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Why News at 11 Goes Easy on Saddam By: Thomas Patrick Carroll
FrontPageMagazine.com | Wednesday, June 30, 2004

On 8 June, the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) in Washington, D.C., showed a four-minute video it received from the Pentagon.  The video was taken in Abu Ghraib prison during the time of Saddam Hussein. It showed beheadings, fingers and hands sliced off, beatings, tongues cut out with razor blades — horrific footage intended for Saddam’s own viewing.

In an attempt to drum-up interest in the screening, AEI sent invitations to the assignment desks of over 40 national news organizations. Only a few saw fit to send reporters. The difference between the press coverage accorded this photographic documentation of Ba’athist torture (almost none) and that received by the pictures of the American morons in Abu Ghraib (seemingly endless, with almost 200 stories in The New York Times alone) speaks for itself.

Another recent example is the canard, repeated across most media outlets in mid-June, that the 9/11 Commission decided Saddam was not involved with al Qaeda’s attacks on New York and Washington, and so there was no connection between Operation Iraqi Freedom and the war on terror. A more glaring non sequitur is difficult to imagine. While only the fringe denies that al Qaeda is a threat to the United States, the mainstream media are unwilling to see the danger in broader and more realistic terms. The media seem reluctant to admit the terrorist threat involves huge swaths of contemporary Islamic civilization, including Iraq.


And when it comes to Islamic hatred of the U.S., not only do the media present it as a natural response to American provocation, they also imply this hostility is shared by every government on the planet.  Only a few weeks ago, during a 28 May visit to the White House, Denmark’s Prime Minister Rasmussen stated, “I’m here as a friend and an ally.” Denmark is one of 17 nations who continue openly to support Operation Iraqi Freedom, including Britain, Australia, Japan, Poland and Hungary. But Rasmussen’s meetings in Washington caused nary a ripple in the major news rooms across America.


Some pro-Islamist bias is so absurd as to have become notorious, like the decision by Reuters not to use the word ‘terrorist’ to describe Bin Laden and his chums. “One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter,” and all that blather.


Examples could be multiplied ad nauseam, and indeed there are excellent watchdog organizations, like Accuracy in Media and Media Research Center, that do just that.


All these cases have something in common. Appalling actions and statements by our Islamist enemies are ignored or, when that is impossible, diminished or explained away. American efforts, on the other hand, are ridiculed daily.


But why is that? Why is so much of the news media bound and determined to present our fight against militant Islam in the worst possible light? Why the hesitancy to show Islamic fascism for the deadly menace it actually is?


More than old fashioned liberal bias


The answer that springs immediately to mind is liberal bias. And it’s not a bad answer, as far as it goes. Certainly the prerequisites seem to be there.


To begin with, the existence of liberal bias in the mainstream press is no longer in serious dispute. Professors Timothy Groseclose, Department of Political Science at UCLA, and Jeffrey Milyo, Harris School of Public Policy at the University of Chicago, recently co-authored a research paper entitled A Measure of Media Bias. Their approach was fresh and ingenious. They noted the scores assigned by Americans for Democratic Action (ADA) to members of Congress. Then they counted the number of times the Senators and Representatives cited various think tanks in their speeches on the floor. Finally, they counted the number of times major media outlets (like The New York Times, CNN, Fox News) cited the same think tanks. Based on these data, and employing sophisticated statistical methods, the researchers calculated an ADA score for each media outlet.


“Although we expected to find that most media lean left, we were astounded by the degree,” Groseclose and Milyo wrote. “Most of the mainstream media outlets that we examined (i.e., all those besides Drudge Report and Fox News Special Report) were closer to the average Democrat in Congress [ADA 76.5] than they were to the median member of the House [ADA 39.0].”


And then there is the fact that leftwing biases in favor of totalitarian movements are by no means unprecedented. The embarrassing story of the Left during the Cold War is there for all to see. But it is precisely at this point that problems arise.


As morally inexcusable as the Left’s attitude toward Communism was during the Cold War, it was at least understandable. Ever since the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, there has been no end of Western intellectuals willing to portray the foulest Socialist tyrant as progressive, enlightened, and a harbinger of a bright tomorrow. This meant that any aspiring leftist could read erudite essays about what a humanitarian Lenin was, or how Stalin brought industry and material development to the ‘backward’ Russians. Young leftwing acolytes could listen to convincing tales in which Ho Chi Minh was a democrat, and Mao was a progressive agrarian reformer.


In other words, the mythology of Communism appealed to progress, development, liberation, and other pieces of 20th century political folklore most leftists could identify with and support.


But surely the same cannot be said for Islamic fascism. A return to the ‘good life’ under the Four Rightly Guided Caliphs, heavenly paradise with perpetual virgins as a reward for murder, fatwahs mandating death for ‘polytheists’ — even readers of The Nation aren’t going to buy-off on this. 


So why is the liberal media so gentle with our Islamist enemies? What is it about the mindset of contemporary liberalism that predisposes it to be circumspect toward a belief system that, by the left’s own traditional standards, is absurd and repugnant?


A great deal of the answer lies in ‘multiculturalism,’ the latest addition to the cluttered closet of liberal fads.


The Left’s denigration of culture


Contemporary multiculturalism is an odd thing. As described by the Left, it is an unalloyed good. It makes life more interesting (authentic ethnic restaurants and all that), adds to our diversity (which, the story goes, can never be bad), and brings a wealth of valuable new insights to the ‘marketplace of ideas.’ Perhaps most importantly, from modern liberalism’s point of view, multiculturalism offers the hope of replacing the oppressive hand of traditional Western culture with something new and fresh and liberating.


Now, this kind of talk should raise a red flag. Every source of good in political life can also be a catalyst for evil. And given the flawed nature of the human enterprise, evil is usually the more likely. Liberty, tradition, democracy, free speech, courage, goodwill toward your fellow man — all can have bad consequences if we are not careful.


So why are today’s leftists unable to recognize any downside to the multicultural project? Because they have no appreciation for how deep and important and vital culture actually is.


Liberals see culture as a suit of clothes the ‘autonomous individual’ can change almost at will. Culture is a set of ‘lifestyle choices’ in the eyes of contemporary liberalism, myriad ‘alternatives’ for each individual to enjoy as he sees fit.


For liberals, culture means the downtown merchants wearing colorful costumes on Cinco de Mayo. It means Navahos dancing at high school assemblies, Chinese New Year parades, and a professor from Mumbai on local cable television explaining how India invented the number zero. Culture, as liberalism has come to view it, is something light, easy, and ultimately harmless.


Conservatism, by contrast, has always shown a far deeper appreciation and respect for culture.


Joseph De Maistre, the great conservative theoretician and 18th century scourge of Revolutionary France, said he had met Frenchmen, Englishmen, and Irishmen, but never ‘man.’ He understood that beyond a particular culture and specific set of traditions, humanity becomes a thin, unreal, ephemeral notion, with no grounding in the real world.


In the conservative intellectual tradition, ‘culture’ is not seen as an abstraction, but rather as the very stuff of our human existence. Our laws, our morality, and our respect for the opinions of others are all products of our culture. Science, human rights, the logical syllogism, our treatment of children, our need for personal autonomy, the ideas of truth and right and wrong — all are products of culture, developed and shaped by millions of people over the millennia. In short, beyond the bare fact of our physical existence, everything human is cultural. Strip this away and you don’t get the free, self-reliant individual of liberal lore, but an imaginary phantom that isn’t even recognizably human.


Conservatives know that culture is thick and heavy, that it is central to all we do and all we are. For this reason, conservatives intuitively reject liberalism’s naïve multicultural fantasy, which childishly treats the social artifacts of the world’s great cultures as so many interesting building blocks, to be mixed and matched to suit our fancy.


It is instructive to note that history’s best example of well-managed ‘multiculturalism’ is not to be found in any liberal republic, but in the decentralized millet system of the (decidedly conservative) Ottoman Empire. The Ottomans did not stupidly ‘celebrate diversity,’ but instead cautiously and intelligently managed their multicultural realm, maintaining the dominance of Ottoman ways while carefully nurturing the positive contributions that other cultures (e.g., Greek, Jewish, Armenian) could make. Their conservative system worked for centuries.


The threat to multiculturalism


Now we can see where the liberal media gets its aversion to criticizing our Jihadist enemies.


There are 1.3 billion Muslims in the world today. Something like 20 percent, depending on which estimates you accept, are of the militant Islamist flavor. This 20 percent is made up of people whose cultural identities, influenced by fundamentalist indoctrination, make them implacable foes of everything Western nations hold dear.


Militant Islam is one big counterexample to the Left’s facile belief in the ‘equality’ of all ‘cultural perspectives.’ If the liberal media were to report candidly on the Jihadists, they would have to acknowledge that culture is not airy and light, but serious and heavy and sometimes evil. Such an admission would call multiculturalism itself into question, and the Left can’t do that. Multiculturalism is today a pillar of the liberal faith. And who’s going to knock the faith?


So tonight on News at 11, stay tuned for more of the same.


Mr. Carroll is a former officer in the Clandestine Service of the CIA. Email: carroll@meib.org

Thomas Patrick Carroll is a former officer in the Clandestine Service of the Central Intelligence Agency and a current member of the Middle East Intelligence Bulletin editorial board. He speaks and publishes on espionage, national security, foreign policy, terrorism, counter-intelligence, Turkey, and Islam.

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