Mindless Media, Stewart Case & Blair’s Apology

A few weeks back, a subdivision of new homes was torched in Charles County, MD, just south of Washington, D.C. The news readers on the local TV stations, with little or no evidence, barked out night after night, “Eco-Terrorists” could be involved. When that claim turned out to be without merit, they started howling, that there could be “a Neo-Nazi” connection to the arsons. Wrong again!

There have been other examples, recently, of this shoot first, get-the-facts later type of reporting/commentary in the media. Since 9/11, Right Wing ranters, such as Bill O’Reilly, Michael Savage, Ann Coulter, and others, have been having a field day attacking Liberals. These toxic verbal assaults, some of which are extremely personal, have consequences. One is that they create an atmosphere of hate, suspicion and divisiveness. Another is that they encourage the kind of off-the-wall journalism that is evidenced by the Charles County arson stories. Third, with all the new, over-the-top terrorism laws on the books, this ugly pattern of baiting liberals, smearing reputations, reporting of half-truths, and outright lying, (like insisting Iraq had WMD), can have tragic results.

Keep in mind that since 9/11, the Congress has passed the draconian U.S. Patriot Act and created the Homeland Security Department, (HSD), a 180,000 manned agency, soon to be headed by John Ashcroft’s hatchet man, Michael Chertoff. Congress has also enacted other laws that promote a national i.d. surveillance system. The Supreme Court has added to this dangerous mix by failing to effectively check the White House’s broad claims of executive authority. In "Hamdi v U.S.," the high court condoned the evil of preventive detention, which allows the government to indefinitely jail an accused citizen by merely labeling the defendant as an “enemy combatant.”

On another media front, the New Republic (TNR) magazine ran a story by T. A. Frank, on 01/27/05. It was supposed to be humorous, but few took it that way. In his piece, Frank did a mean-spirited job on anti-Iraq War protesters. He called for violence, torture and even death for leading leftists who dare to oppose George W. Bush’s war on terror and slaughter. Writing for Counterpunch, Dave Zirn, on 01/31/05, took Frank to task for his mindless spiel. Zirn said, “This article is yet another effort to intimidate and silence people who aren’t willing to toe the party line espoused by Democrats and Republicans alike that the death of 1,400 U.S. troops and 100,000 Iraq civilians is somehow justified. To be quiet in its face is to give ground in a period where one has precious little to give.” [1]

Meanwhile, in NYC, Lynne Stewart, a respected civil rights lawyer, was convicted on Feb. 10th by a federal jury on conspiracy charges that made a mockery of the attorney-client privilege. They dealt with her defense of Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman, an Islamic spiritual leader, known as the "Blind Cleric." She was accused of "aiding terrorists" by allegedly, in 2000, conveying "messages" from the Sheik to his followers in Egypt. The worst kind of hearsay and prejudicial evidence supposedly connecting Osama bin Laden to one of Stewart’s codefendants was also allowed into the case. The Sheik, in 1995, was found guilty of conspiring to attack U.S. targets, including the WTC. In his trial, two key government witnesses were informants, one of whom had made a million dollars spying for the FBI. (2)

Because of this, Stewart, 65, a champion of the poor, now faces 20 years in prison. While the jury was considering her case, she received threats, via a printed flier, that denounced her, and Sheik Rahman, too, as “traitors to America.” The Jewish Defense Organization, an extremist Jewish group, (3) took credit for the flyer, copies of which were also put out on the streets around the federal courthouse where Stewart’s jury was then deliberating, in downtown Manhattan, according to the New York Times. (4) After the guilty verdict, the NY Post, on 02/11/05, branded Stewart as "Terror’s Handmaiden." Its Neocon claptrap, John Podhoretz, labeled her "an intellectual monster."

The past may be prologue. The UK has, like in the U.S. today, “Prevention of Terrorism ” laws on its books. The Brits have used those laws in the past, plus police interrogation methods that would have shamed Stalin’s henchmen, to build many of their bogus cases against defendants suspected of terrorism offenses. Most of the accused were either Irish born or of Irish descent. The UK regimes were also aided in their scheme by a Fleet Street press so scurrilous, that it gave the term “yellow journalism" a bad name. (5)

On Feb. 9th, British PM, Tony Blair, apologized for the wrongful jailing of 11 people for IRA bombing attacks on pubs in England, back in the 70s. He said the families “deserved to be completely and publicly exonerated.” Blair was referring to the cases known as the “Guildford Four” and the “Maguire Seven.” There were, of course, many other such gross miscarriages of British justice, like the “Birmingham Six" case, where Irish defendants were imprisoned for long periods of time. A few of the defendants died in prison.

I had the occasion over the years to meet in either Belfast, Washington, D.C. and/or on WBAI’s popular Radio Free Eireann program in NYC, three individuals who had served prison terms on terrorism-related offenses in the UK, that they hadn’t committed: Gerry Conlon, Paul Hill and Anne Maguire. They are all fine people, who suffered dearly simply because of their Irish race, Catholic religion and/or their nationalist politics. This is something that is now happening in this country, primarily to the Muslim community, and to those who come to their defense, like Lynne Stewart.

The Baltimore Sun, which rarely if ever gets it right, picked up on this theme when they published an editorial, entitled, “Apologetic After All these Years,” on Feb. 10, 2005. The reason I say this about the Sun is that it smeared advocates of justice for these very same Irish defendants, as "supporters of violence." Nevertheless, its editorial deserves to be reprinted in part, and to have the last words of this commentary. The Sun wrote:

“…The Patriot Act, the incarceration without charge of such citizens as Jose Padilla and Yaser Hamdi, the secret roundups of illegal aliens – these make the British tactics look almost quaint by comparison… Yesterday, Prime Minister Tony Blair apologized for the lives ruined, and for the misplaced confidence the British government displayed in its determination that a different sort of conflict called for a different set of rules. Years from now, will an American president be making the same sort of apology?”


[1]. http://counterpunch.org/zirin01312005.html

[2]. http://www.socialism.com/fsarticles/vol25no4/stewart.html

[3]. http://www.lewrockwell.com/orig/garris2.html

[4]. The New York Times, 02/09/05, “Lawyer on Trial in Terror Case Finds Threat Left at Her Door,” by Julia Preston.

[5]. LIz Curtis’ "The Propaganda War."