Bagram blast fallout: The politics of a smear campaign

By now most of you have surely heard the news:

Vice President Cheney was inside the main U.S. air base in Afghanistan yesterday when a suicide bomber detonated his explosives just outside the gates, killing as many as 23 people and showcasing insurgents’ growing capabilities in advance of a widely expected spring offensive.

Within hours, a purported Taliban spokesman asserted responsibility for the attack — which killed a U.S. soldier and an American civilian contractor — and said it was an attempt to assassinate Cheney. U.S. officials disputed the assertion that Cheney was the target, noting that his overnight stay at the sprawling Bagram air base had been unplanned and that he was well away from the blast.


There was a good deal of coverage of the attack all over the blogosphere, but see in particular Dustin’s excellent live-blogging of the story over at Blue Collar Heresy. He’s got some useful links and some solid analysis.

But the story is now not so much the attack itself, nor even whether or not Cheney was the target, but the reaction to the attack in the blogosphere.

Some leading conservative blogs — Michelle Malkin, Little Green Footballs, Jules Crittenden, The Strata-Sphere, Wizbang, and Riehl World View, for example, as well as Pajamas Media — have been falling all over themselves trying to make the case that liberals (or Democrats, or progressives, or whatever) wish that Cheney had been killed in the attack. What they point to are some of the 400+ comments that were later deleted from The Huffington Post’s item on the attack, comments that did indeed express regret that Cheney was not killed. (For examples of those comments, see the posts linked above.)

There is no excuse for such comments. However much I may dislike Cheney, I do not wish him harm. And I certainly find him preferable to the Taliban. (Obviously.)

And yet the right is trying to make an issue out of this — the comments of a few loose screws — in order to reinforce its larger smear of liberals (or Democrats, or progressives, or whatever) as pro-terror and anti-American. Here’s Glenn Greenwald, who, as is often the case, gets it right (in a must-read post):

The smoke had barely cleared from the suicide bombing in Afghanistan this morning, near a base where Dick Cheney was located, when right-wing pundits — whose sole expertise seems to be in exploiting terrorism-related issues for political gain — began their attempt to politically exploit the attack on or near Cheney. Seemingly in unison, they all went digging deep into the comment sections of various liberal blogs, found inappropriate and hateful comments, and then began insisting that these isolated comments proved something…

But stray, anonymous comments prove nothing. And those who rely on them to make an argument — especially without bothering to make any effort to prove that they are reflective of anything — should be presumed to have no argument at all. That is why they are relying upon such transparently flimsy and misleading methods to make a point. And the same principle applies to journalists — those who write articles about “the blogosphere” by using random, stray comments (or mean emails they receive), by definition, have nothing to say, no point worth making.


Case in point: A couple of months ago I wrote a post called “Bigotry in the blogosphere: Barack Obama and the anti-Muslim paranoia of the right“. It looked at how one particularly bigoted conservative blogger, Debbie Schlussel, was making a big deal about Obama’s middle name and familial ties to Islam. The first several comments respond intelligently to the post. But then the bigotry truly begins, with various anonymous commenters using various racial slurs to attack Obama. I won’t copy them here. I have thought about deleting the comments altogether — even now I am tempted to — but I realize that I should rather keep them up as a reminder of the bigotry that still exists out there in the real world.

Now, what am I to make of them? They are extreme in their language, reflective of astonishing ignorance and disturbing hatred. They are shocking. But are they representative of anything other than the bigotry of those who posted them? Put another way, do they represent the views of all others who oppose Obama?

No, of course not. You may oppose Obama — you may even dislike him — without being a racist and certainly without using the ‘N’ word. You may abhor such racism altogether. (I hope you do.) You may want to distance yourself as much as possible from such detestable ignorance and hatred. (You should.) You may, as I do, consider such comments to be isolated incidents of hate speech.

Well, just as some commenters use racial slurs against Obama, so do some commenters wish Cheney dead. The former do not represent Obama’s opponents any more than the latter represent Cheney’s opponents. To do as some conservative bloggers are doing now I would have to try to make the case that conservatives (or Republicans, or whatever) think Obama is a “Muslim nigger terrorist piece of shit” (an amalgam of some of the slurs). I’m not about to try to make that case. However much I may dislike certain conservatives, including those who have smeared Obama publicly, I do not think that they all think that Obama is a “Muslim nigger terrorist piece of shit”. (Although I do think that racism of that kind is a much more serious and pervasive problem in America than the problem of those who wish Cheney dead. I suspect there are many more such racists than homicidal Cheney-haters out there.)

All of which is to say that the conservative blogosphere — not all of it, but certainly some of its more significant members — are making much ado about very little. Many of Cheney’s critics — and I count myself among them — would like to see him refuted, disgraced, maybe even impeached. But dead? No.

         

16 Comments

  1. The thing about the comments, they are from individuals not associated with the blog, they aren’t front pagers. Now Little Debbie Schussel, from the Detroit area, has her own blog and is a frequent link or contributor to Michele Malkin. I don’t recall MM deleteing LDS’ hate (see Michigan cell phone Mackinaw Bridge hoax). Find some Lefty bloggers who put the ‘kill Cheney’ on a front page post and you have an issue. Commenters on both sides go psycho at times, so what. When hate or violence makes the front page then we have an issue.

  2. Michael, I don’t think Greenwald was a good quote for righteous outrage on this point.

    Patterico has some quotes from Greenwald of Greenwald doing

    precisely

    what he accuses – with such high moral outrage – right-wing blogs of doing: namely taking comments and using them to attack the blog and smear the Right in general.

    Rudi, as for when hate reaches the front page, the Left’s delete key is still in play. Most famously, Kos’ “mercenaries…screw them” about the guards who were murdered at Fallujah. He deleted it from his site, never to be seen again (except in Screencaptures).

    From my perspective, most of the venom these days…and the need to censor comments liberally…comes on the Left.

    I suspect this is because Bush is in power. In the Clinton era, many conservatives seemed rabidly insane about Clinton. I suspect Bush engenders similar – if higher – levels of derangement on the Left.

  3. And if you want to see a smear campaign on the Left, check out the Huff’n’Puffer’s “Guiliani the Transvestite” today.

    Guiliani is in the lead, and you will see the Left smearing him for beings friends with gays. Wait for the homophobic comments on Left blogs then…of course, which won’t imply anything about the Left, which totally supports gay rights.

  4. Komrad Marlow – Both the Right and Left will smear Rudy. The Internets did start during Clinton, I wonder what talk radio and the first Wingnut blogs said in the 90′s. Seems some Wingnuts and mainstream politicians wanted to defund Bosnia, deja vue all over agian.

    Wackos Lefty commenters, did you go to Michael’s blog to read the comments there, not from the Left. What about Little Debbie Schussel, she front page linked to FrontPage.com and appears on cable and radio. How may Lefty’s have the exposure of a Little Debbie or Dan Riehl?

  5. Part of the trouble with these assumptions is that with the anonymity of blog comments, we can’t really ascribe them to either political group anyway. I wouldn’t put it past extremists of either side to pose as wackos from the other side and post some of this hateful trash, in order to make the other side appear to be farther afield than they really are.

  6. Anyone who wishes death on their fellow man is not a good person. At all. That is just not right. But at the same time if Obama or someone were involved in the blast, some on the right would’ve wished he died. It cuts both ways in this political climate unfortunately. :(

  7. C Stanley, you make a good point about “sock puppetry” – something Greenwald himself has been accused of.

    Rudi, you are totally right in re Clinton. As I recalled, conservatives seemed to foam at the mouth over him. As you note, they were willing to shut down the Balkan campaign to spite him…actually, shut down the government itself.

    Yep, Yoggi Berra was right…it be deja vu all over again.

    I think, however, that some Democrats are smarter than the GOP was, and are determined to save Pelosi from her instincts. We saw that on the choice of a replacement for Intelligence Chair…and we are seeing it in the pulling back from the “slow bleed” strategy.

    The nutroots want all confrontation all the time though.

    BTW…it might be fun to have a President in drag :)

  8. Chuck – I wish for Osama Bin Laden’s death. And the death of those who keep sending suicide bombers against civilian targets. And those who rape young girls and chop off the arms of boys in Africa. That make me a bad person? If so, I gladly accept the designation.

  9. Seems some Wingnuts and mainstream politicians wanted to defund Bosnia, deja vue all over agian.

    Yeh, Rudi- Clinton could have used some of the current rhetoric about not micromanaging a war, or limiting the ability of the CIC to determine the number of troops on the ground. It really shows that the GOP is much better at wrapping themselves in the flag when the occasion calls for obstruction of a sitting president.

    Caught a minute of Mark Levin’s radio show last night (wingnut that nominated Rush for Nobel Peace prize) and he was having a field day castrating the lefty bloggers’ wishful thinking. Guess Ann Coulter’s death wish for Justice Stevens must have slipped his mind.

  10. Komrad Marlow – Will Rudy in drag and at GayPride parades work for the fringe in the Wingnut Party. I seem to recall Nancy P being accused of SF values by the Hannity’s. I loved the photo with him and the Donald, politicians need a little humor, but not Hillary humor. :-P.

  11. Austin,

    I’m not wishing that meathead dead, karma will take care of him. Sorry, it’s just fundamentally wrong, no matter how evil a person is, to wish them dead. Those who wish death upon others will suffer from what-goes-around-comes-around-treat-others-as-you-wish-to-be-treated syntrome.

  12. The interesting thing with my own personal experience with the “smear campaign” has to do with the fact I told people to “think like a propaganda official” and understand how their wish for Cheney to come to harm would give the other side ammo. As soon as the story started the political implications of the reaction to it were obvious; I guess it just wasn’t proper to point them out.

    Somehow because of that I got spun as saying it’s alright for people to get hurt as long as it’s politically advantageous for the left. Should have saw it coming, but didn’t (it was 3am my time when the story started… I was a little tired, lol).

    It was just annoying to smack down some of the crazies on the far left only to be accused of being one myself, lol.

  13. Dustin…that is a funny story. Man, the moment some one even sticks their head above the trench line these days, snipers start taking aim.

    “Komrad Marlow – Will Rudy in drag and at GayPride parades work for the fringe in the Wingnut Party.”

    Hahahahaha…one thing I like about Guiliani is that he will have both the Far Right and the Far Left foaming like rabid dogs.

    Man, his having gay friends…and living with them when he split with his wife! Can you imagine what Pat Robertson would say?

    Who knows, though? Milton Berle was Eisenhower America’s beloved “Uncle Miltie” while appearing frequently in a dress. I remember a scene from a Berle movie, in which he was in drag at a heist because the boys rescheduled the robbery for his “dressing up night”.

    Never understood how Berle got away with it. Maybe it was the cigar? But then, we know what Freud said about cigars?!

    I’ve never seen the appeal myself, though it would be hilarious to have a President with a history of being in drag.

    Can you imagine what Osama would say? Or the Iranians? America would be Sodom and Gomorrah indeed! :)

  14. In response to Marlowecan

    “Guiliani is in the lead, and you will see the Left smearing him for beings friends with gays. Wait for the homophobic comments on Left blogs then…of course, which won’t imply anything about the Left, which totally supports gay rights”

    You seem to be suggesting that because people on the left have made Giuliani’s crossdressing and friendship with gays public knowledge that this demonstrates a hidden homophobia amongst liberals. I think this is completely fallacious reasoning. I think most people on the left think it is great that someone with such a background is willing to put himself out there and run as a Republican. That being said they don’t particularly want any Republican for a president. I can see nothing wrong with pointing out to the republican base (a sizeable proportion of which are actively, virulently, and openly homophobic) that their front-runner has such a background.

    While there is of course a world of difference in the situations, I would draw a parallel to what happened with Ted Haggard. He wasn’t outed because he liked to privately have sex with men, he was outed because he liked to privately have sex with men while publicly denouncing homosexuals and campaigning against gay rights. It wasn’t homophobia that caused his outing, it was hypocritophobia. (And I don’t mean to suggest that Giuilani is the hypocrite here.)

  15. In response to Marlowecan

    “Guiliani is in the lead, and you will see the Left smearing him for beings friends with gays. Wait for the homophobic comments on Left blogs then…of course, which won’t imply anything about the Left, which totally supports gay rights”

    You seem to be suggesting that because people on the left have made Giuliani’s crossdressing and friendship with gays public knowledge that this demonstrates a hidden homophobia amongst liberals. I think this is completely fallacious reasoning. I think most people on the left think it is great that someone with such a background is willing to put himself out there and run as a Republican. That being said they don’t particularly want any Republican for a president. I can see nothing wrong with pointing out to the republican base (a sizeable proportion of which are actively, virulently, and openly homophobic) that their front-runner has such a background.

    While there is of course a world of difference in the situations, I would draw a parallel to what happened with Ted Haggard. He wasn’t outed because he liked to privately have sex with men, he was outed because he liked to privately have sex with men while publicly denouncing homosexuals and campaigning against gay rights. It wasn’t homophobia that caused his outing, it was hypocritophobia. (And I don’t mean to suggest that Giuilani is the hypocrite here.)

    Another parallel is the issue of Cheney’s lesbian daughter and her decision to have a child with her partner. Most people on the left don’t have a problem with that and would consider it to be a private matter except for the fact that Cheney is the vice-president of an administration which has endeavoured to deny rights to gays and lesbians through constitutional amendments.

  16. Sorry for the double posting above, but one more point.

    Senator Bird a democrat who was a former klansman. People on the right will bring this fact up. Does this indicate that those people are anti-rascist crusaders? Probably not, they are just pointing out that Bird has a past which is at odds with the values of most democrats.

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