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Profile: Bob Herbert

Bob Herbert was a participant or observer in the following events:

Katharine Gun, who leaked an NSA memo to the British press in February 2003 that revealed the existence of an elaborate US plan to “bug” UN delegates (see January 31, 2003), is arrested and charged with violating the Official Secrets Act for giving a copy of the memo to the press. Gun was a translator for British intelligence, who worked at the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) before losing her job over the leak in June. Gun does not dispute leaking the memo, instead calling it “justified.” Any leaks she made exposed “serious illegality and wrongdoing on the part of the US Government,” she says, and were made to prevent “wide-scale death and casualties among ordinary Iraqi people and UK forces.” (BBC 11/13/2003) Gun has had the support of a wide array of antiwar and civil rights activists, led in the US by actor Sean Penn and activist Jesse Jackson, who signed a statement shortly before her court appearance praising her as a whistleblower. (Observer 1/18/2004) The British government decides to drop the charges against her. No official explanation for this is forthcoming, though it may have been precipitated by the defense’s intent to argue that Gun leaked to the media in order to save lives from being lost in a war, an argument that would cause political damage to the government. Liberty spokeswoman Shami Chakrabarti says the decision to charge Gun may itself have been politically motivated, perhaps to cow future whistleblowers, and observes, “One wonders whether disclosure in this criminal trial might have been a little too embarrassing.” Sir Menzies Campbell, the Liberal Democrats’ foreign affairs spokesman, says the reason for dropping the charges might be to keep the Attorney General’s legal advice for war with Iraq a secret. Prosecutor Mark Ellison merely tells the court, “There is no longer sufficient evidence for a realistic prospect of conviction. It would not be appropriate to go into the reasons for this decision.” The only thing needed for a successful prosecution under the Official Secrets Act is for the prosecution to show that Gun is covered by the act, which she is, and that she revealed information covered by the Act, which she has admitted. Gun’s lawyer, James Webb, calls the prosecution’s excuse “rather lame.” (BBC 11/13/2003; Cheston and Gusmaroli 2/25/2004) Gun says that leaking the NSA memo was “necessary to prevent an illegal war in which thousands of Iraqi civilians and British soldiers would be killed or maimed.… I have only ever followed my conscience.” (Solomon 12/28/2005) A month before the court proceedings, the New York Times’s Bob Herbert writes in defense of Gun, “We are not talking about a big-time criminal here. We are not talking about someone who would undermine the democratic principles that George W. Bush and Tony Blair babble about so incessantly, and self-righteously, even as they are trampling on them. Ms. Gun is someone who believes deeply in those principles and was willing to take a courageous step in support of her beliefs. She hoped that her actions would help save lives. She thought at the time that if the Security Council did not vote in favor of an invasion, the United States and Britain might not launch the war.” (Herbert 1/19/2004) And just days before the court proceedings begin, liberal columnist Molly Ivins wrote, “…Gun may be sentenced to prison for doing precisely what we all hope every government employee will try to do: Prevent the government from committing an illegal and immoral act. Some dare call it patriotism.” (Ivins 2/18/2004)

Conservative columnist Ann Coulter, in her daily syndicated column, accuses Democrats and liberals of “racism” for criticizing African-American conservatives. Coulter’s column is partly in response to recent remarks by Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) that other conservatives have characterized as racist (see December 5-8, 2004). Coulter expands her criticism well beyond Reid, to accuse African-American columnist Bob Herbert of the New York Times of being a “black liberal” whose criticism of black conservatives is, in her view, racially motivated, and accuses white Times media critic Caryn James of “launching racist attacks on black conservatives” (Coulter mistakenly identifies James as African-American). Coulter begins by referring to comments by the recently deceased Washington Post columnist Mary McGrory, who called Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia “a brillant and compelling extremist” and Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas (see October 13, 1991) “Scalia’s puppet.” According to Coulter, McGrory’s statement “is the kind of rhetoric liberals are reduced to when they just can’t bring themselves to use the N-word.” Referring to Reid’s characterization of Thomas as the author of “poorly written” Court opinions, Coulter writes, “You’d think Thomas’ opinions were written in ebonics.” She concludes by calling Herbert and James “Uncle Toms.” The same evening, Coulter continues her attacks on Fox News, appearing as a guest on Bill O’Reilly’s broadcast. According to Coulter, liberals “feel like they have blacks on the plantation, they can say whatever they like. And, interestingly, you don’t even hear Hispanic conservatives attacked in the same way that people like Condoleezza Rice and Clarence Thomas are, and—and, I mean, just look at it. Look at what the Democrats’ minority leader in the Senate said this weekend. He praises Scalia as ‘Oh, he’s one smart guy, and his opinions, can’t dispute the logic, though I disagree with them,’ and then he says of Clarence Thomas ‘He’s an embarrassment. His opinions—they’re just poorly written.’” O’Reilly agrees, saying that Democrats who try to “demean people with whom [they] disagree with politically” are “loathsome.” Coulter says that Democrats are “enraged” about the 2004 elections, and in response “they’re lashing out at the blacks.” (Ann Coulter 12/8/2009; Media Matters 12/10/2009)

Columnist Bob Herbert accuses Bennett of ‘racial effrontery.’Columnist Bob Herbert accuses Bennett of ‘racial effrontery.’ [Source: Louisville Courier-Journal]William Bennett, the conservative radio host who is facing heavy criticism for suggesting that aborting black children would lower the US crime rate (see September 28-October 1, 2005 and September 29-30, 2005), defends his position by saying: “I was putting forward a hypothetical proposition. Put that forward. Examined it. And then said about it that it’s morally reprehensible. To recommend abortion of an entire group of people in order to lower your crime rate is morally reprehensible. But this is what happens when you argue that the ends can justify the means.… I’m not racist, and I’ll put my record up against theirs,” he says, referring to leading Democrat Nancy Pelosi and other critics. “I’ve been a champion of the real civil rights issue of our times—equal educational opportunities for kids. We’ve got to have candor and talk about these things while we reject wild hypotheses,” Bennett says. “I don’t think people have the right to be angry, if they look at the whole thing. But if they get a selective part of my comment, I can see why they would be angry. If somebody thought I was advocating that, they ought to be angry. I would be angry. But that’s not what I advocate.” Bennett says he owes no one an apology: “I don’t think I do. I think people who misrepresented my view owe me an apology.” (CNN 9/30/2005)
Says Topics of Race and Crime Cannot Be off-Limits - Later, he continues to defend his remarks, saying, “It would have worked for, you know, single-parent moms; it would have worked for male babies, black babies.” Asked why he would bring the subject up at all, Bennett says: “There was a lot of discussion about race and crime in New Orleans. There was discussion—a lot of it wrong—but nevertheless, media jumping on stories about looting and shooting, and roving gangs and so on. There’s no question this is on our minds.… What I do on our show is talk about things that people are thinking… we don’t hesitate to talk about things that are touchy. I’m sorry if people are hurt, I really am. But we can’t say this is an area of American life [and] public policy that we’re not allowed to talk about—race and crime.” (Tapper 9/29/2005; Glaister 10/1/2005)
Feeding Perception that Republicans are Racist - Robert George, a black conservative editorial writer for the New York Post, agrees that Bennett did not mean his remarks as racist. But, he says, he worries that Bennett is feeding the perception that Republicans are racist. “His overall point about not making broad sociological claims and so forth, that was a legitimate point,” George says. “But it seems to me someone with Bennett’s intelligence… should know better the impact of his words and sort of thinking these things through before he speaks.” (Tapper 9/29/2005) Bob Herbert, a black progressive columnist for the New York Times, later says he was unsurprised by Bennett’s remarks: “I’ve come to expect racial effrontery from big shots in the Republican Party. The GOP has happily replaced the Democratic Party as a safe haven for bigotry, racially divisive tactics and strategies, and outright anti-black policies. That someone who’s been a stalwart of that outfit might muse publicly about the potential benefits of exterminating blacks is not surprising to me at all.… Bill Bennett’s musings about the extermination of blacks in America (it would be ‘impossible, ridiculous, morally reprehensible’) is all of a piece with a Republican Party philosophy that is endlessly insulting to black people and overwhelmingly hostile to their interests.” (Herbert 10/6/2005)

Many in the media speculate as to the motivations behind Richard Poplawski’s murder of three Pittsburgh police officers, which takes place on this day (see April 4, 2009). Findings that Poplawski is a white supremacist who hates Jews and fears that the federal government will confiscate his guns (see April 4, 2009) lead some to speculate that he was driven to violence by right-wing speculation and hate speech. In June 2009, New York Times columnist Bob Herbert will call Poplawski’s action a “right-wing, hate-driven attack,” and note that Poplawski and others like him have been inflamed by information provided by such organizations as the National Rifle Association (NRA), which consistently tells its Web site visitors that President Obama is planning to mount a nationwide gun confiscation. Herbert will also note that a friend of Poplawski’s told reporters that the shooter “feared the Obama gun ban that’s on the way.” (Herbert 6/19/2009) In the days after Poplawski’s killing spree, Daily Beast columnist Max Blumenthal will speculate that Poplawski was driven to violence by the steady diet of right-wing hate speech and anti-government conspiracy theories he immersed himself in. Blumenthal notes that Alex Jones of Infowars, while himself not an advocate of white supremacy, is popular on the neo-Nazi Web site Stormfront.org for his incessant diatribes about the imminent takeover of the citizenry by FEMA and the Obama administratrion’s plans on confiscating guns as part of its plan to establish a leftist dictatorship. Blumenthal also notes Poplawski’s fondness for Fox News’s Glenn Beck, who often repeats and embellishes Jones’s conspiracy theories on his show, and his apparent self-affiliation with the radical fringes of the Tea Party movement. Author and reporter David Neiwert will tell Blumenthal: “It’s always been a problem when major-league demagogues start promulgating false information for political gain. What it does is unhinge fringe players from reality and dislodges them even further. When someone like Poplawski hears Glenn Beck touting One World Government and ‘they’re gonna take your gun’ theories, they believe then that it must be true. And that’s when they really become crazy.” (Blumenthal 4/7/2009) Heidi Beirich of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), an expert on political extremists, says of Poplawski’s views, “For some time now there has been a pretty good connection between being sucked into this conspiracy world and propagating violence.” She says Poplawski’s attack on the police is “a classic example of what happens when you start buying all this conspiracy stuff.” (Roddy 4/5/2009)


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