Is Being Controversial More Important Than Being Right?

Dinesh D'Souza's new book, which is being skewered by both the left and the right, probably won't hurt his career in punditry.

Conservative writer Dinesh D’Souza has made a career of poking a stick in the eye of liberals, and he’s done pretty well for himself by doing so. The author of seven books and the current Rishwain Fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, he has appeared on major news and opinion programs like Nightline and the O’Reilly Factor, and has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and the Atlantic Monthly. In short, he’s been given a platform that most journalists, intellectuals and writers wish they had.

He’s also been much in the news as of late, due to his smarmy new book (we haven’t read it, and won’t, but its thrust has been well-documented by both D’Souza and others), “The Enemy at Home: The Cultural Left and Its Responsibility for 9/11.”

D’Souza makes the argument that we can blame the American left for the attacks of 9/11, and that the left’s “allies in Congress, the media, Hollywood, the nonprofit sector and the universities are the primary cause of the volcano of anger toward America that is erupting from the Islamic world…without the cultural left, 9/11 would not have happened.”

He also argues that the left “is allied with some radical Muslims in opposition to American foreign policy.” What’s more, he thinks American conservatives should distance themselves from the baser aspects of American popular culture and “join the Muslims and others in condemning the global moral degeneracy that is produced by liberal values.”

Just for fun, he also refers to Osama bin Laden as “a quiet, well-mannered, thoughtful, eloquent and deeply religious person.” Right, and Hitler was a health nut and patron of the arts.

The reaction has been swift and appropriately harsh. Alan Wolfe, writing in the New York Times on Sunday, called D’Souza “a childish thinker” and termed his book “a national disgrace, a sorry example of a publishing culture more concerned with the sensational than the sensible.” Warren Bass, writing recently in the Washington Post, called it “the worst nonfiction book about terrorism published by a major house since 9/11,” concluding that “this dim, dishonorable book isn’t worth it.”

And if you think that the “liberal MSM” is simply piling on a conservative writer, consider what the conservative Powerline blog had to say. They write that the Times’ Wolfe “expresses the revulsion I feel reading D’Souza’s book. I would add that it’s the worst book I’ve ever read by a writer whose work I have previously respected.” Dean Barnett, writing on the conservative Hugh Hewitt’s blog, claims to have found the book “intellectually obtuse, poorly informed and, most importantly, an irresponsible exercise in putatively conservative bomb-throwing.”

After all this, one might think that D’Souza’s day cashing checks for writing for the mainstream media would be over, right? Or there might at least be a pause, as editors mulled over having D’Souza’s name associated with their publication. Wrong. Controversy sells, and just as Ann Coulter has continued to spew her nonsensical bile on television, and Michael Moore manages to waddle onto a major op-ed page every now and again, D’Souza’s publisher, Doubleday, apparently didn’t have a problem with D’Souza’s absurd and factually challenged utterances. (The above-mentioned reviews fact-check D’Souza damningly well.)

Despite this, D’Souza remains in pretty good company when it comes to access to the mainstream media. In the past week, D’Souza has written op-eds for USA Today, the Los Angeles Times and the Philadelphia Inquirer, and, as we mentioned, has had his book reviewed in the Times and the Post, never mind how damning those reviews were. That’s not a bad 10-day run as far as branding goes.

As Radar recently pointed out, the pundits who populate our nation’s op-ed pages, opinion magazines and television screens are starting to seem like a tired lot, especially since most of the big names who got Iraq so wrong are still working, and have actually seen their careers surge as a reward for blowing it. Radar’s Jebediah Reed wondered if “since political pundits…play such a central role in our national decision-making process, maybe something is amiss in the world of punditry.”

If being consistently wrong (ahem, Charles Krauthammer, ahem) is a sure sign of moving up in the world of high-paid punditry, and if there seems to be no penalty for publishing complete nonsense, then D’Souza’s latest book can only be seen as a shrewd career move. The funny thing is, in writing such a weakly argued, hate-filled book, D’Souza is merely darkening the cultural waters that he spends so many (profitable) pages skewering.

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Paul McLeary is senior editor of Defense Technology International magazine, and is a former CJR staffer.