Ed Driscoll

NBC's Brian Williams' Annual Moment Of Moral Equivalency

In June of last year, Ed Morrissey wrote:

NBC’s Brian Williams extended the concept of moral equivalence into the territory of the absurd in tonight’s installment of the NBC Evening News. The new anchor discussed the story about Iranian president-elect Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s possible involvement in the 1979 American embassy takeover in Teheran and subsequent hostaging of its staff. As I argued earlier, Williams noted that even if true, it wouldn’t make much difference in how we interact with the Iranian government, which supported the takeover and quickly co-opted it themselves.

However, as Dread Pundit Bluto noted, Williams instead argued that the British likely faced the same dilemma after the creation of the United States. After all, Williams says, one can easily confuse people like Abu Musab al-Zarqawi with George Washington:

The White House and most official branches of government are ducking any substantive comment on this story, and photo analysis is going on at this and other news organizations. It is a story that will be at or near the top of our broadcast and certainly made for a robust debate in our afternoon editorial meeting, when several of us raised the point (I’ll leave it to others to decide germaneness) that several U.S. presidents were at minimum revolutionaries, and probably were considered terrorists of their time by the Crown in England.

Did Washington bomb women and children indiscriminately in order to chase the British out of North America? Did John Hancock send teenagers with bomb belts into marketplaces to kill as many people as possible to destabilize colonial society? This comparison insults the intelligence and the memory of those who fought on both sides of the Revolutionary War, which (despite what’s commonly thought) mostly saw European-style, set-piece combat between uniformed forces.

Additionally, according to Wikipedia (so take it with a grain of salt), the word “terrorism” actually post-dates the American Revolution:

The term “terrorism” comes from the French word terrorisme, which is based on the Latin verb terrere (to cause to tremble), [17] It dates back to 1795 when it was used to describe the actions of the Jacobin Club in their rule of post-Revolutionary France, the so-called “Reign of Terror”. Jacobins are rumored to have coined the term “terrorists” to refer to themselves. The English word “terrorism” was popularized in English when it was used by the conservative Edmund Burke, an outspoken opponent of the French Revolution in general, as well as the Terror. Acts described as Jacobin Club “terrorism” were mostly cases of arrest or execution of opponents as a means of coercing compliance in the general public. According to Juegensmeyer, they were public acts of destruction which inflicted a public sense of fear due to the lack of military objectives.

But Williams can’t help making the same sort of moral equivalency when it comes to the US and terrorists. On today’s Hardball, Williams was interviewed by Chris Matthews. Matthews asked:

“Here we have maybe 24 people who have lived in London and England and the free world for all these years that become citizens, subjects of the Crown, and, yet, after having gotten to know us, they want to kill themselves to hurt us. Isn’t that an even deeper conundrum here than the chemicals being used in these attacks?”

Williams responded:

“And that, Chris, that last aspect, the willingness to take one’s own life — I always tell people there are guys on our team like that, too. They’re called Army Rangers and Navy Seals and the Special Forces folks and the first responders on 9/11 who went into those buildings knowing, by the way, they weren’t going to come out. So we have players like that on our team.”

Mark Finkelstein of Newsbusters corrects Williams–not that he’ll ever hear the message or change his, of course:

Wrong. Our people are highly trained to accomplish their mission in a manner that gives them the best possible chance of survival. Yes, they heroically assume great risks, knowingly putting their lives on the line. But it is grotesquely mistaken for Williams to suggest that their commanders are sending them on suicide missions. To compare them with terrorists– often young, confused people being exploited by cynical masters who send them to their deaths–is disgraceful.

But it’s nothing new for Williams, sadly.

Update: MSMathematics!

Update (8/11/06): Brian dissembles here, coins new phrase:

Comments I made during a live interview with Chris Matthews last night have been aggressively misunderstood in the hours since.

Just to add to the aggressive misunderstanding, Jed Babbin, sitting in for Hugh Hewitt today pointed out an earlier example of Brian’s equivalency, comparing the allied coalition’s carefully controlled bombing of Baghdad’s government and military buildings in March of 2003, with the mammoth destruction inflicted upon all of Dresden in 1945.