Salon published a rather thorough and (frankly) positive interview with Sam Harris the other day. Or so I thought.
First, the good stuff. In his interview with Sean Illing, Harris was able to talk at length on his views instead of being cut down to the sound bites we often hear. You get a real sense of where he stands on Islam, spirituality, etc. Good. That’s what you hope to read in an interview. If you want to criticize his various stances, then you better state his beliefs accurately, and this interview allows for that.
The problem, however, is that Salon cut out one particular section from the original interview — and it was the part that was critical of Salon for publishing so much nonsense that saying “it’s published on Salon” is now a punchline.
Harris published the missing section on his own website:
As long as we’re talking about the regressive Left, it would be remiss of me not to point out how culpable Salon is for giving it a voice. The problem is not limited to the political correctness and masochism I’ve been speaking about — it’s also the practice of outright deception to defame Islam’s critics. To give you one example, I once wrote an article about Islamist violence in which I spoke in glowing terms about Malala Yousafzai. I literally said nothing but good things about her. I claimed that she is the best thing to come out of the Muslim world in a thousand years. I said she is extraordinarily brave and eloquent and doing what millions of Muslim men and women are too terrified to do, which is to stand up to forces of theocracy in her own society. I also said that though she hadn’t won the Nobel Prize that year, she absolutely deserved it — and deserved it far more than some of its recent recipients had. And in response to this encomium, Salon published a piece by the lunatic Murtaza Hussain entitled, “Sam Harris Slurs Malala,” which subjected my views to the same defamatory and dishonest treatment that I’ve come to expect from him. And this sort of thing has been done to me a dozen times on your website. And yet Salon purports to be a forum for the civil discussion of important ideas.
Most readers simply don’t understand how this game is played. If they read an article which states that Sam Harris is a racist, genocidal, xenophobic, pro-torture goon who supported the Iraq war — all of which has been alleged about me in Salon — well, then, it’s assumed that some journalists who work for the website under proper editorial control have actually looked into the matter and feel that they are on firm enough ground to legally say such things. There’s a real confusion about what journalism has become, and I can assure you that very few people realize that much of what appears on your website is produced by malicious freaks who are just blogging in their underpants.
I’m not saying that everything that Salon publishes is on the same level, and I have nothing bad to say about what you’ve written, Sean. But there is an enormous difference between honest criticism and defamatory lies. If I say that Malala is a total hero who deserves a Nobel Prize, and Salon titles its article “Sam Harris Slurs Malala,” that’s tabloid-level dishonesty. It’s worse, in fact, because when one reads about what a nanny said about Brad and Angelina in a tabloid, one knows that such gossip stands a good chance of not being true. Salon purports to be representing consequential ideas fairly, and yet it does this sort of thing more often than any website I can think of. The latest piece on me was titled “Sam Harris’ dangerous new idiocy: Incoherent, Islamophobic and simply immoral.” I don’t think I’m being thin-skinned in detecting an uncharitable editorial position being taken there. Salon is telling the world that I’m a dangerous, immoral, Islamophobic idiot. And worse, the contents of these articles invariably misrepresent my actual views. This problem isn’t remedied by merely publishing this conversation.
I understand that no publication takes joy in printing criticism of itself — it’s like someone taking your hand and using it to slap you in the face — but given the nature of this interview, it seems especially low.
Harris doesn’t blame Illing for the omission, by the way:
[Illing] was a pleasure to correspond with and appears to have made his best effort to get the whole text of our conversation published. And I’m actually happy that his editors decided to help make my case for me by further demonstrating their lack of integrity. Salon is irredeemable. I urge the few talented writers left there to flee a sinking ship.
Salon‘s problem is that they appear to post anything and everything that looks like an article, even when the substance is nowhere to be found. They’ve taken special delight in posting articles attacking vocal atheists (Jeffrey Tayler‘s pieces aside) even when the meat of those articles weren’t even remotely fair. This is only the latest example.