Ideas have consequences.
January 31, 2002 9:41 AM   Subscribe

Ideas have consequences. On the subject of the Daniel Pearl kidnapping, an interesting letter to Media News today (scroll down to the "Journalists as Political Operatives" item), reads in part, "I would not want to trivialize it for all the world, but I am constrained to point out that it was only recently that Mr. Pearl's newspaper, the Wall Street Journal, felt compelled to praise the book "Bias" which perports to lay bare the 'liberal bias' of mainstream journalism. In fact, the WSJ editorial board has for years persisted, along with other conservative commentators, to label journalists as political tools in service of a larger political agenda. The kidnappers of Mr. Pearl insist that he is a political tool, a spy, for some foreign government (one day the U.S., the next day Israel.) Where could they have possibly gotten the idea that journalists are not the dedicated professionals they claim to be but are instead something else in disguise?" Thoughts?
posted by nance (35 comments total)
That's quite a stretch on the logic there, no?
posted by revbrian at 9:53 AM on January 31, 2002

The Wall Street Journal editorial board does not run the newspaper, as anyone could tell just by reading the newspaper's front page and comparing it to the editorial/op-ed page.
posted by raysmj at 9:56 AM on January 31, 2002

That's quite a stretch on the logic there, no?

Not necessarily. I mean, sure, in the states we all see Geraldo Rivera as a nutjob (well, most of us do, at least), but he was in fact a prominent journalist openly stating he was carrying a gun with the full intention of using it if he got the chance to attack bin Laden. That's an extreme, to be sure, but how is Al Qaeda, or even just other Muslims, supposed to know that? All the terrorists know is that so-called journalists can be a threat to them.

And the current media bias toward pro-U.S. news doesn't help, either. If their integrity is no longer defined by the truth, but is tempered some political agenda (mild though it may be), they are again agents of an anti-terrorist operation, wittingly or not. And what seems like a clear distinction to us, between official U.S. government agent and member of the U.S. media, may not be so obvious to others.

Not to mention the entirely plausible scenario in which a legitimate spy poses as a journalist to get access -- something that seems unlikely (to me, at least) for various reasons but that might seem likely to non-Westerners.

Clearly terrorism is evil and should be stopped. But whether or not journalists should take sides in the conflict is still a reasonable question.
posted by mattpfeff at 10:07 AM on January 31, 2002

Rev, why is that a stretch of logic? The WSJ editorial page and many conservatives constantly complain that most journalists (I am one, so I take this charge personally and seriously) are liberals who deliberately write untruths in pursuit of their political goals.

Now that a WSJ reporter is held hostage in Pakistan by kidnappers who accuse him of being a political operative who writes untruths in pursuit of the United States' political goals, how are conservatives to respond? By admitting that they didn't believe what they were saying all along, and that they were just scapegoating journalists for politcal advantage?

I hope they make such an admission, but I don't expect to hear one.
posted by Holden at 10:07 AM on January 31, 2002


i think it's pretty simple why others view journalists as political pawns of the US. in many other countries, mass media is political as a matter of course rather than choice (i know some editorial staffs of papers purportedly lean in one direction or the other), and is often the means by which government-sponsored propoganda is spread. it wasn't so long ago that massive propoganda campaigns were waged against Japan inside of the United States, either.
posted by moz at 10:10 AM on January 31, 2002

Where could they have possibly gotten the idea that journalists are not the dedicated professionals they claim to be but are instead something else in disguise?

Um, from any garden-variety street-corner lunatic? I'm pretty sure they don't subscribe to the Wall Street Journal.

This is just an example of the oldest rhetorical trick in the book: demonize your enemy by demanding them to prove a negative, then, when they can't, claim vindication.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 10:13 AM on January 31, 2002

There are reports that US Special Forces and CIA have been encouraging aggressive behavior towards journalists in Afghanistan and Pakistan in order to more tightly control the dissemination of information. Could such behavior and attitudes by our forces promote and justify (in their minds) this action by hostile forces?
posted by nofundy at 10:16 AM on January 31, 2002

There are reports that US Special Forces....

You know, Pakistanis are, in fact, functional people capable of their own free will and able to execute on their ideas without the prompting of the US gov't.

I understand that it may be surprising, but the US gov't isn't the only entity on Earth capable of moral agency and intent.
posted by aramaic at 10:22 AM on January 31, 2002

If the Pakistani's are reading the WSJ's editorial page, then the terrorists have already won.
posted by haqspan at 10:35 AM on January 31, 2002

I, a conservative, would respond, Holden, by saying that we WEREN'T scapegoating journalists for advantages. No, what I will admit is that there's the occassional right-wing journalist... or one that's an operative. This fellow may be. So what? The VAST majority of the mainstream media is left-biased.

I believe what I was saying. I'm willing to accept the consequences, because on balance, the right has been more sinned against than sinning in the media.
posted by dissent at 10:35 AM on January 31, 2002

I am a bit surprised at many of these postings. They seem to miss the major point, which is that Pear got kidnapped becasue (1) he was an American, unarmed. (2) he was to be held for ransom till the "demands" of his kidnappers were met--claiming that he was Mossad or CIA was an odd justification for their actions since they claim that he is to be released when their demands are met.
Not very many Americans hanging out in Pakistan these days, I would guess, unless they are working for our govt or are military. A journalist, alone, would make an easy enough snatch.
Now I don't like the WSJ editorials either but I am not sure why the place where Pearl wo5rks is relevant. Would it matter, for example, if he worked for some Progressive Review or Village Voice or NY Times? "Oh, you are with that paper? ok, you can go now."
posted by Postroad at 10:37 AM on January 31, 2002

Don't mistake of actually taking the agenda of these nutballs holding this poor guy hostage with any realm of seriousness. Listen up folks: just cause they slam America doesn't mean they automatically have a point.
posted by owillis at 10:40 AM on January 31, 2002

"make the mistake"
posted by owillis at 10:41 AM on January 31, 2002

Oh... and if the CIA and special Forces see military advantage in supressing information from the area of conflict... well, tough for the reporters, whatever nation they come from. If reporters aren't taking a stand in favor of the United States, why should they be accorded any special treatment... or even not regarded as legitimate targets? A lack of bias is fine; in wartime, it should be about favoring a bias for your own side.

Because, when a war is lost, when a nation suffers the results of a failed war, a lack of bias won't count for anything.

Better by far, to be a biased victor than an impartial vanquished.
posted by dissent at 10:44 AM on January 31, 2002

in wartime, it should be about favoring a bias for your own side.

So, say your country is fighting a war, and you... as a journalist notice that your side is getting its ass kicked, you showed only report positive things?

The job of a journalist should be to report facts regardless of which side they favor. To not present the facts is to do a disservice to your readers or viewers.

If your side is just, it won't need media bias to protect it.

As an aside, there really should be some take on Goodwin's (sp?) law for claims of media bias.
posted by drezdn at 11:01 AM on January 31, 2002

there really should be some take on Godwin...for claims of media bias

There already is: whenever someone claims a vast left-wing media conspiracy.
posted by aramaic at 11:06 AM on January 31, 2002

Where could they have possibly gotten the idea that journalists are not the dedicated professionals they claim to be but are instead something else in disguise?"

Maybe its because idiots like this are publicly claiming to be carrying guns.
posted by manero at 11:10 AM on January 31, 2002

...the right has been more sinned against than sinning in the media.

A mantra/lamentation chanted bitterly and ad nauseum by the greedheads because hopelessly biased reporters dare to cast a hard light on such paragons of ethics as J. McCarthy, R. Nixon, R. Reagan, Bush/Cheney, etc; and their bosses at Ford, Union Carbide, Enron, and Deep Pockets R Us.

Because, when a war is lost, when a nation suffers the results of a failed war, a lack of bias won't count for anything.

Chanted ad nauseum by Goebbels et al.

Better by far, to be a biased victor than an impartial vanquished.

Chanted over graves at lynching sites throughout the American South, at Wounded Knee, at Auschwitz, at Hiroshima, at My Lai, at Jerusalem, in New York City, and perhaps at this moment over a freshly dug grave in Pakistan.
posted by fold_and_mutilate at 11:13 AM on January 31, 2002

War is not a conservative/liberal issue. It's pointless to look at a paper's editorial page to determine the political opinions of its staff, just as it's wrong to judge an entire country by its rulers.

Bias has no place in reporting, period. The truth will eventually come out, regardless of efforts to color it. It is not the media's civic duty to serve as a propoganda outlet for the government.
posted by me3dia at 11:17 AM on January 31, 2002

Conservatives who claim that there is a liberal slant to the news are not accusing those reporters of being government agents. They are not accusing them of being foreign spies. They are accusing them of distorting the news to suit their personal viewpoint. They're not (at least the ones I pay attention to) accusing them of lying either, just a selective reporting of the facts. What Mefi's have taken to calling "willfull ignorance".

Trying to blame the kidnapping on the WSJ editorial board for expressing their opinion of bias in news coverage is absurd on the very face of it to me.

[Where could they have possibly gotten the idea that journalists are not the dedicated professionals they claim to be but are instead something else in disguise?]

Isn't that how the previous northern alliance leader was assassinated?
posted by revbrian at 11:18 AM on January 31, 2002

A careful reading of news accounts reveals that Daniel Pearl was kidnapped for spying not for reporting with bias. These are not the same acts, just as listening and speaking are not the same.

My opinion? The cited article is little more than poorly reasoned schadenfreude.
posted by Real9 at 11:26 AM on January 31, 2002

This may be one of the more hideous, appalling, viscous things I've read in quite some time.

Examine the argument: He is attmepting to claim that a group of kidnappers in Pakistan initially thought journalists were simply reporters. Then, what they did was read a conservative American newspaper, and because of the positions that newspaper's editorial page held, concluded that journalists had covert political motives. Additionally, while these kidnappers apparently immediately chose to believe the newspaper's opinion about reporters having political intentions, they apparently decided to completely disbelieve the newspaper's specific opinon that journalists leaned left and and had a bias towards critisizing conservative governments, and instead decided out of the blue that the exact opposite was true, and that journalists were, in fact, actually agents for that conservative government.

Not only is this a massive pile of horseshit, but look at what this guy is actually doing. He is using the fact that a fellow journalist has been kidnapped, and is now living with the immanent danger of death, as a means of pursuing his own agenda and taking a cheap, gratuitous shot at a conservative newspaper. It would be hard to conceive of something lower than this. To say he has the integrity of pond scum is an insult to pond scum.

I know both liberal and conservative journalists and writers, and to the person, every one of them I've corresponded with since this situation began is feeling a deep sense of horror right now, they are checking the news continually for news about Daniel - in every one of their hearts is the sense of "that could be me". The religious among them are praying. Not a single one has even mentioned the paper he worked for, or thinks the fact that it's a conservative publication has any relevance at all. This isn't about liberal or conservative - he is a brother in arms, and especially amongst foreign correspondants this situation is reminding them all of the dangers they face to do their jobs.

He says, "I would not want to trivialize it for all the world ..." - we, he doesn't. He can't trivialize Daniel Pearl, or this situation ... but he sure as hell has trivialized himself ... and if ideas do have consequences ... he'll be blackballed by his entire profession.
posted by MidasMulligan at 11:53 AM on January 31, 2002

This is a very special day. Midas, I agree with you 100%.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 11:56 AM on January 31, 2002

Then, what they did was read a conservative American newspaper, and because of the positions that newspaper's editorial page held, concluded that journalists had covert political motives.

I agree, this is ridiculous. But the belief that journalists have political motives, or are political agents, is not only not ridiculous, it is true. (And integrity is a funny thing -- it's very hard to almost have it. There's no way for foreigners to really know what kind of operative someone claiming to be a reporter really is.)
posted by mattpfeff at 12:19 PM on January 31, 2002

Daniel Pearl was kidnapped for spying not for reporting with bias

Actually, Peal was kidnapped because there are some seriously crazy people out there. With guns. Who don't like America.
posted by haqspan at 12:24 PM on January 31, 2002

It's horseshit, of course, and so is the idea that he was taken hostage by "nutballs". It's looking increasingly like the purpose of the Pearl kidnapping has very little to do with the issues purported (release of Gitmo prisoners, shipment of jets to Pakland) and much more to do with the India-Pakistan nuke hairtrigger situation.

There are at least two scenarios, given that the Pakistani security forces are reporting that they found a connection to New Delhi.

One is that India really is also involved in destabilizing terror, has itself encouraged fundamentalist groups in Pakistan, and that the object of having their Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) direct a kidnapping is to undermine Musharraf's government. The risk of nuclear war in a chaotic coup may be seen as equivalent to what they face now, with the advantage of a weaker Pakistan in the future worth the risk.

Second is that Pakistan's ISI is still operative as a rogue shadow government and is itself attempting to destabilize Musharraf to give itself a window of opportunity to seize power from the secularists (or perhaps just because they nationalistically feel Mushy is mushy).

There are other sub-scenarios here, e.g. bin Laden actually still wielding his magic fingers of chaos, but functionally most of them end up resembling either 1) or 2) above, simply with a different basis of intent.

Bottom line: this has nothing at all (or very little) to do with the issues in the hostage demands, and everything to do with somebody wanting to create a wedge issue somewhere in the trickily unbalanced US-Indo-Pak triangle. Where they intend it to break depends on having more information than I have.
posted by dhartung at 12:26 PM on January 31, 2002

I know both liberal and conservative journalists and writers, and to the person, every one of them I've corresponded with since this situation began is feeling a deep sense of horror right now

I'm with you 100%, Midas. Good point. I've found the same thing to be true. Poor Pearl is being used as a scapegoat. First by his kidnappers to attack US by proxy, and now by Denney to attack the WSJ. It's utterly reprehensible, and it's a flawed argument to boot, as you point out.
posted by emptyage at 1:06 PM on January 31, 2002

I think MidasMulligan articulated it much better than I could. To use the act of Kidnapping to try to settle ideological scores with the employer of this guy is pretty sick. I also dont think it would have made the slightest difference if the guy on the scene happened to the Village Voice reporter instead of WSJ. Remember the journalist from the Guardian who got beaten up in Pakistan a few months back?

Dhartung: It is unlikely that elements of either Pakistan or Indian government are mixed up in this. RAW has apparently been active in Baluchistan and NWFP off and on, but it would be foolish in the extreme for them to pull stunts like this. They are largely (at least in the eyes of most educated Indians) not a terribly competent bunch of people. And government bureacrats in India has a very strong instinct for survival. RAW is essentially a rather bureacratic entity. While Pakistan sees RAW destabilisation strategy in every explosion that happens in Karachi, it is usually their own Mohajirs trying to run off with government ammunition. And much as I would like to blame ISI for it, they dont appear to be very foolish people either. US govt is not going to blame Musharraf govt for the kidnapping, they know what a difficult position Musharraf is in. And if they get caught, Musharraf will have the handy excuse for changing guards completely in ISI. No, the tried and tested way of changing administrations in Pakistan are Military coups or assassinations. Even if either of these 2 agencies were to consider such a Machiavelian plot, both intelligence agencies know how disastrous discovery would be!

I think its some splinter fanatical group or other. There are plenty out there. And as I said in a seperate post earlier, I hope these guys are buffoons not tied with a larger entity with infrasrtuctural support.
posted by justlooking at 2:35 PM on January 31, 2002

I don't see how Denney is making light of Pearl's kidnapping. He calls it a frightful incident, and its irony, terrible. What remains is that journalists can hardly plead innocent in this affair. This is no justification for kidnapping (not to mention threats of murder, which is what it would be), but no one's defending the kidnappers here. I think there is a valid criticism of how journalists comport themselves in conflicts of this nature. They take a side. Some combatants might not see as fine a line as we do.

NB: dhartung's point is well taken -- it seems quite likely that the kidnappers are simply maximizing their opportunity to get something they want. The implications of journalists' bias are still interesting, though -- even if they aren't actually factors in this particular case.
posted by mattpfeff at 3:02 PM on January 31, 2002

Someday something awful will happen because of all those who insist upon the existence of a left-wing bias on Metafilter, too...mark my words!
posted by rushmc at 4:38 PM on January 31, 2002

Kaushik: is it that unlikely? I don't know enough about RAW, but I've read quite a bit about ISI going back to the Afghan war days, and they think very deeply and strategically. (They were constantly frustrated by the straightforward cowboy approach of the mujahedin!) In the end, though, it doesn't matter whether either 1) or 2) is really true, because both coutnries are starting to act that way. The Pakistani position is an aboveboard suspicion of Indian involvement, which could be a) a complete feint taking an opportune moment to pull a "I know I am but so are you"; b) a very clumsy effort by the ISI to elicit a) from Islamabad; c) an even more clumsy effort by Delhi to make Islamabad think b) happened ...

Although kidnapping has long been a tactic used by the Kashmir militant groups that get varied levels of support from Pakistan, those groups are not themselves much in love with Islamabad's aims, so it's a rather strange type of demand if you're going to assume it's one of those groups. The wording is very strange, the name is not in line with your Islamist imagery ("sword", "jihad", etc.). So you have to ask who would pull off such a thing. The Islamists would have definitely just borked out and made Ladenesque types of demands. These guys didn't -- I mean, they didn't even ask for US troops to leave, or US support to go away, they asked for MORE U.S. support if you think about it. So it begins to smell like something cooked up by nationalists. But who's a nationalist connected with the government, yet not a radical Islamist, nor connected with the Kashmiri or bin Laden movements? It could be a feint by one of those groups, but they're not known for subtlety. The ISI, on the other hand, fancies itself a master of this sort of thing. Maybe some ex-ISI folk. Or maybe it is back to al Qaeda, and this time, like they considered for 9/11, they're trying to sweep over their tracks.

No, it's not a sure theory -- but the straightforward interpretation just smells wrong. The people who would do such a thing don't seem like the type to make the demands they have, and vice versa. Which is why I suspect a feint.
posted by dhartung at 4:56 PM on January 31, 2002

This Petition for Perl's Release praises Perl's work, calling him a colleague who told the truth as he saw it.

"Like Daniel himself, we are journalists. As he used to, we report on events in the Middle East. We are Americans, Arabs, and others ...

[From the Committee to Protect Journalists]
posted by sheauga at 7:16 PM on January 31, 2002

Both are certainly possible, but I felt that it is more likely that a splinter terrorist group is responsible. Let me weave together a different possibility. Take Jamaat-ul-Furqa for example.

There has been conflicting reports in the Pakistani media about the Kidnapping. But the police now seem to support the story that Parl went for a clandestine meeting with Sheikh Syed Mubarik Ali Shah Jilani aka Pir Mubarik Ali Shah of Lahore.

Let me quote from OutLookIndia at this point. ( BTW, the writer Mr. Raman used to be an additional secretary in the Cabinet Secretariet in India- the department that administers RAW – the other intelligence agency we were considering)

“Sheikh Syed Mubarik Ali Shah Jilani of Lahore….. is the founder-chief of the Jamaat-ul-Furqa, an extremely clandestine terrorist organisation with an active presence in the US, Canada, and the Caribbean. It had indulged in many violent incidents in the US in the 1980s and the 1990s and was suspected (but not proved) to have encouraged an Islamic coup against some of the Caribbean Governments. ….if there was a Pakistani sleeper involvement in the terrorist strikes in the US ……, the needle of suspicion has to point to the HuM, of which the HJI was a part in the past, and the Fuqra, since …. these were the only two Pakistani terrorist organisations, which had a clandestine presence and infrastructure in the USA.It also quotes from a report that the Colorado Attorney-General's office submitted to its Government In December,2001: “….Colorado's investigation indicated that the United States FUQRA movement was composed of approximately 30 different 'Jamaats' or communities, somewhat mobile in nature. Most of these 'Jamaats' are believed to currently exist today, along with what investigators deemed to be several 'covert paramilitary training compounds “.

Way back in 1989, Colorado police department executed a search warrant in a storage locker purportedly beloging to Fuqra. Raman quotes: “Among the many documents found in the Colorado Springs' storage locker were numerous blank birth certificates; blank social security cards; several sets of Colorado drivers' licenses, each containing a picture of the same individual, but each with a different identity; and and other such scary stuff…"FUQRA or its members have been investigated for alleged terrorist acts including murder and arson in New York, Detroit, Philadelphia, Toronto, Denver, Los Angeles and Tucson. UL FUQRA is suspected of more than thirteen firebombings and, at least, as many murders within the United States,"

Its an incredibly sophisticated enterprise. Don’t you think its possible Daniel Pearl walked into a trap?

Or take Maj.Gen.Abbasi for example. He was released from a Pakistani jail last year. He was previously posted as Military Attache in the Pakistani High Commission in New Delhi. He was thrown out of India on espionage charges. In 1995, Pakistani army prosecuted a fundamentalist group of 40 army officers and 10 civilians headed by Maj. Gen.Zaheer-ul-Islam Abbasi on treason and threw them to jail. He has since been trying to make peace between some of the splinter terrorist groups. I am pretty sure he has sympathizers inside army or ISI who would be helping him out. But I would suspect he has a fairly sophisticated military mind of his own.

The point I am trying to make is that Pakistan has tolerated some incredibly sophisticated terrorist outfits which has active supporter inside the army and the ISI. They dont need overt ISI assistance to help themselves to Pakistan's munitions or to their code books.

NYT has an interesting aside about the kidnappers today on Captors of U.S. Reporter in Pakistan Extend Deadline for Killing Him. It indicated that the terrorists may have been using misspellings deliberately in order to avoid sniffing programs.

Whoever did this are probably not buffoons as I hoped earlier. It could of course be an espionage agency. I would be happy if it can be proved that ISI did this. But my guess would be that it is something like Fuqra. Of course we may never know for sure.
posted by justlooking at 12:31 AM on February 1, 2002

A word about the 'Outlook' story that I linked to in the previous post. Its very long and the server appears to be rickety. But its probably worth the trouble if you want the background on Harkat-ul-Jehad-al-Islami (HJI) - one of the key Islamic terrorist outfits in Afghanistan/Pakistan/J&K.
posted by justlooking at 12:36 AM on February 1, 2002

Oops, I meant to link here, in the previous post.
posted by justlooking at 5:01 PM on February 1, 2002

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