The conservative media – and, yes, they do exist – have recently been buzzing about yet another federal report that brands mainstream Americans as potential terrorists while glossing over the threat posed by radical Islam.
Coming on the heels of Department of Homeland Security Director Janet Napolitano's 2009 suggestion that soldiers returning from combat would be especially susceptible to right-wing violence, the reaction was predictable, perhaps even understandable.
But as anyone who has actually read the latest report knows, it offers conservatives no justification for anti-government paranoia.
To be sure, the recently released report on “Hot Spots of Terrorism and other Crimes in the United States” between 1970 and 2008 does indeed define the “extreme right wing” as “groups that believe that one's personal and/or national “way of life” is under attack . . . may also be fiercely nationalistic . . . (and) reverent of individual liberty.”
By that definition, Abraham Lincoln would pose a national security risk.
But as so often happens today, agenda-driven journalists report only the facts that serve their ideological purpose. In fact, the report identifies several other terrorist threats and provides statistics showing that terror attacks motivated by right-wing ideology are among the least common of all.
“Extreme left-wing” threats include groups that “want to bring about change through violent revolution . . . (or want to) overthrow the capitalist system.”
“Religious” threats are posed by groups that “seek to smite the purported enemies of God . . . (or) impose strict religious tenets or laws on society . . . and/or bring about Armageddon.” The report specifically includes Islamists among this group.
“Ethno-Nationalist/Separatist” threats are “regionally concentrated groups with a history of organized political autonomy . . . who are committed to gaining or regaining political independence through any means.”
“Single-issue” threats, meanwhile, focus on “very specific or narrowly-defined causes (e.g., anti-abortion, anti-Catholic) . . . (and) includes groups from all sides of the political spectrum.”
In other words, the report hardly justifies the suspicion that the Obama administration is downplaying the all-too-real threat from Islamic terrorists in order to brand its political adversaries as potential threats.
It wasn't reported that way on Fox News, of course, but the report's own statistics prove my point.
In identifying 62 U.S. counties as terrorist “hot spots” experiencing more than four attacks between 1970 and 2008, the report states that right-wingers accounted for 58 incidents – or 5.3 percent of the total. Ethno-national/separatists accounted for about 29.3 percent, single-issue groups 30.8 percent and left-wing groups 35.1 percent – the highest single category.
And that wasn't reported on MSNBC and other bastions of the “liberal” media.
When I speak to groups about journalism, I always warn them about the danger of getting all their news or commentary from a single source. The notion that any reporter is or can be truly objective was always more of an ideal than a reality, but there was a time when journalists at least valued the illusion of impartiality.
Today, newspapers and the three original TV networks have been augmented by countless cable and Internet news sources, many of them with a very definite ideological agenda. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but it does require a certain amount of discernment on the part of the consumer.
Consumers who select a news source in order to have their own opinions reinforced instead of challenged do themselves and the nation a disservice because no country can survive without well-informed and engaged citizens. The problem with the conservative media's reporting of the terror report was not that it was inaccurate – it wasn't – but that it misinformed through the selective omission of facts.
As always, context is everything. In the report's statistical analysis of terror “hot spots,” for example, guess which category accounted for just 1.3 percent of the total?
You guessed it: Religious attacks.
Because we all saw how many people died on 9/11, we recognize the meaninglessness of that statistic. Sometimes, however, people have no choice but to take the media's word for it – in which case they run the risk of knowing less than they think they do unless they're willing to consider voices they would rather avoid.
Islamic fundamentalists, the Unabomber and Occupy Wall Street participants have all committed violence. But so have pro-life zealots and anti-government extremists like Timothy McVeigh.
The stakes are too high to ignore or excuse any of them.