FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Book Critic Censored by San Diego Newspaper

by THOMAS LARSON

Buy a newspaper and censor its content. This seems to be the policy of San Diego developer and multimillionaire Doug Manchester, who last November purchased the city’s largest newspaper and rechristened it, the UT-San Diego. His editor, Jeff Light has been cutting contributor’s voices left and right.Last Christmas, Manchester, a Catholic, published a front-page greeting, citing Jesus Christ as humankind’s biggest influence. When online readers reacted, many by discussing problems with Catholicism, Light didn’t like what he read, so he closed and erased the comments.In March, Light censored a week’s worth of Doonesbury’s cartoon strip, lampooning a Texas law that forces women to have ultrasounds prior to an abortion.

Now I’ve had my own run-in with the Light/Manchester scalpel, a tad more surgically complicated but with the same end—censored.

Earlier this year, UT book editor Lisa Sullivan assigned me to review Capitalist at Large: Reflections of an International Entrepreneur by James Jameson, an autobiography published by the small libertarian Cobden Press, of Apple Valley, California.

For twenty years, I reviewed books for Arthur Salm, the paper’s former book critic, from 1988 – 2005. His policy was to never assign reviews of self-published local authors or small local presses: these weren’t books vetted by good publishing houses. I took this also to mean that if a San Diego author mentioned owners or employees of the newspaper in his or her book, this would be a conflict of interest for the paper.

When I glanced at Jameson’s index, I was surprised to find the name of Doug Manchester mentioned four times. References to him are all glowing.

I emailed Ms. Sullivan, asking why she had chosen this book and me to review. I noted that Salm forbade such self-published local books. She replied, “There’s kind of a long story behind this actually. It wasn’t exactly my choice. I thought it was published by a very small  Libertarian publishing house, but I’m not sure if he [Jameson] owns it.”

Why me? I asked. Because I live in San Diego and am an expert on memoir and autobiography.

I read the book and worked hard on the review. I found Jameson’s autobiography to be poorly conceived and unengaging, too often a list of his triumphs as an international entrepreneur. It is almost entirely self-congratulatory and unreflective, despite the subtitle. It lacks any sense of other people as influences or friends. It is more like an advertisement for libertarian theology than an honest examination of a self, an examination readers expect from memoir, whether focused on the whole life or a portion.

So, in my evaluation, I described the book’s focus—I did cite one or two things I thought worked well and why I wanted to see the author do more of that—and why I judged it a failure. I believe I wrote a good review of a bad book. (Judge for yourself. The piece follows below.)

Soon, Ms. Sullivan called to say that editor Light wouldn’t publish my review because of their “policy,” one Ms. Sullivan said she didn’t know until now they had. “When it’s a local author and the review is negative, we don’t publish it.” Ms. Sullivan said she was sorry. She said it about five times. I realize she is not to blame, and it’s a pity she’s been ensnared. She seems to be stuck between management and writer. (At least she called and didn’t just dash off an email.)

OK, my review is “negative”—a bad book deserves such a notice. But the idea that a local paper should not offend a “local author” is ludicrous. The U-T publishes positive and negative reviews of locals all the time—especially by freelancers who review the symphony, the theater, local bands, and books. Arts coverage at every publication offers critical commentary; it’s one of the main reasons to buy a local paper.

What’s more the U-T editorial board evaluates the city council, the mayor, county supervisors, not to mention the police department, the school board, the port authority, on and on. The paper often critiques such officeholders and agencies and publishes “negative reviews” of what it sees as bad policies.

I objected to Ms. Sullivan that my work was being censored. I said that it wasn’t my “negativity” in the review at issue but the fact, I believe, that I was unflattering to a friend of the owner. She had no comment.

Was my review so truthful or so hurtful that this local author needs to be protected from it? Why? What’s more, must the editor protect his boss from such a “negative” notice about a friend? Was my review even read by Manchester? And most crucial what has happened to the autonomy of an editorial department that is supposed to be free from coercion, actual or feared?

***

Capitalist at Large: Reflections of an International Entrepreneur
James D. Jameson with Christina Murray

A review by Thomas Larson

The successful American businessman manages companies, creates jobs, pushes innovation—and, so says one former CEO, “likes being able to fire people.” Many toil long hours, oversee quality products. Some garner a fair wage; some are absurdly overpaid. A few regard themselves as scouts in the Army of Capitalism, sinking cash and securing debt, usually their own, in emerging world markets. One such high-flying, hands-on investor is James Jameson.

Libertarians will thrill to this autobiography. His audience are those who treasure risk, love horse-trading with smarmy politicians and mafia bosses, and devour industries in outposts where lax regulation rules. Part cheerleader, part salesman, Jameson regularly rings our ears with the commandment: “Capitalism was a system that empowered entrepreneurs, and it was their individual initiative that truly made economies grow.”

Jameson believes he’s been called to find “the formula for a great and successful life.” The journey begins with his boyish enthusiasm for free marketeering: “Visions of heartbreaking oppression and hoped-for freedom marched through my dreams.” Once he grows up, he’ll liberate “the oppressed and godless communists.” Of course, he means, monetarily. With Vietnam, which draft-age Jameson supports, he uses a high lottery number to, like Dick Cheney, field “other priorities.”

Such as a degree from Stanford, after which he launches his business flotilla abroad. First, in Indonesia where, after a $25,000 investment, he “pull[s] out close to $250,000.” Then in Japan, Iran, and Saudi Arabia, later Vietnam, China, and Pakistan, he keeps hunting good buys. In the Imperial Valley, he gambles on soil-detoxification technology, though to succeed he has to bust a nascent labor union. Post-strike, he celebrates by purchasing a painting of “two saluki dogs” “taking down a gazelle while their Arab masters” approach on horseback. He’s the gazelle, he says, a victim of thuggish Teamsters who almost ruined him.

One chapter is given to a stint in Washington as an assistant secretary of commerce for trade development. In boardrooms, he rails against “every company” who hustles government for a handout. He saves taxpayers several million, gets flummoxed by cronyism, and exits quickly, remarking: “My Rolodex, though not my wallet, was richer for my time there.”

In the 1980s, Jameson spins that Rolodex to gain access to the Wild East—Russia and Poland—where he grabs a stake in previously government-owned entities like book publishing. In 2000 he and a delegation visit Fidel Castro, scouting privatized opportunities he believes are due once Cuban socialism expires. Unexpectedly, Jameson tables that message long enough so we hear El Jefe, the man, “lonely for new, fresh conversation,” come alive. It is one of the few moments another point of view is sufficiently aired in the book.

But such a moment vanishes, and its absence typifies the author’s ultra-selective tack. The self-made Jameson is myopically uninterested in the ethics of foreign trade. Nowhere does he ask, Who should regulate international business? The WTO? Why? On whose behalf? Who decrees that Jameson and friends get carte blanche to resources, markets, and the three billion laborers in the world who live on $2.50 a day?

What’s more, the book’s lapses are embarrassing. Though he briefly lionizes his Dad, there’s virtually nothing about wife, children, or friends. Except for liking Castro, he reveals few intimacies, embraces none of workers’ concerns, and, despite the subtitle, attempts no reflection. The book uses scant narrative technique: it’s a resume, 95% exposition. A litany of I did this, I did that. His “spiritual” time-outs are laughable: one week a year he sits in a Swiss abbey in silence, finds solace around altruistic monks, and sneaks into town for hot chocolate.

I wished just once Jameson would acknowledge that while free trade may ignite a country’s productivity, it has widened the divide between rich and poor. Constantly lauding capitalism for harnessing “private self-interest to build the economic pie for everyone,” he ducks stating, for example, that the top 20 percent owns 80 percent of the world’s assets while the bottom 20 percent own 1 percent—and this gap has doubled between 1960 and 2000, effectively Jameson’s tenure.

It’s in the nature of memoir writing that our unguarded selves bubble up whether or not we want them to. When Jameson dramatically declares that there are things “more important than accumulating riches,” one of which is “service to God,” and when he offers no evidence of such service to back up the assertion, I don’t buy it. On the contrary. His autobiography proves that the consequence of cultivating conceit and avarice all of one’s days is to have lived a barely examined life.

Thomas Larson—critic, memoirist, and journalist—is the author of The Saddest Music Ever Written: The Story of Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings” and The Memoir and the Memoirist: Reading and Writing Personal Narrative. He is a staff writer for the San Diego Reader and teaches in the MFA program in creative nonfiction at Ashland University.

More articles by:
May 24, 2016
Sharmini Peries - Michael Hudson
The Financial Invasion of Greece
Jonathan Cook
Religious Zealots Ready for Takeover of Israeli Army
Ted Rall
Why I Am #NeverHillary
Mari Jo Buhle – Paul Buhle
Television Meets History
Robert Hunziker
Troika Heat-Seeking Missile Destroys Greece
Judy Gumbo
May Day Road Trip: 1968 – 2016
Colin Todhunter
Cheerleader for US Aggression, Pushing the World to the Nuclear Brink
Jeremy Brecher
This is What Insurgency Looks Like
Jonathan Latham
Unsafe at Any Dose: Chemical Safety Failures from DDT to Glyphosate to BPA
Binoy Kampmark
Suing Russia: Litigating over MH17
Dave Lindorff
Europe, the US and the Politics of Pissing and Being Pissed
Matt Peppe
Cashing In at the Race Track While Facing Charges of “Abusive” Lending Practices
Gilbert Mercier
If Bernie Sanders Is Real, He Will Run as an Independent
Peter Bohmer
A Year Later! The Struggle for Justice Continues!
Dave Welsh
Police Chief Fired in Victory for the Frisco 500
May 23, 2016
Conn Hallinan
European Union: a House Divided
Paul Buhle
Labor’s Sell-Out and the Sanders Campaign
Uri Avnery
Israeli Weimar: It Can Happen Here
John Stauber
Why Bernie was Busted From the Beginning
James Bovard
Obama’s Biggest Corruption Charade
Joseph Mangano – Janette D. Sherman
Indian Point Nuclear Plant: It Doesn’t Take a Meltdown to Harm Local Residents
Desiree Hellegers
“Energy Without Injury”: From Redwood Summer to Break Free via Occupy Wall Street
Lawrence Davidson
The Unraveling of Zionism?
Patrick Cockburn
Why Visa Waivers are Dangerous for Turks
Robert Koehler
Rethinking Criminal Justice
Lawrence Wittner
The Return of Democratic Socialism
Ha-Joon Chang
What Britain Forgot: Making Things Matters
John V. Walsh
Only Donald Trump Raises Five “Fundamental and Urgent” Foreign Policy Questions: Stephen F. Cohen Bemoans MSM’s Dismissal of Trump’s Queries
Andrew Stewart
The Occupation of the American Mind: a Film That Palestinians Deserve
Nyla Ali Khan
The Vulnerable Repositories of Honor in Kashmir
Weekend Edition
May 20, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Rob Urie
Hillary Clinton and Political Violence
Andrew Levine
Why Not Hillary?
Paul Street
Hillary Clinton’s Neocon Resumé
Chris Floyd
Twilight of the Grifter: Bill Clinton’s Fading Powers
Eric Mann
How We Got the Tanks and M-16s Out of LA Schools
Jason Hirthler
The West’s Needless Aggression
Dan Arel
Why Hillary Clinton’s Camp Should Be Scared
Robert Hunziker
Fukushima Flunks Decontamination
David Rosen
The Privatization of the Public Sphere
Margaret Kimberley
Obama’s Civil Rights Hypocrisy
Chris Gilbert
Corruption in Latin American Governments
Pete Dolack
We Can Dream, or We Can Organize
Dan Kovalik
Colombia: the Displaced & Invisible Nation
Jeffrey St. Clair
Fat Man Earrings: a Nuclear Parable
Medea Benjamin
Israel and Saudi Arabia: Strange Bedfellows in the New Middle East
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail