Pedophiles, Terrorists and the Massachusetts Senate Race

An illuminating account of how conservatives won the Massachusetts Senate race (Washington Independent, 1/20/10) singled out an op-ed by Dorothy Rabinowitz in the Wall Street Journal (1/14/10) as having energized citizens to vote against Martha Coakley. And, honestly, the piece does provide plenty of legitimate ammunition for the anti-Coakley side.

The op-ed centered on a case in which three members of the Amirault family, which ran a pre-school in Massachusetts, were sent to prison based on children’s accounts of seemingly impossible sexual abuse. (Read the column if you want to see the grisly yet preposterous examples.) Rabinowitz, who has long written about the child sex-abuse witch-hunting that has put numerous people in jail based on bizarre and unverifiable accusations, pointed to Coakley’s strenuous defense of the convictions as attorney general as evidence of her unsuitability for higher office.

It’s refreshing to see a piece of conservative opinion journalism that is grounded in actual investigation and addresses a real issue (and doesn’t mention ACORN even once). If it had an impact on the outcome of the Senate race, that’s what political writing is supposed to do.

There’s one false note that I want to point out in the op-ed, though, when Rabinowitz contrasted Coakley’s enthusiasm for the dubious process that convicted the Amiraults with her concern over the treatment of prisoners rounded up in the “War on Terror”: “It is little short of wonderful to hear now of Ms. Coakley’s concern for the rights of terror suspects at Guantanamo–her urgent call for the protection of the right to the presumption of innocence.”

I think it’s fair to say that the point of Rabinowitz’s sarcasm is that Coakley’s concern for due process is misplaced–that it should be reserved for the innocent Amiraults, and not extended to the terror suspects. This impression is confirmed by an earlier column from Rabinowitz (2/2/09) that attacked Obama for “issuing executive orders effectively undermining efforts to extract (from captured Al-Qaeda operatives) intelligence essential to the prevention of terror attacks”–i.e., preventing the government from torturing suspects.

Sexually abusing children and killing random people to make political points are both horrible things–which is why people are inclined not to worry too much about the rights of people who are accused of such crimes, and sometimes neglect the rules that are designed to separate the guilty from the innocent. Rabinowitz made a strong case that Coakley fell into this trap when it came to the Massachusetts pre-school charges–but she seems to have a similar blind spot for the possibility that some inmates at Guantanamo may have been equally railroaded.

Rabinowitz writes movingly about the heartbreak of being unjustly imprisoned and separated from one’s family; she could write exactly the same story about many of the Guantanamo inmates–but provoking outrage against the politicians responsible for the tragedies might not be to her ideological taste.

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.