Monday, June 12, 2006

Ultra What?

Song for My Father's, Thomas Sancton’s New Orleans memoir, is well written, and often quite poignant. There was however, one throwaway line I wanted to address separately from the overall very positive review below. As Sancton was being initiated into the world of traditional jazz, he met other jazz pilgrims from Europe, drawn to the Crescent City. Sancton briefly wrote of one:

“Tom Bethell, an Oxford graduate, was a poor trumpet player, but proved to be a better writer, turning out an excellent biography of George Lewis before he moved to Washington and became an ultraconservative political columnist.” (p. 107)

I’ll take Sancton’s word regarding Bethell’s trumpet talent, but the term “ultraconservative” is questionable. For years I read his American Spectator column, and found it smartly written and well within the tradition of American Conservative thought. It might look “ultra” to someone who worked for Time magazine for 22 years, as Sancton has, but its mainstream center-right to most Americans.

There have been countless studies of how often the antique media labels conservatives as “ultra” or “arch” conservatives, and how little they use such adjectives for liberals. Vanity Fair’s Graydon Carter, who blurbed Song of My Fathers, might well be called an ultra or extremist liberal, for casting his lot with the Bush Derangement crowd, but don’t look for such terms in the old media.

Happily, the old media’s leftwing biases matter less and less. It is a new world. In the past, if democrat NY State Comptroller Alan Hevesi would make a comment he would later describe as “beyond dumb” calling for the President to be shot between the eyes, he could count on the media ignoring the story. Same for Francine “You-Don’t-Need-Papers-for-Voting” Busby. Now, the truth will out through the blogosphere. However, a casual line here and there betraying a political bias should not deter readers from enjoying Sancton's elegy for the New Orleans he knew in his youth.