In dubbing Trump’s prolonged clash with the Khan family his political breaking point, the mainstream media was characteristically bullish. Yet, the right-wing media echo chamber still brace for the worst. Within 48 hours of his speech at the Democratic National Convention, conservative media outlets got busy turning Khizr Khan, a grieving Gold Star parent, into an enemy of the republic. A broadside on the blog Shoebat accused Khan, a practicing U.S. immigration lawyer, of being an agent of the Muslim Brotherhood. Meanwhile, a Washington Examiner piece hinted at Mr. Khan’s financial incentive for publicly denouncing Trump. And dusting off a 1983 law journal article explaining basic facets of Sharia law, the Daily Caller ran an article featuring the headline, “Khizr Khan Has Written Extensively On Sharia Law.” In short, a multi-front attack on the character of the man who would presume to criticize Donald Trump. Bob presses Daily Caller editor Scott Greer on the news value of such coverage.
"King Rig" by Erik Friedlander
BOB GARFIELD: Of course, there’s one segment of the media that absolutely does understand the dynamic, the right-wing media echo chamber, which has dutifully spun the straw of Trumpian outrage into the gold of incitement. The Khizr Khan blowout is the latest example. Within 48 hours of his speech at the Democratic National Convention, conservative media outlets were busy turning the grieving victim into an enemy of the republic. An article in Breitbart was headlined, “Khizr Khan's Deep Legal, Financial Connections to Saudi Arabia, Hillary Clinton’s Foundation Tie Terror, Immigration, Email Scandals Together.” The Washington Examiner had a story by Paul Bedard claiming, “Khan specializes in visa programs accused of selling US citizenship.” The same story, nearly verbatim, appeared hours later in the Daily Caller, along with an article which featured the headline, “Khizr Khan Has Written Extensively on Sharia Law.” A broadside on the blog shoebat.com accused Khan practicing US lawyer of being an agent of the Muslim Brotherhood, in short, a multi-front attack on the character of a man who would presume to criticize Donald Trump.
Scott Greer is deputy editor at the Daily Caller. Scott, welcome to OTM.
SCOTT GREER: Thanks for having me.
BOB GARFIELD: I want to call your attention to one of the recent headlines at the Daily Caller, “Khizr Khan Has Written Extensively on Sharia Law.” As far as I can tell, it was one article when he was a law student in 1983. What does that bring to the table about our understanding of the Trump story?
SCOTT GREER: I think it is relevant in the fact that now he’s a public figure and he has brought up the fact that Donald Trump did not read the Constitution, and I think there is nothing wrong with bringing the fact that what he has written in the past on Sharia law, on Islamic law is up for discussion at the moment.
BOB GARFIELD: Is there any mention in that 1983 law review article that he supports Sharia law as the law of the land for the United States or anything like that, even a single line that would make it relevant to the contemporaneous discussion?
SCOTT GREER: I think it is still relevant to see what his views on Islamic law are and how it applies to the Constitution, and he is very fervent in how Islamic law is relevant in the discussion today.
BOB GARFIELD: Unless I’m missing something, Scott, Khan’s speech was meant to dramatize the idea that Muslim Americans and immigrants shouldn't be stereotyped as threats and, not least, to compare patriotic sacrifice between what his son sacrificed, the ultimate, and what Trump has done for his country. And Trump’s response to this was to question whether Khan’s speech was ghostwritten by Hillary's people, whether his wife standing next to him onstage was muzzled by the Koran and then to claim [LAUGHS] that his work as a developer is somehow equivalent to the Khans’ sacrifice. Many people, in both parties, jumped on this as disrespectful. Institutionally, what did the Daily Caller think?
SCOTT GREER: He never specifically mentioned that Mrs. Khan was muzzled by the Koran or by Islamic dictates. He merely asked why didn't she speak? And I think that also brings out that we take a lot of what we think is the subtext of what Trump is saying and then we apply it to what we think he’s saying.
BOB GARFIELD: On the subject of subtext, what are we to make of the story in the Daily Caller, “Father of Muslim US Soldier is Attorney Specializing in Selling US citizenship”?
SCOTT GREER: Yes, as a lawyer in his practice he has specialized in giving out visas. That could be threatened by Trump’s immigration policies, and thus, that creates a possible incentive for why Mr. Khan would give a speech and be very opposed to Trump. It's a story that is of interest to the American public. We put it out there. It's something that they can interpret. And it is a possibility that if Trump’s…
BOB GARFIELD: Khan is an immigration lawyer serving clients who wish to get legal status here, using the applicable law to help them. Neither in your story nor anywhere else is there any evidence or any accusation whatsoever of him being implicated in any scandal or abuse of visa statutes. And, by the way, if it becomes harder for a visa candidate to get a visa, then a lawyer's services become more, not less, in demand. “Selling US citizenship,” that's essentially accusing him of committing a crime. I ask you the relevance.
SCOTT GREER: We did not accuse him of engaging in any corruption or scandalous behavior. We merely point out what he did in his line of work, and we let the readers decide. We did not put out a declaration - this is why he is definitely opposed to Trump. We’re just saying that, yes, it is a possibility that somebody who is specializing in immigration law and is dependent on easier access to these visas –
BOB GARFIELD: Oh, and also his son was blown to pieces while serving his Army unit in Iraq.
SCOTT GREER: Well, how does that deal with Trump? Is Trump responsible for his death?
BOB GARFIELD: These open-ended notions that invite readers to draw the most sinister conclusions, it sounds like the work of an opposition research team.
SCOTT GREER: I don't think that us merely factually reporting what Mr. Khan wrote in the 1980s about Islamic law, which is an important subject matter, is opposition research. And this is also a smear on a reporter who went out on his own, did his own research, without any help of any kind of Trump campaign or anything, to look at this information and he found the article and he factually reported it.
BOB GARFIELD: There is a lot of feeding back and forth of Daily Caller and Breitbart, the Washington Examiner and elsewhere in the so-called “right-wing media ecosystem.” The story about the visa programs was lifted almost verbatim from the Washington Examiner. It wasn't even your original work.
SCOTT GREER: Every media outlet reports the same stories if it is a breaking news story. At The New York Times, not everything The New York Times wrote is something they broke. Not everything The Washington Post reports is something they broke. And the same goes with NPR. This is something that was a breaking news story. We decided to post it on our website for our own audience, ‘cause it is an important news story that would be of interest to our readers and to the general public to know. It’s not some great vast right-wing conspiracy going around passing these articles around, just to smear the Khan family.
BOB GARFIELD: If not that, then what?
SCOTT GREER: We’re reporting the news. This is news.
BOB GARFIELD: But it strikes me that losing your son in the line of duty while fighting for his country is ample motivation for Mr. Khan to want to speak to the place of immigrants and second-generation Americans –
SCOTT GREER: What’s the place of immigrants?
BOB GARFIELD: - in our way of life. That a Muslim American is exactly as patriotic as anybody else and makes exactly the same sacrifices that white Christian soldiers make.
SCOTT GREER: Well, that’s actually funny you bring that up. Muslim Americans make up one percent of the population. They’re about 3.3 million of this country. Muslims make up less than .3% of the current Armed Forces that we have. And in terms of casualties and fatalities since 9/11, they make up a little over .2%. On the contrary, white, mostly Christian make up 71% of our current Armed Forces, yet they’re only 62% of our population at the moment. And whites make up over 83% of the fatalities since 9/11 for our Armed Forces. It, it's nice to bash white Americans, for some reason, but we have to look at the statistics for proportionality if we’re going to make this argument.
BOB GARFIELD: ”Bash white Americans.” Are you suggesting then that contrary to Mr. Khan's point that, in fact, Muslim Americans are not as patriotic as, let's just say, white Christians? Why trot out those numbers?
BOB GARFIELD: Well, the impression you're making is that Muslim Americans are just as patriotic, or more patriotic, than white Christians. And if you’re going to rely on statistics for that, if you’re going to go and who’s represented in the Armed Forces at the moment, you look at the statistics and the demographics –
BOB GARFIELD: Why unit did you serve in?
SCOTT GREER: I did not serve.
BOB GARFIELD: Why are you trying to question the motives and discredit the father of this lost soldier, why?
SCOTT GREER: This is a public figure. He is going on of issues that are not relating to his son's death. This is him attacking Trump. He specializes in immigration law. He makes money off it. And it is nothing wrong with reporting that. That is serious news. I think that's much more newsworthy than us worshiping Tim Kaine, like most of these mainstream media outlets are, of how he’s America’s stepdad. And I do think that this is serious news that we should look into. This is his background. I don't think there's anything wrong with reporting on a public figure’s background, who is the top news story of the week.
BOB GARFIELD: Okay. Well, Scott, thank you so much. I appreciate your coming on the show.
SCOTT GREER: Thank you.
BOB GARFIELD: Scott Greer is deputy editor at the Daily Caller.
[MUSIC UP & UNDER]
Coming up, should you vote from the heart or from the head?
NATHAN J. ROBINSON: You know, people are critical of the term “lesser evil” – well, you just want us to vote for the lesser evil. Of course, we do because you want less evil in the world.
BOB GARFIELD: This is On the Media.