an interaction of our wants and needs. And it always involves a give-and-take attitude and disposition. Malaysia must, therefore, aim for win-win partnership that is beneficial, acceptable and sustainable to its united citizenry. This is the second principle.

Finally, a coherent  Malaysian foreign policy based a careful calibration of our national interest must receive the continued support of all Malaysians. It cannot be driven by the political survival needs or whims and fancies of our incumbent Prime Minister Najib Razak and his cohorts at our collective expense.

The Zakir Naik case is a case in point. How can we as a people accept this Islamic extremist wanted in his homeland India  for wanton acts of promoting terrorism, and grant him permanent resident status when thousands of Malaysians born and bred in Malaysia are still stateless. It is not in our national interest to harbor this felon and conceal his whereabouts and deny India its right to bring him to the Indian courts to stand trial.

Mr. Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Home Affairs, Dr. Zahid Hamidi, you are reckless, unconscionable, and irresponsible. Your job is to protect the security and safety of all Malaysians. It is equally your top priority to locate those missing and unaccounted for because they belong to other religions than Islam. Do that or just resign and fire your Inspector-General of Police. As for our Prime Minister, I say this–your day of reckoning is coming to you soon.–Din Merican

Malaysia, UMNO and Zakir Naik: What is the Game here?

by P. Ramasamy@www.malaysiakini.com

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If the controversial Mumbai preacher Zakir Naik is not in Malaysia, then where is he? Is Malaysia distancing itself from the controversial preacher?

A few days ago, Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi assured the Malaysian Associated Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Maicci) that Malaysia would not give sanctuary to any fugitive, even if the fugitive happened to be Zakir Naik.

Zahid also informed the delegation that Zakir was not in the country and his exact whereabouts were not known. Zahid pretended that he was not in the know, but surely he was aware of the movements of Zakir.

Zakir Naik is not just an ordinary person, for he has become an infamous person in international circles. He is not just an occasional visitor to Malaysia, but a very very important person with the status of permanent resident.

But the relationship between the Malaysian authorities and Zakir Naik might not be the same anymore. There is a slow but sure attempt to distance themselves from the actions of Zakir. In short, Zakir is no longer a ‘darling’ to the Muslim masses in Malaysia, or elsewhere.

Two warrants of arrest have been issued by the authorities in India for his arrest for alleged involvement in terrorist and money-laundering activities. The Indian authorities impressed upon a Mumbai court to issue the warrants, having provided the necessary evidence of the alleged nefarious activities of Zakir Naik.

Recently, it was only after India sought the red notice alert through the Interpol that Zakir Naik might have realised that India was serious about arresting him.

Malaysia has probably realised that Zakir’s presence in the country and his allegedly incendiary speeches might not be conducive to the long term interests of the country. Zakir single-handedly, through his speeches, caused apparently irrepairable damage to ethnic relations in the country.

Malaysia might have welcomed Zakir Naik earlier, but his presence in the country seems detrimental to UMNO-BN in the long run. Earlier, his speeches might have appealed to UMNO to gain Malay-Muslim support, but this perception might not be sustainable any longer.

UMNO-BN might have lost substantial non-Muslim support in the past, but it is not willing to write-them off yet, considering the general election around the corner.

Zakir is a popular figure in the Islamic circles in Malaysia. However, the changing political scenario could have rendered him a liability to UMNO and others in the  Barisan Nasional coalition. Zahid might not say it openly, but he is probably embarrassed by Zakir’s presence in the country.

There is a growing realisation in the official circles that Zakir may have outlived his usefulness.

P RAMASAMY is Deputy Chief Minister II of Penang and the state assemblyperson for Perai.

Malaysians ready to discard racially-based parties


Study: Malaysians ready to discard racially-based parties

An Oxford University study funded by CIMB Foundation found that Malaysians generally want greater integration and unity.

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The  New Malaysia with a Conservative Arabist Mindset

An Oxford University study disproves the notion that Malaysians are not ready to discard racially-based parties.

Malaysians, in fact, prefer racially-mixed political parties to single ethnic parties, according to the study. Even rural Malays are for it. About 62% of Malays and 80% of non-Malays strongly agreed with the suggestion that political parties should be racially mixed.

The study’s authors say: “This is an extremely noteworthy finding. Malaysians are often told that they are not ready to move beyond communally-based political parties; that people will react badly to not having their interests championed by such parties.

“The explanation for this is that while the urban Malays may be comfortable with mixed-race parties, the rural folks are not. However, our data shows that 62% of rural Malays and 63% of urban Malays strongly endorse mixed parties.”

The study, carried out in Peninsular Malaysia in September-October last year, involved 503 Malays, 500 Chinese and 501 Indians.

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Prime Minister Najib and UMNO’s Islamic Guru–Zakir Naik

The study titled Attitudes and Ethnoreligious Integration: Meeting the Challenge and Maximizing the Promise of Multicultural Malaysia, was done by Dr Ananthi Ramiah, Professor Miles Hewstone and Dr Ralf Wölfer with a grant from the CIMB Foundation.

The study notes that across the board, a high percentage of people from the different  ethnic groups expressed strong agreement for better integration among Malaysians. The Indians were the most enthusiastic for integration.

The authors asked respondents how much they thought a series of possible changes to government policy and neighbourhood ethnic composition might improve integration.

On creating more racially-mixed neighbourhoods, there was a significant difference between the three ethnic groups in level of agreement. The Malays expressed a lower level of agreement than the Chinese and the Indians, and the Chinese expressed less agreement than the Indians.About 60% of Malays, 70% of Chinese and almost 80% of Indians supported mixed neighbourhoods.

There was also a significant difference between the three ethnic groups on doing away with vernacular education at the primary school level, with the Malays agreeing to a much greater degree than the Chinese and Indians. The Chinese, especially, were very supportive of vernacular education.Slightly more than 60% of Malays, 20% of Chinese and about 45% of Indians were for this.

On introducing fair competition for everyone so that no one group gets special privileges, Malays agreed to a lesser degree than the Chinese and the Indians.

On the suggestion that all religions should be treated equally in government policy, there was a significant difference between the three ethnic groups. The Malays agreed with this to a lesser degree than the Chinese and the Indians.

About 60% of Malays and 90% of Chinese and Indians agreed with this. “Thus, in general, we note the trend that the Malays expressed a lower level of agreement to most of the integration suggestions than the Chinese and the Indians, with the exception of the suggestion to do away with vernacular schools, about which the Chinese are substantially less enthusiastic than the Malays and the Indians.”

The study could not conclusively say that having friends from other ethnic groups influenced the answers to some of these suggestions.

Generally, the more friends they had who were of other ethnic backgrounds, the more they appeared to support integration. But this was not always the case. For instance, the study found that Indians highly endorsed mixed neighbourhoods regardless of the number of outgroup friends they had.

It found that the Chinese respondents expressed low levels of support for the dismantling of vernacular schools, regardless of the number of outgroup friends they had.

Dr KJ John: Are Malaysians really only closet modern extremists.


May 1, 2017

Dr KJ John: Are Malaysians really only closet modern extremists.

by Dr. KJ John@www.malaysiakini.com

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The Stone Age Melayu Extremists

The word ‘Malay’ is an English etymological word and not a ‘Melayu’ one. I do not think I am wrong; unless some linguist tells me so from the field of hermeneutics as to why.

Therefore, my conclusive argument is that Malaya, and Malaysia, are both at root, English words; exactly as it is with the original language of our Federal Constitution. The Colonials did not negotiate and agree, negotiate terms, phrases, and concerns, in the Melayu language.

Therefore, for one example, when a retired Chief Judge after 10 years of retirement suddenly finds wisdom from his faith concerns, and speaks non-sense from his interpretive view and logic of Islamic thought and life; he demonstrated complete ignorance about our constitutional history.

In fact, The Star did publish my protest about the same as a letter to the editor. Please find it here.

‘Truth Matters’ is the location of my grave concerns and issues. I have consequentially branded that a Public Group on Facebook.

Allow me now to push such truth issues and concerns against our ‘so-called power-elites as my Tomahawk missiles’ against perceived wrongdoing. That letter is my public interest protest that such interpretations are totally wrong.

Ours is a public-interest-serving public service and never a presidentially-appointed one; even as Turkey appears to be moving towards that American model of executive power and authority,our parliamentary heritage is English.

Abused ‘Allah’ word

In a similar vein of equally deranged logic, the ‘Allah’ word is now declared an illegal ‘Malay word’ for Malaysians to abuse. That policy, too, fails the test of Logic 101 of the Malaysian constitution truths or what I will now brand as MyConstitution. I started a Twitter account to address Hashtag My Problem to speak MyConstitution issues.

I am philosophically angry; or, actually I am simply tired of this mainstream culture of ‘cheating, stealing and lying’, happening very much within current modern Melayu interpretations of the Federal Constitution which is increasingly becoming mainstream, too, unless the Judiciary refuses to collude.

My honest question to every other true blue Malaysian citizen is: are we not truly Malaysians of the middle moderate variety, or are we really only closet modern extremists. I had sought to define that phrase of modern extremists in my previous Malaysiakini column. Please review it here.

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My greatest fear is that the current UMNO-PAS illegitimate alliance premised upon PAS history is currently pegged in both; fake or false facts within their ‘PAS Baru dreams’; but, fully without the values of Tok Guru Nik Aziz Nik Mat. The Donald Trump White House, too, adheres to similar models of deception and we are merely following fake culture and values.

Such a complete disregard for rationality and common sense (or Logic 101) is also now part and parcel of Malaysian political culture, ethics, and morality. I find that troubling. It will surely become ‘Malaysian shame’ or ‘malu’; for posterity. Four-letter words can quite easily become a curse.

For anyone trained within the paradigm of Logic 101; it is natural and normal to challenge questionable assumptions about most general theories of life. Moreover, it is completely unacceptable that money be deployed as a means to buy such human loyalties. The ultimate truth is that we do each have to finally answer to an Almighty Being.

UMNO-PAS alliance over 1MDB?

There are many rumours floating and circulating about how the eyes, heart, and loyalties of PAS leadership-followership to Ustaz Abdul Hadi Awang; for not questioning and challenging the public narrative about 1MDB and monies deposited into the PM’s private bank account.

A recent report factually laid bare all these ‘so-called intricacies for any normal human being to understand, if one is serious enough and truly concerned’. The picture below records the cover of the report and findings launched by C4 recently.

 

As an ex-public servant, it seems obvious that other eyes, and maybe mouths were equally strategically shut; that is. those of the former Attorney-General, the former Malaysian Anti Corruption Commission (MACC) Chief Commissioner, and then the former Auditor-General. Other loyalties are allegedly also being bought as we speak.

Why did these public servants choose to keep quiet about matters of facts and truths; unless they were threatened or made fearful about some unstated or imagined unintended consequences.

My Policy Question about neutrality of Public Service

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Hamsa Ali–The First Mamak Head of the Malaysian “Blue Ocean”” Civil Service

Therefore, my public question to the current Chief Secretary is: how can you also close one eye to all such factual wrongdoing by public personnel who deny the principle of political and partisan neutrality?

You are Secretary to the Cabinet of Malaysia and therefore CEO to the entire cabinet. If the PM is considered the chairperson of the board, then the cabinet are his board members. Please review this photo and quote from Abdul Razak Hussein, our second PM and the man who oversaw overcoming strategies caused by the May 13 riots in 1969 said everything for the purposes of my question to you.

The quote above and its meaning are lucid and clear enough but my question is: why are most Melayu moderate middle class urbans unable to see through all such false and fake public narratives by the mainstream media?


KJ JOHN, PhD, was in public service for 32 years having served as a researcher, trainer, and policy adviser to the International Trade and Industry Ministry and the National IT Council (NITC) of the government of Malaysia. The views expressed here are his personal views and not those of any institution he is involved with. Write to him at kjjohn@ohmsi.net with any feedback or views.

“Making It”: The Book That Scandalized the New York Intellectuals


April 26, 2017

May 1, 2017 Issue

“Making It”: The Book That Scandalized the New York Intellectuals

With “Making It,” Norman Podhoretz attempted to craft a sociology of his set—and ended up ostracized from it.

He should have known the book was loaded. Norman Podhoretz started writing “Making It” in 1964. He was thirty-four years old and the editor of Commentary. His idea was to write a book about how people in his world, literary intellectuals, were secretly motivated by a desire for success—money, power, and fame—and were also secretly ashamed of it. He offered himself as Exhibit A. By confessing to his own ambition, he would make it safe for others to confess to theirs, and thereby enjoy without guilt the worldly goods their strivings had brought them. As he put it, he would do for ambition what D. H. Lawrence had done for sex. He would make the case for Mammon.

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Norman Podhoretz

Podhoretz was a young man, but he had been in the business for a while. He had published his first piece in Commentary when he was twenty-three, his first piece in Partisan Review when he was twenty-four, and his first piece in The New Yorker when he was twenty-six. He had even published a piece in Scrutiny, the British quarterly edited by F. R. Leavis, a critical Gorgon few could hope to please, when he was just twenty-one. He had been named editor of Commentary at twenty-nine. He was invited to cocktail parties with all the smart people. He hung around with Norman Mailer. Jackie Kennedy was a friend.

Those pieces were all book reviews, actually, and Commentary was a nonprofit monthly, owned by the American Jewish Committee, with a circulation of around forty thousand. But Podhoretz assumed—as, in our own cases, we all tend to assume—that since his accomplishments were supremely gratifying to him, they must rank high in the world’s estimation as well. He suspected—he was certain—that others were envious of his precocity and success, and he was writing the book to explain why he had no reason to pretend humility.

When he finished, he showed the manuscript to mentors, colleagues, and friends. Almost all of them advised him not to publish it. Lionel Trilling told him that it would take ten years for his reputation to recover. Diana Trilling told him that the book was “crudely boastful” and humorless. Daniel Bell told him that it lacked “irony and self-distancing” (cardinal virtues in New York intellectual life back then), and recommended adding three or four pages at the end in which he took it back. His close friend Jason Epstein, an editor at Random House, begged him to throw it out. “If I were God,” Epstein is supposed to have said, “I’d drown it in the river.”

Those who read the manuscript felt little compunction about sharing their reactions with others, and the word of mouth quickly became toxic. Friends of Podhoretz’s started wondering if he had lost his mind. Nearly a year before the book came out, Edmund Wilson noted in his diary that it was one of “the principal subjects of conversation” in New York. “Everyone I saw who had read it thought that it was awful,” he wrote.

Podhoretz’s publisher, Roger Straus, of Farrar, Straus & Giroux, refused to promote the book. Podhoretz’s agent, Lynn Nesbit, said she would no longer represent it. Podhoretz withdrew the book from FSG (handing back the advance) and retained a new agent, Candida Donadio, who managed to sell it to Random House. (Epstein was not involved in the acquisition; it was enthusiastically approved by the head of the company, Bennett Cerf, no stranger to chutzpah.) “Making It” came out at the very end of 1967; a reprint has just been issued by New York Review Books. Trilling was wrong about one thing: ten years was not enough.

With a couple of exceptions, it wasn’t the reviews that hurt the most. The one in the Times was quite positive; the reviewer, Frederic Raphael, called the book “frank and honest . . . a warning and a model.” What hurt the most was the parties. “Parties,” Podhoretz had explained in the book, “always served as a barometer of the progress of my career.” Friends took note, and the invitations stopped coming. Podhoretz underwent what amounted to a ritual shunning. He might as well have worn a scarlet “A,” for “ambition.”

The experience was crushing, and he never got over it. “When I talked to Norman, it was almost as if the whole thing had happened yesterday afternoon,” a reporter for the Times wrote, four years after the book’s publication. “None of the sores had scabbed over.” Four years after that, Podhoretz still sounded dazed. “I was raised intellectually to believe there was something admirable in taking risks . . . but the people who raised me, in effect, punished me whenever I did what I was raised to do,” he complained to another interviewer. “I’ve never quite understood why.”

In 1979, he published a second memoir, “Breaking Ranks,” and devoted several pages to the reception of “Making It.” In 1999, now retired as the editor of Commentary, he published a third memoir, called “Ex-Friends,” and devoted many more pages to the subject. “Making It” was the pivotal episode in Podhoretz’s career.

It also appeared at a pivotal moment in American intellectual life. Intended, naïvely or not, as a celebration of a little-magazine world created largely by the children of immigrants, some of whom had, by 1967, risen triumphantly to a place at the national table—“Jews were culturally all the rage in America,” as Podhoretz put it in the book—“Making It” marked a fissure that would never be healed. It was the end of more than Podhoretz’s social life.

Podhoretz told his story as a combination of Exodus and “Saturday Night Fever”: gifted youth escapes an ethnic cul-de-sac in the outer boroughs and makes it to cosmopolitan Manhattan. In Podhoretz’s case, the promised land was a big apartment on West End Avenue. He called crossing the East River “one of the longest journeys in the world,” and he believed, correctly, that his story was also, more or less, the story of many of the people he hoped would admire the book—people like Bell, the Trillings, and the writers and editors at places like Dissent, The New Leader, Partisan Review, and The New York Review of Books. What he did not imagine was that his version might not be one they wished to be identified with.

As Thomas Jeffers tells us in a scholarly and sympathetic biography, “Norman Podhoretz,” published in 2010, Podhoretz grew up in Brownsville, a neighborhood of Brooklyn that was then equal parts Italians, Jews, and African-Americans recently arrived from the South. Podhoretz’s parents were immigrants from Galicia; his father, Julius, spoke Yiddish and drove a horse-drawn milk truck. Podhoretz went to P.S. 28, where, one day, a teacher asked him what he was doing. “I goink op de stez,” he explained, and was immediately placed in a remedial-speech class. His assimilation had begun.

Little Norman was a natural student—“everyone knew I was the smartest kid in the class,” he says in “Making It”—but he also had an active street life as a member of a “social athletic club” (i.e., gang) called the Cherokees, whose red satin jacket he wore everywhere. (In the book, he is boyishly proud of this part of his past.) At Brooklyn’s Boys High School, where Mailer had also been a student, he was plucked out by a teacher he calls, in “Making It,” Mrs. K. Her real name was Mrs. Haft, and she took on Norman as a Pygmalion project. Her goal was to gentrify him sufficiently to win him a scholarship to Harvard. One of the best bits in “Making It” is Podhoretz’s description of Mrs. K’s disastrous attempt to introduce her teen-age protégé to genteel manners by taking him to lunch in a (non-kosher) restaurant in Manhattan, where he is confronted with some sort of dish involving duck.

Podhoretz did get into Harvard (as did Mailer, who went there), but he also won a Pulitzer scholarship, which was awarded to graduates of New York public schools and covered the costs of attending Columbia. He entered the college at the age of sixteen (commuting from Brooklyn) and took the required great-books course, Literature Humanities. “Possessed,” as he explains, “by something like total recall and a great gift for intellectual mimicry,” he quickly became a star student in Columbia’s famous English Department.

There he attached himself to Trilling, whose major book, “The Liberal Imagination,” came out in 1950, the year Podhoretz graduated. He took away from his Columbia education the belief that being a serious literary critic meant holding in contempt the things that belong to Caesar. “It was at Columbia,” he writes, “that I was introduced to the ethos—destined to grow more and more powerful in the ensuing years—in which success was replacing sex as the major ‘dirty little secret’ of the age.”

Podhoretz was awarded a Kellett, a postgraduate fellowship that, at Columbia, is almost as prestigious as the Rhodes. John Hollander, who graduated from Columbia in the same year, later said that Podhoretz had had his eye on the Kellett even as a freshman. Podhoretz was amazed by his classmates’ reaction. “It was the first time I had ever experienced the poisoning of success by envy,” he says in “Making It.”

He went to Cambridge. He loved it, especially the perks that students there then enjoyed. “There are few things in the world easier to get used to than having lots of space to live in and being called ‘Sir,’ ” he writes. It was at Cambridge that he sought out Leavis. “Soon he was inviting me . . . to the indoctrination sessions, thinly disguised as tea parties, which he and his wife Queenie, a famous critic in her own right, would hold on the lawn of their home every Saturday afternoon,” and it was not long before he scored his big Scrutiny assignment. It was to review “The Liberal Imagination.” In his piece, Podhoretz called Trilling “the most significant American critic now writing.” The “American” was a judicious sop to Leavis.

Podhoretz did some travelling while he was on the fellowship, and, after a visit to Israel, he wrote to Trilling to report his impressions. “They are, despite their really extraordinary accomplishments, a very unattractive people, the Israelis,” he confided. “They’re gratuitously surly and boorish. . . . They are too arrogant and too anxious to become a real honest-to-goodness New York of the East.” Trilling typed these words out and sent them to the editor of Commentary, Elliot Cohen. Cohen had another editor, Irving Kristol, contact Podhoretz about writing a piece, and the connection was made.

This might not seem the obvious way to recommend a new writer to a magazine published by an organization dedicated to the welfare of Jews, and, in “Making It,” Podhoretz leaves out the part about his letter to Trilling. He possibly felt that it suggested a calculation a shade too subtle. For in fact, as Benjamin Balint explains in his history of the magazine, “Running Commentary” (2010), the people around Commentary and the A.J.C. in those days were cool to Zionism. (By the time “Making It” came out, of course, this had changed.)

It is easy to believe that Podhoretz would not have characterized Israeli Jews in quite those terms if he had not guessed that his observations would meet Trilling’s preconceptions, and if he had not also guessed that a bright young diaspora Jew comfortable in America and skeptical of Zionism might be just the kind of writer Commentary was looking for. If so, he guessed right. His first piece was a review of Bernard Malamud’s novel “The Natural.”

Podhoretz had thoughts about continuing at Cambridge for a Ph.D., and even went back, but an article he submitted to Leavis on Benjamin Disraeli was returned with a classic rejection (mentioned, though not quoted, in “Making It”). “We couldn’t print anything that did so little more than a hundred or two readers of Scrutiny could do impromptu,” Leavis told him. Podhoretz read this, not inaccurately, as “You don’t belong,” and he returned to the United States, where he was duly drafted. He served two years. (Interestingly, in the light of his later views, he is completely contemptuous of military life and culture in “Making It.”) When he was discharged, in December, 1955, he started working as an editor at Commentary.

Elliot Cohen was hospitalized with severe depression, and the magazine was being run by two men referred to in “Making It” only as The Boss. In real life, they were the art critic Clement Greenberg and his brother Martin. The Greenbergs belittled and abused Podhoretz. He had a hard time managing his resentment, and, by 1958, he was out. He got involved in a couple of short-lived publishing ventures with Epstein that didn’t pay off. The New Yorker had dropped him, without explanation, but he had become known as a fearless young critic—“I came to be held by some in almost priestly regard” is his description—and he was able to survive as a freelancer. Then, in 1959, Cohen committed suicide, and the A.J.C. offered Podhoretz the job.

Friends advised him not to accept, some of them making disparaging remarks about the magazine which he unwisely printed, with attribution, in “Making It.” But Podhoretz had few doubts; this was what he had been waiting for. “I’m . . . exhilarated by the possibilities that may now open up for me, and by the power (which is something you can understand as my high-minded friends can’t), and by the money (my income will be more than doubled),” he wrote to the English novelist C. P. Snow, Balint reports.

Podhoretz had spent a decade observing the little-magazine business; he knew what worked and what didn’t; and he transformed Commentary. He fired most of the staff, expanded the letters section (which, for readers of intellectual journalism, can be as addictive as crossword puzzles or cartoons), stopped publishing poetry, and got rid of the remnants of Yiddishkeit. As one contributor put it, he removed the mezuzahs from all the doors. He made Commentary what Cohen and the Greenbergs had tried but failed to make it: a magazine for every educated reader, run by Jews.

Podhoretz understood how magazine writing works—his account in “Making It” of what it is like to write a magazine piece, and not only for magazines like Commentary, is the best that I have ever read—and he was a talented editor. He turned down the seminal document of the New Left, the Port Huron Statement, but he serialized Paul Goodman’s “Growing Up Absurd,” which is now almost unreadable but which at the time was received as an important diagnosis of contemporary life. Podhoretz’s own politics were liberal. He loved Kennedy; he opposed the war in Vietnam. He was in synch with the highbrow readership of the day.

He was invited to be co-editor, with Jason Epstein’s wife, Barbara, of The New York Review of Books when it was launched, in 1963, but he told them the salary was too low. (“Thank God,” Barbara later said.) He continued to write, and he was disappointed when critical praise for a collection of his pieces, “Doings and Undoings,” published in 1964, was not unmitigated. “I had been dreaming that the appearance of the book would become the occasion for a general proclamation of my appointment to the office of ‘leading young critic in America,’ ” he admits in “Making It”; “instead it became the occasion for several people to present me with the first installments of the bill for all those glorious years when everyone had been on my side.” But the nineteen-sixties was a boom time for magazines, and Commentary thrived. By 1968, its circulation was up to sixty-four thousand. That was the year the bomb went off.

There are two ways to understand the reaction to “Making It.” One has to do with the politics (small “p”), and the other has to do with the merits. Politically, Podhoretz did an unfathomably stupid thing. The reason that people like Jason Epstein and Lionel Trilling argued so strenuously against publishing the book—Diana Trilling reported taking Podhoretz and his wife out to dinner on a trip to Berlin in 1967 to make one final plea—was not, or not only, that they were concerned for the reputation of their friend and protégé. It was that their own names appear all through it.

It seems not to have dawned on Podhoretz that he was not only writing about himself; he was telling stories about people he worked and socialized with. People do not like to read about themselves in someone else’s book, and this goes double for writers. Writers are control freaks engaged in what is, among other things, a business of self-presentation. If they are in a story, they want to be the ones to tell that story. No one would have understood this better than Podhoretz, but somehow it failed to register when he was showing his book around.

Image result for lionel trillingLionel Trilling

Even worse, at the same time that he was confessing to his own ambition, he was implicitly accusing his friends and colleagues of hiding theirs. In the brief acknowledgments section, Podhoretz thanks Lionel Trilling, who, he says, “has taught me more than he or I ever realized—though not, I fear, precisely what he would have wanted me to learn.” This reads pretty clearly as a suggestion that Trilling, too, was a suck-up who wrote literary criticism in the hope of getting invited to a party with Jackie Kennedy. You can see why Trilling was not eager for Podhoretz’s memoir to see the light of day.

And not only Trilling. “Making It” is a book about what Podhoretz, borrowing the term from Murray Kempton, calls the Family—the writers and editors, mostly but not exclusively Jewish, who dominated the New York intellectual scene in the decades after the war. It is as their proud product that Podhoretz presents himself, and he obviously hoped to retain the approval of these people, as he had done so often in the past, by daring to write something they were afraid to write. He believed that they would admire his courage, recognize the justice of his account, forgive any indiscretions he may have committed, and, freed at last from a stifling hypocrisy, embrace him and the book. Many writers have tried this kind of thing. It never works.

On the merits, the idea that English professors, magazine writers, and intellectuals generally are consciously competing for various types of worldly recognition, and that success in those lines of work requires some awareness of the contours of the playing field, is noncontroversial today. As with members of any profession—rock stars, concert pianists, Olympic athletes, even politicians—there is an implicitly observed and tacitly enforced distinction between what counts as success and what counts as selling out. (In no profession does owning an apartment on West End Avenue constitute selling out.) There is a sociology of intellectual life. Podhoretz’s mistake was to overgeneralize from his own experience.

This is often the flaw in his writing. His most talked-about early piece, “My Negro Problem––and Ours,” published in 1963, an essay about coming to terms with “the hatred I still feel for Negroes,” is based entirely on observations of the young African-American men he encountered as a teen-ager on the streets of Brooklyn or, later, on the sidewalks of the Upper West Side. From these experiences, he is able to conclude that African-Americans are characterized by “superior physical grace and beauty . . . They are on the kind of terms with their own bodies that I should like to be on with mine.” As usual, the root of the problem is envy. The solution? Intermarriage: “I believe that the wholesale merging of the two races is the most desirable alternative for everyone concerned.”

As a personal reflection, “My Negro Problem” is compelling. As a take on the problem of race in the United States, it is ridiculous. For Podhoretz, though, as he confesses in “Making It,” the real significance of the essay was that, by publishing it, he was putting the reputation he had struggled to achieve on the line—and his reputation only got better! (Goodman, however, did tell him he needed to see a therapist.) He called the essay “certainly the best piece of writing I had ever done.” Something like this was his hope for “Making It”: that it would be received as “my ambition problem—and ours.”

The reaction to the book changed Podhoretz’s life. He started looking for academic positions, and he began drinking when he was at home alone, almost a fifth of Jack Daniel’s a day, his stepdaughter later told Jeffers. He had a contract to write a book on the nineteen-sixties—he had hated the Beats, and he regarded the counterculture as the legacy of the Beats—and he went to Yaddo, the writers’ colony in Saratoga Springs, where he had written much of “Making It,” to work on it. Writers’ colonies are not where you ideally want to be if you have a drinking problem. One day, a fellow-colonist, the critic Kenneth Burke, told Podhoretz that he needed to straighten out. So Podhoretz got in his car and drove, a little under the influence, to a farmhouse he had bought in Delaware County, and it was there, in the early spring of 1970, that he had a vision.

As he told the story to Jeffers, he had finished his writing for the day. He was walking outside, carrying a Martini and feeling content, when it happened. “I saw physically, in the sky, though it was obviously in my head, a kind of diagram that resembled a family tree. And it was instantly clear to me that this diagram contained the secret of life and existence and knowledge: that you start with this, and you follow to that. It all had a logic of interconnectedness.” Not quite Allen Ginsberg’s “Sunflower Sutra,” but strangely close. The vision lasted thirty seconds, and when it was over Podhoretz realized what the diagram was telling him: “Judaism was true.” He did not mean the ethical teachings of Judaism; he meant Judaic law. He vowed to change his life.

To all appearances, he did. He stopped drinking, he began interrogating friends about their spiritual condition, and he transformed Commentary again, this time into the scourge of left-wing permissivism and progressivism. The magazine attacked feminism; it attacked homosexuality; it attacked affirmative action. In 1972, Podhoretz wrote a column that effectively announced the new editorial policy. Its title was “Is It Good for the Jews?” He did not mean it ironically. It was exactly the mentality that Cohen and his successors, including Podhoretz I, had been trying to get away from.

Old friends stopped speaking to Podhoretz and old contributors dropped away. They were replaced by a new stable of hawks and neoconservatives: Joseph Epstein, Edward Luttwak, Michael Ledeen, William Bennett, Elliott Abrams (who married one of Podhoretz’s stepdaughters). Podhoretz adopted a new test of his own importance: the celebrity of the people he was no longer speaking to. “It’s important to have enemies,” he once told Cynthia Ozick, “because everything depends on the kind of enemies you have.” (Ozick was a little taken aback.)

In 1972, Podhoretz voted for Richard Nixon in the Presidential election. He voted for Jimmy Carter four years later, but called it “the worst political mistake of my life.” Ronald Reagan was his political messiah, and he believed that Commentary had something to do with his election. “People like us made Reagan’s victory,” he proclaimed in 1983. By 1990, subscriptions were down to twenty-nine thousand, and the magazine was obliged to raise money in order to keep going. It was legally separated from the A.J.C. in 2007.

Podhoretz developed his own interpretation of the reaction to “Making It”: he decided that he was praising the pleasures of success in America, and that his critics were America haters. This doesn’t correspond to what most of the reviewers actually said, but the book did appear at a politically fractious moment, during the height of agitation against the war in Vietnam. Although Podhoretz had been an early opponent of the war, he feared and despised the main active ingredient in the antiwar movement, the New Left.

Image result for the new york intellectuals

The New Left was a problem for the Family. The Family was Old Left turned liberal anti-Communist. The New Left was cavalier about Communism, it was hostile to liberalism, and it was hugely disrespectful of the engine of social mobility that had carried so many members of the Family out of Egypt, the university. And the identity-based movements that emerged after 1965—the women’s movement and black separatist movements like the Panthers—seemed to threaten a crucial value for diaspora Jews, cosmopolitanism. After 1965, if you were a white, male, anti-Communist, and integrationist liberal, Jew or Gentile, whose side were you on? The question split what used to be called the liberal left, and that political-intellectual coalition has never been put back together. The fact that the Podhoretzes stopped being invited to Manhattan cocktail parties was not the cause of the split. But it was a symptom.

The New York intellectual community Podhoretz grew up in was compulsively internecine. Its members were like cats in a bag. They thrived on—they got off on—the narcissism of small differences. People at a magazine with a circulation of ten thousand were more interested in what people at a magazine with a circulation of twenty thousand were saying about Communism than they were in what the President of the United States was saying about it. Life with the Family was like a Thanksgiving dinner from hell. This is why little magazines are little.

In this tiny cosmos, Podhoretz was therefore in the awkward position of being reviewed by people he knew in magazines run by people he knew. Two reviews of “Making It” were especially galling. One was in The New York Review of Books. The reviewer was Edgar Z. Friedenberg, a sociologist, whose piece was not exactly a strike at the jugular; it was mainly focussed on sounding dismissive. Podhoretz was annoyed by it because he had reason to believe that he had “discovered” Friedenberg for Commentary, and now his own writer was condescending to him in someone else’s pages.

Podhoretz assumed that Jason Epstein was behind that review, and he made sure that Epstein’s (rather good) book on the trial of the Chicago Seven, “The Great Conspiracy Trial,” published in 1970, was solemnly lacerated in Commentary by a professor at Yale Law School. The New York Review became a regular punching bag at Commentary, and Podhoretz and Epstein began a feud that was soon made the subject of a long article in the Times Magazine and that is not over yet. (Both men are still with us. It’s amusing that the reprint of “Making It” is from the publishing arm of the Review.)

Podhoretz had better reason to resent the piece that ran in Partisan Review. Mailer was the critic. He had read some of the manuscript and had told Podhoretz how much he admired it, but the piece in Partisan Review was a put-down. Most of the reviews had already come out, and Mailer did his readers a favor by quoting several of the nastiest. (The New Leader had called the book “a career expressed as a matchless 360-page ejaculation,” a phrase Mailer liked so much he quoted it twice.) He summed the book up as “a blunder of self-assertion, self-exposure, and self-denigration.” It failed, Mailer said, because it didn’t go far enough. Podhoretz had pulled his punches. He should have called out the Family as a bunch of second-raters who were terrified of being exposed. But he was nice to everyone.

Podhoretz was right to rank this as a betrayal. He had known Mailer since 1957, when they met at a party at Lillian Hellman’s, and they had been close friends. He had stood by Mailer through many difficult times. In 1960, after Mailer stabbed and nearly killed his wife during a party in their apartment, Podhoretz was one of the first people he sought out, and he accompanied Mailer to the police station for booking.

Podhoretz had even paid homage to Mailer in the final pages of “Making It.” Mailer had already written a book like “Making It,” Podhoretz admitted; this was “Advertisements for Myself.” That book had come out in 1959, when Mailer was at a low point; it attacked, by name and with Mailer’s special gift for invective, several prominent book publishers and many of Mailer’s contemporaries; and it relaunched Mailer’s career. Podhoretz called it “one of the great works of confessional autobiography in American literature,” and concluded his book by saying he hoped that “Making It” would be appreciated as a similarly bold literary act.

Image result for Norman Mailer

Norman Mailer

By 1968, when Mailer wrote his review of “Making It,” his career was at its peak. He had just finished “The Armies of the Night,” which was published in May and which won him his first Pulitzer Prize. That book, a nonfiction account of Mailer’s participation in an antiwar march in Washington, was serialized in two magazines. The first half was published in Harper’s, where Mailer’s editor was Midge Decter, who happens to be Mrs. Norman Podhoretz. The second half was published in Commentary.

Many years later, Mailer was asked why he had turned on his friend. He said that he thought that the rest of the book didn’t live up to the promise of the pages he had read in manuscript. Then why hadn’t he recused himself? The reason, Mailer said, was that he was angry at Podhoretz for not inviting him to a party that Jackie Kennedy was expected to attend. Not the classiest excuse, but at least the punishment fit the crime.