By Matthew E. Milliken
Feb. 27, 2014
The Obama administration’s liaison to the United Nations, gave a lecture Sunday night at UCLA. Ambassador Samantha Power, the author of a Pulitzer Prize–winning book on repeated American inaction in the face of genocide, was speaking at the invitation of the Daniel Pearl Foundation. The organization is dedicated to the memory of the Wall Street Journal reporter who was murdered in 2002 while reporting on al Qaeda terrorism activity in Pakistan. Pearl, infamously, was beheaded in a video that was posted on the Internet.
At some point on the evening of the lecture, Power posted the following tweet:
A number of conservative-leaning Twitter users reacted to Power’s message with a mixture of bafflement and outrage.
Several of these comments were collected by Twitchy, the quick-reaction infotainment site founded by conservative commentator Michelle Malkin. The organization gets most of its juice by finding supposedly outrageous tweets (generally from non-conservatives) and publishing outraged responses from conservatives.
Twitchy first posted about Power’s purported faux pas at 8:14 a.m. on Feb. 24, the morning after Power’s controversial tweet. That inaugurated a series of what would turn out to be seven separate articles, all bylined “Twitchy Staff.”
The first article quoted a tweeter asking if Power’s message was the dumbest tweet ever, or just of the week. “Arguably the former,” staffers wrote. After a tweet by conservative writer David Freddoso that called Power’s comment stupid, staffers added: “Yep. The idiocy, it scorches.”
Immediately following a tweet calling Power “an absolute idiot,” Twitchy closed out one of its articles with this observation: “Dangerous incompetence and appeasement from the Obama administration. Again.”
Twitchy’s fifth post about this kerfuffle, at 2:34 p.m. on the 24th, featured more than a dozen tweets calling for the ambassador’s resignation or firing. Included was this message from a conservative writer with more than 77,000 Twitter followers:
The elegance and wisdom of Burge’s dazzling punditry there is impossible to deny, is it not?
Now, there are plenty of ways to interpret the Power message that so outraged the folks spotlighted by Twitchy; in fact, the ambassador tweeted these two follow-ups in response to the stir that her original post caused on Twitter:
So Power acknowledges that Pearl was killed by bigots because of his religion and nationality. And her correction asserts that is not specifically his story but rather the work of the Daniel Pearl Foundation that reminds us that “individual accountability + reconciliation are required to break cycles of violence.”
Twitchy, by the way, dedicated a post to those two Power tweets. It was headlined “‘Definition of flailing!’ — Amb. Power ‘clarifies’ Daniel Pearl tweet; Doubles down on idiocy.”
For all the energy that Twitchy expended gathering outraged reactions to Power, no one on the staff evidently could be bothered to look up the full text of the ambassador’s remarks. I found a copy of them, which the U.S. mission to the United Nations evidently posted on the night of Power’s speech, with little effort.
Now, the lecture would take a while to process fully; the text runs just shy of 4,000 words, and I’ve only skimmed it. Still, a bit from near the beginning of the remarks jumped out at me. After acknowledging the murdered journalist’s parents, Power said:
I think their son would be very proud that the foundation established in his memory is dedicated to inter-cultural understanding. Given the circumstances of Daniel Pearl’s death, we should recognize how remarkable that is. Much of the world’s sorrow can be traced to cycles of retribution, where one group seeks revenge for real or imagined wrongs done by another.
Individuals become symbols, faiths become enemies, and hate becomes a currency of identity — all that we have in common — as fellow parents, fellow students, fellow believers — all that we have in common becomes reduced to a catastrophic alchemy of Us versus Them.
That was the ugly mindset of the men who murdered Daniel Pearl because he was a reporter, an American and, most of all, because he was a Jew. In that infamous video, the killers advertised their ruthlessness, betrayed their faith, and sought further to inflame passions that divide the world. Not long thereafter, the Daniel Pearl Foundation took its brave stand on the opposite shore, guiding us toward a more profound response to hate: urging dialogue, shared learning, reconciliation, and a recognition that individual — not collective — accountability is required to break cycles of violence.
Now, people are certainly free to disagree with Power’s assertions here. But they don’t seem particularly baffling or objectionable to me. And call me crazy, but I certainly don’t think that they constitute grounds for calling Power an idiot, asking if she smokes crack or comparing her to feces.
The Daniel Pearl Foundation itself would seem to agree. After all, it had invited Power to speak — she was, in fact, delivering the Daniel Pearl Memorial Lecture. The morning after the event, the organization tweeted:
Twitchy evidently never bothered to scan the foundation’s Twitter feed, even though it was linked to in two of the Power tweets that Twitchy itself cited. Nor is there any evidence that Twitchy sent an email or put in a call to the Daniel Pearl Foundation to get its reaction to anything Power said or tweeted.
Of course, Twitchy isn’t a news organization. It doesn’t seem to be geared toward advancing any specific policy goals, either. Instead, Twitchy is part of — well, not the conspiracy (real or imagined) that Hillary Clinton long ago bemoaned. No; Twitchy is part of a vast right-wing outrage machine.
Twitchy isn’t focused on reporting, or considering, or thinking. Rather, it’s a component in a vast virtual echo chamber, finding and promoting various spurious provocations.
The great Mother Jones blogger Kevin Drum regularly uses a great phrase, “nothingburger,” to dismiss overhyped stories, hollow promises or ginned-up controversies. But for Twitchy, whether any given outrage has any substance or not is entirely beside the point. The fact that it will get some people angry is justification enough to throw up one, two, three or seven different posts about whatever comment is at hand.