These days, apparently, you ARE entitled to your own facts

We now know, as a result of an FBI announcement late this morning, that one of the San Bernardino attackers had “pledged… allegiance” to ISIL leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

That’s the first piece of information we’ve had indicating that the killer couple had any sort of connection, direct or indirect, to radical Islamic groups.

That news broke about 6 hours ago. But before that, there was a remarkable number of people in this country who were so sure that this was indeed an act of Islamist terror that they were contemptuously dismissive of anyone who expressed anything other than absolute certainty on that point.

For instance, take a look at some of the Twitter reactions to a story that was in The Washington Post this morning (meaning that it was probably written last night, long before that FBI disclosure). The story was headlined, “Motive elusive in deadly San Bernardino rampage as FBI takes over probe.”

Which was certainly true when the story was posted. This was a weird case, and not only because it was the first potential terrorist attack that we had seen involving a married couple with a young child (so much for the stereotype of sexually frustrated young men). This couple had taken the trouble to amass a modest armory, had taken their child to relatives for safekeeping — and yet had not left the world any obvious message as to why they were doing what they did. It fit no known pattern.

But there are a lot of people out there these days who just know things without any evidentiary support, such as these:

… and so forth.

Daniel Patrick Moynihan famously said that “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.”

Oh, how quaint.

Today, people are adamant that they are so entitled to their own facts. That’s why Donald Trump doesn’t implode no matter how many stretchers he may defiantly utter. There is a natural constituency that believes that truth is whatever they choose to forcefully assert.

I find myself suspecting that this is related to the rise of the Web. Since there are no barriers to publication, there are no standards. Anyone who believes anything can find an audience of people who believe him — and stand ready to amplify him — and that’s the only test one has to meet. The hordes of people who embrace this new state of affairs have been waiting for a man like Trump, and the moment has found its man.

Anyway, back to actual reality…

This case remains perplexing. Why would this woman have “pledged allegiance” to ISIL’s leader, but done so in such a backhanded manner? One of the cardinal rules of terror is that you kill and/or sacrifice yourself to send a clear political message.

Why has ISIL not leaped to claim even indirect responsibility, given the way they did so so quickly after Paris?

I’m interested to learn more so that I can understand what happened and why, and learn valuable lessons for heading off this kind of thing in the future. Yeah, I know. I’m hopelessly old-fashioned. I like facts…

24 thoughts on “These days, apparently, you ARE entitled to your own facts

  1. Brad Warthen Post author

    On a sidenote, Bryan Tweeted:

    Yes, I confess that my mind was running along similarly facetious lines.

    Such as…

    I pledge allegiance to the beast of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, and to the caliphate for which it stands, one realm under Satan, inexcusable, with slavery and atrocity for all.

  2. Burl Burlingame

    I am hearing reports that the “media” was allowed to rummage through the apartment rented by the shooters. Say what? No police tape? No guards?

    BTW, despite his name and religion, the male suspect was U.S. born and raised.

    1. Juan Caruso

      As Europe is learning, it is the 2nd and 3rd generations of younger (than 35 YOA) muslim immigrants who fail to assimilate, leading to “No-Go zones” and, if the trend continues, to the “autonomous regions” with legal protections that indigenous Islamists are seeking.

      I cannot recall the U.S. ever demanding tolerance for such seditious behaviors by those invited to our shores. Tolerating is too lenient a description for the poor political leadership being exercised in bipartisan fashion lately. The party leaders are promoting acts of terror domestically (yet calling it otherwise) and incubating ISIS abroad.

      The current PC pendulum will swing backward catching idiots off guard, ruining legacies, tarnishing political aspirations and overcoming with generations of word of mouth the glowing texts of faux history.

    2. Brad Warthen Post author

      “BTW, despite his name and religion, the male suspect was U.S. born and raised.”

      This is atypical in a number of ways, starting with his not being single, and bringing the wife along while the baby stays with grandmother. No matter what his motivation, when have we seen a situation anywhere remotely like that? We haven’t seen any terrorists like that, and for that matter we haven’t seen any disgruntled employees going postal who brought along the wife.

      On the other hand, what if the wife was bringing HIM along? (That would be unusual, but so is this whole case, and maybe it fits the weird facts better if she were the driving force.) She was the foreign national whom he brought back from a visit to the Mideast. If either of them was ever in direct contact with ISIL or its predecessor organizations, especially if any training were involved, she would be the one more likely because she had more opportunity.

      If it’s NOT about mainly her, then we have what we have been most concerned about: The kid born and raised in the U.S. who nevertheless gets inspired by terrorism and becomes indoctrinated via the Web. This has been one of the likelier scenarios for terror on U.S. soil because we DON’T have the huge concentrations of disaffected young Muslim men living in huge immigrant ghettoes the way they do in Europe.

      But even if that’s what he is, he doesn’t fit the profile even for THAT. He’s married, with a baby, and apparently a good job where he was getting along fairly well.

      As much as it seems this guy deserved to die, I wish they could have taken him alive. At least then there would be the possibility of getting some answers…

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        If you’re looking for verification of a belief that media people are jackals and vultures, you could hardly find better evidence than this footage of people rifling through the killers’ home and possessions.

        What grotesque, irresponsible voyeurism…

          1. Bryan Caskey

            I was specifically referring to the press. It took me a little while to find the passage, but after rifling through my old copy of Bonfire of the Vanities, I found it.

  3. bud

    This whole “assertion becomes fact” phenomenon began with Rush Limbaugh. He’s thrown out more Whoppers than Burger King. Somewhere along the line the GOP establishment discovered that by throwing out some red meat nonsense about the dangers of foreigners, labor unions or the horrors of the intrusive gubment especially regarding guns they could attract enough poor, white voters that their chosen plutocrat candidate could swoop in to win an election then generally ignore the red meat blather. The idea was to create an environment where the rich would garner an ever increasing share of the national wealth at the expensive of working class Americans, the same group they fooled into supporting their plutocracy. Despite the obvious economic damage this did to those same working class Americans this philosophy worked to a large extent, especially at the state level.

    But now this scheme is starting to backfire. As the working class, and less well educated voters have belatedly discovered the establishment never gets around to enacting the bigoted agenda that they tacitly pushed during the campaigns. Thus the rise of Donald Trump. He can say whatever he wants because the ultra right wing voters have become jaded to the truth. The right wing propaganda machine has turned into a Frankenstein’s monster that has turned on it’s creator. And they have no clue how to stop it.

    The plutocracy’s first choice this election cycle was Jeb Bush. But the frustrated tea-party types want no part of his families monstrous failures. Despite millions in advertising Bush is now only drawing 3-4% in some recent polls. This has the plutocrats running scared and they are searching for a new candidate. Though imperfect from their perspective in many ways Marco Rubio seems to be their new best hope. But is it too late to save the country club elites from their own misguided adventure into bigotry driven propaganda? Probably, as we’ll see Ted Cruz, a slightly tamer version of Donald Trump, win the nomination followed by a landslide victory for Hillary Clinton come November.

    1. Assistant

      So bud, are you saying that the Republicans have been treating whites the same way Democrats have been treating blacks?

  4. Harry Harris

    In an increasingly polarized society, we all have a tendency to follow the line in the old Simon and Garfunkel song “a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest.” We seek out own “facts,” and regard only ones that seem to support our chosen opinion or view. Many choose information (or disinformation) sources that conform, and sometimes pander, to our tack and avoid and dismiss others.
    The folks with the hard job in my view are administrators (Presidents, governors, agency leaders), law enforcement officials, and main-stream news personnel who should and usually do respond with judgments and conclusions only after gathering and considering a sufficient amount of factual material. They get slammed for holding back – especially by people with an ax to grind. Many opinion-news sources and media reporters have become so ratings/attention/revenue oriented that they put getting there first or being most outrageous ahead of being factually accurate. More than a few point to their popularity (ratings) as being validation of their accuracy or worth. In today’s facts-be-damned society, I’d often take leading the pack as a negative, I’d rather enter through the small gate even if my arrival were both late and ridiculed.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      A point I made to the audience when I was on the “Spotlight” panel a couple of weeks ago…

      One of the hardest things these days for real journalists, the few who remain at newspapers, is that the nonprofessionals out there in the blogosphere don’t let you take the time to get it right.

      A rumor takes time to run down and determine whether it’s true or not. Days, even weeks. You can even be stuck for months.

      But in these days of self-publishing, there’s always someone out there who hears the rumor the same time you do, and the moment he hears it, he publishes it. And then people react to it, and the reaction itself becomes a news story that you have to cover. Responsible journalism is out the window, and the person who broke the rumor is now seen as the authoritative source who is way out ahead of the Mustache Petes at the paper.

      It’s a very difficult dynamic, and it undermines the pursuit of the truth, and definitely is the enemy of perspective…

  5. Burl Burlingame

    Also, attacking an office party? That doesn’t seem to be a high-value target. Looks like they were prepared to strike, but couldn’t think of anywhere significant.

    1. Brad Warthen

      Yeah. They were slacker terrorist.

      Or… They were, possibly owing to the fact that Farook grew up here, terrorists with a subtle appreciation of how to do terror.

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        To elaborate…

        When I was at the 2004 Republican National Convention in New York, I ran into a crusty old New Yorker in a Manhattan grocery store. I was covering an antiwar march that some South Carolinians were participating in, and I had popped into the store to pick up some more film (the last extensive professional use I ever made of film was at that convention). This guy was watching the march go by — in his eyes, something of a parade of freaks — and we fell into conversation. We went from the antiwar demonstration to the War on Terror itself, and then to terrorists.

        Most of what he said was so peppered with four-letter words that he was impossible to quote in a family newspaper, but he was interesting. And the one thing he said that I remember was this: Terrorists are a bunch a f___ing idiots who don’t know s___ about America. If they REALLY wanted to terrorize the average American, they wouldn’t f___ around with high-profile targets in New York and Washington. They’d attack a chain supermarket in Bumf___, Nebraska, or someplace like that. Now THAT would strike fear into the hearts of average Americans.

        From his New Yorker perspective, he nevertheless understood that to most Americans, New York isn’t a part of America. It’s some stateless, alien place set apart, like No Man’s Land or the duty-free area in an Airport or, as Tom Wolfe once described it, the Danzig Corridor. To your hypothetical average American (REAL Americans, as Sarah Palin would say), an attack in New York might as well be happening in London, or Tokyo.

        As for Washington, well, that definitely wasn’t part of real America. It wasn’t even in a STATE; it was administratively set apart.

        To a terrorist with a subtle understanding of that principle, something as boring as this daylong meeting/party of county office workers is the ideal target. It says terrorists can strike anytime, anywhere. Especially homegrown ones, with easy access to such venues…

  6. Barry

    Calling it terrorism wasn’t a real leap.

    Saw several military types on tv soon after the attack referencing the very odd inclusion of a female in this particular act of violence- and using that to speculate that is likely was terrorism

    and they were correct.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Barry, I think everyone thought it was “likely” to be terrorism from the start. But her Facebook post was the first actual evidence supporting that likelihood…

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