Ben Smith Questions Andrew Sullivan’s Troubling Views on Race in Latest NYT Column

A thorough reckoning with Sullivan's work and influence

Andrew Sullivan
Andrew Sullivan in 2014.
T.J. Kirkpatrick/Getty Images

Writer and editor Andrew Sullivan has had a summer in the spotlight, with the announcement of his departure from New York magazine and the subsequent news that he was reviving his old blog, The Dish, via Substack. As 2020 has involved an extended national conversation on race and representation, it’s not surprising that Sullivan’s own thoughts on race have been hotly debated.

Some of this relates to Sullivan’s time editing The New Republic in the 1990s when he opted to publish an excerpt from Charles Murray’s The Bell Curve. (For those unfamiliar with the controversy over said book, here’s a concise explanation.) In a 2014 essay, Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote that “the Bell Curve episode is remarkable for how well it fits with the rest of TNR’s history.”

Media columnist Ben Smith’s latest article at The New York Times serves as a kind of reckoning with Sullivan’s legacy. “[Sullivan] finds himself now on the outside, most of all, because he cannot be talked out of views on race that most of his peers find abhorrent,” Smith writes. “I know, because I tried.”

Among the issues that Smith raises is a recent edition of Sullivan’s newsletter, in which Sullivan addressed unrest in the nation’s cities. “If one party supports everything I believe in but doesn’t believe in maintaining law and order all the time and everywhere, I’ll back a party that does,” Sullivan wrote. He drew more criticism for his assertion later that “if liberals do not defend order, fascists will.”

Smith’s article cites the influence that Sullivan’s style has had on American political writing, even from writers who have publicly disagreed with Sullivan on a host of points. But he also addresses Sullivan’s troubling handling of race over the years — something which makes Sullivan’s current return to blogging (of a sort) far less than surprising.

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