Sam Tanenhaus: Let the Cheap Sensationalism Continue

Have you heard the latest from Sam Tanenhaus’s dismal literary tabloid? Writers should be pilloried for writing the sentence “Men are rats.” It’s an absolute scandal. Toni Bentley, presumably recruited because this offered the boys another opportunity to pump her for more thoughts on posterior probings, proceeds to characterize Katha Pollitt’s latest book as another volume in “[g]roaning and moaning from clever, sassy women.” After spending three paragraphs attacking the right of intelligent women to write about being burned by men (in a remarkably sexist term of art, Bentley characterizes these women as “vagina dentata intellectualis”), while failing to point out precisely where Pollitt went wrong in her work. Four paragraphs into the review, we still have no explicit quote from the book that will support Bentley’s thesis, but we do have this extraordinary sentence:

It’s hard to tell if she’s coming into her own, trying to sell more books or has lost it entirely.

I don’t see how speculating upon the mental health or financial motivations of a writer offers any thoughtful insight into a book. It’s clear enough that Bentley hated the book. I get that. Pollitt is a polarizing figure. But as a reviewer, does not Bentley have the obligation to tell us why specific passages reflect what she perceives as inadequacies? Instead, Bentley merely summarizes some of the essays and spends most of her review offering limp wisecracks. (“Not being in drowning mode, I, for one, am bringing a cliché-proof life jacket to the party.”)

It is stupendously irresponsible to take a sentence like “Men are rats” and not provide any additional journalistic context to offer us a few clues about what Pollitt was writing about. In publishing such a piece, it seems evidently clear that Sam Tanenhaus has no interest in examining social issues with any degree of maturity. It is bad enough that he would resort to cheap sensationalism. But it is the act of a thug to permit a piece that would attack Pollitt’s character rather than her words.

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