September 07, 2002

New National Post Column Fr...

New National Post Column From Me – 'Death of Dissent' a Myth: In which I argue that, contrary to much of what has been said (especially outside the country), American debate in the year since the Sept. 11 massacre has been impressively healthy and vigorous.

Posted by at September 7, 2002 10:42 AM
Comments

Great column. Only quibble is you start out with a slap at Gore Vidal for misquoting Ari Fleisher, or at least taking his comments out of context. And then a graf or two later you do the same with Bill Maher's quote.

To my understanding, this is what Maher said: "We have been the cowards. Lobbing cruise missiles from 2,000 miles away, thatís cowardly. Staying in the airplane when it hits the building, say what you want about it, not cowardly."

That quote mentions nothing abut American bombardiers, let alone them being cowards. One could argue that Maher was not referring to specific U.S. military personnel, but to American policy/doctrine. And in fact, I don't think bombardiers even launch that sort of super-long-range missile, though onthat I could be wrong.

Anyhow, your general point in the column is a good one, but if you're going to throw stones at Vidal about accuracy, well, you misrepresented Maher's statement a bit.

Posted by: Anonymous Coward at September 7, 2002 02:27 PM

I am the editor of a fairly popular newspaper in the Los Angeles editor. After the attacks, we solicited letters and input from the community. One person wrote a fairly standard plea for peace -- the type that "realists" usually ignore, but defend as essentially moral. Well, when the owner of my paper saw that letter in his paper, he was furious, and sent a fairly clear signal that he would not tolerate any more calls for peace in his paper. The suppression of dissent is much more subtle and behind-the-scenes than you know. When you work in the media, you see it happen every day.

Posted by: person at a paper at September 7, 2002 02:44 PM

Nicely done. Thanks for that.

bob

Posted by: bob at September 7, 2002 02:45 PM

To the 'editor of a fairly popular newspaper in the Los Angeles editor,'

If you ask me, pretty much all those 'standard plea(s) for peace' tend to be a little too ad hominem; I can see why this would frustrate an owner of a newspaper. But I have to ask you: Why put up with it? Leave the newspaper business if this 'suppression of dissent,' is, as you say, happening every day. Is the money that good?

Posted by: John Ward at September 7, 2002 06:19 PM

That story speaks for itself. Snarky accusations of hypocrisy change nothing. Does the editor's continued employment somehow un-send the message the owner sent? If the editor were replaced with someone who wouldn't print such a letter in the first place, would the suppression of dissent he describes magically vanish?

Does recognizing that the cries of "censorship" are vastly overstated require us to summarily discard any anecdotes that suggest there's at least a little of it going on?

Posted by: Jason at September 7, 2002 10:38 PM

excellent column matt -- although you've yet to top the line from your previous piece of the "crushing dissent" about six months ago: "ooh, to feel that pain!"

Posted by: dan truly at September 7, 2002 10:42 PM

AC -- I was looking for the right way to describe Maher's comments. I guess the nub rests on how you define the meaning of his word "We."

"We have been the cowards. Lobbing cruise missiles from 2,000 miles away, that’s cowardly."

My take is that this usage includes politicians, generals, perhaps the public ... and, quite specifically, the people lobbing those cruise missiles. I could be wrong.

Posted by: Matt Welch at September 8, 2002 03:41 AM

As anyone could guess from my first post, I'm not a copy editor. Anyway, as opposed to quitting in frustration, as someone on this page suggested, I simply won the battle and printed the letter. But some people don't even fight the battle. Rent needs to be paid, after all, and journalism jobs paying anything remotely close to a living wage are hard to find. I would ask this, though: Why is it that the so-called dissenters always feel they must establish their patriotic credentials before they criticize the government, while hawks apparently are assumed to be true blue patriots by the very fact that they advocate killing all them bastards? If Maher had prefaced his comments with "I support the president regardless of what crazy shit he pulls," he probably would still have a show.

Posted by: editor at September 8, 2002 10:20 AM

Those 'snarky accusations of hypocrisy,' by the way, are really what can sometimes be simply called 'skepticism.' You see, if I remember right, I didn't say anybody was a hypocrite -No, I was just pointing out how some people yell censorship when in actuality the stuff they're talking about (in this case a letter) hasn't much merit. As I said, I think what even the writer referred to as the 'standard plea for peace' is simply just too emotional, too careless. No doubt, censorship (large and small) exists -nothing new there -but what I'm saying is this: If it's a 'standard' anything, be it novel, article, or even letter, don't claim that you are being censored just because someone won't publish it.

Posted by: John Ward at September 8, 2002 11:39 AM

You were actually tougher on Ari Fleischer than he deserved, if you can believe it. While his comment was stupid, ill-considered and tone deaf, he wasn't simply referring to Bill Maher. He was also talking about Republican Representative John Cooksey who said "If I see someone comes in that's got a diaper on his head and a fan belt wrapped around the diaper on his head, that boy needs to be pulled over." It's ironic that many of those complaining about Fleischer warning us to watch what we say have no trouble supporting laws that would actually punish us for saying things they deem racist. (Interestingly, Ted Koppel admitted on Nightline a few days later that Fleischer was referring to Cooksey and felt this absolved Fleischer.)

Posted by: Mike at September 8, 2002 11:45 AM

Maher himself pointed out that some of his biggest supporters at that time were also some of Bush's biggest supporters.

Sure, one could say that there hasn't been a whole lot in the area of "suppression of dissent" but that sort of thing doesn't fill up college auditoriums or sell issues of the Nation.

Posted by: Henry Hanks at September 8, 2002 09:51 PM

Great column, Matt. As it happens, I was reading the National Post on Sunday, started glancing at your piece below the fold -- and thought "Wow, this is great stuff!". Then was delighted to see it was yours.

A couple of comments to the comments:

"Why is it that the so-called dissenters always feel they must establish their patriotic credentials before they criticize the government..."

Please. Show me where Michael Moore even pays lip service to patriotism before criticizing the government. (Not to mention Gore Vidal -- let's just stick to currently best-selling authors of putative non-fiction.)

Surely what you mean to say is, why do *some* dissenters feel this need? The answer is pretty simple: because many prominent and uncensored dissenters really do hate America, or at least think of patriotism as a vice. Which is similar to why hawks, but not doves, feel the need to repeat "It's not Islam, it's radical Islam (or the Islamists or the Wahhabis, etc.) that we're fighting." Not all doves are unpatriotic, not all hawks are chauvinistic...but there's a pretty clear reason why which flank you have to guard is determined by the people you want to distance yourself from, in order to be taken seriously by the audience you want to reach.

Finally, to the anonymous editor above: I understand your need for anonymity, but unless you say what paper you work for, your claim is unverifiable. And, frankly, it needs to be verified...because I've seen a hell of a lot of "give peace a chance" letters published in every U.S. newspaper I've read. Hence, your claim that dissent is being stiffled at your publication fails the sniff test. That's not to say it's false (much less that you're lying). But until you pony up the name of the "fairly popular newspaper," so we can -- in Layne's immortal words -- fact-check your ass, it's hard to give your anecdote much weight.

Posted by: Daniel Jacobson at September 9, 2002 10:21 AM

Is an article decrying the suppression of dissent by it's very nature dissent?

Posted by: Scott Ross at September 9, 2002 01:27 PM

quick, get ashcroft on the horn and aim The Big White Thumb over at Scott "Funnyman" Ross over here!

Posted by: dan truly at September 9, 2002 11:48 PM

super job, Matt. Can't be improved upon.

Posted by: Jack Tanner at September 10, 2002 05:13 AM
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their patriotic credentials before they criticize the government..."

Please. Show me where Michael Moore even pays lip service to patriotism before criticizing the government. (Not to mention Gore Vidal -- let's just stick to currently best-selling authors of putative non-fiction.)

Surely what you mean to say is, why do *some* dissenters feel this need? The answer is pretty simple: because many prominent and uncensored dissenters really do hate America, or at least think of patriotism as a vice. Which is similar to why hawks, but not doves, feel the need to repeat "It's not Islam, it's radical Islam (or the Islamists or the Wahhabis, etc.) that we're fighting." Not all doves are unpatriotic, not all hawks are chauvinistic...but there's a pretty clear reason why which flank you have to guard is determined by the people you want to distance yourself from, in order to be taken seriously by the audience you want to reach.

Finally, to the anonymous editor above: I understand your need for anonymity, but unless you say what paper you work for, your claim is unverifiable. And, frankly, it needs to be verified...because I've seen a hell of a lot of "give peace a chance" letters published in every U.S. newspaper I've read. Hence, your claim that dissent is being stiffled at your publication fails the sniff test. That's not to say it's false (much less that you're lying). But until you pony up the name of the "fairly popular newspaper," so we can -- in Layne's immortal words -- fact-check your ass, it's hard to give your anecdote much weight.

Posted by: Daniel Jacobson at September 9, 2002 10:21 AM

Is an article decrying the suppression of dissent by it's very nature diis being stiffled at your publication fails the sniff test. That's not to say it's false (much less that you're lying). But until you pony up the name of the "fairly popular newspaper," so we can -- in Layne's immortal words -- fact-check your ass, it's hard to give your anecdote much weight.

Posted by: Daniel Jacobson at September 9, 2002 10:21 AM

Is an article decrying the suppression of dissent by it's very nature dissent?

Posted by: Scott Ross at September 9, 2002 01:27 PM

quick, get ashcroft on the horn and aim The Big White Thumb over at Scott "Funnyman" Ross over here!

Posted by: dan truly at September 9, 2002 11:48 PM

super job, Matt. Can't be improved upon.

Posted by: Jack Tanner at September 10, 2002 05:13 AM
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