May 19, 2005

BLAME THE CRAZY MUSLIMS: This seems to be the rapidly-gelling defense of Newsweek.

That's certainly the tack that David Brooks is taking in today's New York Times (though if he thinks only right-wing bloggers see the press as anti-military, perhaps he should call up Terry Moran). Brooks writes:

The people who seized upon this item, like the radical clerics in Afghanistan, are cynical in the way they manipulate episodes like this to whip up hatred and so magnify their own standing.

At the same time, they believe everything that could be alleged about America - and more. They've spent so many years inhabiting a delusional mental landscape filled with conspiracy theories and paranoia that you could drill deep into their minds without ever touching reality.

Finally, they are strategically ruthless. Jeffrey Goldberg of The New Yorker, who has spent years reporting on extremists, says they use manufactured spasms of hatred to desensitize their followers. After followers spend a few years living through rabid riots and vicious sermons, killing an American or a Jew or even a fellow Muslim seems no more consequential than killing a mosquito. That's how suicide bombers are made.

The rioters are the real enemy, not Newsweek and not the American soldiers serving as prison guards. Just to restore some proper perspective, let me quote a snippet from a sermon delivered by Sheik Ibrahim Mudeiris, which ran last weekend on the Palestinian Authority's official TV station:

"The day will come when we will rule America. The day will come when we will rule Britain and the entire world - except for the Jews. The Jews will not enjoy a life of tranquillity under our rule because they are treacherous by nature, as they have been throughout history. The day will come when everything will be relieved of the Jews - even the stones and trees which were harmed by them. Listen to the Prophet Muhammad, who tells you about the evil end that awaits Jews. The stones and trees will want the Muslims to finish off every Jew."

These are the extremists, the real enemy. Let's keep our eye on the ball.

True enough -- and as Christopher Hitchens and Austin Bay have been saying, media outlets like the Times have been failing to point this out in the past.

It may have taken a journalistic scandal to unclog the pipes, but it's nice to see people finally noticing this, and holding the "Arab" (or at least Muslim) "street" to account as moral agents. That hardly excuses Newsweek's journalistic failings, though. (And I suspect that if a falsehood by Rush Limbaugh had led to a race riot, people wouldn't be taking this tack.) Still, with David Brooks, Jeff Jacoby and Tom Friedman all on the same page here, perhaps the press will begin to recognize that this isn't Vietnam redux, but an entirely different sort of war. One in which, I should note, the enemy counts on journalists to be sloppy, biased, and willing to excuse or ignore Islamist extremism in the service of domestic politics.

UPDATE: Brian Dunn emails that he predicted this. Meanwhile, Jeff Jarvis comments on Brooks:

Whining media bashers? How about dissatisifed media consumers? How about disappointed fellow journalists? How about unhappy fellow Americans?

Brooks is right to say that it's silly and offensive to bash Newsweek and not bash the fanatical murderers who used this report as an excuse to kill.

But I think he's wrong not to bash Nesweek himself, not to also criticize the magazine for making such an irresponsible error.

Brooks spends a paragraph saying that he used to work at Newsweek and he likes those guys and doesn't believe they're commies and that's very nice.

But by not criticizing the report, the net message of this otherwise spot-on column is that press people defend press people, that we circle our wagons around our screw-ups, that we stick together first. Especially today, with the press' trust in tatters, that is the wrong message.

There's certainly a lot of wagon-circling going on.

Related thoughts, here.

MORE: Tom Maguire notes cognitive dissonance and historical revisionism on this subject over the past week.