Friday, October 21, 2005

The Bad Bloggers Meet the Wall Street Journal

Or: I’ll Huff and I’ll Puff and I’ll Blow Your Blog Down
 
Interesting fault lines developing. On one side of the divide are the blogs that want the questions about the OU detonation on October 1st to simply go away, thank-you-very-much. The matter has been settled and anyone jejune or tacky enough to persist needs to calm down, quit with the paranoia and get on with life.

Cathy Young reports on the Wall Street Journal’s take on this story:
     On October 13, The Wall Street Journal published an article debunking the alleged terrorist angle and taking the bloggers to the woodshed for spreading hysteria about the story. Some of the Journal‘s targets respond[ed]….[you’ll have to go to her post to get the elided links]… trying to debunk the debunking and gamely attempting to keep the story alive. Malkin, Powerline, and The Jawa Report claim that the blogs have not made any assertions, merely asked questions. First of all, that’s a common, and rather poor, excuse for irresponsible speculation. If a prominent left-wing blog ran an item titled, “Did George W. Bush know in advance about the 9/11 attacks?”, I doubt that Malkin & Co. would consider the question mark to be much of an attenuating circumstance.
Umm…where to start here? Ms. Young found the WSJ “debunking” convincing, but others didn’t. And who gets to judge what constitutes “irresponsible” or “speculation”? As for the reductio ad absurdum re: George Bush, well… is that not what left-wing bloggers have been claiming all along? They can preach to the choir; it’s okay. Bushitler will survive, as will right wing blogs. But here we are, “gamely attempting” to keep the story alive.

Then Ms. Young sets the ground rules:
     This isn’t, or shouldn’t be, about good MSM vs. bad blogs. Certainly, there have been cases in which the mainstream media have peddled bogus news and hysteria; and certainly, there have been cases in which the MSM got it wrong and the blogs got it right (most notably “Rathergate,” a.k.a. Memogate or Typewritergate). What’s more, this is not an issue of “citizen journalists” without professional credentials: Malkin is a professional journalist. And finally, the responsibility for the hysteria over the Oklahoma “suicide bombing” does not rest entirely with the blogs: a lot of the false rumors were fanned by the local TV stations (though it’s not clear to what extent their coverage was blog-driven). At best, the mainstream media and the blogs can complement each other’s strengths, with professional journalists gathering the news and bloggers subjecting their reports to fact-checking and critical analysis. In this case, what looks like sloppy and hysterical reporting by the local mainstream media fed sloppy and hysterical coverage by blogs. And vice versa.
Got that? A tu quoque here for MSM and bloggers. Level playing field when it comes to sins and such.

Well, here’s my “game attempt” — one which I will continue as long as the reasonable questions are dismissed, derided, attacked with ad hominem remarks, and otherwise sneered upon, one I will continue until it becomes apparent that the stone wall erected by our government is permanent and impenetrable. For that, I do not need the imprimatur of the Wall Street Journal.

First point for tackiness: how can these bloggers be so uncaring? I mean, think of the parents and what they’re having to endure in the face of these endless questions and hypotheses. Not a bad point, but hardly salient. Maybe some parents prefer to have it all go away. However, when my daughter died a few years ago under questionable circumstances, “leave it alone” was not a direction I considered. A parent wants to know everything, including what might have led her child to be in the vicinity of a large amount of unstable explosives. Reassuring phone calls from the FBI or no, as a parent I would be neither comforted nor reassured with a suicide note read to me over the phone two days later by an FBI agent who says he saw it on my son’s computer screen.

Ms Young agrees with the idea that asking these questions is a smear on the family. She quotes with approval blogger Caerdroia:
    [N]o matter what else, Joe [Hinrichs] has a family and friends who are very badly affected by Joe’s death. In the absence of good evidence, isn’t it a bit better to wait to pronounce from on high, so as not to unfairly smear a possible innocent and his family? Otherwise, just how are conservatives any better morally, any less conspiracy-addled freaks, than the D[emocratic] U[nderground] moonbats?
More ad hominem attacks. More tu quoque equations. So asking questions is a “smear”? Does this man always wait for someone to “pronounce from on high” before he permits himself an opinion? Who ever said conservatives are morally better than people they disagree with politically? Is this kind of talk not a bit over the top emotionally? Oops. Those are questions.

Were I a dad, I’d be down in Norman asking around, even if the FBI and the president of OU wanted me to stop. Hell, as a parent paying ransom amounts of tuition to this place of higher learning, I’d be demanding answers. Call it Cindy Sheehan mode.

Second tacky and naive point: bloggers who “cry wolf,” which is Ms. Young’s term for those who are not satisfied with what’s been put on the table for consideration. The metaphorical allusion escapes me here. Wasn’t that fairy tale about little boys who lie? Wasn’t the moral supposed to be that one avoids lying in order to be believed when (as Robert Hunter put it) “the real true action comes around the curve”? Does the “cry wolf” epithet mean that once the FBI and school authorities have spoken — declaring this simply a suicide — then any further questions are an example of bad blogging? Are we thus liars like the little boy in the story? That’s a question, because I don’t understand what “crying wolf” means, and I’ll continue to ask questions, as tacky and jejune as that may be.

Third tacky and paranoid point: How silly of us to wonder about this man’s association with Islamist terrorism. Honestly, now, aren’t we just the spinsters hoping the bad man really is under the bed?
     By October 5, the alarm was in full swing: Hinrichs had reportedly tried to purchase a large quantity of the explosive ammonium nitrate; he had allegedly converted to Islam and belonged to a mosque that may have had terrorist ties and may have been attended earlier by “20th hijacker” Zacharias Moussaoui; he may have had radical Islamic literature and a one-way airplane ticket to Algeria in his apartment; he may have attempted to enter the crowded stadium twice before he blew himself up.
Tacky, tacky. Bruising ourselves jumping to conclusions. It’s no wonder bloggers are so out of the mainstream. But it gets worse:
     As it turns out, the only truth in all this is that Hinrichs had, indeed, inquired about buying ammonium nitrate at a local store two days before his suicide, and had given evasive and suspect answers about why he needed it. Because of a tip about this attempted purchase, he had come to the attention of the FBI, which became involved in investigating the suicide. The other claims were a lot of rumor-mongering and speculation, all firmly denied by both the FBI and the university authorities and often based on laughably far-fetched “clues” (Hinrichs had a Pakistani roommate; he lived -- gasp! -- within a block of the mosque; he even -- wait until you hear this one! -- grew a beard!).
Madam, you’re behind on the speculation: his — gasp!— beard was shaved off several days before his backpack detonated. There’s the latest speculation, aided by the description of the clerk from whom he tried to buy the two hundred pounds of ammonium nitrate. Would you like to know what suicidal/homicidal Islamist terrorists do before they detonate themselves? They shave off their beards. Did you know that? Is that little piece of the mosaic important? I don’t know — maybe he just decided on a whim to shave off the hair he’d worn on his face for years (or as his father said, “since as long as I can remember”). Setting aside the significance of Joel Hinrichs’ action here, we have nonetheless established a similarity between his behavior and that of Islamist terrorists: shave the beard, Omar. Just one small clue which may or may not mean anything.

Another tacky and unreasonably persistent question: where is Hinrichs’ roommate now? Does anyone know? Why hasn’t the media interviewed him? Usually in these sensational cases, the media crawls out of the woodwork, pushing microphones in front of people and asking them, “How did you feel when you learned your roommate killed himself?” So where are the microphones? Why not here, why not now? Do you suppose the roommate may no longer be available to talk to? There was that one-way ticket to Algeria in their apartment; do you wonder if he got on the bus, Gus, and kept going? Just asking. No one is answering, though.

And speaking of roommate behavior, why was the roommate at a party that evening when he was picked up for questioning by the FBI? Is that a cultural thing, maybe? Your roommate kills himself and you need a little break? When my son’s good friend killed himself in his room last year, his friends, roommates, dorm mates, his girlfriend etc., were all invited into one place to talk — and there were lots of college administrators, counselors, etc., in attendance. But there were also police questions to be answered.

So. These are some of the queries the “cry wolf” bloggers have presented. The good bloggers, though, they quickly ascertained that it was not a story worth paying attention to:
     The news that the FBI was investigating the case of a man blowing himself up on a major university campus undoubtedly merited some attention. However, the reasonable bloggers quickly realized there was no “there” there.
And exactly how “quickly” was this realization accomplished? Oh, about a week or so.
     At Instapundit.com on October 6, Glenn Reynolds linked to a couple of blogposts discussing the allegedly suspicious details of the story, but later updated the post to include a link to an excellent post at Caerdroia debunking most of the claims. After that, he didn’t touch the story again, except to link to a cautious post by CBS News blogger Vaughn Ververs saying that the national media needed to look into the story.
Notice the wording: “he didn’t touch the story again.” Why not? What’s the harm in touching it, in walking around it, in inspecting it to see if there were any holes in it? As for the “excellent post at Caerdroia”… as I’ve said several times now, this blogger ought to have recused himself from commenting on Mr. Hinrichs’ motives or lack of them. Mr. Hinrichs was a member of Caerdroia’s fraternity. This link, however tenuous, puts in question Caerdroia’s ability to be objective about Mr. Hinrichs’ motives or associations. Beyond the deep shock that would occur when one’s fraternity brother dies — never mind that he does so during the detonation of some explosives near the stadium at a football game — what could Caerdroia bring to the conversation other than a desire that it just stop? Can’t blame him there; I’d feel the same way… but I wouldn’t expect people to see me as objective in my assessment, either.

The next comparison is telling:
     By contrast, Michelle Malkin, Powerline, and The Jawa Report flogged the story relentlessly, picking up every sensational detail and railing against the “mainstream media” for ignoring and covering up the story.
You see, don’t you, that they not only “flogged,” they “flogged relentlessly.” They didn’t object to the lack of mainstream media coverage, they “railed against” it. Tacky of them. But not nearly so tacky as the clichés which Ms. Young used to beat them over the head for their refusal to be “reasonable bloggers.”

The questions the bad bloggers have may never be answered. The FBI can stonewall for another generation. And the connections between OU’s president and the intelligence network in this country may continue to be ignored. But we’ll still be paying attention. And asking our tacky, bad blogger questions. Yes, we have no sense of shame: that’s why we’re bloggers and not, say, journalists.

At Daily Pundit, Bill Quick asks some tacky questions indeed. After going through the derisive essay from Wall Street Journal article that Ms. Young cited, Mr.Quick uses this part of their “debunking” to ask his questions:
     To that unsettling set of facts, blogs and local Oklahoma TV stations added several apparent inaccuracies, including: that Mr. Hinrichs was a Muslim and visited the mosque frequently; that he tried to enter the stadium twice but was rebuffed; that he had a one-way airplane ticket to Algeria; that there were nails in the bomb and that Islamic extremist literature was found in his apartment.
None of these claims are true: Mr. Hinrichs’ family, university officials and the Federal Bureau of Investigation say Mr. Hinrichs suffered from depression, and the explosion was an isolated event.
Well, says Mr. Quick, he sure has some questions:
    None of which claims are true?
1.  Are suicides committed by bombs common?
2.  Are suicides by bombs committed in public near a crowded event?
3.  Did Hinrichs not have a Pakistani room-mate?
4.  Did they not share an apartment one block from the Norman mosque?
5.  Was that not the mosque attended by Zacarias Moussaoui?
6.  Did Hinrichs not visit the feed store and inquire about purchasing a large amount of ammonium nitrate?
7.  Did an off-duty Norman police officer not overhear this conversation, and not run a check on his license plate?(Side question: How would running a license plate check remove any cause for alarm about somebody trying to purchase a large amount of ammonium nitrate?)
8.  It has definitely been established, then, that Hinrichs was not a Muslim, and had no inclinations in that direction?
9 . It has been established that Hinrichs never visited the Norman mosque?
10.  It has been established that no Islamic literature was found in his apartment?
11.  It has been established that the Algerian ticket (never claimed for Hinrichs, by the way, but for his room-mate) did not exist, and had no connection with the incident?
(Side question: How did the FBI happen to come across this ticket, then? Did they search every international student apartment in Norman?)
Mr. Quick has some other things to say about the “investigation” of the detonation of explosives on October 1st outside the stadium at OU. I will let his last comment stand in for the thoughts of all the bad bloggers, the ones crying wolf out there:
     Pompous journalistic commentators who ignore all these legitimate, unanswered questions in order to simply bloviate about supposed blog errors are worse than useless. Where is the official, complete FBI report? I want to see it. I want these questions answered, not ignored. Maybe “real” journalists think the story is complete, but that is why much of America thinks “real” journalists are about as trustworthy as used car salesmen.
Mr. Quick is a guard dog. We need more of them.

10 comments:

Bill said...

Cathy Young is one of several reasons that I discontinued my subscription to Reason. Matt Welsh is another, and the Editor in Chief is a third. I am with the now unremembered commmentor that pointed out that libertarians cannot help but drift left. They don't have an anchor point.

Like many others from a permissive orientation, Cathy Young really wants it to go away so that she doesn't have to think about conflicts in her world view.

One of the problems (and strengths) of principles is that they require making hard choices not to go along with the rest of the world. They also require denying oneself some instantaneous pleasure or ease of conscience.

Doug said...

Maybe that non-terrorist related Arab Gunner at the EL AL ticket counter back in 2002(?) was also just another unfortunate victim of depression?
---
Good to know the FBI has remote psychiatric channeling abilities, isn't it?
(But haven't noticed that MOST dysfunctional types carrying violent fantasies in their heads have some other difficulties going on in there.)

JoeC said...

Excellent post, Dymphna.

If there is no story, why are so many trying so hard to convince us otherwise?

An incident that needs no investigation, falls flat on its own merits, or lack thereof.

American Crusader said...

Great post. I've heard rumors lately that President Bush knew about hurricane Katrina as early as 2000.
BTW... I had to look up "Tu Quoque"
Excellent!

JoeC said...

An in-depth look at the OU bomber story from a blogger in Norman, OK.

http://journals.aol.com/mpwright9/michael4

panther33 said...

I agree that the Hinrichs case is suspicious. One question, however: Why no nails/screws/ball bearings in the backpack to maximize destruction? As I understand it, this is a standard part of the Islamic suicide bomber's kit. Without these projectiles, the suicide attack loses much of its effectiveness.

Baron Bodissey said...

panther -- According to an early observer, one who was on the scene before the police and the FBI had enforced a tight cordon, there were metal fragments or nails embedded in a tree near the bench, seemingly shrapnel or nails.

Tapscott reported it on Oct. 5th.

panther33 said...

Thanks, that's interesting. I'd not heard that.

Doug said...

joec in Norman:
Nice Piece at your link!
---
Nice Job.
---
In praise of the Elite:
Here is another worthy and wife taking *Their* fair share at American U:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/10/21/AR2005102102244_pf.html
---
Here in socialist paradise, 5 years ago the University of Hawaii found some ex-Carter Admin Pretty, hired him away from Boston for some $4 million, plus generous moving and "relocation" expenses, etc.
When we elected our first Republican Governor in decades, HE promptly started telling HER what is in the most rude manner possible.
Meanwhile, his wife was busily sprucing up their FREE Residence at a cost of Millions.
(Koa Wood Paneling and custom brass faceplates, etc can add up fast.)
Just like the American U. guy linked above, their always first class travel was extravagant in the extreme, but of course "necessary" to promote U.H.

After a few years, they dumped him at extravagant rates, and of course he remained to pass on his enlightenment to the lowly students.
---
I'm sure any similarly depressed victim here would be amply covered with fertilizer also.
(and, as at OU, iron in soil will be replenished by steaming hot nails and such)
Praise be the Annointed!
If they can dictate speech,
why should they not also dictate their own pay?

Doug said...

Back in Boston, this Carterite earned his lib credentials by fitting out the surrounding minority residents at Univ. Expense.
Tribute Indeed!