WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 26, 2003
EASY TO BE HARD: Is Sami Al-Arian guilty as charged? At THE HOWLER, we have no way of knowing. Last week, a federal grand jury charged the University of South Florida prof with a long string of serious crimes. On Monday, a Washington Post editorial summed up the federal charges:
THE WASHINGTON POST: [T]he government is alleging far more than that Mr. Al-Arian was a terrorist fundraiser or a political sympathizer with Islamic resistance to Israeli policies. It contends, with considerable supporting detail, that he was a top official of Islamic Jihad. According to the indictment, he managed its money, held the wills of would-be suicide bombers, disseminated statements claiming responsibility for attacks, helped formulate policy on behalf of the organization, and was in regular covert contact with its general secretary, spiritual leader and other operatives.If these allegations prove true, the Post said, Mr. Al-Arian will rank among the more important terrorists ever arrested and prosecuted in this country.
But the Posts editorial is a very strange document. Yes, the paper notes that Al-Arian and his fellow indictees have only been charged, not convicted. They are innocent until proven guilty, the Post says. But the newspaper takes the occasion of this indictment to lodge an odd set of charges against people who defended Al-Arian against other actions in the past.
In late 2001, USF announced that it planned to fire Al-Arian in the wake of his appearance on The OReilly Factor. At the time, of course, Al-Arian hadnt even been charged with the crimes he is accused of today. But the Post is angry with people who defended Al-Arian against that threatened firing. [E]ven as the feds disclosed their continuing investigation related to Mr. Al-Arian, the Post says, many were quick to label the case a post-Sept. 11 witch hunt. The Post spells out its indictment:
THE WASHINGTON POST: They were reacting partly to the universitys poor handling of the matter; it initially blamed the disruptive atmosphere created by his presence, not his alleged terrorist links. But Mr. Al-Arians defenders also ignored the possibility that their man was actually a terrorist. The faculty union filed a grievance alleging discrimination, among other things. Georgetown University Islam scholar John L. Esposito canceled a scheduled speech at USF, saying it was impossible for him to appear at a university that so clearly violates the academic freedom of one of its professors. The American Association of University Professors threatened to censure USF if it fired Al-Arian, after its investigating committee found the charges insubstantial and determined that grave issues of academic freedom and due process were at stake.According to the Post, these malefactors were too reflexive in their disbelief that an urbane, politically active professorone who had been to the White House and who regularly talked to journalistscould be a genuine terrorist, and in their automatic assumption that he must be a victim of university railroading and FBI abuses.
What a strange editorial! Were all used to jump-the-gun screeds in which the accused is simply presumed to be guilty. But here, the Post goes back in time to criticize those who didnt presume Al-Arian guilty even before he stood accused. The Post acknowledges that USF showed poor judgment in trying to fire Al-Arian. But it uses the profs indictment as an excuse to slam those who noted this at the time.
In 2001, did Al-Arians supporters ignore the possibility that their man was actually a terrorist? Were they supposed to assume that this was the case? The Post provides no particulars about this matterno evidence, for example, that Esposito was wrong in his criticism of USFs action. In the face of unwise action by USF, what should Esposito have done? The Post is quick to slime and smear, and slow to present a real argument.
Is truth the first casualty of war? Actually, nogood judgment is. This editorial instructs Post readers to presume guilt in these caseseven before the accused has been charged! War has the Posts ed board deeply stirred. But so things have gone, through the ages.
QUESTION: Honest, I swear Im not a Clinton partisan (I voted for the guy but did not really like or trust him) but it does seem like Washington reporters were meaner and much quicker to pounce on anything compared to President Bush. How has Bush managed to bring the White House press corps to heel?Both Q and A reflect the lynch-mob atmosphere surrounding Bill Clinton. The questioner knows that, even in defending Clinton, he has to say how much he dislikes him. And Kurtz quickly mentions Whitewater and Travelgate, despite the factwell, lets just let a later Q-and-A make the central point for us:
QUESTION: Whoa! Regarding your answer just now to [the question about] the Clinton press coverageisnt that exactly the point? You mentioned Whitewater, Travelgate and fundraising, all exhaustively covered and investigated, with no charges of any kind against the ClintonsPatheticcompletely pathetic. The fact that Jim Guy Tucker was convicted of a crime is still being used by this well-informed man as an excuse for trashing the Clintons. See the logic? Other folks were convicted of crimes. So its OK to blame Bill and Hill!
Clinton has long been exonerated of wrongdoing in Whitewater. That makes Whitewater an astounding indictment of the Washington press corpsthe beat which Kurtz is supposed to cover. Kurtzs reaction? He says the Whitewater coverage was overblownbut keeps listing it as a Vile Clinton Crime. So it goes as the corps chief courtier keep hiding his colleagues misconduct.