Media Mush
Too many journalists have been spinning the public -- and themselves.


Clifford D. May

Imagine if, in 1942, the son of German immigrants from the Sudetenland had yelled “Heil Hitler!” and then gunned down several dozen of his fellow soldiers on an American military base. Most reporters probably would not have expressed bewilderment as to the perpetrator’s motive. They’d have simply connected the dots and told the public what happened: An army officer appears to have turned traitor, subscribing to the Nazi ideology and choosing to kill for the Nazi cause.

But that was then, this is now. After the attack at Fort Hood, evidently carried out by the Muslim son of Palestinian immigrants, much of the major media disconnected from reality. On CNN and NPR, the pressing question was whether there are enough “mental-health professionals” in the army. In other words, perhaps the problem was that Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, a psychiatrist, didn’t have access to . . . a psychiatrist.

On MSNBC, an anchor wondered whether we will ever know for sure whether religion was a “factor” in a massacre initiated with a shout of “Allahu Akbar! (“Allah is greatest!”) — the international war cry of terrorists who claim to be fighting what they call a “jihad” for Islam. Even the Fox News Channel displayed such chyrons as: “Investigators search for a motive in Ft. Hood killings.”

I know: The intelligence community, the FBI, the military brass — all stumbled badly in connection with this case. But journalists are not supposed to be like government employees. Reporters are supposed to be risk-takers, seeking the truth and telling it — even when the truth is inconvenient and uncomfortable.

That’s what I was taught when I was trained as a journalist, and it’s what I believed during the more than 20 years I spent in the news business, including at the New York Times, which last week ran this front-page, above-the-fold headline: “Told of War Horror, Gunman Feared Deployment.” Are Times readers really to believe that the alleged perpetrator was such a sensitive soul that, to take his mind off the “horror” of war, he shot as many of his unarmed colleagues as he could, reloading while the dying and wounded lay bleeding on the ground?

The second paragraph of this same story reports that Hasan “started having second thoughts about his military career a few years ago after other soldiers harassed him for being a Muslim, he told relatives.” How could professional editors not insist that such a slander of American soldiers — and one so improbable given the deference paid in the U.S. military both to officers and doctors — at least be followed by the standard disclaimer that the charge could not be verified?

This, too, needs to be mentioned: The Times quotes the Muslim Public Affairs Council’s condemnation of the killings, declaring that the organization is “speaking for much of the Muslim community in the United States.” On what possible basis can the Times determine that? Is there any organization that the Times would designate as speaking for much of the Christian community in the United States? How about the Jewish Community?

And how much research would have been required for the Times to learn that the Muslim Public Affairs Council is a controversial group, one that has been sharply criticized for both its ideology and its ties to terrorism by researcher Steven Emerson, Middle East scholar Daniel Pipes, Muslim reformer Irshad Manji, and other experts?

Islamic extremism is a difficult issue — but it’s not that difficult. We grasp that an ideology based on the premise that one race must dominate all others is odious and dangerous. Is it such a leap to understand that the same is true of an ideology based on the premise that one religion must dominate all others?

And just as we can imagine why a German might find the dream of Aryan supremacy appealing, we ought to be able to imagine why someone like Hasan could be drawn to the promise of Islamic supremacy.

What I have said above obviously does not imply that all Germans were Nazis during the 1930s and ’40s. On the contrary, some Germans — a minority to be sure — fought Nazism. Similarly, many Muslims reject militant Islamism, and a brave minority are fighting it. They deserve our support.