You Don’t Get ‘Thoughtful Conversation’ From an Advocate for War Crimes

Philadelphia Inquirer op-ed columnist Harold Jackson (5/20/09) writes that most of those who have criticized his paper for hiring of pro-torture lawyer John Yoo as his colleague “have their facts wrong.”

After making a gratuitous swipe at bloggers (“who never let the facts get in the way when they’re trying to whip people into a frenzy to boost website hits”), Jackson gets down to specifics: “To set the record straight, no one tried to hide Yoo’s becoming a regular columnist,” he declares. If that’s the case, why isn’t Yoo listed on the Inquirer‘s website along with its other regular columnists?

That seems to be the one specific fact that the critics got “wrong,” actually. The rest of the column is a defense of the Inquirer‘s judgment in hiring Yoo to “counter criticism that our editorials and columns always lean left,” and to “make sure our pages present alternative points of view.”

It’s kind of funny, the line about countering criticism–the whole point of the column is that the paper’s gotten a lot of criticism about hiring Yoo, but the response to that criticism is not to hire someone representing the critics’ point of view, but to tell them to stop reading blogs.

In point of fact, the Inquirer‘s columnists do not all represent the left. In addition to Rick Santorum, a former Pennsylvania senator who got 16 percent of the Philadelphia vote in his last election, the lineup also features Kevin Ferris, who writes his own defenses of torture and condemns Barack Obama’s “Dangerous Naivete in Foreign Policy.” And Michael Smerconish, a more moderate conservative who has filled in as a substitute host for Bill O’Reilly and Joe Scarborough.

There’s five other columnists listed by the paper, all with backgrounds in corporate journalism. Some of them are mildly liberal; none of them are likely to be mistaken for I.F. Stone. Certainly none of them are prominent figures in progressive politics, a left-wing counterpart to Santorum.

And who would be the left-wing counterpart to Yoo, exactly? Bill Ayers? That’s unfair to Ayers, whose actions, however reckless, didn’t end up killing anybody.

This is the trouble with treating Yoo as someone who merely “provide[s] the catalyst for intelligent discourse”: Torture is illegal under U.S. law and a violation of the U.S. Constitution. And, despite the indignation Jackson seems to feel over the “very pleasant” Yoo being called a “war criminal” by emailers, it’s classified as, yes, a war crime by international law.

When influential institutions treat those responsible for such things as worthy experts, society risks losing things even more valuable than “thoughtful conversation.”

About Jim Naureckas

Extra! Magazine Editor Since 1990, Jim Naureckas has been the editor of Extra!, FAIR's monthly journal of media criticism. He is the co-author of The Way Things Aren't: Rush Limbaugh's Reign of Error, and co-editor of The FAIR Reader: An Extra! Review of Press and Politics in the '90s. He is also the co-manager of FAIR's website. He has worked as an investigative reporter for the newspaper In These Times, where he covered the Iran-Contra scandal, and was managing editor of the Washington Report on the Hemisphere, a newsletter on Latin America. Jim was born in Libertyville, Illinois, in 1964, and graduated from Stanford University in 1985 with a bachelor's degree in political science. Since 1997 he has been married to Janine Jackson, FAIR's program director. You can follow Jim on Twitter at @JNaureckas.