Just imagine the world picture of somebody whose primary — or even (God forbid!) sole — source of news is the New York Times.
In particular, imagine that person’s image of Islam — and of the problems and issues surrounding the growing presence of Islam in the West today. At the Times — as at other important news organizations — the slant on Islam has been shaped almost exclusively by apologists like Karen Armstrong (author of Muhammed: A Prophet for Our Time) and John Esposito (director of the Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University). In March, the New York Times Magazine published a long essay by another major apologist, Harvard law professor and Times Magazine contributing writer Noah Feldman, who took (shall we say) an exceedingly generous view of sharia law and its proponents. Last Sunday, the magazine ran a new piece by Feldman, arguing that Muslims are Europe’s “new pariahs” and that the only real problem related the rise of Islam in Europe today is — guess what? — European racism.
It’s a familiar claim, to put it mildly, and Feldman served up the usual rhetoric, conflating the nationalist bigots of Belgium’s Vlaams Belang party with people like the Netherlands’ Geert Wilders, whose views on the Islamization of Europe are rooted in liberal values. Feldman dismissed as “prejudice” concern about first-cousin marriages among Muslims — never mind that almost all such marriages are forced, that the overwhelming majority involve rape and abuse, and that those who have campaigned hardest against them are not “racists” but women’s rights advocates. Feldman deep-sixed the catastrophic rise in rape, gay-bashing, and other crimes by young European Muslim males, the extensive abuse of European welfare systems that is helping to destroy them, and the broad-based cultural jihad which ultimately seeks nothing less than the replacement of democracy with sharia. Feldman insisted that “a hallmark of liberal, secular societies is supposed to be respect for different cultures, including traditional, religious cultures — even intolerant ones.” That’s easy to say about things happening on the other side of an ocean from your Ivy League office. I’d like to see Feldman tell this to gay people in Amsterdam, where ten years ago they felt safer than anyplace else on earth and where Muslim youths now beat them up in broad daylight in the middle of town. Or why doesn’t he try this line on Jewish children in France, who according to a French government report can no longer get an education in that country because of severe harassment (and worse) by Muslim classmates? Feldman further equated Islamic and Roman Catholic views of gays and women — as if the Church’s “rejection of homosexuality and women priests” could be compared to the execution of gays and the wholesale subordination of women to the will of men. Feldman scored Europeans for failing to treat immigrants “as full members of their society” — yet while such prejudice does indeed exist, somehow immigrants from places like Vietnam and Chile nonetheless persevere and thrive (in the U.K., Hindus are more economically successful than the average Brit), while Muslims don’t. The difference has to do not with European prejudice but with Islam.
Since 9/11, the kind of brazen sugarcoating of Islam that Feldman served up last Sunday has become a convention in the Times and other mainstream media. Routinely, news organizations suppress, downplay, or misrepresent developments that reflect badly on Islam; they go out of their way to find stories that reflect (or that can be spun in such a way as to reflect) positively on it; and they publish professors and intellectuals and “experts” like Feldman, who share the media’s determination to obscure the central role of jihadist ideology in the current clash between Islam and Western democracy and to point the finger instead (as Feldman does) at European racism.
Yet while a number of media consumers are wise to this policy regarding Islam, relatively few realize that it’s a fresh variation on a well-established tradition. This tradition — which may be fairly characterized as one of solicitude, protectiveness, and apologetics when reporting on totalitarian ideologies, movements and regimes — involves habitual practices that can be attributed partly to institutional stasis, passivity, and timidity, partly to a desire to maintain access to this or that tyrant, partly to profound failures of moral insight and responsibility, partly to inane notions of “fairness” and “balance,” partly to an unwillingness to face aspects of the real world that need to be acknowledged and dealt with, and partly to an inability to grasp (or, perhaps, to face the fact) that the status quo has changed.
To get an idea of what I’m talking about, let’s examine some highlights from the history of the Times — not only America’s most famous newspaper, but the one from which the nation’s media have, to an extraordinary extent, taken their lead for generations. These highlights do not even begin to tell the whole story of the Times’s treatment of totalitarianism over the decades, of course, but they point to something chronic, unhealthy, and dishonest at the heart of the Gray Lady’s editorial sensibility that has yet to be effectively addressed – and that has its counterparts in countless less prominent media on which the Times has long exerted a major influence.
First case in point: Walter Duranty, the Times’s Moscow correspondent during much of the Stalin era. The celebrated British author Malcolm Muggeridge once commented that “no one…followed the Party Line as assiduously” as Duranty did; Tim Rutten, in a 2003 Los Angeles Times article, called Duranty “an active agent of Soviet propaganda and disinformation – probably paid, certainly blackmailed, altogether willing.” Author of a novel, One Life, One Kopeck (1937), that was pure Communist cant and a non-fiction book, The Kremlin and the People (1941), that another old Moscow hand, Louis Fischer, described as a “Song of Praise” for Stalin, Duranty was an unswerving Kremlin apologist: he praised a 1932 law that forbade peasants to leave their collective farms, insisted (to Trotsky’s consternation) that the false confessions extracted at Stalin’s show trials were true, and condemned the Berlin Airlift. It was Duranty who coined the term “Stalinism” and who, rationalizing Stalin’s brutality, first said “You can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs.” Duranty claimed to want to bring about “Russian-American…understanding” — which is to say that he used the word “understanding” in exactly the same way that it’s often used now vis-à-vis Islam. (What’s being encouraged, of course, isn’t understanding at all but its opposite — a determination not to understand, see, or acknowledge certain facts. In the 1930s, Britons who were desperate to avoid war with the Nazis also spoke about “understanding” in this way – refusing to recognize that there are some things that, once properly understood, must be actively resisted and destroyed.)
Duranty’s position afforded him immense power to shape the American public’s image of the Soviet Union. As Muggeridge biographer Ian Hunter put it in 2003, Duranty was “the most influential foreign correspondent in Russia,” a man whose articles were “regarded as authoritative” and “helped to shape U.S. foreign policy.” While Stalin was shipping people to the Gulag, Duranty’s rosy dispatches were taken by many American leftists as confirmation that the USSR was indeed a veritable workers’ paradise.