Politics & Policy

Family Trouble

The media's big gay secret.

Long-time readers of this column may recall that I’m a big believer in the “looking for trouble” school of justice (See, Restoring the Hidden Law, for example). If you climb over a zoo fence in order to see if it bothers a polar bear when you kick him in the gizatz, I won’t feel particularly sorry for you when he uses you as a loofah.

”He did go looking for trouble,” I’ll say.

If you go into a biker bar and walk from one burly guy to another saying “Hey, you have something on shirt” — only to then smack him in the nose and say “Hah! Made ya look!” I’d hardly be scandalized if you got a 7-mile wedgie down the interstate while tied to the back of a Harley.

Again, I’d say “Well, he did go looking for trouble.”

And, if you left Marin County, California to join a radical Islamic cult and eventually signed on to a fanatical army of bozos hell-bent on reenacting the seventh century at home while murdering Americans abroad, well, golly, I’m not going to shed any tears for you no matter what happens to you.

Why? Because you went looking for trouble.

John Walker Lindh’s lawyer suggested on Thursday that the poor schnook was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. “Mr. Brosnahan hinted that his defense would be built on the notion of an innocent abroad who was inadvertently drawn into a global terror network,” Katharine Q. Seelye writes in the New York Times. “The jury, he said, would hear ‘what happened to John Lindh,’ implying that Mr. Lindh was a passive bystander.”

“What happened to John Lindh”? “Inadvertently drawn in”?

Man, do I hate it when I leave my radical Islamic nut-hatchery in Yemen to go check out what a bunch of ululating militant fanatics in a God-forsaken patch of Pakistan are doing when — all of a sudden — I inadvertently get caught up in a global terror network! I mean talk about bad luck. You could see something like that happening in, say, Cleveland. But in the madrasas of northern Pakistan and the mountain redoubts of Taliban-controlled Afghanistan? What are the odds of that? (Apologies to Rich Lowry who first spotted this “innocent abroad” idiocy in “the Corner“).

This is not a story for American Express travelers’ checks (“I don’t how this could have happened…”). John Walker Lindh went to incredibly great lengths to get in trouble. He was offered numerous opportunities to avoid trouble, and he refused them the way my dog refuses a grape. Now that he’s in trouble I find it hard to fathom how we should be too concerned about his plight.

The Real Bias

But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be interested in his plight. Indeed, Lindh’s is a fascinating tale and it should end with the appropriate ssshhhhhh-clunk of justice as his cell door slams shut. But it’s because his plight is so interesting that it’s so odd that no one in the press will mention that his dad is gay.

I know that sounds like a major gearshift, but I’m not kidding. In the last 100 or so days, there have been more media stories about the “American Taliban” than there have been about Britney Spears’s breasts (and that’s a lot of stories — and a lot of breast), and almost none of them have mentioned that Poppa Lindh’s oft-noted “amicable divorce” had to do with the fact that he’s switched teams and moved in with a man.

Hundreds of stories (including several on NRO) have discussed the theories that the Autobiography of Malcolm X or the hippy-dippy culture of whatever-floats-your-boat Marin County turned young John into “Johnny Taliban.”

But the national news media has all but completely ignored the possibility that then-16-year-old John Walker Lindh might have flipped out when he learned that his dad was gay. Now, I’ve known a few people whose dad or mom came out of the closet late in life and they all found it pretty disturbing. Nonetheless, the gay angle may not be the psychological “smoking gun” in the Lindh story (after all, not all children of gay parents join radical Islamic cults). But no reasonable person in a normal conversation would discount it as a baldly ridiculous suggestion either — especially if you saw some of the circumstantial evidence offered by the tabloids.

The first journalist to report on Frank Lindh’s homosexuality was a gossip columnist for the San Francisco Examiner, P. J. Corkery. Needless to say, a San Francisco gossip columnist isn’t going to have harsh words to say about homosexuality, or he’s not going to be one for long. Corkery’s revelation was tasteful, respectful to a fault, and brief. Still, Rob Morse in the rival San Francisco Chronicle wrote that Corkery “took attacks on (Lindh’s) family to a new and disgusting level.”

And the rest of the mainstream press seemed to agree, following a professional consensus to ignore the story. Why? Harry Stein has a good essay in The Weekly Standard offering one answer. He believes that the New York Times and other major news organizations don’t like offending preferred groups, in this case homosexuals. Stein, of course, is right. The old joke about the New York Times (or the Washington Post) still applies. If the apocalypse were nigh, the Times would run a headline “World to End Tomorrow: Women, Blacks in Peril.” Although these days they’d probably change that to “Gays, Immigrants to be Hardest Hit” or some such.

What if Lindh Stayed Home?

Stein’s analysis is very good and rather than repeat it here, I’d like to offer one bit of disagreement. I’m not sure that the press would have ignored the gay angle if Tim McVeigh’s dad had turned out to be gay. In fact, I think we’d never have heard the end of it. After all, for years the American left has argued that the Right is fueled by homophobia and that we are motivated by some deeply repressed homosexual obsession.

One small example from my very thick file on this subject: A few years ago, Sid Blumenthal all but declared in The New Yorker that anti-Communism was merely an exercise in misplaced homophobia. For instance, Blumenthal wrote that Whittacker Chambers’s “true legacy,” is that “he helped to transmute an external threat into a moral panic, and to encourage a new generation of Cold War conservatives to do the same.” “Conservative anti-Communism,” Blumenthal lamented, is “an anachronism. What endures is the fear of the enemy within: the homosexual menace.”

Such nonsense can be found all over the journalistic and academic left. Which is why, I think, if John Walker Lindh had decided to join the skinheads or some mountain militia and made it into the paper by via domestic, Oklahoma-city-style terrorism the press would have seen it as validation. They would have yelled from the mountaintops that the “right” is filled with “homophobic rage” and other such silliness. It would have been Matthew Shepard time a million.

Slurs against the “Taliban-wing of the Republican party” notwithstanding, the press was caught by surprise because this guy had gone overseas to hate America. The pages of the usual script got jumbled. All of a sudden it seemed, if for a moment, that homosexuality might have something to do with hating America, or terrorism, or who knows what, and the press collectively and subconsciously said, “we’re not going to touch this one.”

As for the Left, they too got caught by surprise. They had so much trouble accepting the fact that people can simultaneously hate America and be worse than America, they missed their opportunity to blame the Talibanization of Johnny Walker on his homophobia. Since they assumed at first that he disliked America for the same reasons they do — remember all those buffoons citing the Kyoto Treaty as the rationale for the 9/11 attacks? — they left their usual anti-homophobia arguments in the locker room. Actually, now that the dust has settled, I’m surprised the Left isn’t trying to make the point now. In fact, I predict they will.

Either way, it doesn’t matter for “poor” John. The father made his choices and so did the son. And now, both have trouble to show for it.

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