It’s appalling. I’m referring to the dead silence on the part of America’s major print media on the beheading of Nicholas Berg by Islamic terrorists on Tuesday. The act, captured in a video that highlighted both the painful slowness of the execution and Berg’s sheer fright (it’s now been pulled from the Internet), was an outrage against an American citizen and against all Americans. When I opened yesterday’s Washington Post, I was shocked that there was no editorial protesting the deed, but instead still more breast-beating over the humiliation of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib, for which the murder of Berg was supposedly an act of retaliation. But I thought: The news of the beheading broke at about 4 p.m. on Tuesday, so maybe it was too late to change the Post’s Wednesday editorial page. That’s a slow press reaction for the electronic age, but….
So today, with the media thumbsuckers given a full extra day to digest the implications of the beheading, I did an online survey of the editorial columns of nation’s four leading newspapers–the Post, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and the Chicago Tribune–and I found…exactly nada on Berg. No outrage over the murder. No condemnation of the sheer brutality of the act (when last I looked, making prisoners run around naked was not a capital offense). No expression of sympathy for Berg’s bereft family here in the States. Nothing.
Well, not quite nothing: In the Chicago Tribune, in a handwringer of a let’s-get-out lead editorial titled “Why Is the U.S. in Iraq?” I found this single sentence that didn’t even bother to mention Berg by name:
“A saga both freakish and frightening–the videotaped beheading of an American civilian–shockingly punctuates two already shocking weeks of torture tales from Abu Ghraib.”
Yo, terrorists, behead another American civilian, and we’ll speed up our departure even faster.
At the New York Times, we got a one-liner from staff columnist Maureen Dowd playing the Berg murder for chuckles:
“Should we really be reduced to defending ourselves by saying at least we don’t behead people?”
The editorial column at the Los Angeles Times had nothing to say about Berg either. But the editors at that paper at least had the sense to run this op-ed column by Charles Paul Freund, a senior editor at Reason magazine, pointing out what the breast-beating major media has so far chosen to ignore: that the ghastly decapitation videotape may actually mobilize Americans to move past the shame and second thoughts about Iraq that the photos of the prisoner abuse have generated. Freund writes:
“It’s a tough call whether Abu Musab al-Zarqawi ‘ the Jordanian militant who is reportedly responsible for the videotaped butchery of Nicholas Berg ‘ is more stupid than he is brutal, or whether he is a bigger monster than he is a fool. Zarqawi’s own nauseating videotape makes the case for his indescribable brutality and may have inadvertently delivered his enemy from its own demoralization….
“Dispirited analysts at the conservative National Review Online began looking for an exit from the occupation; blogger Andrew Sullivan asked himself whether, if he had known in advance how the occupation would proceed, he would have supported the war; New York Times columnist David Brooks even concluded that the United States misconceived the effect of its own power, and he pronounced the occupation an intellectual failure, even if it ultimately succeeds in establishing a liberal Iraq.
“So what does Zarqawi do? In ‘retaliation’ for the Abu Ghraib abuses, he stages a singularly abominable execution of a private American citizen who had been wandering around Iraq. The probable effect is to offer many Americans an exit from their own moral horror.”
Freund is also unsparing in his descriptions of the content of the video for those who didn’t see it before it was pulled:
“Mind you, Zarqawi’s ghouls in this video don’t merely behead Berg, as most accounts indicate. Beheading suggests a quick severing and a quick death.
“What Zarqawi’s friends do is butcher Berg ‘ there’s no other word for it. They don’t use a sword or an ax; they use a knife. You can hear Berg screaming as Zarqawi’s gang hacks at his neck and then pulls at his head until it comes off his body. They then hold his bleeding head in front of the camera. The tape is appalling not only for its utter bloodthirstiness but also for the total absence of simple human empathy.”
Fortunately, the reaction to the Berg beheading of most ordinary Americans, as contrasted to that of their betters in the liberal media, seems to be exactly what Freund predicts: anger and sorrow at the murder rather than blame for America over Abu Ghraib. All of the letters to the editor concerning the Berg matter published by the Washington Post today–and I take it that they fairly represent public opinion in the Washington area–expressed a distinct lack of Maureen Dowdish sympathy for the supposedly put-upon Iraqis.
Here’s Joseph J. Barbano of Fairfax Station, Va.:
“The treatment of the captives at the Abu Ghraib prison pales in comparison to the public execution of Nick Berg [front page, May 12]. Being humiliated without being identified, as in the case of the hooded prisoner, does not compare with being publicly beheaded so your family and the world can see. It’s outrageous that the president apologized to the families of the captive Iraqis for their treatment.”
And Thomas P. Lowry of Woodbridge, Va.:
“The beheading of Nick Berg should put our treatment of Arab prisoners into perspective. The barbarity of the act far exceeds any excesses by the West.
“Our pundits and self-flagellators should attend to this fresh evidence of the degraded and decivilizing quality of Islamic extremism.”
And, finally, this eloquent letter, in full, from Sami Jamil Jadallah of Fairfax, Va.:
“I am an Arab American and a veteran of the U.S. Army. I could not find the words to condemn the coldblooded murder of Nick Berg. These are the acts of misfits and animals and are far from what Islam stands for. Not only the United States but also the world, and in particular the Muslim world, must declare a relentless war on these terrorists.
“Humanity has no place for the likes of al Qaeda and men such as Osama bin Laden and Abu Musab Zarqawi. They have declared war against humanity, and humanity must declare war on them.
“My condolences go to the parents and family of Mr. Berg. We are all saddened by his murder.”
Ordinary America seems better able to express what our editorial writers at the major America media will not do