We enjoy the freedom of speech in the United States, but like any other right, this one comes with responsibilities. While we are free to speak as we will, there is an accompanying responsibility to say what is true. We have libel, slander, and perjury laws to protect our freedom of speech from those who would destroy it with lies.

We also have a general responsibility as Americans not to offend others because society runs better when people do not go out of their way to stir up hatred and anger. While your neighbor may be both obese and homely, common courtesy dictates that this is no reason to call him a “fat, ugly slob” to his face or behind his back. There is enough strife in the world already without manufacturing more in your backyard.

So there are two competing ideas — we have the freedom of speech and can say whatever we want on the one hand, and we have the need to be courteous to those around us on the other hand. Some people have taken the second part to mean that we have a fundamental right not to be offended. But there is no way to say or do anything without potentially offending someone. To paraphrase Eleanor Roosevelt, “No one can make you feel offended without your consent.”

Recently my wife went to Chinatown in New York, and she picked up some paper money used in Chinese funerals. Paper objects are commonly burned at Chinese funerals, with the idea that the paper item being burned is carried to the dead as a real object to be enjoyed in the hereafter. So TPK picked up a bundle of fake bills marked at $1,000,000 each — a handsome sum for the departed. She explained the use of this money to her sister, a grade school teacher, and her sister thought some of the bills might be fun to use with her fifth grade students during Chinese New Year. My wife then pointed out some tiny print on the fake money which identified them as “Hell Notes,” the traditional name for this fake currency. While most people probably would not notice or care, it would only take a single offended parent to complain and ruin the students’ fun — not to mention endangering my sister-in-law’s job. Fear of possibly causing offense stopped her from sharing a teaching moment with her students.

Our society is becoming more concerned with not offending people, but also concerned with the way a tiny but vocal minority can change how everyone does things. All it takes is a single offended person to cause a traditional and beloved nativity scene to be pulled from the public square. People are reacting to these Offended-Americans by self-censoring what they say, for fear that someone will blow up and be offended over an innocent comment.

Akwana Walker is one of these Offended-Americans who made the news. She was horribly offended when her child’s teacher wrote “niggardly” on the board and explained that this word meant “stingy.” The fact that this word has absolutely nothing to do with race didn’t matter to Walker, who is African-American. She was offended, not because the teacher was racist nor because the word was offensive, but simply because it sounded like something Walker didn’t like, and that was enough for the teacher to receive a reprimand.

This reminds me of something Jesus told his disciples about the end times: “And then shall many be offended…” (Matt. 24:10) My wife had pointed the scripture out to me several years ago, and while I had never looked at that verse in this light, it certainly appears to apply to people today. Why, just quoting the Bible is guaranteed to offend at least one person who reads this article.

It seems silly to me to go ballistic over a word like “niggardly” when the offense is all in the offended person’s head. Words actually mean things. We don’t need to invent new meanings based on the way they sound. When Eason Jordan claimed that the U.S. military was specifically targeting members of the media, his words meant something. And the people who were present recognized exactly what he meant. This is a good example of having the freedom to say what you want, but needing to recognize that you may be called to account for your words.

A lady who made a bomb threat (I’m guessing as a joke, or possibly because she was frustrated by travel delays) was held for questioning in Phoenix while her luggage made it on the flight to San Diego. There the luggage faced the consequence of her words — it was taken out by the San Diego bomb squad and exploded. Next time you feel like mouthing off to the efficient and courteous airline people, remember the fate of this lady’s luggage because of what she said.

Recently Newsweek published an article claiming that a Koran supplied to terrorist detainees at Guantanamo Bay had been flushed down the toilet by a soldier. Because Newsweek chose to publish this unsupported accusation, riots broke out in Muslim nations, and several people died. To get to the bottom of this, the Pentagon launched an investigation over the flushing of a Koran and other allegations of Koranic abuse. It found that some soldiers had actually mistreated the Koran by *gasp* holding it with only one hand. Investigation did find some intentional and unintentional mishandling of the Koran, but 75% of these mishandlings came from the detainees themselves.

Newsweek has since retracted the story, but even if they were to trumpet this information and apologize into every Muslim’s ear, it would not bring back to life those who died in the riots. To twist a common Leftist slogan, “Newsweek lied, and people died.” Words mean something, and these words led to deaths.

We are free to say whatever we want, but there is a responsibility associated with that right — the responsibility to say what is true. Eason Jordan found that out. Dan Rather found that out. And now Newsweek has found that out.

Just recently I found my copy of 1984 by George Orwell, and decided to reread it for fun. Orwell’s bleak vision takes a number of sly pokes at the use of propaganda in a totalitarian state, including the names of ministries which represent the polar opposite of their true functions. The Ministry of Peace is the war department. The Ministry of Love wakes you in the night and drags you away for interrogation and death. The Ministry of Plenty manages the rationing of goods. The Ministry of Truth is charged with altering books and newspapers to make them agree with the current facts.

At the end of Hate Week, an Inner Party member is denouncing Eurasia and the horrible crimes it has committed during its protracted war with Oceania. Right in the middle of his harangue, he is handed a slip of paper, and his words immediately change to show that Oceania is no longer at war with Eurasia: “Oceania was at war with Eastasia: Oceania had always been at war with Eastasia.” For the next week, protagonist Winston Smith works overtime with his co-workers in the Ministry of Truth to rewrite all newspapers, magazines, and books to show that Oceania has always been at war with Eastasia. This rewriting of history is eerily successful with the people. Winston encounters 26-year-old Julia who does not remember that only four years earlier, Oceania switched from fighting Eastasia to Eurasia. He realizes that they have been successful in rewriting history and changing the way people think.

You might think that this doesn’t happen today, but the recently elected Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, has been a long-time Holocaust denier. He and others like him have so often made the claim that six million Jews didn’t really die in Hitler’s concentration camps, that many Palestinians now believe it to be the unvarnished truth.

Then, of course, there’s the Western media. Before the rise of Winston Smith-style journalism, where reporters rewrite history and work at molding and shaping the people’s attitudes, the media were once in the business of reporting the facts. Harold Ross, founder of The New Yorker magazine and its editor until his death, was a stickler for the facts. To this day, the magazine employs a group of fact checkers on the staff. James Thurber famously stated, “The New Yorker has a demon checking department and wouldn’t think of writing about the Empire State Building without phoning to see if it is still there.” You could look at Ross’ attitude as a forerunner of Joe Friday’s catch-phrase: “All we want are the facts, ma’am.”

But things are different now. On multiple occasions, I have heard college students state that they picked journalism as their major because they longed to “make a difference” or to “change the world.” I find this attitude both strange and telling, since it has radically departed from the mindset of just the facts and entered the realm of advocacy journalism.

Armstrong Williams’ career now lies in tatters because he received money from the government to promote the Department of Education’s “No Child Left Behind Act” without mentioning it to his readers. Had he disclosed that information, he would still be a syndicated writer. His fall from grace came not from taking the money, but from his failure to announce the conflict of interest that arose from his taking the money. Now whenever someone writes an article or opinion piece, an idea will lurk in the reader’s mind: “I wonder if the author was paid to give this viewpoint.” This has made it necessary for me to state that I have never received any money for writing on this site.

I do not hide the fact that I write from a conservative viewpoint, and that these articles are my opinions. I do not try to offer a balanced or unbiased discussion, nor do I even attempt to play an impartial role. I am not a reporter, whose job is to give the facts without bias. Sadly, too many journalists have left the role of fact checker and entered into the realm of commentator without ever disclosing their own conflicts of interest.

When I started writing this article, CBS was still investigating the Memogate or Rathergate scandal. As of this posting, several days have passed since the final report was released, but the stink of the whole “fake but accurate” scandal just isn’t going away. The Thornburgh report’s bottom line is that there was no political bias in the use of fake documents to create a scandal story less than two months from a presidential election in an attempt to tar a sitting President. That’s what they claim, and that must be the truth. Editorial cartoonists Cox and Forkum do a grand job of summing up the report as a Hear No Evil – See No Evil – Speak No Evil parody.

So Dan Rather strikes out at calling President Bush’s Texas Air National Guard service into question, and the memos he uses are almost instantly scrutinized and shown to be fakes — and not very believable fakes at that. Rather and CBS spent almost two weeks completely stonewalling and sticking to their story. Rather went so far as to say that the memos were vetted and deemed to be authentic, that the people attacking the story were mere political hacks, and that he had solid sources. His “solid sources” have since been revealed to be Bill Burkett, a man with a long-time Bush family hatred, who continues to change the story of how he obtained the memos. Writers on both the right and the left have revealed the memos as fakes; CBS’s own experts said that the memos were generated on a modern computer, not on a typewriter. The investigation gets away with discounting its own expert in a >weaselly footnote. And despite the years of anti-Bush feelings on the part of Dan Rather, Mary Mapes and Bill Burkett, the investigation finds that there was “no political bias.”

Oh, and by the way, Oceania is at war with Eastasia. Oceania has always been at war with Eastasia. Film at 11.

 

Addendum (1/15/2005): Got permission to use the Cox & Forkum editorial cartoon and not just link to it.

Addendum (1/17/2005): Dadgum! The Big Trunk over at Power Line shows the many parallels between Dan Rather and Rathergate and President Nixon and Watergate (the mother of all gates).

Have you been following the news lately? If not, let me sum up last week. On Wednesday, Dan Rather interviewed former Texas House Speaker and Lt. Governor Ben Barnes. Barnes said, “First of all, I want to say that I’m not here to bring any harm to George Bush’s reputation or his career.” (Yeah, right.) “It’s been a long time ago, but [Sid Adger, common friend of Barnes and then-Congressman George Bush] said basically would I help young George Bush get in the Air National Guard,” said Barnes. President Bush countered this revelation: “Any allegation that my dad asked for special favors is simply not true. And the former president of the United States has said that he in no way, shape or form helped me get into the National Guard. I didn’t ask anyone to help me get into the Guard either.”

Here we have two groups with completely different stories, and they can’t both be telling the truth. So how do you tell which group is lying? Well, who has something to gain if their story is believed? The Bushes, both father and son, would lose politically if it shows up that their denials are incorrect. But CBS News failed to mention that Barnes is a major Kerry supporter and donator. If Barnes’ story succeeds in blackening Bush and getting Kerry into office, Barnes stands to be rewarded with sweet political plums.

Both sides have something to gain and lose, so we must look at the facts and evidence surrounding the claims. Both Presidents Bush have denied these charges, but here’s another interesting quote from Barnes in May of this year: “I got a young man named George W. Bush into the National Guard when I was lieutenant governor of Texas, and I’m not necessarily proud of that, but I did it.” But Barnes wasn’t lieutenant governor in 1968, the year George W. entered the Texas Air National Guard. It could have been a slip of the tongue, but since this quote was used in a TV commercial, you’d think Barnes would have done a retake for a simple slip. He must have believed it when he said it.

Then CBS begins to wave around some memos apparently written by President Bush’s commanding officer, Lt. Col. Jerry Killian. These memos purport to show that people like Brigadier General “Buck” Staudt were pressuring Killian about Bush’s service and lack thereof. For now, let’s ignore the glaring fact that Gen. Staudt had retired in 1972 and would have had no say in the Guard’s business, and focus on a bigger problem with these memos: they are fakes.

Within twelve hours of the documents being aired on the 60 Minutes II program, Internet blogging sites like Free Republic, Powerline and Little Green Footballs had dissected the memos and showed how exactly the same documents could be produced with a current copy of Microsoft Word for Windows. And you don’t have to change any of Word’s default settings to do so. What is the likelihood that a 1972-era typewriter could center, kern, line space, tab, and superscript in a way that is literally identical to the workings of a high-tech word processor used three decades later? Not likely at all. In fact, several of the bloggers have produced animated images to show how closely the documents from 1973 and modern documents relate. If you’re interested, I suggest spending some time at Little Green Footballs’ memo logs..

As a former Air Force brat, I can recognize that some of the formatting in these memos is highly suspect. Look at a stack of real military documents, and notice that the typewritten documents are all in non-proportional fonts, exactly what you’d expect from a typewriter. Notice, too, that the names and ranks show up in the same format all throughout the documents: name, rank, organization. Here’s a few examples:

MATTHEW F. HEIMAN, Lt Col, TEXANG
G B GREENE, JR, MAJGEN, USAF
WILLIE J HOOPER JR, Capt, TEXANG
JOSEPH R. JELINEK, Colonel, NGB

But none of the four memos show this format. The two with signatures are formatted thus:

JERRY B. KILLIAN
Lt. Colonel

No TEXANG, and with a period after Lt. This doesn’t fit the standard military format. Incidentally, where are the initials of the secretary who typed these memos? I don’t know if it is standard operating procedure for the military to leave the typist’s initials off memos, but if a civilian memo is typed by anyone other than the person who signs it, those initials show up. Killian’s widow has stated that he could barely type, and his son said, “It was not the nature of my father to keep private files like this, nor would it have been in his own interest to do so.” Can you believe that a man whose wife said that he did not type would create memos – casual business documents – with fancy superscripts and perfect centering, and keep them for no practical purpose? I don’t believe it either.

William Safire weighs in with his opinion that these memos “have all the earmarks of forgeries.”

It may be that CBS is the victim of a whopping journalistic hoax, besmearing a president to bring him down. What should a responsible news organization do?

To shut up sources and impugn the motives of serious critics – from opinionated bloggers to straight journalists – demeans the Murrow tradition. Nor is any angry demand that others prove them wrong acceptable, especially when no original documents are available to prove anything.

Despite all the evidence brought to light by bloggers, CBS stands behind the memos. But when the evidence can no longer be ignored that they are fake, will CBS fall by its memos? The blogosphere’s work is a legion of Davids to Dan Rather’s Goliath.

Step back, folks. He’s coming down.

Addendum (9/14/2004): Power Line has a good summation of Rathergate.

Jonah Goldberg sees Dan Rather being dealt a mortal blow with this memogate issue. And he brings up a good point: President Bush had information many times more concrete about Iraqi WMD. But Bush lied, says Rather. “Dan Rather had a couple shoddy Xeroxes – not all of which were examined thoroughly or at all. He interviewed a partisan – Ben Barnes – a huge backer of Kerry whose story has changed several times. But because many who hate Bush believe he lied, they are willing to believe any lies that confirm what they already know to be true.”

Addendum (9/15/2004): CBS releases their excuse, and Captain Ed correctly sums CBS’ stand that the memos are “accurate” but not “authentic”.

Little Green Footballs weighs in with an expanded statement on the memos.

Deacon of Power Line Blog ponders whither the major media.

Addendum (9/17/2004): Both Hindrocket of Power Line and Captain Ed of Captain’s Quarters comment on ABC interviewing Walter Staudt about his allegedly pressuring Killian about Lt. Bush.

The sound you hear is the flogging of a dead horse. The memos are fakes, and the allegations are, too, but this won’t stop both Dan Rather and CBS from busily rearranging the deck chairs of their own Titanic.

Addendum (3/9/2005): It’s the last day for Dan Rather as he ends on the same day he started 24 years ago. If this were a planned retirement, why end at 24 years and not a much better sounding 25 years? So long, Dan. Don’t let the screen door smack you on the butt as you leave.