Where Facts are Made-Up

Clark Hoyt, New York Times public editor, has a devastating rebuttal to the NYT's Edward Luttwak op-ed on Barack Obama being a Muslim apostate:

I interviewed five Islamic scholars, at five American universities, recommended by a variety of sources as experts in the field. All of them said that Luttwak’s interpretation of Islamic law was wrong. [...] Interestingly, in defense of his own article, Luttwak sent me an analysis of it by a scholar of Muslim law whom he did not identify. That scholar also did not agree with Luttwak that Obama was an apostate or that Muslim law would prohibit punishment for any Muslim who killed an apostate. [...] Luttwak made several sweeping statements that the scholars I interviewed said were incorrect or highly debatable [...] All the scholars argued that Luttwak had a rigid, simplistic view of Islam that failed to take into account its many strains and the subtleties of its religious law, which is separate from the secular laws in almost all Islamic nations.

As a blogger, I'm hardly in a position to dispute Luttwak's right to opine on matters about which he knows nothing. But if I were the editor of an op-ed page and I were interested in publishing a provocative opinion piece grounded in an interpretation of Islamic law, I would try to get a scholar of Islamic jurisprudence to write it. But of course if I were the editor of an op-ed page, I would think that one of my goals was to publish articles that inform, rather than mislead, my audience. The actual op-ed editors at the NYT and Washington Post have, however, made it abundantly clear over the years that they see misleading their audience as fine -- hence men like Bill Kristol and Charles Krauthammer get hired as columnists.

It does, however, make you wonder what these institutions are for. As means of acquiring information, they're useless -- the editors are indifferent to whether the author's purpose is to inform or to mislead. As entertainment, they're not very entertaining -- even a terrible movie like Crystal Skull is more fun than an op-ed column. Are they important profit centers for the failing businesses in which they're embedded? That seems unlikely.

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Matthew Yglesias is a former writer and editor at The Atlantic.

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