Of course Simpson absolves the media of any responsibility, instead blaming those whose actions have made the stories believable, even if they're not true. Oddly, he never actually acknowledges that the story was, indeed, false, allowing that Newsweek’s source couldn’t be sure of which report he had seen, although he was sure he saw the allegations somewhere. Ultimately Simpson seems to excuse Newsweek’s failure to be sure of its facts because, after all, since this wasn’t the first time such allegations had been raised, Newsweek was probably not as concerned as it might otherwise have been. Besides, it “did not try to deceive its readers.” Well, that’s OK then.
But beyond Simpson’s seeming lack of concern for holding journalists responsible for filing inaccurate or false stories, his off-hand reference to Juan Cole is equally, if less obviously, instructive. Simpson describes Cole as the "respected US authority on the Middle East", which raises an interesting question: Respected by whom, and why?
Given that Cole, on his blog Informed Comment, claims that About half of the American public is terminally stupid”, I have no doubt that he is widely respected amongst the BBC’s anti-American staff. But beyond that?
Certainly one person who doesn’t respect Cole is Steven Vincent’s wife. Vincent, you might recall, was the US freelancer who was recently executed in Iraq, prompting Cole to speculate and pontificate on how Vincent’s own ignorance was to blame. Vincent’s wife was not amused.
The New Republic, itself a rather respectable institution, doesn’t seem to think much of Cole either, noting his tendency to engage in “conspiratorial anti-Semitism” and his belief that US foreign policy is controlled by a malicious Zionist force from Israel. Says Cole, “The Founding Fathers of the United States deeply feared that a foreign government might gain this level of control over a branch of the United States government, and their fears have been vindicated.”
One of Cole’s explanations for the war in Iraq was that “The Neocons wanted to knock down Saddam, Khamenei and al-Asad in hopes that those countries would be so weakened and preoccupied with internal power struggles that Sharon would have an unimpeded opportunity to pursue his dreams of Greater Israel and the final destruction of the Oslo Peace Accords.” I see.
And while Cole has no problem speaking of the “proto-fascist Likud coalition” in Israel, he takes great offense at the term Islamo-fascist, calling it a “desecration and a form of hate speech.” In one particularly fascinating display of his deep thinking, he asked “Are there Muslims who are fascists? Sure. But there is no Islamic fascism, since "Islam" has to do with the highest ideals of the religion.” I’m still trying to work that one out.
Following the London bombings in July, Cole dazzled his readers by proclaiming with the utmost authority that “Britain's South Asian Muslim community is almost certainly not the origin of this attack.” Whoops.
Cole has been caught out at various times misrepresenting people, from falsely accusing a former Reagan official of “urging the nuking of Mecca” to claiming that the 9/11 commission had implicated Ariel Sharon's policies as an impetus to the 9/11 attacks. He's even gone so far as to misrepresent himself, altering his pre-war position on Iraq after the fact.
Just recently Cole has labelled Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson "notorious Christian terrorists." Now, I'm no fan of either, but notorious terrorists? And his penchant for the ad hominem is not limited just to notorious Christians. Demonstrating the wit of a Bugs Bunny-watching 8-year old, he incisively cut Jonah Goldberg down to size during an on-line spat by calling him "a maroon".
He's also been known to call upon left-wing bloggers to do "oppo-research" into the backgrounds of his critics, requesting information about where the critic is from, who pays him, and whether he has links to "shadowy", "Zionist" think tanks. Just out of curiousity, I'm sure. The sort of thing that all "respected" university professors engage in.
Does all this sound to you like the makings of a man whom the BBC ought to be citing as a "respected authority" on anything?
Granted, Simpson's use of Cole was peripheral and non-essential to his piece. But it is instructive, I think, to know just what type of person is considered by the BBC's renowned World Affairs editor to be a "respected authority". Keep this in mind the next time the BBC invokes a "respected authority" in order to lend credibility to whatever agenda it is pressing at the moment.
UPDATE: A few of the above links were originally pointing to the wrong places. They have now been fixed.