Some days, it’s difficult to understand what the New York Times saw in columnist Bret Stephens when they hired him. On others, it’s obvious: what he lacks in basic journalistic ability, he more than makes up for in raging, spitting Islamophobia that’s barely a step up from the Pam Gellers of the world. Or, as Times op-ed page editor James Bennet might put it, ideological diversity.
On Thursday, Stephens melded those qualities into a resolutely shitty piece on Rep. Ilhan Omar.
Here is how this shit sandwich starts:
Spot the problem with the quoted remarks:
(1) The Oklahoma City bombing in 1995 was “something some people did.”
(2) Last month’s attack on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, was “something someone did.”
(3) The 2015 massacre at a black church in Charleston, S.C., was “something someone did.”
Now imagine that a public figure with a history of making racially inflammatory remarks — someone like Representative Steve King of Iowa or, better yet, President Trump — had said any of this. (Neither of them did.) Would you not be appalled?
Of course you would. You’d be insulted by the evasiveness of the something and someone. You’d be revolted that a right-wing politician would fail to speak forcefully against the bigotries too often found among his followers and fellow travelers. You’d be disgusted by the deliberate attempt to conceal the scale of the horror, the identity of the perpetrators, and the racist ideology that motivated them.
The reference here is to Omar’s recent comments at a CAIR event, which have been jumped on by President Donald Trump, the New York Post, and other opportunistic Republican ghouls. The only problem is that, as Tom Scocca noted earlier today, Omar didn’t actually say the thing Stephens implies she did in the above quotes. What she actually said, emphasis mine:
“CAIR was founded after 9/11 because they recognized that some people did something and that all of us were starting to lose access to our civil liberties. So you can’t just say that today someone is looking at me strange, that I am going to try to make myself look pleasant. You have to say this person is looking at me strange, I am not comfortable with it. I am going to talk to them and ask them why. Because that is a right you have.”
“Some people did something.” Not “something some people did” or “something someone did.” Then again, Stephens only has a platform at the closest thing America has to a paper of record; who can expect him to accurately quote the subject of his outrage column?
The whole premise of the piece is broken, but it only gets worse from there.
The problem is that the remark is foul, in exactly the same way that the hypothetical remarks listed above are foul. I live in lower Manhattan, near the 9/11 memorial and museum. No decent person can look at the portraits of the 2,983 victims of Islamist terrorists and say, by-the-by, that this was “something” that “some people did.”
The context, again, was about why CAIR is necessary, not an extended diatribe on 9/11. On we go:
The problem is also that the remarks didn’t come from just anyone. Just as Trump has repeatedly made his ethnic prejudices plain, so has Omar. She has demonized Israel, and American supporters of Israel, in terms that are unmistakably anti-Semitic. She has been reproached by fellow Democrats, claimed ignorance by way of apology, and then slurred Jews again — without apology. And despite claiming to be a champion of human rights, she has been oddly selective about the human-rights issues that elicit her outrage.
Here, Stephens shows his whole ass about why he’s writing about this in the first place: because Omar continues to speak up about the influence of AIPAC and the pro-Israel lobby on American politics. It’s truly that simple.
Finally, Stephens gets to the transparently predictable point of all of this, which is to compare Omar to Donald Trump. (Remember, Stephens is ostensibly supposed to be a never Trump Republican, even though he loves almost everything Trump does.) Here we go:
What is all this reminiscent of?
Oh, right: the early days of Trump, when millions of Republican primary voters heard the candidate denounce Mexicans as drug dealers, criminals and rapists, and said to themselves, “We like that.” The central lesson of the moral collapse that followed for the G.O.P. isn’t that conservatives are a uniquely perfidious bunch. It’s that partisans of any stripe are always susceptible to demagoguery, particularly when the demagogue refuses to back down in the face of outrage. Shamelessness has a way of inspiring a following, and Omar is in the process of cornering the market on the left.
Yes, an Ilhan Omar quote which Bret Stephens was so pissed off by that he couldn’t even get it right is exactly like Trump’s direct outreach to nativists and white supremacists that has been the backbone of his political career. Pay no mind that Omar didn’t actually “demagogue” anything in the quote where Stephens accuses her of minimizing 9/11; we’ve got a column to finish, baby.
Stephens ends the column with nonsense about “accountability,” which is rich coming from someone who started his Times career off with an error-ridden column about climate change. Nevertheless, he’s right about one thing; shamelessness does have a way of inspiring a following. And if you’ve got the right profile, that following is New York polite society—no matter how disgusting your beliefs are—and it just might land you a job at the New York Times.