NYTimes criticizes, reinforces NYTimes smear on Obama, Muslims

NY Times LogoAn op-ed piece by Edward Luttwak the New York Times last week relied on a very questionable description of Obama as a “Muslim apostate” to argue that he’d have a hard time reaching out to Muslim leaders and would be at risk of assassination if he visited any countries with a lot of Muslims. It was widely criticized in the blogosphere.

Yesterday, Clark Hoyt, the “public editor”, weighed in:

I interviewed five Islamic scholars, at five American universities, recommended by a variety of sources as experts in the field. All of them said that Luttwak’s interpretation of Islamic law was wrong….

Interestingly, in defense of his own article, Luttwak sent me an analysis of it by a scholar of Muslim law whom he did not identify. That scholar also did not agree with Luttwak that Obama was an apostate or that Muslim law would prohibit punishment for any Muslim who killed an apostate. He wrote, “You seem to be describing some anarcho-utopian version of Islamic legalism, which has never existed, and after the birth of the modern nation state will never exist.”

Also interestingly, before the paragraphs I quoted, Hoyt had devoted the first three three paragraphs summarizing and quoting Luttwak’s (incorrect) argument without any indication that it was false. So somebody who read only the start of the story would have the impression of “Obama as Muslim apostate” reinforced. Not to sound churlish or anything, but it really wouldn’t have been hard to write the first paragraph the way I did, to include the key piece of information that the Luttwak’s piece was, um, wrong. In fact when I took Journalism 101 years ago I learned that this was the kind of thing you’re supposed to do. Ah well.

At least Hoyt did do some digging and got to the process reason why the Times wound up publishing this garbage:

David Shipley, the editor of the Op-Ed page, said Luttwak’s article was vetted by editors who consulted the Koran, associated text, newspaper articles and authoritative histories of Islam. No scholars of Islam were consulted because “we do not customarily call experts to invite them to weigh in on the work of our contributors,” he said.

Given that the editors and the sources they consulted overlooked what appears to be a blindingly erroneous interpretation of the Koran, not supported by any associated text, and inconsistencies with authoritative histories of Islam, I’d have to say this approach isn’t working for them. Perhaps they should consider consulting experts on topics they are so uninformed about. And wait a second, seven years after 8/11 and a bunch of years into wars in two Muslim nations, what’s their excuse for being so uninformed anyhow?

Shipley doesn’t see any problem with this, although he “regretted not urging Luttwak to soften his language about possible assassination, given how sensitive the subject is.” Because, you know, otherwise it would be just fine to say that Muslims are more likely to try to kill the guy who speaks knowledgeably about Islam, makes a distinction between pro-Israel and pro-Likud, and is against the war in Iraq than they are George W. Bush — who, in case Luttwak or the Times has forgotten, started the war and backed the occupation, shows no comprehension of and or respect for Islam.

Hoyt doesn’t touch on any of that. He does, however, have a suggestion:

With a subject this charged, readers would have been far better served with more than a single, extreme point of view. When writers purport to educate readers about complex matters, and they are arguably wrong, I think The Times cannot label it opinion and let it go at that.

Looks like he thinks as long as his paper also provides other points of views, it’s okay for The Times to purport to educate readers by printing lies.