The Conversation

Conor Friedersdorf Retreats

Yesterday, Conor Friedersdorf took a cheap shot at Michelle Malkin, criticizing her for "fearmongering" and labeling her a "xenophobe" based on an 11 year-old column about potential terrorists and border control.

I responded by pointing out that Friedersdorf had expressed many of the same concerns circa 2005, quoting from three articles he wrote to make the point. I noted that there were some differences though they struck me as slight ones. Malkin focused on the threat of Iraqis coming across the border (it was 2002) while Friedersdorf was worried about Islamic terrorists of indeterminate nationality.

Today, Friedersdorf has a semi-mea culpa in which he acknowledges that he did in fact have fears about terrorism and border control which, in hindsight, appear overblown:

But let me be clear about my self-assessment: Circa 2001 to 2006, I absolutely overestimated the threat of terrorists sneaking across the Mexican border to mount a terrorist attack. I haven't thought of those years in quite awhile, but I vividly remember my erstwhile colleague, Sara Carter, returning from reporting trips to Mexico with terrifying tales of a porous border, corrupt customs agents, and ruthless Mexican cartels who, her sources said, were all too willing to collaborate with Islamist terrorist cells. Those overblown fears never materialized...

I don't think anyone, Malkin included, should feel ashamed for merely advocating beefed up border security as a counterterrorism measure. But I wish I had toned down my past warnings. We were safer than I thought. If I could repeat those years, I'd drop the immigration beat entirely and write about the subjects I cover now: executive-power excesses, civil-liberties abuses, killing innocents...

like a lot of Americans, I wildly overestimated the frequency with which future plots would occur, in part due to living under a color-coded terror-warning system and leaders who hyped many threats, but also because of errors in reasoning for which I alone bear responsibility and that I didn't even appreciate back then. I am sure that, despite my best efforts to guard against it, xenophobia crept into some of what little I wrote, precisely because I feared a foreign culture that seemed strange, scary and unfamiliar.

So Friedersdorf admits he could have written his post on xenophobic panic about himself. Thank you. That was exactly my point. And if he'd done so the whole contretemps would have been avoided. But of course he didn't do that. Instead he seized on an 11 year old column and blamed someone else for saying the things he wrote and felt, somehow forgetting he more or less agreed. Friedersdorf calls this an "ostensible 'gotcha'" but I don't see anything ostensible about it.

This being Conor Friedersdorf there is a long post script which begins "Before I close..." and ends 800 words later. The gist of this is that Twitter is a surreal place where people say mean things. It's mostly an attempt to make himself out the victim of mean kids despite his having launched the first, and easily the meanest, fusillade in this instance.

Here's my own coda; I'll keep it to one paragraph. Ace of Spades pointed out that Friedersdorf is never nearly as tough on folks like Andrew Sullivan as he is on Michelle Malkin. The broader point: Friedersdorf's ethical concerns often seem to begin half a mile from his own doorstep even as he insists others clean up their own house. Instead of debating that point, Friedersdorf retreats behind the details of his employment with Sullivan as if that matters. Meanwhile, where is the Friedersdorf column guffawing over Sullivan's asinine Trig Trutherism (or any of his other absurd conspiracy theories)? God knows he'd have written 20,000 words on it by now if Sullivan worked at Breitbart.


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