May 19, 2002
by David Kopel
The morning after my last column appeared, a shocking e-mail arrived: Dutch political leader Pim Fortuyn had just been assassinated. Both before and after his death, the Old Media (the Associated Press, New York Times, Reuters, etc.) persisted in labeling Fortuyn and his party as intolerant right-wing extremists. Yet last Wednesday, the Dutch people voted in huge numbers for the "List Pim Fortuyn," meaning that the Fortuyn party and the conservative Christian Democrats will likely form the next government of the Netherlands. Have the Dutch people turned intolerant? Not at all. Rather, the Associated Press -- the exclusive source of Dutch political coverage in the Denver dailies -- has grossly distorted the truth.
For example, the AP article on Fortuyn's assassination (Rocky Mountain Newsand The Denver Post, May 7) announced that Fortuyn's platform was "out of place in the Netherlands, which has reputation for liberalism," being "the first country to legalize gay marriages," to "approve and control euthanasia" and to "tolerate the over-the-counter sale of marijuana."
The AP never mentioned that Fortuyn's social platform was founded on protecting Dutch liberalism -- particularly from the intolerant attitudes of Muslim immigrants who denounce gays as lower than pigs and who repress women. Fortuyn also campaigned for further liberalization of drug laws and euthanasia laws.
Even after Fortuyn's murder, the AP (as well as a News column by Clarence Page) continued to compare the gay Dutch sociology professor to neo-fascists like Jean-Marie Le Pen in France and Joerg Haider in Austria. Far from being extremist, the Fortuyn platform in most respects could have been written by centrists such as Bill Clinton or George Bush; the emphasis is on making government more efficient and less bureaucratic, on letting markets work to improve public services, and on strengthening protections against crime.
You couldn't find the full story about Fortuyn in the AP articles on which the News and the Post both relied. But thanks to the Internet, the real story has been available on Web venues like KausFiles.com, InstaPundit.com, AndrewSullivan.com, The Wall Street Journal's daily "Best of the Web" e-mail, and the many Web logs to which these sources link.
Outside the offices of the Archdiocese of Denver, a husband and wife held a press conference calling for the Catholic hierarchy to support changes in sex-abuse laws. The woman, who is now 37, had as an adult engaged in two sexual affairs with a chaplain at the Air Force Academy who was later fired. Both the News and the Post, appropriately, covered this two-person event (May 10) -- but the Post hyped it with the headline, "Clergy-abuse survivors rally at archdiocese." A two-person event isn't really a "rally" -- a fact the Post elided by not mentioning the number of people at the "rally." The News provided the relevant details.
Regarding the nationwide sex scandals involving priests, the Post keeps referring to "pedophile" priests (in its editions of April 22, 24, 25 and May 4, 10, 13, for example). But the Dictionary of Psychology defines "pedophilia" as "sexual attraction for immature children." Yet only a tiny percentage of the cases involve pedophiliac abuse. The vast majority of incidents in the scandal involve consensual homosexual relationships between priests and teen-age males.
In modern American culture, these males aren't considered old enough to legally consent, and the priests (besides violating their vows of celibacy) are, like teachers who have sex with high school students, violating their position of trust and authority. But it's not fair for the media to equate consensual sex with a 17-year-old with the rape of a 5-year-old. The News uses the word "pedophile" only in the scientifically proper context of immature children.
In this space last week, my colleague Greg Dobbs chastised the News for not running a Los Angeles Times article which appeared in the Post on May 8, describing the new Department of Justice position on the Second Amendment (the News ran a Boston Globe story instead.)
To the contrary, the Times story was a terrible example of bias and sloppy reporting. The Times claimed that "scholars" and "experts in gun law" thought "the 'radical' shift in position threatens to undermine a wide range of gun laws" -- but the Times never quoted an actual scholar or expert who thought so. In fact, most legal scholars who recognize the Second Amendment as an individual right (such as Larry Tribe, Eugene Volokh and William Van Alstyne) also believe that this view is compatible with most modern gun laws.
The Times asserted that "Since the 1930s, the federal government" has declared that people have no constitutional right to own a gun. To the contrary, Congress in 1941 and 1986 passed legislation affirming the Second Amendment as an individual right, and took steps to protect it from infringement. Presidents Kennedy, Reagan and Bush Sr. -- the heads of "the federal government" -- all affirmed the Second Amendment as an individual right. If the Times had bothered to interview an actual gun scholar (rather than a flack for a gun prohibition group), it might have found this out.