Yesterday afternoon, Newsbusters plugged this story about ABC News's report via Brian Ross "that suspected Fort Hood shooter Nidal Halik Hasan tried to contact people connected to the terrorist group al Qaeda" with some intriguing language: "ABC reports story that many in media wish wasn't true." That raised a rather obvious question: Who out there, in the media or otherwise, was wishing that it was true? Doesn't it seem reasonable to wish that the Hasan shootings had nothing to do with al Qaeda at all?
Well, of course, there were people who were hoping against hope that Hasan was an al Qaeda-endorsed terrorist agent, and in a well-put essay on Gawker, John Cook identifies them: "terrorists and wingnuts."
Fanaticism makes strange bedfellows, and the push to link up Hasan to a wider terrorist plot has united Sen. Joe Lieberman and radical Yemeni cleric Sheikh Anwar Al-Awlaki in common cause. Wingnuts and neocons want Hasan to be a Muslim terrorist because it confirms their worldview that Muslim terrorists lurk in every shadow and helps them scare the shit out people. Muslim terrorists want Hasan to be a Muslim terrorist because it satisfies their desire to claim credit for the murders of Americans and helps them scare the shit out of people. Everybody wins.
Well, not everybody! The major losers in all of this are any adults who want to conduct a serious inquiry into the actions of an isolated, disturbed murderer and the signs that may have been overlooked in advance of his horrific killing spree. Many of these adults, like Secretary of the Army General George Casey, would like to keep these more important concerns from being washed away in a toxic backlash that would unnecessarily sully the names and reputations of the many soldiers of Islamic faith who have and who continue to serve their country with distinction. Nevertheless, the race is on to capitalize on this tragedy for the sake of juvenile political points, and the news hole is already getting clogged with precisely these sorts of kindergarten combatants.
The whole thing deserves to be read in full. Pay particular attention to the fact that the reporter behind the original report, Brian Ross, is a serial offender of narrative unreliability who's put on offer a report that "is a grab-bag of red flags." Cook blows that out further in a related post today, that thoroughly discusses the Problem That Is Brian Ross:
Ross' stock response to these complaints is that he only reports what his sources tell him. "We reported what we knew, when we knew it," he says. "I'm comfortable with the story." His problem, as we've said before, is that he has shitty sources. And he just repeats what they tell him. Which is how you get from "Hasan sent e-mails to his former imam, who now preaches in support of Al Qaeda. We don't know what the e-mails were about, but they didn't raise alarms at the FBI" to "Hasan tried to make contact with people associated with al Qaeda" to the headline's blunt, and thoroughly unsupported, reference to "Hasan's Contacts with al Qaeda." It would have been a good story if Ross had stuck to the first, accurate, formulation.