Cliff May

Following the shootings of a Kansas abortion doctor and a guard at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, two prominent New York Times columnists, Paul Krugman and Frank Rich, spoke out forcefully against those in the media who spout lies and, possibly, incite violence.

There are "lunatics" out there, Krugman wrote, and "media organizations wind up such people at their, and our, peril." Rich warned of "toxic rhetoric" and "media demagogues," fueling a rage that "could spiral out of control."

So imagine my shock to see on The New Times website an item saying: "Cliff May argued that torture is justified against Muslims because they're Muslim."

What does that even mean? That I think innocent Muslims should have their fingernails pulled out? There was not a quote or fact to back up this inflammatory allegation against me. There were no links to articles I've written or television and radio shows on which I've appeared. Why would the Times attribute to me such an outrageous opinion -- without even attempting to verify it? Why would they not at least call me and ask whether I'd care to deny the charge?

To be fair, this was in a Times feature called "The Opinionator: A Gathering of Opinion From Around the Web," and this particular opinion had been gathered from Adam Serwer, writing in the American Prospect, which describes itself as "an authoritative magazine of liberal ideas."

But to continue to be fair, the Times is the Times. Years ago, when I worked at the Times - as a reporter, Washington correspondent, foreign correspondent and editor - it was understood by everyone from the lowliest interns to the loftiest editors that a serious newspaper cannot relinquish responsibility for what it puts into print simply by saying: "Whoops, sorry, we lifted that from another publication."

I immediately wrote a note to the Times' ombudsman. He has not, so far, bothered to reply.

Adam Serwer's piece, on the American Prospect's blog, intended to take up the same theme as had Krugman and Rich. He started off by asserting that there has been a "startling trend of right-wing violence recently" but that such incidents are generally regarded as "the acts of deranged individuals rather than of groups because they are white men." This somehow leads to the description of my views noted above. His piece concluded with the question: "How much of the call for ‘extraordinary measures' in fighting terrorism has to do with the unique challenges of fighting global terrorism, and how much of it has to do with an irrational, orientalist fear of all things Arab and Muslim?


Cliff May

Clifford D. May is the President of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.