In today’s Washington Post, Anne Applebaum draws a series of lessons from the Mohammed cartoon story:
[T]he controversy has exposed a few less attractive political undercurrents in America, too.
One of those “less attractive political undercurrents” is “hypocrisy in the right-wing blogosphere.” Applebaum writes:
Remember the controversy over Newsweek and the Koran? Last year Newsweek printed an allegation about mistreatment of the Koran at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base that — although strikingly similar to interrogation techniques actually used to intimidate Muslims at Guantanamo — was not substantiated by an official government investigation. It hardly mattered: Abroad, Muslim politicians and clerics promoted and exaggerated the Koran story, just as they are now promoting and exaggerating the Danish cartoon story. The result was rioting and violence on a scale similar to the rioting and violence of the past week.
But although that controversy was every bit as manipulated as this one, self-styled U.S. “conservatives” blamed not cynical politicians and clerics but Newsweek for (accidentally) inciting violence in the Muslim world: “Newsweek lied, people died.” Worse, much of the commentary implied that Newsweek was not only wrong to make a mistake (which it was) but also that the magazine was wrong to investigate the alleged misconduct of U.S. soldiers. Logically, the bloggers should now be attacking the Danish newspaper for (less accidentally) inciting violence in the Muslim world. Oddly enough, though, I’ve heard no cries of “Jyllands-Posten insulted, people died.” The moral is: We defend press freedom if it means Danish cartoonists’ right to caricature Muhammad; we don’t defend press freedom if it means the mainstream media’s right to investigate the U.S. government.
The cartoon story has a number of interesting angles, but it requires a very peculiar perspective to turn it into a story about the “right-wing blogosphere.” As prominent members thereof, it’s reasonable to assume that we are included in Ms. Applebaum’s criticism. So let me make a few basic points.
First, while it is true that our discussions of the Newsweek/Koran story focused mainly on Newsweek’s false report, we hardly let the Islamic rioters off the hook. As, for example, in this post:
Diana West argues that the “Koran-gate” is more about “them” (bloodthirsty jihadists) than about “us” (a media too eager to do a “gotcha” on our government). Her point is well-taken, although I’d express it differently. To me, the story is about the confluence of two sad realities — the MSM feels compelled to make our government look bad; the Islamofascists feel compelled to take innocent life. Neither compulsion is healthy, but only the latter is psychopathic.
Beyond that, there are some obvious differences between the two stories. Newsweek negligently printed an inflammatory factual claim that turned out to be false. Jyllands-Posten didn’t.
And the Newsweek story was part of a media assault on the American armed forces. American newspapers, magazines and television networks, over a period of more than a year, relentlessly and falsely depicted American soldiers as sadistic thugs. The prime exhibit in this campaign was Abu Ghraib, the most over-hyped news story of modern times. Interestingly, Ms. Applebaum adds to the flow of misinformation in her own discussion of these stories. She claims that the Newsweek Koran-in-the-toilet story was “strikingly similar to interrogation techniques actually used to intimidate Muslims at Guantanamo.” This is utterly false; in fact, American soldiers at Guantanamo treat the Koran with elaborate and extraordinary respect.
So, were we more critical of false charges leveled by an American magazine against the American armed forces than of a dozen innocuous drawings in a Danish newspaper? Guilty as charged. We were.
Finally, Applebaum’s “moral” is, to put it charitably, obtuse:
The moral is: We defend press freedom if it means Danish cartoonists’ right to caricature Muhammad; we don’t defend press freedom if it means the mainstream media’s right to investigate the U.S. government.
This would make sense if we had demanded that Newsweek be shut down, or its editors beheaded. We didn’t. We criticized Newsweek for negligent reporting and anti-military bias. Maybe this is a hard concept to grasp at the Washington Post, but advocating freedom of the press–as we obviously do–is not inconsistent with criticizing newspapers and magazines when they screw up.