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What ails ‘The Nation’?

Abolitionists’ magazine in US has gone topsy-turvy on Russia, India and Jews, Hindus; hogged headlines for its toxic work culture


Is US based weekly magazine ‘The Nation’ swinging wild, unpredictable and swayed by its beliefs on issues ignoring facts and realities?


The drift from practicing classical liberalism to far Left and then to spread of Hinduphobia seems pretty obvious in this ‘new avatar’ of ‘The Nation’. A cursory analysis of its news packaging and opinion pages over years demonstrate radical change in the classical liberalism based discourse that it was once known for.

‘The Nation’ has come under close scrutiny more than once in recent past due to its intransigence and lack of sensitivity towards its readers’ preferences and sensitivities. Toxic work environment and charges of sexual harassment within the editorial organization also became the media fodder.

From pursuing anti-Semitism, coverage of Russia to peddling false narratives about India and Hindu culture apart from top deck changes in editorial leadership has brought the magazine to focus for unenviable reasons.

This downslide of ‘The Nation’ has not happened in a jiffy. Way back in 2015, the publication had to offer an unqualified apology for having written a stinging piece against Senator Bernie Sanders. The Senator with Jewish origin was targeted for his stance on Israel.

The Nation’ and its editorial board seem to have not learnt its lessons from this unsavoury episode. Otherwise, it would not have committed another flip flop down the line. In an article, the magazine had demonized Jews by drawing a comparison of Israeli policies towards Palestinians with the Holocaust which was crass. While ‘The Nation’ management brazened out accusations of promoting anti-sematic ideas, it denied any wrong doing on its part.

These were not just a couple of instances where ‘The Nation’ bungled on its editorial waywardness. In 2014, the magazine published an essay by filmmaker Oliver Stone and historian Peter Kuznick that held United States responsible for the rise of ISIS, Islamic State. It kicked up a row and was widely booed as its conspiracy theory was regarded as misguided and unfounded.

It’s not just the editorial inconsistency that ‘The Nation’ came to be known for. The media company came to limelight after its personnel complained of toxic atmosphere and sexual predation.

In 2017, a former intern at The Nation accused contributing editor Stephen F. Cohen of sexually harassing her during a trip to Russia. The magazine investigated and forced to sever its ties with Cohen. The incident raised broader questions about sexual harassment in American media and journalistic fraternity as well.

Close on the heels were several women charging then literary editor, Leon Wieseltier of sexual harassment. The accusations, which were detailed in a report by the magazine\’s ombudsman included claims that Wieseltier had made inappropriate comments and touched women without their consent. Wieseltier was again forced out from The Nation.

Even as ‘The Nation’ struggled to smart after these insidious incidents, in 2019 yet another explicitly work place issue hit the publication. Its poetry editor Stephanie Burt resigned from her position after being accused of sexual harassment by a former student. The student alleged that Burt had engaged in years of inappropriate behaviour including sending sexually explicit messages, touching her without her consent. Burt denied the allegations but resigned from The Nation shortly after these came into public domain.

About a year later, several former interns at The Nation wrote an open letter alleging that they had experienced sexual harassment and misconduct while working at the magazine. The letter published in ‘The Cut’, detailed several instances of harassment by senior staff members including unwanted touching and comments about their appearance. The Nation\’s then editor, Katrina vanden Heuvel, apologized to the former interns and announced that the magazine would be conducting an investigation into these allegations. Not much was known on the outcome of this probe.

While sex scandals made ‘The Nation’ a talking point, its stand on Russia and India apart from changes in editorial leadership turned the magazine into a rag pick.

In 2018, through an article by Aaron Maté, ‘The Nation’ challenged reports relating to Russian interference in the presidential elections of US. The article argued that evidence on Russian involvement was weak and it was distracting the people from issues like role of money in politics. The article led the publication into a controversy with some of its readers accusing it of promoting Russian propaganda.[i]

In 2019, the magazine published yet another article written by James Carden who argued that US should improve its relationship with Russia. It contended that US was too quick to demonize Russia, this could help ease tensions and promote stability. But, some readers argued to the contrary and pointed out that Russia was a security threat and that US should take a more confrontational stance.

On India, ‘The Nation’ reportage has been completely off the mark, one sided and promoted Hinduphobia. For instance, in a write up headlined ‘India’s Press Crackdown: The Silencing of Journalists in Kashmir’, little known author Suchitra Vijayan failed to flag key issues confronting people in Kashmir valley.

The write up was silent on dubious role played by Pakistan’s security establishment, its dirty tricks department, ISI and funding radical islamists leading to spread of radicalism in a few areas of Kashmir valley. Instead, ‘The Nation’ targeted Indian government’s handling of terror modules in the valley.[ii] ‘The Nation’ seems to have forgotten the widely agreed position that terror has no colour, creed, gender, region and religion.

Again, in 2020, the magazine gave its forum to one, Ahmed bin Qasim who wrote a piece, ‘Delhi Is on Fire and My Kashmiri Parents Are in Prison’.  Qasim argued that Indian government\’s crackdown in the valley was part of a broader campaign to suppress dissent and promote Hindu nationalism in India. The article argued that Hindu nationalism led to authoritarianism in India thereby hate crimes against minorities. The article portrayed a false fearful image of Indian minorities.[iii]

These were not isolated instances of ‘Hinduphobic’ stand that The Nation’ pushed. In 2019, a write up titled, \”India: Intimations of an Ending\” written by anti-India activist and self-proclaimed Left liberal Arundhati Roy appeared.

Arundhati’s antipathy for India, Hindus, BJP and Narendra Modi government are known. And, she argued that Modi government is pursuing a \”project of exclusion\” that targets Muslims and other marginalized communities in India.

She cited revocation Article 370 as curbing Kashmir\’s autonomy and implementation of National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam as examples of this exclusionary project. ‘The Nation’ and its author seem to have conveniently ignored the fact that minorities especially Muslims that total to over 210 million, second largest chunk in the world have actually prospered over the years.

Credibility of ‘The Nation’ founded by abolitionists seems to have taken a beating as it got itself associated with undesirable movements and issues.

The last straw perhaps was stepping down of Katrina vanden Heuvel who served ‘The Nation’ as editor-in-chief for more than 25 years. Her departure was followed by controversy over the magazine’s leadership and financial stability as well.




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