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Bill Wagner / Feb. 25, 2019

Accountability

Many versions of the same theme were on display last week. Let's take a look at a few.

Many versions of the same theme were on display last week. Let’s take a look at a few.

Four years ago, a 20-year-old woman left Alabama for Syria and joined ISIS. Until recently when the caliphate was decimated, she was an active participant in ISIS propaganda activities. She was married three times to ISIS fighters and has an 18-month-old son. In January, she escaped from ISIS and surrendered to Kurdish troops and is now in a refugee camp. Because she was born in the U.S., she is claiming to be a U.S. citizen and wants to return to this country. Citing a technicality based on the belief that her foreign-diplomat father was still employed in that capacity at the time of her birth, the State Department is denying she is a citizen and refuses to allow her back in. A lawsuit to settle matters has been filed.

The woman acknowledges her ISIS activities and understands that if she returned, she would be arrested and tried for terrorism. She says she hopes the U.S. would accept her explanation that she was young and made a very bad mistake in joining ISIS, show leniency, and perhaps give her counseling, but also realizes she could spend the rest of her life in prison. She says she knows she has ruined her life and accepts the consequences, but wants to provide an opportunity for her son in the U.S.

The legal issue seems to revolve around whether documentation revealing that her father was no longer employed as a diplomat at the time of her birth was filed appropriately. It seems likely to demonstrate that he was not a diplomat then, and so according to the 14th Amendment (the debate on the wisdom of that is for another day), she is a citizen and has the right to reenter the country. One could also debate the wisdom of not being able to strip citizenship from someone who chooses to be an enemy combatant, particularly given the atrocities committed by ISIS while she was involved in propaganda for them. But that’s what the law says.

For a variety of reasons, I think the Trump administration is wrong on this one. I get it — officials really don’t want a potential show trial that might require use of classified info, and with the border debate raging, it’s understandable that Team Trump would rather not have an image of a young child being taken away from his mother. But this is an opportunity it should embrace. Defeating ISIS militarily was never the biggest challenge. All that took was the will to do it. But ISIS remains a challenging ideology that continues to breed terrorism, and this situation provides an opportunity to further discredit ISIS as losers.

I would opt for trying to cut a deal with the woman. To be sure, have her plead guilty, give her a very stiff minimum sentence (25-30 years?), and require her to provide any intel she might have on ISIS. I would also care for her child and give her the chance to mitigate her sentence over time if she would become the poster child for anti-ISIS propaganda and counsel potential ISIS/radical Muslim recruits. Take what appears to be yes for an answer and enlist an asset in the tougher propaganda phase of the war on terror. The State Deparmtent seems likely to lose the citizenship case as it stands, but the abetting terror evidence against her seems overwhelming, so the stick would be life without parole. Looks like a good trade.


The Jussie Smollett case has been in the headlines somewhat longer than the usual news cycle permits, but that will fade. Before the incident, dozens of Americans knew who this guy was, and I was not one of them. And he will return to quasi anonymous status shortly regardless of whether or not he is prosecuted. There are so many sub plots to this story, but one of the most prominent yet least publicized is the utter lack of accountability on the part of the media, celebrities, and Democrat presidential candidates who jumped on the story immediately to promote an agenda.

From the media, the most we are hearing after the facts came out is the claim that they were skeptical all along and merely reported what Smollett said without opining. But noticeably absent from the initial reporting were words like “alleged.” Contrast that with the reporting of the attack at Berkeley on the guy from Turning Point in which the victim was described as a “conservative activist.” And despite the existence of a video of the actual attack, the word “alleged” was everywhere.

Furthermore, does anyone believe that the Smollett story would have gotten legs if the “MAGA country” comment were not there? A gay black man being roughed up and subjected to slurs in subzero wind chills in Chicago might have had a one-day run on page B27 of the local papers, but the only reason it went national was the piece of the play that had Trump supporters in a starring role. If you want more evidence of this, consider the media phrasing after the scam became public. Somehow, references to MAGA comments, which might now put Trump supporters in a sympathetic light, disappeared from the reporting.

I really don’t care about Smollett’s motives. Speculation has centered around greed, as if victimhood status from a Trump mob would translate into greater career earnings. Even the Chicago cops cited better salary as the prime mover. But maybe it was sheer Trump hatred and a belief that he would maintain more than the requisite 15 minutes of fame and attention from the anti-Trump angle. Colin Kaepernick got both, so why not?

Or perhaps the guy simply has a few screws loose. After all, what genius plans a 2 AM attack that requires the attackers to actually lie in wait and know he would be out for a burger in minus-20 wind-chill conditions and then leaves a paper trail of cell-phone contacts and pays the actors in the drama by check?

The Democrat candidates fell all over each other to scream victimhood and blast Trump as the cause of all racial and sexual identity bias, with the grand total of zero caveats. But when the scam came out, they all claimed to need to wait for all the facts to come in, wiped all prior references away, and hoped the 24-hour news cycle would save them. Ditto for the celebrities who piled on in similar fashion and are now claiming that even though this story may have been made up, real bias exists, so it’s OK to do whatever it takes to draw attention to it.

The Chicago press is calling for an apology to the city, and people are lamenting the potential loss of credibility regarding future victims of hate crimes. But nobody seems ready to say they are sorry to the only group who was truly and immediately slimed — Trump supporters. You might greet the celebrity reaction with an eye roll, but the Democrat candidates, last time I checked, are in the running to be the president of the United State. One might hope for a higher bar. The entire incident says more about them and the media than anything else.

It’s not clear what will happen to Smollett. He is maintaining his innocence, claiming untreated substance abuse or some such, and his lawyers are blaming the Chicago cops for “rushing to judgement.” But that’s all likely just a negotiating ploy to limit his sentence. About the only thing you can be sure of in the media and Democrat political realms is that the concepts of personal responsibility and accountability will remain in obscurity.

But there is hope. A $250 million lawsuit has been filed against The Washington Post by the high-school kid who was trashed via a partial video that the media ran with without checking any facts. Just as in Smollett’s case, the rush to publish was fueled by the fact that the kid was wearing a MAGA hat (anyone see a pattern here?). The accusations went viral, and the retractions, once the true story emerged, were muted.

I have always said that once The New York Times gave “reporters” permission to be op-ed writers when covering all things Trump, all bets were off for professional journalism, and only the race to be first in that one story that would destroy Trump and his supporters mattered. Proper sourcing and journalistic standards have disappeared, and that will continue as long as the ratings from the business model of trying to be the most vocal Trump critic regardless of the facts stayed up.

Well, another variable has now entered the money equation — the prospect of being on the wrong end of a major libel suit — and The Washington Post is just the first of many in this case. Granted, $250 million might be a bridge too far, but who knows. The key here is that the traditional defenses that require proof of malice for “public figures” to be liable might not survive. Add to that the fact that when covering “children,” the media is required to take extra care, and there could be real damages that just might get the attention of the “shoot first, question sources second” media.

Relying on the fact that the kid in question was the subject of a viral video and therefore is a “public figure” seems ridiculous on its face. Not surprisingly, it’s really hard to find any reporting on the lawsuit after the first flurry, but counsel for the kid is a very good and media-savvy bulldog, so watch this one carefully. It just might be the case that maybe won’t get us back to media sanity, but could inject a bit of pause into media bias. Accountability indeed.

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