Monday, January 07, 2013

How Corrupt Is Corrupt?


If the 2012 republication by McSweeney’s of Tom Bissell’s attack essay against the Underground Literary Alliance was the continuation of a vendetta by McSweeney’s against the Underground Literary Alliance, the Oxford American review of Bissell’s book by Johannes Lichtman takes the feud one step farther. The review condenses several of Tom Bissell’s misrepresentations and falsehoods into one paragraph at the top of the review for stronger effect.

The intent behind the smear has to be questioned, in that Oxford American editor Roger D. Hodge is Tom Bissell’s long-time friend and patron. They worked together at Harper’s magazine in 1996-97. Bissell has singled out Hodge for thanks in book acknowledgments. Hodge, while a Harper’s editor in the 2000’s, was apparently key in establishing Bissell’s career as an essayist.

Roger Hodge was at the center of questionable behavior while a Harper’s editor—behavior which the ULA covered.

(For an objective look at one of the issues, see this article by Tom Scocca-- Scroll down the page to get to the Centralia fire matter. I covered this story as a follow-up to another possible Harper’s plagiarism issue early in 2005.)

Can we believe that Bissell and Hodge had no role whatsoever in Lichtman’s hatchet job review? Consider the history, then reread Lichtman’s review, which viciously goes after the ULA from the outset:

Tom Bissell won’t answer questions here about his ULA essay—he’s been caught laughing at these posts on Facebook—but he’s apparently not above encouraging more smears, coming from once-reputable sources.

It’s an example of how corrupt the established literary world is now. Once-prestigious literary journals like Oxford American are mere tools to use for the personal settling of scores. To use the Oxford American in this way smears the journal itself as much as it smears the Underground Literary Alliance. Truth, objectivity, and integrity have been trampled.

Is the established literary scene in such shaky shape that it needs to spend a year smearing a writers advocacy group which is no longer active? Esteemed outlets like New York Times, L.A. Review of Books, Kirkus Reviews, and many others have joined in kicking around a whistle-blowing outfit whose crime was exposing cronyism and corruption at the highest levels of the literary scene, involving some of the lit world’s most powerful figures. You don’t do that and easily get away with it—and so the vendetta by the literary establishment against the ULA continues.

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