I feel bad going after Ezra Levant. He’s so goofy that his antics are sort of endearing, like the mischief-making of a not-very-bright ten year old boy. But still “Sideshow Ezra” does get to publish in national newspapers and there might be some people out there even dimmer than he is who take him as a sage.
The eagle-eyes at The Mark have noted a jaw-dropping anomaly in Levant’s writing. Last Tuesday, Levant called for the murder of a private citizen who has not been convicted of any crime, asking “Why isn’t Julian Assange dead yet?” Criticized for this, Levant responded on Friday that that Assange has no right to claim free speech because certain types of speech are rightly considered criminal. His examples? “There is a minor element of expression involved in spying and hacking. But the same could be said for forging a signature on a cheque, or writing a death threat on a piece of paper. No-one would reasonably characterize those as acts of free speech — the speech part is incidental to the crime involved in each.” (Italics added, of course).
When reading a newspaper article, often the most important fact is contained not in the body of the text but in the by-line. If you know who wrote a story, you can make a good guess as to its accuracy and intent. Take for example this inflammatory article that appeared in the New York Post on October 14th, purporting to be an interview with Jesse Jackson offering insight into the Middle East policies that Barack Obama would pursue as president. The article was written by the Iranian-born journalist Amir Taheri. Here is the key passage in the article:
[Jackson] promised “fundamental changes” in US foreign policy – saying America must “heal wounds” it has caused to other nations, revive its alliances and apologize for the “arrogance of the Bush administration.”
The most important change would occur in the Middle East, where “decades of putting Israel‘s interests first” would end.
Jackson believes that, although “Zionists who have controlled American policy for decades” remain strong, they’ll lose a great deal of their clout when Barack Obama enters the White House.
Even on first glance, this passage is slightly suspicious, although it has lots of quotations it also has some blurry language (“Jackson believes” rather than “Jackson says”) and the single most salient bit of news (that “Zionists” will “lose a great deal of their clout when Barack Obama enters the White House”) is not a quote at all but a paraphrase.
Charlotte Allen’s wretched Washington Post essay arguing that women are “kind of dim” has been widely condemned, rightly so. My friend and occasional collaborator Laura Rozen has been particularly fierce keeping up the attack on the Post for running such a retrograde, insulting piece.
There is one sociological point that hasn’t been made: historically the newsroom has been among the most sexist of workplaces, a masculine enclave on par with barber shops, the Catholic hierarchy, and the military. You get a sense of this from the memoirs of early 20th century newspapermen like H.L. Mencken: a newsrooms was a smoked-filled, grubby place, with spittoons on the floor and pinups on the wall. Even in their leisure hours old school newspaper reporters and editors continued their male bonding at bars and boxing matches. My friend Chris Ware refers to this as a culture of the “sporting life”, and the governing rule was “no girls allowed.”
There is an old Canadian joke that Maclean’s magazine will give you all the news that you can find in Time or Newsweek with only a six week delay. The latest issue of the Canadian weekly lives up this venerable gag by running a cover story asking “Is it time to bomb Iran?” The feature-length article, written by Michael Petrou, is premised on the notion that those dastardly Mullahs are working to acquire the bomb and something, anything, must be done to stop them. As a piece of war propaganda the article is fairly subtle: it doesn’t advocate a pre-emptive attack but rather raises the possibility that one might be necessary (while acknowledging the practical risks). The goal of the article is to make war palatable, understandable, and forgivable.