All posts filed under: History

Denial and Defamation: The ITN-LM Libel Trial Revisited (II)

PART TWO: THE TRIAL VI. The Standards of Western Journalism The trial eventually began at the High Courts of Justice in London on 28 February 2000. The defendants—recorded as Michael Hume, InformInc (LM) Ltd., and Helene Guldberg—arrived at court on the heels of a disappointing pre-trial hearing. The presiding judge, Mr. Justice Morland, had ruled the testimony of a number of key defence witnesses, including the BBC’s John Simpson, inadmissible. He was not interested in rehearsing the debates about the journalism of attachment or press freedom that had convulsed the chatterati for three years. The claimants—recorded as Independent Television News Ltd., Penny Marshall, and Ian Williams—held that Deichmann’s article, Hume’s accompanying editorial, and the first LM press release were all false and defamatory. Under Britain’s controversial libel law, the defendants were required to show that their contested claims about ITN’s reporting were true. Morland simply wanted to establish if that was the case. The defence’s priority was to establish the location of the barbed wire fence at Trnopolje. This their lawyer Gavin Millar successfully accomplished …

Denial and Defamation: The ITN-LM Libel Trial Revisited (I)

PART ONE: THE CAMPS Intro: From Phnom Pehn to Srebrenica In 1977, Noam Chomsky and his co-author, the late Edward S. Herman, wrote an essay for the Nation entitled “Distortions at Fourth Hand,” in which they scorned reports that the Khmer Rouge were turning Cambodia into a charnel house. Stories of genocide, they suggested, were either exaggerated or fabricated outright by refugees, and any deaths—regrettable though they may be—were most likely the result of disease, starvation, and confusion caused by America’s devastating involvement in the foregoing civil war. The two books that bore the brunt of Herman and Chomsky’s disdain were John Barron and Anthony Paul’s Murder of a Gentle Land and François Ponchaud’s Cambodia Year Zero. Contemporaneous accounts from and about war zones are rarely correct in every particular. But Chomsky and Herman ignored everything Ponchaud and Barron-Paul got right, and seized upon isolated errors and inconsistencies to discredit their work in its entirety. Gareth Porter and George C. Hildebrand’s book Cambodia: Starvation and Revolution, on the other hand, they praised as “a carefully …

Frederick Douglass, The Columbian Orator, and the 1619 Project

On September 3, 1838, the most famous slave in American history began his escape to freedom. Dressed as a free black sailor and equipped with forged identification papers, Frederick Douglass fled Maryland. Remarkably, this fugitive carried with him a book, which was perhaps his sole possession: The Columbian Orator. In his three autobiographies, written over the five decades of a very public life, Douglass consistently paid tribute to The Columbian Orator. He describes the book as an intellectual turning point that liberated him from the mental shackles of slavery. Indeed, the connection between slavery of the mind and slavery of the body is a recurrent theme in Douglass’s political thought. In his autobiographical Narrative (1845), he explains: I have found that, to make a contented slave, it is necessary to make a thoughtless one. It is necessary to darken his moral and mental vision, and, as far as possible, to annihilate the power of reason. He must be able to detect no inconsistencies in slavery; he must be made to feel that slavery is right; …

The Return of the ‘Witch Hunt’ Analogy

The political slur “witch hunt” is back. After continually using the term to discredit Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation—84 times over a seven-month period of tweets, by one reporter’s count—President Trump has invoked the term anew to defend against the House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry. Rudy Giuliani, the president’s personal attorney, went one step further in an interview on October 8, 2019, with Fox News’s Laura Ingraham. Referring to the Salem witch trials of 1692, Giuliani said that the impeachment inquiry is “worse than a witch hunt.” The accused witches back then “had more rights”; the court “required witnesses to face the witch and some witches were acquitted.” Giuliani claimed he was so angered by the House Democrats’ recent actions that he “went back to read two books about the Salem witch trials.” If so, he either picked deficient accounts, or else he failed to read them very carefully. In truth, all twenty-three individuals who were tried by the specially empowered witchcraft court at Salem were convicted. Nineteen of these were executed by hanging (along with …

Higher Education’s Medievalist Moral Panic

On September 19, the International Society of Anglo-Saxonists (ISAS), a 36-year-old organization of academics specializing in the history, culture, and literature of England before the Norman Conquest, hastily voted to change its name. Indeed, the vote was so hasty that the organization had no idea what its new name ought to be (it is soliciting suggestions from members). Nonetheless, the majority of its 600-odd members were certain of one thing: they no longer wanted to be associated with the words “Anglo-Saxon.” In the view of many of those members, that term had become tainted, appropriated by an assortment of white supremacists, white nationalists, and neo-Nazis that calls itself the “alt-right.” During the Charlottesville, Virginia melée of August 11–12, 2017, which included a supremacist’s murder of a woman by car attack, the white nationalists who marched had carried banners and standards incorporating iconography that, if not always precisely Anglo-Saxon in inspiration, was certainly medieval: Templar crosses, the double eagle of the Holy Roman Empire, and in one case, a Germanic rune beloved of neo-Nazis that was …

‘Oikophobia’: Our Western Self-Hatred

It was an Italian evening in late summer at the end of the previous decade, and I was having dinner outside in the shade of the Roman Colosseum—the emblem of a decadent Empire whose ruins were everywhere to be seen. One of my fellow diners, a young graduate student of Ancient History, suddenly made the disquieting observation that she could never speak ill of another culture. Not only was she unable to do so, but in fact she emphasized that she did not even have the right to do so. When I asked her, alluding to her own Austrian roots, what she might say of a culture that produced, say, Adolf Hitler, she replied that she as an Austrian European may criticize European and Austrian culture, and consequently that brutal dictator. My follow-up question, whether then by her logic a non-Austrian or non-European should not be allowed to criticize Nazism, did not receive a clear reply. But my fellow diner continued to insist that we should only criticize our own cultures, never others. I thus …

‘Cancel Culture,’ Roaring Twenties-Style

The term “cancel culture” has become hotly contested of late. Critics say it is indiscriminately used to describe different degrees of mass opprobrium produced by transgressions that range from the trivial to the criminal. Now, while mob justice is never a particularly good idea, it is certainly true that some instances are more serious than others. Probably the worst kind involves a serious accusation made against a public figure, who is then investigated and cleared, but whose life and reputation are never allowed to completely recover. I was reminded of this reading Claire Lehmann’s recent essay about the fate of Giovanni da Col, a young man driven from the journal he founded amid accusations of sexual and financial impropriety, despite the fact that these claims had been investigated and found to be baseless. Woody Allen, meanwhile, had his career belatedly derailed by the reemergence of child molestation allegations, first made by his estranged partner Mia Farrow during an ugly custody fight in 1992. These claims, too, were thoroughly investigated at the time and dismissed, but …

The Real Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

This article does not reflect the views of the Transportation Security Administration.  It is most living Americans’ “Where Were You When” moment, the day we all watched looped film of airliners crashing into the Twin Towers, watched victims trapped by raging flames forced to choose between being burned alive and jumping to their deaths. Readers not old enough to remember the horror of that day can get a sense from audio of 9/11 released by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) in 2018. The TSA is an agency of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security that was created as a response to the 9/11 attacks to make sure nothing like that ever happens again. As that collective trauma fades into history, the TSA, where I work, enjoys about the same level of public support as a measles outbreak. The Threat and Why We Do What We Do If you worked for the federal government on 9/11 in any sort of national security capacity, you knew fear of further attacks were pervasive, particularly after the anthrax mailings …

In Praise of Renoir’s Male Gaze

Renoir took such presumptuous, slavering joy in looking at naked women. ~Peter Schjeldahl in the New Yorker The Impressionist painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir faces stern moral criticisms in Peter Schjeldahl’s recent New Yorker essay “Renoir’s Problem Nudes” for paintings deemed to be too adoring of women as soft fleshy creatures. On this basis, Schjeldahl argues, Renoir should be dismissed from canonical art. The evident pleasure Renoir took in painting female bodies represents his moral failure—the sexist and unethical “male gaze.” Renoir’s patriarchal attitudes, Schjeldahl writes, “may be worse than misogyny, which at least credits women with power as antagonists.” The scandal of Renoir’s nudes is that his canvases express his love of women’s bodies: “Sex and art figured for him as practically interchangeable rewards for living. An argument is often made that we shouldn’t judge the past by the values of the present, but that’s a hard sell in a case as primordial as Renoir’s.” The man evidently enjoyed the female form, and thought that sex and art were good things. What a monster. Schjeldahl’s description …

No, Jonathan Haidt is Not Like a Slavery Apologist

Eve Fairbanks, in an essay for the Washington Post, argues that many of the writers on the so-called “reasonable right,” a group that includes such seemingly benign figures as Bari Weiss and Jonathan Haidt, are making many of the same arguments and using much the same language as proslavery advocates in the American South: The reasonable right’s rhetoric is exactly the same as the antebellum rhetoric I’d read so much of. The same exact words. The same exact arguments. Rhetoric, to be precise, in support of the slave-owning South. Fairbanks follows this breathless announcement by acknowledging that she is not accusing anyone of defending slavery, and that includes, weirdly enough, actual antebellum proslavery writers. “Proslavery rhetoricians talked little of slavery itself,” she writes. “Instead, they anointed themselves the defenders of ‘reason,’ free speech and ‘civility.’” This is a bit like smearing someone as a Nazi, then qualifying it with the claim that overt anti-Semitism was really quite atypical of Nazism. In her characterization of proslavery thought, Fairbanks has taken a line that not even the …