Bad journalism at its best

Anne Applebaum wrote in her Washington Post column, right up in its title:

There is no one right way to react to terror. There is a wrong way.

I’m not sure who died and bequeathed the arbiter morum job to Anne Applebaum, but there you are:

Even before the biography of the killer was known or his links to outside groups confirmed, a singer attacked the officials who were supposedly too politically correct to call him an Islamic extremist: “In modern Britain everyone seems petrified to officially say what we all say in private. Politicians tell us they are unafraid, but they are never the victims. How easy to be unafraid when one is protected from the line of fire. The people have no such protections.”

It doesn’t take much to identify the author (whom Applebaum proceeds to call a drama queen) and the source: Morrissey on Facebook. Granted, Morrissey is a drama queen and a singer, but he is rather much more than that. For one, a born-and-bred Mancunian: Applebaum’s non-mention of his name concealed the fact that the quote came from a native son. It also masked the asymmetry in caliber between the parties: I’m still patiently waiting for a media discussion of Anne Applebaum’s nomination for National Treasure, whether in Poland or the United States.

The worst of it all, from the journalistic integrity angle, is Applebaum’s out-of-context quoting. If she wished to argue in good faith with Morrissey’s post, it deserved to be reprinted in its entirety. It begins with this:

Celebrating my birthday in Manchester as news of the Manchester Arena bomb broke. The anger is monumental.

For what reason will this ever stop?

For what reason indeed, as the author goes on to argue that the country’s top politicians are neither threatened by the acts of Islamist terror nor care about the people’s anger?

Theresa May says such attacks “will not break us”, but her own life is lived in a bullet-proof bubble, and she evidently does not need to identify any young people today in Manchester morgues. Also, “will not break us” means that the tragedy will not break her, or her policies on immigration. The young people of Manchester are already broken – thanks all the same, Theresa.

There’s not much to argue with in the passage above. The “us” business is laughable, whether invoked by Putin or May or Merkel or by another politician who has been, for years and decades, part of the select circle living under protection of special services? Even the richest bankers in London occasionally take the Tube or visit restaurants open to commoners. Cabinet members, not so much. It’s also pretty obvious that the politicians in this context are senior members of the executive with a long record of such membership, rather than recently elected backbenchers, so it’s pointless to bring up the murder of Jo Cox as a counterexample.

Sadiq Khan says “London is united with Manchester”, but he does not condemn Islamic State – who have claimed responsibility for the bomb.

Which means that by the time of Morrissey’s writing, there wasn’t much doubt about the attack being the work of Islamists, so Applebaum’s “before the biography of the killer was known or his links to outside groups confirmed” was a case of “this bloody uncertainty, again!” (The joke goes like this: A man suspects his wife of infidelity. Watching her from a house across the street, he sees another man enter the house. The wife and the stranger kiss, drink wine, and disappear into the bedroom. The curtains are drawn and the husband, unable to see anything, exclaims: “Oh, this goddamned uncertainty, again and again!”)

The Queen receives absurd praise for her ‘strong words’ against the attack, yet she does not cancel today’s garden party at Buckingham Palace – for which no criticism is allowed in the Britain of free press.

Not much to comment on here. Next, please:

Manchester mayor Andy Burnham says the attack is the work of an “extremist”. An extreme what? An extreme rabbit?

And that’s why these reminders about the IRA narrowly missing Thatcher in 1984 are irrelevant. You might as well invoke Aldo Moro or Olof Palme or JFK. It’s all in the past: the principal terrorists of today are Islamist and, to the best of my knowledge, they have not attacked senior officials of Western states. Besides, the “bullet-proof bubble” protecting the Mays of the 2010s did not exist in the 1970s and the 1980s. The good thing – following Morrissey’s logic – is that Thatcher and her team were forced to actually care about the issue instead of waving it away while the victims were limited to rednecks and Papists. An old friend of Thatcher’s got blown up in 1979 right by Westminster so she had no choice but to take it personally, five years before Brighton actually. I bet not a single acquaintance of May’s has ever died by the hand of an Islamist.

It is only after the paragraph above – after the “extremist rabbit” – that the bit quoted by Applebaum comes in Morrissey’s original Facebook post, which is pretty sensible if read from start to finish. Applebaum’s criticism of it is based on a deliberate misreading via selective quoting: dishonest journalism, simply put.

To add to this, had the PIRA or IRA had its way during the Troubles, it wouldn’t have spelled the end to the West or Europe and even Britain. (The UK might have become the UK of England, Scotland, and Wales.) The six counties would be now part of the Irish Republic rather than the UK – two countries with the same language, similar legal systems and systems of government more generally. One could argue it would have proven that terror works – but terror always works, in some way, unless everybody ignores it completely. The Oklahoma bombing of 1994 led to the passage of AEDPA, which restricted state prisoners’ recourse to federal habeas corpus relief. Nine-eleven produced the much-disliked USA Patriot Act, followed by the NSA’s over-snooping. In comparison to these assaults on civil liberty, the hypothetical reunification of Ireland sounds innocuous. In contrast, if the Islamic bombers had their way, God forbid, the West would simply cease to be.

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