October 15, 2001
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An article in the business section of today's New York Times speculates on the source of anthrax attacks on NBC and on American Media. One source at Harvard University, Juliette Kayyem, is quoted suggesting that "right-wing groups in America" may be guilty of the attacks. The Times quotes Ms. Kayyem as noting that the press "has not been a particular target of Islamic fundamentalist groups or groups we associate with Sept. 11. It has been a target of right-wing groups in America."
Another Harvard University source, Jessica Eve Stern, tells the Times that "Right-wing extremists are obsessed with biological warfare." The Times says Ms. Stern "finds some logic in suspecting the media attacks may have a domestic origin."
Well, the evidence may eventually show that "right-wing extremists" were behind these attacks. But until it does, some more skepticism is in order in passing along such claims.
If the Times is going to quote Ms. Kayyem and Ms. Stern blaming the attack on the American right, it might note that they were both political appointees in the Clinton administration and thus might have some motive, however slight, to cast their political opponents with the taint of terrorism.
If the Times is going to quote Ms. Kayyem claiming that the press "has not been a particular target" of Islamic fundamentalists or of those suspected in the September 11 attacks, it might note that she is wrong. In fact, the Committee to Protect Journalists, an international press freedom group, in May named its "Ten Worst Enemies of the Press for 2001." On the list were Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader of Iran, whose courts have banned more than 30 papers and jailed at least nine journalists. Also on the list is Mahathir Mohamad, prime minister of Malaysia, another Islamic country. Terry Anderson, the Associated Press bureau chief in Beirut, was held hostage for seven years by Islamic terrorists in Lebanon. Bob Simon of CBS News was held for 40 days in Iraqi prisons during the Gulf War. The Taliban regime in Afghanistan has committed countless abuses against journalists; many of these offenses are detailed on the Committee to Protect Journalists Web site.
If the Times is going to quote Ms. Kayyem noting that the press has been a "target" of right-wing groups in America, it could also note that the press has been a target of left-wing groups in America. The right certainly doesn't have a monopoly on press criticism, as a glance at the Web sites of Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (http://www.fair.org/) and "Media Whores Online" (http://www.mediawhoresonline.com/) makes clear.
Moreover, if these anthrax attacks were an act of the American right wing, why did they target a reporter on the New York Times whose beat has been the dangers of Arab terrorism and weapons of mass destruction? If the American right wanted to hurt a Times reporter, columnist or editor, the one the letter was addressed to would have to be pretty low on their list. The reporter in question, however, might well have enemies among the Muslim terrorists. Of course, it is possible that the attack on the Times, which has so far not tested positive for anthrax, is unrelated to the ones on NBC and American Media.
Also attacked with a white-powder threatening letter was Fox News, a network that attracts a loyal audience on the American right. Why would "right-wing groups" attack the one network that is seen as giving them a fair hearing?
Finally, the Times business section article makes no mention of the letter to a Microsoft office in Reno, Nevada. A test showed that letter contained anthrax, and it was "sent from a Malaysian vendor," the Times reports elsewhere in today's paper. This would tend to undermine the "domestic origin" theory, though it is of course possible that the Microsoft attack is entirely unrelated to the ones on NBC and American Media.
Miss Tennessee Teen USA: An article in today's New York Times reports that "a 16-year-old Clarksville native, Rachel Smith, was chosen Miss Tennessee Teen USA." A photo cutline that runs alongside the article reports that "Rachel Clark, center," won the contest. What is the winner's last name, Clark or Smith? Times readers can take their pick of which version to believe.
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