On April 11, Salon published, as its lead article, a piece by executive editor Gary Kamiya. The headline read: "Liberation Day: Even Those Opposed to the War Should Celebrate a Shining Moment in the History of Freedom -- the Fall of Saddam Hussein." The accompanying photograph showed an Iraqi man kissing an American soldier.
Here is the central argument of the article:
"To stand in solidarity with humanity on those few occasions when it lurches forward is more than an honor, it is mandatory if you have a soul, like keeping faith with those you love. And so, at this moment, as the Mordor shadow of Saddam Hussein, a truly evil man who, like a sociopathic murderous husband, killed everything that he could not control, lifts from the long-suffering people of Iraq, all of us, on the left and the right, Democrats and Republicans, America-lovers and America-haters, Syrians and Kuwaitis and Israelis and Palestinians, owe it to our common humanity to stop, put aside -- not forever -- our doubts and our grief and our future fears, and for one deep moment, celebrate."
Kamiya also wrote of the welter of reactions the fall of Baghdad was likely to engender among those who, like him, had opposed the U.S. invasion of Iraq. In one passage, he talked about the "moral schizophrenia" the war induced, and candidly admitted that its opponents -- including himself -- had at times succumbed to the wish that it might not go well for the U.S. He criticized and explored such feelings, tracing them to the fear, held by many who opposed the war, that an easy American success might ultimately lead to imperialist adventures that would be worse for the United States and the world. In the end, however, he disavowed such feelings.
It's a complex argument. You may or may not agree with it. Either way, it deserves to be considered in its entirety.
But why weigh a complex argument when you can seize a brief passage from the article, wrench it out of context and draw blood by entirely misrepresenting it? For the conservative storm troopers who, it seems, have conquered vast territories of the U.S. media under cover of the wartime flag, that's the whole point -- that's what they live for.
And so last week, the organs of the right-wing press in the U.S. -- from the Washington Times to Newsmax to Rush Limbaugh to Bill O'Reilly -- ripped out a small chunk of Kamiya's article and began circulating it to the faithful. The Washington Times said Kamiya was "cheering the enemy." O'Reilly called him a "fanatic" who had "no place in the public arena" and who should "think about moving to Costa Rica." And the wing nut fedayeen of the right crawled out of their base camps at sites like Free Republic to throw spitballs at Salon e-mail accounts and advertisers.
Of course, the real agenda of conservative media's overbearing pundits -- despite their lip service to the marketplace of ideas -- is to drive everyone who disagrees with them out of the public arena. They're not interested in open debate; their goal is to intimidate and silence. If you dare oppose the war, if you dare even admit any ambivalence about it, then you should be gagged and expatriated. In the current climate of mind control, you can't even admit to having entertained thoughts that are not "appropriate," even if you end up rejecting them.
Salon is not a doctrinaire or party-line publication. We have run antiwar pieces and pro-war pieces; we have lauded the antiwar movement and critiqued it, too. We seek the full, free exchange of ideas that is the hallmark of liberal discourse. And we believe that there is still room for, even hunger for, honesty and nuance in political debate.
O'Reilly's show invited Kamiya on to defend his (wildly misrepresented) prose; but anyone who's watched the show knows that it's a hopelessly rigged game, in which the bullying host gives himself carte blanche to outshout his guests. (Although Newsday's Ellis Henican did a great job defending Kamiya's piece from O'Reilly's constant interruptions, and we thank him for that thankless task.)
Instead, we hereby invite O'Reilly to debate Kamiya, one-on-one, via e-mail. Let the unedited exchange become part of the public record on the Net. Let O'Reilly leave the home-turf advantage of his studios. Let's see how he fares when he can't simply yank the mike from a guest who disagrees with him too articulately.
We also invite the public -- left or right, Salon-lovers or -haters -- to read the article that started it all in its entirety. "Liberation Day" was originally published as subscriber-only content, but given the controversy, we are now making it available for all. We're confident that any reasonable-minded reader will find it a very different experience from the "fanatical" treason it has been identified as by the O'Reillys of the world. But like they say at Fox: We report, you decide.
-- The editors of Salon