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.