Deconstructing the Attack on Jill Carroll

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It didn’t take long after the release of Christian Science Monitor reporter Jill Carroll last week for the right-wing blogosphere to erupt in righteous fury over the “anti-American” comments she made while still in captivity, at gunpoint. What was most disturbing — and instructive — about the ignorant assault on this brave young woman was the way it migrated from the right-wing blogosphere all the way to the mainstream media before anyone bothered to check their facts.

To anyone watching Carroll’s videotaped statements both before she was released and directly after — taken in the office of a Sunni political group in Baghdad, far from the protective custody of the American military — it should have been obvious that she was hardly free to speak her mind, given that she was still being held hostage. Although she had been “freed,” she was smart enough to understand her surroundings and didn’t want to antagonize her new Sunni hosts, whom she didn’t know.

Yet a right-wing pundit named Debbie Schlussel appeared to take Carroll’s release rather personally and quickly became the most bloodthirsty of Carroll critics, complaining incessantly about Carroll’s every utterance, asking, “Why was Jill Carroll freed? Maybe it had something to do with the fact that she HATES AMERICA and our Mid-East policy. And, oh yeah, she HATES ISRAEL, too.” Her comments were picked up all over the Internet, and she continued to bash Carroll and her pre-capture writing, accusing her of being anti-war, anti-American and consorting with terrorists. Schlussel was even offended that “female Iraqi terrorists” had been released in exchange for “Princess Jill,” calling her a “spoiled brat America-hater from Ann Arbor.”

Carroll’s initial comments about being treated well by her captors (while still in the custody of the Sunni political group) were met with equal disdain. “Since things were so great in captivity,” Schlussel wrote, “maybe she should have remained at Terrorist Day Spa.”

Schlussel’s deep and abiding ignorance of Carroll’s situation and the situation on the ground in Iraq reflects that of a number of conservative media haters who blame the Western news media in Iraq for failing to report the good news, and for “reporting from hotel balconies about the latest IEDs going off,” as Laura Ingraham so famously said a few weeks back. Did someone fail not only to tell Carroll but also Bob Woodruff, to say nothing of the 91 reporters and media workers so far killed in Iraq?

(But, as conservative blogger and talk show host Hugh Hewitt so bravely noted, you don’t need to be in a war zone to be in danger. In an interview with Time magazine bureau chief Michael Ware — who was calling from the “red zone” in Baghdad where he has almost been killed by insurgents and has survived several bombings — Hewitt bragged, “I’m sitting in the Empire State Building. Michael, I’m sitting in the Empire State Building, which has been in the past, and could be again, a target…. This was the front line four and a half years ago.”)

With some conservatives pretending to be on the “front lines,” some were actively slamming Carroll for being held hostage in the first place. After Carroll told a Washington Post reporter that “I was never hurt, ever hit … I was kept in a safe place and treated very well,” the guys over at the Brothers Judd blog wrote that she “may as well just come right out and say she was a willing participant.” And in an exchange between Don Imus’ executive producer Bernard McGuirk and sidekick Charles McCord, McGuirk said that Carroll “strikes me as the kind of woman who would wear one of those suicide vests,” and that, “she may be carrying Habib’s baby at this point.”

Even the allegedly respectable right-wing media piled on, with the National Review’s John Podhoretz acting upset that Carroll was “dressed in the garb of a modest Muslim woman rather than the non-Muslim woman she actually is,” and Jonah Goldberg writing that “Maybe its just me … But Jill Carroll is increasingly starting to bug me … it would be nice to hear her say something remotely critical of her captors, particularly about the fact that they murdered her translator in cold blood. I’m very glad she’s alive, but I’m getting a very bad vibe.”

While there’s plenty of criticism to go around in the partisan media, the mainstream media deserves some of the blame for the rush to judgment, as well. Many television news outfits simply broadcast her coerced video statements without putting the tapes in the context they deserved. Simply running the tapes without stating that they were coerced fed the beast, and as a result, many jumped to conclusions warped by their own ideological perspectives. And take a look at the alleged media cop, CNN and the Washington Post’s Howard Kurtz, passing along the same silly tripe. On March 31, Kurtz questioned Carroll’s statement, writing that he found her first interview “rather odd.” He was puzzled that she would fail to criticize her captors only hours after being released and asked, “Why make a terrorist group who put her family and friends through a terrible three-month ordeal sound like they were running a low-budget motel chain?”

Displaying the conviction of a true armchair warrior, Kurtz had the temerity to assert that she must know more than she was saying, writing that “surely she must have gotten some clues about her abductors’ outlook and tactics during her 82-day captivity. Maybe she was just shell-shocked right after being let go. Maybe she won’t feel comfortable speaking out until she’s back on American soil.”

Maybe. And maybe pundits should have put a little more thought into the circumstances Carroll found herself in during those first chaotic and still-terrifying hours after her captors dumped her on a Baghdad street. She was still alone, and still trying to ensure her survival, and her bravery is quite a bit more inspiring to the rest of the profession than those who attack her from midtown Manhattan or downtown D.c=

Eric Alterman is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and the author of six books. His most recent, When Presidents Lie: A History of Official Deception and Its Consequences, was just published in paperback.

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Eric Alterman

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