Our Friends the Neocons—II


I wasn't the only one revolted by the New York Sun's editorial declaring that antiwar marchers should be tried for treason. Indeed, the article was roundly condemned by many writers, pro-war as well as anti. But one man has stepped up to defend the Sun: good ol' James Taranto, house blogger for The Wall Street Journal.

"There's an element of irony, and hypocrisy," Taranto declares, when one sees "self-styled advocates of vigorous public debate working themselves into a lather over a newspaper editorial. [Eugene] Volokh is right to distinguish between speech and actions on behalf of America's enemies; our constitution protects the former, while the latter may constitute the crime of treason. But no less salient is the distinction between advocating censorship and practicing it. If John Ashcroft or Mike Bloomberg were making noises about prosecuting protesters for treason, that would be cause for outrage. But if someone outside government makes the argument, why is that any less worthy of respect than the 'dissent' of those who make such 'arguments' as that America is an 'imperialist' power that wants 'blood for oil'?"

Taranto, of course, works himself into enough lathers to cover five men when he sees articles that advocate positions he disagrees with, even if the authors do not "practice" those positions. He seem to be saying that while the Sun is calling for censorship, that's all right because it's merely participating in public debate; but when others criticize the stand it took—that is, when they join the debate—they're hypocrites, because … um … well, this is where it gets kind of cloudy. The only way they'd be hypocrites is if they'd called for censoring the Sun, which of course they haven't.

Taranto may recognize, on some level, that his argument is lame, because he quickly tosses in a backup position: that the Sun didn't really mean it anyway. Instead, it was merely "throwing an outlandish idea into the debate, carefully hedging its statement so as to avoid actually endorsing it. In short, the Sun is guilty of nothing more than being provocative—hardly the worst thing you can say about an editorial page."

So it's OK to be provocative, but not to be provoked? My head hurts.