A Response to Andrew Sullivan's Question About NEWSWEEK's 'Terrorist' Taxonomy Debate

Our e-mail conversation on why the media have been reluctant to label Joseph Stack a terrorist has generated a lot of critical discussion among prominent political bloggers. Apparently, some of the criticism stems from a misunderstanding of the fact that we were discussing the media's aversion, not our own, to labeling Stack a terrorist, and that when we laid out the logic of the media we were ironically mocking it, not endorsing it.

Today, Andrew Sullivan asks whether our multimedia managing editor Kathy Jones's "guide" to who is or isn't a terrorist is ironic or not. Is she "mocking craven and inconsistent and obviously racist distinctions in the MSM" or is she sincerely endorsing them?

Here is my (sincere) answer:

Dear Andrew, thanks for asking, and I am sorry we left the e-mail transcript so murky that the question was raised. Now here's the answer: she was absolutely, positively "mocking craven and inconsistent and obviously racist distinctions in the MSM." Indeed, we presumed—perhaps mistakenly—that those taxonomical distinctions were so self-evidently craven, inconsistent, and racist that it never occurred to us someone might believe our managing editor, Kathy Jones, actually shares them herself. She is mortified that anyone would think otherwise. Her post was missing a single word that could've helped us avoid the confusion. If she had called it her "handy MEDIA guide," or "handy USERS guide," her intent almost certainly would've been clear. Suffice it to say, in retrospect, she dearly wishes she had.

I should also point out that Kathy's post in this e-mail chain immediately followed my opening salvo, in which I called out The Wall Street Journal for labeling Joseph Stack a "tax protester." Kathy was reacting to the table I set, which she interpreted to be a request for a conversation about how the media label these nutballs. However, when one reads her comment outside of that context, it begins to sound much more like a view she holds herself. I would urge anyone interested in this conversation to read the entire chain of e-mails, and I apologize for the lack of clarity at the outset. I also apologize to Kathy—because "craven," "inconsistent," and "racist" are three words no one would ever use to describe her.