Monday, July 04, 2005

Brian Williams Redux

Brian Williams complains that his critics have missed the point:
Today, apparently, on some radio talk shows and blogs, my friends in the media have accused me of labeling George Washington a terrorist. They apparently missed my point: That the BRITISH CROWN might have viewed American revolutionaries that way.
It's quite true that Williams never called Washington a terrorist, but he did equate the belief that Iran's current president-elect is a terrorist with the belief that American revolutionaries were terrorists:
Many Americans woke up to a curious story this morning: several of the former Iran Hostages have decided there is a strong resemblance between Iran's new president and one of their captors more than 25 years ago.... It is a story that will be at or near the top of our broadcast and certainly made for a robust debate in our afternoon editorial meeting, when several of us raised the point (I'll leave it to others to decide germaneness) that several U.S. presidents were at minimum revolutionaries, and probably were considered terrorists of their time by the Crown in England.
The only point of making such an analogy is to pooh-pooh the worry that Iran's new president-elect might be a terrorist. After all, didn't some American revolutionaries become president even though the British thought they were terrorists? Williams doesn't realize that this lame analogy isn't any better than calling George Washington a terrorist. If I have a prima facie legitimate worry that X might be a terrorist, it's ridiculous for you to respond by suggesting that some people might think that Y is a terrorist. If your point is that I have as much justification for calling X a terrorist as others do in calling Y a terrorist, then come right out and say that. Otherwise, your point is not germane.

Williams may not be happy about being accused of saying that George Washington was a terrorist, but he left himself open to that accusation. If I think that X is a terrorist and you equate that to thinking that Y is a terrorist, the implication is that X's being a terrorist and Y's being a terrorist are logically equivalent, that is, that one of the following is true:

  • X and Y are both terrorists.
  • Neither X or Y are terrorists.
Either way, there is an equivalence between X and Y. So Williams either thinks that Iran's president-elect isn't a terrorist or that George Washington was. He denies the latter, so he would seem to endorse the latter--although he probably would deny that as well. So again, his point simply seems to be the following: it's not that big of deal that Iran's president-elect might be a terrorist, because the British might have thought that George Washington was a terrorist. I've critiqued this point below, so it suffices here to say that the point is just plain dumb.

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