Thursday, January 22, 2015

Steven Emerson, Smears, and the Folly of Ideological Labels

So I see that Steven Emerson has been smeared again by the New York Times, and by the same reporter, Robert Mackey. I'm referring to this article.

For the third time in a week, Mackey has referred to Emerson as a "self-described expert on Islamist terrorism." He really seems to like the way those words roll off his fingers into his laptop, I guess. The only problem is that they are not accurate.

As I pointed out in my last blog post, Emerson is a bona-fide expert on Islamist terrorism, and has been described that way quite a few times over the years by people like A.M. Rosenthal, the paper's former top editor. Calling somebody a "self-described" anything is a back-handed way of calling that person a "fake."

He goes on to say that "Mr. Emerson was shamed into issuing a public apology." Wrong. It's just not accurate to say that Emerson was "shamed" into apologizing for his Birmingham gaffe. He did so with blazing speed. It might be fair to say that he was "shamed" if he had tarried for a week as the condemnations piled up, and then sheepishly admitted his mistake. But he didn't. It's not true. 

The Times has utilized at least seven different ways of referring to Emerson in recent days. I have a problem with six of them.

Apart from Mackey's use of "self-described"—shorthand for "phony" which seems to be the approved format as it has been used three times—the Times has also referred to Emerson as an "expert," utilizing scare quotes as a sly way of saying "he ain't no expert."

In yet another Times article, the newspaper referred to Emerson as "identified as a terrorism expert." Now that's accurate. But that's a bit like saying that Sam Spade has been "identified as a private eye." If I were to say that, I would be implying that a lot of people call Sam Spade a private eye, but that's unproven and I'm noncommittal on the subject. It would be an unnecessarily negative way of referring to Mr. Spade.

A Reuters article on the Times site says Emerson is "described on his website as 'an internationally recognized expert on terrorism.'" This choice of words implies that Emerson is an obscure individual, and that you have to go to the man's website to find this description, suitably set out in scare quotes. It leaves readers with the impression that Emerson is a one-man kook with a personal website, rather than a widely-quoted terrorism authority who runs a substantial nonprofit organization with a staff.

Two AP descriptions of Emerson appear in the Times website. One of them hews  to the Reuters model, albeit without scare quotes, but conveys much the same message that Emerson's credentials are dubious. 

And now we come to the seventh Emerson reference on the newspaper's website. In this AP article, the wire service refers to Emerson as "an American author who often is asked about terror networks."

That's accurate, fair and nonjudgmental. Sure it could say more about him, but it doesn't denigrate  Emerson the way the Times has repeatedly—you might say "obsessively"—been doing. It just states the facts.

The Times clearly has an Emerson problem. It's not really about Emerson, I think, but what he represents.

To much of the media nowadays, people who oppose the spread of Islamist radicalism are viewed as "right wingers."  I experienced that myself a few weeks ago, when I was interviewed about the radical attorney Stanley Cohen, who recently entered federal prison on tax charges amid a blaze of self-generated publicity. Cohen not only represents Islamic radicals in courts but proclaims his love for them. When I expressed disgust about the man in our phone interview, the journalist asked me if I was a "conservative."

Since when have radical Islam and its supporters become standard-bearers of the progressive movement, so the people disgusted by them are "conservative"? The politics of Islamist extremists is close to fascistic. Yet because they oppose the U.S. government, to a lot of people they become latter-day proxies for Che Guevara. Loathsome totalitarians have somehow become "progressive" icons, and people who don't care for them very much have become "right wing" or "conservative." The media has largely adopted this fallacious trope.

By expressing disdain for an enthusiastic supporter of terrorists, I somehow was conflated into a "conservative" by the journalist who interviewed me. He might want to explain that to the Ayn Rand supporters who vituperatively attacked me as a "socialist" and worse when my book Ayn Rand Nation was published.

"Left" and "right" labels, I think, are nonsensical when it comes to the Islamist threat, a movement with historical Nazi ties and a fascist, xenophobic, fundamentalist philosophy that somehow appeals to a goodly number of people on the far left. It would take me a dozen blog posts to explain that grisly phenomenon.

To come back to Emerson: The Times, I think, has pigeonholed Steve Emerson as a right-winger by dint of his strong views on the subject of Islamist extremism. While one might reasonably argue whether the Times has an ideological bias against Emerson and people like him, Mackey clearly does. It was no surprise at all to find this blog post on Mackey's openly slanted work on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. See also this correction.

You know, the Times could help me a lot in pondering why it's being so unfair and inaccurate by making it unnecessary for me to do so, and correcting its Emerson errors. Come on guys. You can do it.

© 2015 Gary Weiss. All rights reserved.

My latest book is AYN RAND NATION: The Hidden Struggle for America's Soul, published by St. Martin's Press. Click here to order the book from, and here to order it from Barnes & Noble. Follow me on Twitter: @gary_weiss

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