John Leo
It's official. The campaign to "humanize" John Walker is under way. A possible trial for treason is a concern, of course, but the battle for Walker's image is way more important, according to consultants consulted by The New York Times.

In fact, the Times nudged the humanization process along by running a Page One photo of Walker as a winsome teen-ager, wearing an aw-shucks smile and a New York Knicks T-shirt. The shirt was a deft touch. How can people associate Walker with the World Trade Center terrorists when he actually supports a New York basketball team?

Still to come are the television interviews, a form of humanization unavailable to Judas Iscariot, Tokyo Rose and Benedict Arnold. ("Tell us, Mr. Iscariot, was it just about those 30 pieces of silver? Wasn't there an issue of real principle involved too?") Walker might go for the conventional TV strategy of accusing his accusers:

Q: John, some people just don't know you. They think of you as some sort of traitor, or even a rat. What are your feelings?

A: It saddens me, Barbara, that some people have to put me down in order to feel good about themselves. Name-calling like this says more about them than it does about me. Anger comes from within. It isn't caused by other people's actions, certainly not my actions. We have to ask: Why are they attacking my lifestyle instead of dealing with their own negativity?

A variation of this strategy would be the who's-to-judge, who's-to-say defense. If 10 percent to 20 percent of college students are unwilling to criticize Adolf Hitler, as one professor famously claimed, then surely a hefty percentage of Americans can be induced to avoid judgment of Walker:

Q: John, treason is a very serious charge. Your reaction?

A: Montel, the only treason is refusing to follow your own heart. We all have to pick our own spiritual paths. Nobody can do it for us. It's not for me to judge your path, and I hope you don't want to judge mine. Choosing your own spirituality isn't a betrayal. It's the deepest act of personal creation. What could be more beautiful?

Or Walker's handlers could just let him bury the interviewer in Marin County psychobabble. A risky strategy, but one known to work, particularly on daytime shows:

Q: John, I think we all know about your search, the spiritual hunger that drives you. But what would you say to those who believe the Taliban is unworthy of you? I mean, aren't they a bit authoritarian? Do they really treat women all that well?

John Leo

John Leo is editor of and a former contributing editor at U.S. News and World Report.

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