Andrew Sullivan's tirade against my Oct. 28 AlterNet column crossed the boundary from media criticism into the realm of a bile-laden partisan attack. First off, Sullivan alleges that I seem to "believe that Wellstone might have been murdered by the U.S. government." Anyone reading my piece can see that I never made this allegation. Nor did I write that Wellstone "was probably bumped off." Editors need to check Sullivan's facts before running his attacks.
Similarly, "Niman's bizarre conspiracy theory," is also the product of Sullivan's imagination. I have questions about Wellstone's sudden death, and I reported that many people are concerned that Wellstone may have been murdered, but I offer no conclusions. While a litany of similar deaths of political figures fuels this concern, at this point, there is also no evidence of foul play in any of these deaths, nor is there evidence of a conspiracy. A full investigation, however, is needed to confront widespread suspicions and concerns. This is what I called for. It is quite normal to have a comprehensive investigation when a leader of the political opposition anywhere in the world meets with an unexpected death. The more international involvement there is in that investigation, the more credible the results are. The concept is painfully simple, and it's not new.
While I might not feel Wellstone's death was necessarily the product of a conspiracy, another journalist would certainly have the right to reach that conclusion. And while I'm not "way out there on the left," as Sullivan mistakenly reports, there certainly is nothing wrong with a journalist being way out on the right, left or any other political fringe. In America we value our diversity, and that includes diversity of political opinion. We also value our free press, which should reflect that diversity of opinion.
Sullivan's zeal in attacking a journalist for raising difficult questions is chilling. For debate to survive in a democratic society, we need dissent. It is the responsibility of the press to provide a space for opinions that deviate from the status quo. Questions about Wellstone's death fit into this category. While Sullivan certainly has a right to disagree with my call for an international investigation, his baseless personal attack against me, for the crime of writing about an unpopular subject, is also a stifling attack upon our free press. Sullivan's actions support the current environment of self-censorship in the American press, whereby journalists forgo reporting on controversial issues such as Paul Wellstone's death, in order to avoid nasty slanderous attacks by the likes of Andrew Sullivan and his ilk. Sullivan's writing is a pox on the institution of American journalism.
-- Michael I. Niman