Was This House Worth Her Life?: Eli Sanders reports from the Gaza Strip on the death of Olympia’s Rachel Corrie.

With this long, well-written, and unsentimental news feature, which anchors this week’s issue of The Stranger, Seattle’s once-beloved but lately somnambulant weekly, it’s clear that long-time editor in chief Dan Savage is now once again paying attention.

The article is a straightforward piece of first-person reportage, written by a Jewish man who notes that he’s visited Israel several times but never the occupied territories.

Sanders spends time with an IDF publicity guy, Corrie’s comrades in the ISM, and Dr. Samir and family, the residents of the house that Corrie died in front of.

What’s successful in the piece is that while Sanders is critical of the anarchist politics of the ISM people he speaks to, describing them as having a “confused ideology,” he’s nonjudgemental in general, not caricaturing any of the participants in the events as evil or buffoons.

A bit of background on The Stranger of late: when Village Voice Media acquired Seattle Weekly a few years ago, the better financed Weekly cherry-picked some of the more aggressive writers from The Stranger, and founding writer and then-til-now editor Savage didn’t seem to care, judging by the decline in cogency and quality of the paper.

Prior to Savage’s record-shattering tenure as editor, the paper had rotated the top editorial slot quite regularly. Now, Savage has been busy over the past few years, building a national media profile, writing a book, and so on, and frankly, I think that had much to do with the slide in the paper’s quality. The staff writers also settled in, there was little turnover, and the writing and content of the paper suffered greatly. This culminated recently in the biggest waste of newsprint the town’s ever seen, in which the primary staff of the paper was sent out to get drunk while being followed by another member of the paper’s staff, who then wrote the main feature recounting the event.

That’s right: that week, the paper’s primary subject matter was “Our friends got really drunk.” Who cares? Granted, it’s not as though it was the flaccid, self-congratulatory condos-and-Benz writing of the early 90’s Weekly, but still, with the Rocket gone and the new Weekly apparently offering alterna-culture scriveners a career path, The Stranger was adrift.

I totally wrote the paper off.

Then, as the war engine revved up, things got interesting.

One week Christopher Hitchens wrote a scathing, ill-mannered indictment of community activism as a means to political ends under the guise of chiding food-not-bombs grannies for their anti-war stance.

(Sadly, the website’s search engine is keyword-based and returns too large a result set, so no link for you!)

The next week, Sherman Alexie weighed in against the war. The week after that, Neal Pollack stopped by to say: “Shut the fuck up,” or more correctly, he was commissioned to write a piece espousing silence on the war.

Savage was up to his trickery, finally, and it showed. Pollack is back this week, by the way, describing how he himself has gotten into two bar fights over the war and his STFU piece, which he extrapolates into the thesis that America has been driven insane by the war talk.

So, Dan, here’s the deal: I’ll keep reading The Stranger as long as you keep pulling rabbits out of hats like this. In the meantime, could you please discourage the in-group bullshit that so strongly characterized the paper in the long, leaden years leading up to this string of editorial successes.

Oh, and I wanted to say that I think it sucks that necroscopy appears to have been the goad that improved the paper. However, war does funny things to publishers and editors, so I’m happy your response has been generally to avoid the warnography.

2 thoughts on “The Stranger Awakens

  1. I read about half of that article written by Sanders and had to stop, it upset me too much. The Pollack piece, on the other hand, was brilliant. And I’m not just saying that because I like to get drunk and start fights.

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