Irfan Khawaja, who was involved in the Donald Trump / Muslims celebrating kerfuffle, and I have had an ongoing debate online. This is my latest contribution to it.

You can find the back and forth here, and the Glenn Kessler post which is referenced here.

Hi Irfan,

Thanks for taking the time to respond to my post. This will be a long post as I am going to really try to unpack this, so that it’s as clear as possible, and try to avoid hostility, although I am as frustrated as you appear to be.

I believe you are sincere in your belief that Trump is “lying” and sincere in your belief that you are unbiased and unemotional regarding this topic. I’m taking the time, because I believe this topic is extremely important and consequential for our nation, and I want to make the effort to help the media see things from the average American perspective. I also want to be clear that the issue to me here, the thing I’m really focused on, is not the celebrations themselves, but on the media’s biased treatment of candidates and issues in a way that distorts reality for the average news consumer.

I will post a list of links at my blog and link it at the bottom here. It may be necessary to view those links as a prelude to what I’m saying, for context.

Ok. So, you defined some narrow parameters which makes sense to keep the conservation clear. You limit the area to Patterson, New Jersey, in front of the public library on South Main Street, on the day of September 11th, and I wholeheartedly agree that there were not thousands and thousands of Muslims celebrating. So far so good.

In Jersey city there were other protests, and in New York City, and apparently in Dearborn. An FBI agent told an ABC affiliate that the FBI received quote “stacks and stacks” of reports. All of this is linked below. So my judgment, just as an average consumer of information, would be that it is likely there were hundreds of people celebrating in New Jersey, and certainly hundreds across the country, and countrywide it is possible there were thousands. We just don’t know. So for the sake of argument, to be conservative, let’s say dozens or even tens. I think that’s fair.

Now obviously, if we are using the dozens figure for argument, then what Donald Trump said was clearly inaccurate, and I have never argued that it wasn’t. But here is the catch. In my mind that still doesn’t qualify as a lie. A lie is something which has no truth to it whatsoever, which is intended to deceive. To use Glenn Kessler’s Pinocchio standard, if I were in charge I would give Trump’s statement two or three Ps, depending upon the amount of evidence I was able to accumulate that celebrations actually occurred. I did very little research and was able to come up with quite a bit.

Members of the media have made unequivocal statements such as “it never happened” “he’s delusional” “he’s making it up.”

To say “it never happened” is a binary statement. It’s a one or a zero. To say he’s making it up, is again, to my mind, binary, because the average person consuming that information is going to assume that that means that nothing of the kind ever happened in any way, whatsoever. Which is also not true. Can I call that a lie? On the scale of dishonesty, I find it to be a bigger deviation from the truth than what Trump said.  Trump merely exaggerated, or mis-remembered, but they denied that any such event ever happened at all. They would get at least three, if not four, Ps from me. And worse, neither Glenn Kessler, nor any of the others who made such statements, have come out to correct them, to my knowledge

So let’s talk about the weight of the evidence. Rudy Giuliani, Former police chief Bernie Kerik, former New Jersey Police officer Walter Zalisko and others have corroborated that there were indeed celebrations. I really don’t know what else needs to be said about that. These are multiple confirmations from people who were in positions of authority and present at the time. There were multiple other witnesses. Smart phones weren’t ubiquitous  then, as they are now, so I don’t think that having video is a fair standard. If the testimony of multiple witnesses were not sufficient, there would be very few criminals prosecuted.

Now, why is this important? If the media had addressed this issue correctly, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. If Glenn Kessler had done his homework, and found the media mention in his own newspaper, people would not be continuing to discuss it. Just last night I read Chris Cilliza piece in the Washington Post where he repeats the lie that Trump “lied” about the celebrations. Forgive me if this drives me batty. I think people are being deceived.

But for many of us, this is a very familiar phenomenon. The media has a narrative. Anything which fits the media narrative is trumpeted, anything which does not is suppressed. It’s that simple. Thankfully, we now have alternative sources, particularly the internet, where we can do our own fact checking, and cross reference.

I said I believed that you believed that you were unbiased. And I do, believe that you believe it, but here are some statements which, for me, call that into question:

“What this really proves is that people like you are uninterested in the truth. You can’t think, you can’t read, and you can’t handle complexity. You just desperately want it to be true that there was a Muslim celebration in Paterson, because it re-affirms all of your prejudices about Muslims–and apparently, reality has to take a back seat to your wants and ultimatums. Well, I’m sorry I can’t help you. The help you need is not help of a kind I can give.”

“<b>”As a personal matter, I just found it very hard to believe that such an event would take place.” </b>

It sounds to me as if you desperately <b>don’t </>want it to be true that Muslims celebrated.

“Well, fantasy is what it is, at best. At worst, it’s a cynical lie intended to turn people against Muslims and equate them all with terrorists.”

You not only again refer to events which did occur, to a much lesser degree, as fantasy, but also assign bad motives.

“I haven’t shouted down the people questioning me and tried my best to distract them from the totally legitimate questions they’ve asked. I also don’t have a long track record of bullshitting about everything I talk about, whenever I open my big mouth to talk about it.”

<b>” If anything, the media has played softball too long with him. The media would better serve accuracy if they held his feet to the fire until he really felt it.”</b>

That pretty much speaks for itself. :)

I understand why the idea that Muslims were celebrating might be offensive to you. I understand why you might have an inclination to dismiss the evidence. I even understand why you would have a pre-disposition to assume Trump has the worst of intentions.

Whether  Muslims celebrated is not a critical fact, but it is something that Americans have a right to know. Particularly now, when the crisis has passed, and with decisions that need to be made regarding immigration. Yes, put it in context. Report it accurately, but do not try to imply that it never happened, when in fact it did.

I think the media believes their intentions are pure. They think of themselves as adults, protecting children from the whole truth, or tell what are considered to be “little white lies” to keep their behavior in line. This is wholly inappropriate and offensive as far as I’m concerned. It is not their place. They have a duty to the FACTS, without spin, without “interpretation,” nothing more. Commentators can comment, but reporters should report. Without letting what they wish to be true become the actual truth in their minds. The media has a duty to the people to be accurate in their reporting, even when that truth is unpleasant.

I can’t quite put my finger on why, but to even have to write this makes me profoundly sad. What is happening in the media is destroying their credibility, and dividing the nation. There may come a time in the future when the media is needed to impart true information to the people and they may not be believed. I don’t think this is a good thing for our country. We all have biases and we are all human. What I am asking of you, Glenn Kessler, Tom Brokaw and the rest of them is to stop, take a deep breath, look in the mirror, and examine your own biases, because it’s getting out of hand. You have a responsibility to the people.