Idiocy of the week

AlterNet, Ted Rall and the Wellstone-was-murdered conspiracy.

By Andrew Sullivan

Published October 30, 2002 6:29PM (EST)

In the 1980s in Britain, as the Labour Party went into the kind of decline now happening to the Tories, a phrase emerged to describe the phenomenon: The hard-line remnant of the Labour Party was known as the "loony left." The term wasn't exactly elevated discourse, but it captured something about a movement that had lost its moral and intellectual bearings.

So what to make of the recent column by one Dr. Michael I. Niman, who "teaches journalism and media studies at Buffalo State College"? It's a long and bizarre ramble about various politicians who have died untimely deaths in plane crashes. And then it veers into completely loopy territory. Niman blames himself for not writing earlier that he believed that Paul Wellstone's life was in danger:

"Anyone familiar with my work knows that I'm certainly not a conspiracy theorist. But to be honest, I know I wasn't alone in my initial reaction at this week's horrible and tragic news: that being my surprise that Wellstone had lived this long. Perhaps it's just my anger and frustration at losing one of the few reputable politicians in Washington, but I also felt shame. Shame for not writing in my column, months ago, that I felt that Paul Wellstone's life, more so than any other politician in Washington, was in danger. I felt that such speculation was unprofessional and would ultimately undermine my credibility. In the end, my own self-interest triumphed, and I never put my concerns into print. Neither did any other mainstream journalist, though I know of many who shared my concern."

Niman seems to believe that Wellstone might have been murdered by the U.S. government. Actually, he doesn't even give the U.S. government that much respect. George W. Bush is not the president, according to Niman. He's "the president." His administration is "unelected." And Wellstone's socialism was such a threat to this junta in D.C. that he was probably bumped off. Niman knows he has not a shred of evidence for this, and he provides none whatsoever. For credibility's sake, he begins his final paragraph thus:

"There is no indication today that Wellstone's death was the result of foul play. What we do know, however, is that Wellstone emerged as the most visible obstacle standing in the way of a draconian political agenda by an unelected government. And now he is conveniently gone. For our government to maintain its credibility at this time, we need an open and accountable independent investigation involving international participation into the death of Paul Wellstone. Hopefully we will find out, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that this was indeed an untimely accident. For the sake of our country, we need to know this."

An international investigation? Should the U.N. be called in to investigate whether the "president" of the United States ordered a hit job on a leading senator? This is looney tunes. It reminds me of the nut cases on the right who peddled the notion that Bill Clinton murdered Vince Foster. Niman isn't an outcast. He teaches at a state-funded university in New York state. He is way out there on the left, but so are most of the faculty members at mainstream colleges these days. His book on the "Rainbow Movement" has been respectfully reviewed by scholars at Williams College and the University of Kansas. He has written for the Buffalo News. AlterNet, the left-wing Internet site that published his conspiratorial rant, is funded in part by the Carnegie Corporation and the Ford Foundation. It funnels stories to the alternative press. In other words, Niman's bizarre conspiracy theory is perfectly within the orbit of respectable left-wing opinion.

As if to prove that, the cartoonist Ted Rall, widely syndicated in the liberal media, has echoed the charge in his Universal Press Syndicate column. Here are the money paragraphs:

"George W. Bush and his henchmen stole the presidency. They threw thousands of innocent people into prison without even charging them with a crime. They're gearing up to invade Iraq without bothering to come up with a substantial justification. Now some Democrats and progressive Americans are asking the unthinkable about an administration they increasingly believe to be ruled by thugs and renegades. Did government gangsters murder the United States' most liberal legislator? ... Ronald Reagan may have been a hard-line conservative, but had Wellstone died during his watch you wouldn't have heard liberals asking whether the Gipper had had him offed. Bush is different. Asking mailmen to spy on ordinary Americans, creating military tribunals for anyone deemed an 'enemy combatant,' locking prisoners of war in dog cages, spending a decade's worth of savings in six months, allowing journalists to die rather than provide them with help in a war zone, smearing Democratic politicians as anti-American, invading sovereign nations without excuse -- these are acts that transgress essential American reasonableness. A man capable of these things seems, by definition, capable of anything."

If this kind of speculation doesn't transgress essential American reasonableness, then what on earth does?

Andrew Sullivan

Salon columnist Andrew Sullivan's commentary appears daily on his own Web site.

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