Select Page

I had my class read “Host” by DFW, which led to some interesting discussion about form and content, as well as the nature of conservative talk radio and coprorate radio as well. Neither my students nor  I knew anything about John Ziegler, the subject of the article, until reading the essay, and some questions came up regarding Wallace’s portrayal of him, particularly around the issue of race and racism. I remember musing in class whether Ziegler had read the 2004 article, and what he thought of it. Well, in response to one of my student’s blogs, someone claiming to be Zeigler ((I have no reason to doubt the identity of the commenter — I just don’t know))  commented and pointed her to an editorial he wrote on his site shortly after Wallace’s suicide.

The editorial is about a tasteless as one can be directly after someone’s death, and actually reinforces my impression of him from DFW’s article. ((to be fair, Ziegler does have a letter to the editor in the Atlantic after the publication of Host, so this isn’t the first time he’s written about this)) He states that he didn’t know who DFW was when he let him shadow him for two months, and now that he’s dead he publishes a vitriolic editorial, apparently because DFW refused to appear on Ziegler’s show after the article was published. He then proceeds to attack DFW’s status as genius and basically speculates that he killed himself out of a fear of not being able to live up to the title. He even insults Infinite Jest, calling it “bloated”, although I would bet he hasn’t read a word of it.

I’m not sure what Ziegler’s motivation is, except maybe to warn people not to make a hero out of DFW because he has killed himself (he implies that DFW committed suicide in order to become more famous). I’m not interested in taking the whole editorial apart, as I suspect it is just a shock piece intended to keep Ziegler in the spotlight, and this blog post has probably already given it too much attention. One sentence did strike me, though:

I was a bit miffed at some of the inaccuracies and misrepresentations as well as the lack of any update to the storyline in the piece, but as a conservative you pretty much expect that from someone in academia who is clearly a liberal (after all, everyone in the elite literary world knows that conservatives are not smart enough to be worthy of their ranks and would certainly never attain the lofty level of “genius”).

The twin complaints of many conservatives, including (or perhaps especially) Ziegler, of the “liberal media” and “liberal academia” have always struck me as not only fallacious but strangely overplayed. The former complaint has become so cliche that all conservative commentators have to do is repeat it endlessly without a shred of evidence, and I am afraid that the latter may also attain the status of accepted truth in certain circles if it hasn’t already. So for the next few weeks in class we are going to examine these claims, and try to determine whether there really is a systematic bias in the media and the classroom, and to what extent it matters. Ive got a list of possible readings and discussion topics in mind, but any suggestions are welcome.

Coming up at a later date: my own reflections on political bias in the classroom.