'None of Us Is Simple'

It's probably never easy to publicly assess people whom you've known, and liked, privately. But it's part of the work.

Yesterday I wrote about Michael Kelly. I started off by saying "I didn't know Michael Kelly." I actually don't know a lot of people, and I generally like it that way. One of the perils of this job is you begin to "know people" and this compromises your willingness to strongly and loudly disagree with them. The compromise isn't total, and one of the things I know that we've tried to do here (especially Conor, Jim, Jeff and myself) is fight publicly. Maybe we don't always do it as much as we should. But it is a value we hold.


I don't want to speak for anyone else, but the danger of becoming a "Serious Person" lingers in the back of mind. And so I keep my distance from certain scenes.  But sometimes knowing someone actually allow you to say something deeper, and more insightful, something you coud not know without proximity. 

In that spirit, I would encourage you to read Jim Fallows' response to my piece (and some other pieces) on Michael Kelly. Here's Jim assessing a truly egregious column Kelly wrote on Al Gore:

Michael's judgment was not merely wrong. It was "dishonest, cheap, low." And it had impact. It is hard now to convey the drumbeat of arguments for the war and also of ridicule and impatience for anyone who lacked war fever. That is what you see in Michael's contemptuous dismissal of Gore. The buildup to the war was probably Christopher Hitchens's worst moment, too, when he was dead-set on the moral rightness of the invasion and intent on demolishing people who disagreed. The two of them, Michael and Christopher, were not the only ones striking this tone, but they were very influential. 

Now, the complication. At just the time Michael was writing those words about Al Gore, he was supporting and trying to improve my cover story, in his own magazine, arguing that we would regret the consequences of invasion for many years to come. None of us is simple.

At first I was thinking that it must be easier to write this sort of thing when the person has passed away. And then I remembered that Jim is, in no way, new to to this challenge. So maybe it's not easier. In fact, it's probably never easy to publicly assess people whom you've known, and liked, privately. But it's part of the work. 
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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