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February 9, 2006
Applebaum's Response

Yesterday I wrote a post criticizing Anne Applebaum's latest column in the Washington Post, which resulted in a series of e-mails between Anne and myself. I offered her an opportunity to respond to my criticism, and today she accepted. I've posted her entire rebuttal to my criticism (and Power Line's) below:

1. You and many others who selectively quoted from the column missed its two other points, which were criticisms of the State Department's initial, grovelling reaction to the cartoon fracas, as well as criticism of U.S. newspapers which are queasy about reprinting the cartoons but not queasy about printing images offensive to Christians in this country. The only reason I can see for quoting selectively is to be able to write something crass about the supposedly far-left Washington Post, whose editorial page might surprise you if you actually read all of it.

2. The Newsweek affair continues to bother me, because of the widespread assumption, perpetuated on the Right, that the magazine (with which I have no personal association) "lied" in order to smear American soldiers, and therefore deliberately endangered our troops. In fact, they repeated a story - about throwing a Koran in a toilet - which came from Guantanmo inmates, and erroneously claimed the story would be confirmed by an official investigation. That's very, very different from lying in a deliberate attempt to endanger Americans.

Besides, the real truth was more complicated. As I wrote at the time, official reports did actually confirm that U.S. interrogators used dogs, nudity, sexual advances and fake menstrual blood in attempts to offend Muslim prisoners. My point, in writing that, was to note that deliberately offending Muslims is a pretty stupid way to spread democracy in the Middle East - but then I also believe, having spent six years writing a book about Soviet concentration camps, that torture is not only immoral, but bound to produce bad information.

Nevertheless, I was then, and still am now, bombarded with email from people who felt it was anti-American to write such things, and who wanted the press to keep quiet about bad U.S. policies and stupid mistakes. You can read a version of this very argument on Powerline, which repeated it yesterday in another lopsided, selective criticism of my column. I quote:

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.

Yes, I call that an assault on press freedom. Should we have all kept quiet about Abu Ghraib? Would that have served our troops, our war on terrorism, our democracy?

3. Finally, the parallel between the Muslim's world's overreaction to this story and the Muslim world's overreactions to these cartoons is indisputable. In both cases, the original sources of controversy - a sentence in a magazine, a cartoon in a Danish newspaper - were blown up to a ludicrous degree by clerics and politicians who actually wanted to cause riots. (The Washington Post actually has a pretty good story about how this is being done, and in whose interests, today). But when Newsweek was the proximate cause, the parochial Right was mostly interested in using the incident to blame the "mainstream media," and for the most part completely missed the bigger story, which is the impact of global media on an extraordinarily volatile Muslim world. Now you get it - but you didn't then.

In my opinion, Applebaum still hasn't addressed the main part of my criticism, which was that she indicted the entire "right-wing blogosphere" by claiming that we all said that it was wrong for the media to investigate government malfeasance. (I quote: "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.") That was not our argument then, and it isn't our argument now. What we said was that Newsweek should have corroborated their single source before publishing that rumor, and that reprinting allegations by terrorist detainees of abuse without any corroborating evidence of their truth was highly irresponsible. It's a far cry from publishing these baseless allegations as fact -- and the basis of what turned out to be a non-existent pending report of proven misconduct -- and publishing editorial cartoons that express an opinion.

Applebaum did not provide a single example in her original column of this argument from the right-wing blogosphere, but just assumed that all of us issued the same opinions. She also assumed in her original column, as she does here, that all of us have the same opinion about the cartoons now, which is not true. Hugh Hewitt and others have argued that the cartoons were unnecessarily provocative and the editors should not be defended on the basis of free speech, but scolded for a lack of sensitivity to religious beliefs.

Where I went overboard, though was accusing Anne of rewriting history, which was too hyperbolic and -- given her work on the Soviet gulag system earlier -- particularly provocative, and I regret it. I still disagree with much of what Anne wrote in this column, but I thank her for engaging me and CQ readers in an honest and professional debate, and encourage everyone to show their support by making a point of reading her columns ... in their entirety, of course.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at February 9, 2006 7:21 PM

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