“Dear Paul Berman,
“Like you, I enjoyed our conversation of the other night but I thought it ended uncompleted.” He explained that I should write a self-denunciation in the style of Augustine or Alexander Hamilton.
“Since you already have a column in Tablet, that would be a great place for it to appear.
“It would also be a good career move. Right now, you are best known to the world for having pimped for George Bush’s disastrous war.”
But this sin was going to seem as nothing, compared to the erotic correspondence.
“My guess is that you will end up being known for this anyway, so it would be best for you to put your own self-interested, spin on this….”
He compared me to Norman Podhoretz, the retired editor of Commentary. “I’m sure you know that you already have a lot in common with Podhoretz, who also pimped for right-wing Republican presidents and foolish, destructive wars, and also shared with you a roguish reputation with the ladies. So there’s a useful precedent.
“To be sure, since you raised the issue, I am not threatening you with anything. I just think that the truth has a way of coming out given how interesting people find gossip relating to”—and here he pointed to the frisk in the frisky correspondence. “There’s a whole industry that makes its living off of it, after all.”
This last point seemed to me all too accurate.
A week later came another letter:
“looking forward to your public confession in Tablet. My guess is that this will work out best [he meant “better”] for you than any imaginable alternative.”
Alterman confirmed to BuzzFeed News that he is the subject of Berman’s story, though he disputed some of the account and said that his messages did not amount to “blackmail,” as Berman calls it in the story.
“The emails in question were not written for the purpose of ‘blackmail’ as Paul well knows,” Alterman said in an email to BuzzFeed News on Thursday. “They arose from a deeply personal matter between us. Paul omits all the relevant details because they reflect so poorly on his character.”
According to a person familiar with the matter, Tablet knew of the personal issue but chose to not include it in the story.
“We fully stand by the story,” Alana Newhouse, Tablet’s editor-in-chief, said in an email. Berman did not return requests for comment.