Agam's Gecko
Monday, July 24, 2006

wonder how long Prof. Juan Cole will hang on to his reputation as a "foremost expert" on Middle East affairs, when he keeps pulling stunts like this one. The last time I wrote about him, Hitchens was taking him apart over his smoothing out of some of the more outrageous recent statements from Iranian President Ahmadinutjob. Since then, I haven't seen him being used as an expert source on PBS' News Hour, so maybe word is getting around.

For catching him in his latest trick, credit where credit is due. A left-leaning, Bush bashing blogger, writing at Bring it On! was the one to catch Cole's dishonesty this time. He gave the good professor the benefit of the doubt, since there remained a slim possibility that the deceit was inadvertent. Here's what happened.

Late last week, Secretary General Kofi Annan read a statement to the Security Council. All news accounts which quoted the statement (apparently, except one), reported this portion of his statement in full:
"Both the deliberate targeting by Hezbollah of Israeli population centers with hundreds of indiscriminate weapons and Israel's disproportionate use of force and collective punishment of the Lebanese people must stop."
Note that this is a single sentence, unbroken by colons, semi colons or even commas. Professor Cole published an article on his blog on Friday, which he headed up with an eye-catching teaser:
"Israel's disproportionate use of force and collective punishment must stop."

- UN Secretary General Kofi Annan
Is that an accurate depiction of Annan's statement? Is it fair to publish half a sentence while pretending it's a full sentence, even while retaining a qualifier which depends on the deleted portion? Is this how scholarship works in academia these days?

I see that now Cole has placed a statement about the controversy beneath the quote, which is left as it stands. The sentence was not amputated out of any desire to skew its meaning. Oh no. It was an epigraph! Perfectly legitimate!

But what about accepted literary rules? As far as I know, when quoting someone and desiring to chop out half of a single sentence, the accepted practice is to use ellipses. The reader then knows that something is missing, and this is particularly important when more than half of a single sentence is axed in order to change its meaning, with the remainder left as a stand alone statement. The only way this could not be deceitful is if it was accidental (as the Bring It On! blogger was hoping was the case). Cole's note on the page now makes clear that it was not accidental, but intentional.

In fact, the blogger at Bring It On had seen Cole's article before having read any of the news stories about Annan's statement. He saw the truncated quote, and decided to copy it to a post of his own, and to let it stand without commentary as a topic for readers' discussions. While personally agreeing with the statement, the blogger, Matt Browner-Hamlin, was shocked that Kofi Annan, usually known for his careful choice of words, would be so blunt at such a delicate time.

Matt wanted to use the quote, but Cole had not provided any link for it. So he went searching, and searching, and searching some more. Every single news story (except one!) reported the full sentence rather than Cole's half version. He found only one report which quoted only the truncated version, which coincidentally Cole linked to much later in his article to illustrate a different point. It was possible that Cole copied Annan's quote from this same source (the only one found to have used it - Liz Sly of the Chicago Tribune), and was unaware of the full context. Thus the benefit of the doubt, which is now disposed of as Cole affirms that he knew exactly what he was doing. It was an epigraph! Prior to this admission, Matt wrote:
Annan’s fierce condemnation of Israel did not take place in a vacuum and when placed next to the condemnation of Hezbollah that preceded it, it is immediately clear that Annan and the UN are not singling Israel out as guilty of horrible attacks against civilians. Deliberately presenting Annan’s quote as a one-sided indictment of Israel - something Sly is unquestionably guilty of, and Cole may be guilty of - is a serious transgression of journalistic ethics as it misrepresents the intention of the source of the quote.
With his added note, Juan Cole answers Matt's question. He knew exactly what he was doing. An epigraph!

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