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Mark Steyn and Hugh discussing lofty, ethical, great kinds of calling.

Thursday, October 11, 2007
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HH: It’s always a pleasure to welcome on Thursday Columnist To The World, Mark Steyn. Mark, welcome, it’s a pleasure to speak with you. I’m going to be talking with Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff after the break. Just in anticipation of that, do you think they’ve turned around public distrust of their handling of Border issues yet in the Bush administration?

MS: I think they’re in a kind of difficult mess here, because on the one hand, they’re trying to argue that we need a kind of national security, orange alert war on terror state, and at the same time, they’re saying well, there’s nothing we can do about itinerant peasants breaching our Southern Border. Essentially, those two arguments are incompatible. One may be correct. The other may be correct. But they can’t both be right, and I think that’s the problem for Homeland Security, that you can’t be on orange alert and then just say well, 30 million people can penetrate the Border, and there’s nothing we can do about it.

HH: That is the essential inconsistency. Do you think they’ve picked up their effort to close the Border in any appreciable way since the debacle that was immigration reform, Mark Steyn?

MS: I do not think so. I mean, I think institutionally now, that we have in effect accepted the subversion of U.S. sovereignty as a fact of life. And I think you see it in the attitude of state governments, and of certain courts, the court decision earlier this week. And you see it too, I think, in the fact that there is no real serious effort to do incremental deportation. I mean, for example, after September 11th, a small number of Pakistanis in the New York City area were rounded up and deported because of connections to terrorism. That sent thousands of others fleeing. They emptied their bank accounts and left. And there’s no sign that the Homeland Security wants to do that with the Border illegal population.

HH: There’s also no sign that they really want to tell us too much about the number of jihadis in the country, Mark Steyn. Whenever I get one of the senior Homeland Security people on, Frances Townsend, I’ll do it with Michael Chertoff as well, I’ll ask him about the South Florida students picked up in South Carolina, I’ll ask him how many jihadists, and I know I’m going to get goo. It’s just what they do. That’s not like the Brits. I mean, the MI5 people come out and say we’ve got 5,000 jihadis who would just as soon blow up Big Ben than go to a soccer match. Why such reticence here, and such candor in Great Britain?

MS: Well, I think if you talk about the candor in Great Britain, that arises principally from MI5, which is a domestic security service, and the special branch, which is basically similarly a unit that deals with this kind of activity. And there’s a feeling here that somehow surveillance of the domestic population is inappropriate, and I think they’ve taken a conscious decision…they’re not going to say we believe there are, you know, thirty cells operating in the Dearborn, Michigan area, because they don’t want people being hostile toward the border Muslim population. So I think in a sense, they’ve taken a decision to, as they see it, to defuse potential hostilities, whereas I think the worst problem has been that it leaves the American population in the dark, and so you either believe the President, or like growing numbers of the population, you just think this whole war on terror thing is a racket, and it was one bad day in September long ago, but that there is nothing really ongoing.

HH: You know, the whole idea that Americans would react negatively to their Muslim fellow citizens or resident aliens is rather demeaning of Americans. I don’t believe they would do that.

MS: Yes, but I’m not saying that, Hugh. I agree with you.

HH: I know that. I know…they’re saying that.

MS: For years after, for two or three years after September 11th, I drove around New Hampshire listening to my local radio station playing messages from the offices of civil rights, a federal agency, voiced by John McCain, presidential candidate, enjoining Americans not to beat up on their fellow Americans, Muslim Americans.

HH: That’s just insane.

MS: I thought that was insulting. The fact of the matter is that there’s hardly anywhere on Earth where you would have had a provocation such as September 11th where thousands of people are killed in the name of Islam. And in fact, there is no discernible outrage against the broader Muslim population. I mean, essentially, insofar as people are annoyed, they’re annoyed about lobby groups like CAIR pretending there is any kind of widespread acts of Islamic hate crimes and all the rest of it, most of which turn out to be highly spurious, and pretty peripheral when you investigate them.

HH: When the next blow falls, and eventually it will, somewhere in the United States, and we hope the casualties will be fewer, but it will happen, will there be a recrimination against the Homeland Security authorities who failed to sort of back up their orange alerts with any of the sort of specifics that might lead people to be more concerned about their awareness in their surroundings?

MS: Well, I think it would be regarded as having been a failure of that strategy. In a way, I think there are limitations to that strategy. If you accept that there is a kind of orange alert mentality, we take our shoes off, we shuffle in line, but other than that, we’re not required to participate. Other than bending down to take our shoes off and stick them through the metal detector, the vast majority of the U.S. population is not required to give much thought to this thing. And I do think that if in the even that there was another big atrocity, particularly one that was committed by, say, people resident in the country, then I do think that that strategy would be deemed to be insufficient.

HH: I want to switch now to an interview I did yesterday with Jeffrey Toobin, who’s written this rather breezy, gossipy, very fun to read book, The Nine. But he drops this in, I’m talking to him about journalism, and Jeffrey Toobin just lets go with this, Mark Steyn:

JT: Well, I think journalists deceive people all the time.

HH: Do you think journalists deceive people all the time, Mark Steyn?

MS: Actually, I think Jeffrey Toobin deceives people quite a lot of the time. I caught him on CNN a couple of weeks ago talking about Clarence Thomas’ book, and he said Clarence Thomas is clearly full of rage. This is the great sense you get from him, a man full of rage, a man full of rage. I don’t know Clarence Thomas, but every guy I’ve met who has met him, who is a friend of his, people who are friends of his, says he’s actually a very genial kind of man. The book, in its way, is very genial. So I think if Jeffrey Toobin means that in the compression and concision that is part of journalism, things can often go badly awry, then I would say that is true, and he’s quite a good example of that.

HH: But I was talking to him about the example of the Charles Schultz biographer who wormed his way into the family’s good graces, and then comes out and gives the Peanuts creator a black eye. And it was sort of like David Souter passing himself off as a conservative to George Herbert Walker Bush. And the question I posed to him, I’ll pose it to you, don’t people have an obligation to be honest with whom they are seeking jobs and employment, whether it’s David Souter or a biographer or anyone, you know, that here’s who I am, the Popeye defense. You may not like it, but this is what you get?

MS: Well, I would have thought so, but I always know, for example, I mean, I’m not someone who gives a lot of interviews, but the ones I definitely don’t give tend to be the ones where someone says he’s writing about a controversial issue, and says he’s a great admirer of what I’ve written on the subject, because that generally does mean that he worms his way into your confidences, and then stiffs you when…

HH: Yes.

MS: I mean, that would seem to me fairly obvious. I think, I have a low opinion of journalists, because I work with a lot of them, and also because I don’t think of it as a profession, and I think the outrage over things like that biography come because in America, this thing is perceived as this, you know, almost slightly below Jeffery Toobin’s Supreme Court, nine gods from Mount Olympus. But on the next level on the mountain are journalists who’ve been to Columbia Journalism School, they’ve spent tons of money and years of study to become ethical journalists. And of course, that’s not true. At a certain level, it’s a job, you do what you have to do to get your foot in the door, and to get the interview with the grieving widow. And if that means telling her that you’re the milkman and you want to deliver her a couple of free quarts of milk this morning, then you do that. And the fact of the matter is it’s a grubby profession, it’s a foot in the door profession. And we get confused about it, because of this silly idea that’s grown up in America that it’s this lofty, ethical, great kind of calling, which it isn’t.

HH: And speaking of lofty, ethical, great kinds of calling, the Detroit debate, and all the talk of Romney and lawyers, and Giuliani and exigent circumstances, what did you make of all that?

MS: Well, you know, I don’t think that was a good answer from Mitt Romney. I think what the American people would like to know, actually, is that the next time American troops go into combat, it’s not going to be overlawyered. You hear horrifying stories, for example, the first night of the Afghan campaign, where they had Mullah Omar’s car in their sights, and they could have blown Mullah Omar off the face of the Earth. And some JAG, some, you know, military lawyer back in Florida, said he wasn’t happy with this, and so it never happened, because they’d have been tied up in paperwork and memos for the next 72 hours. So I don’t think…I think in a sense, that was tonally, whatever his obligations might be at the moment, that was tonally the wrong answer to give.

HH: What about Rudy’s answer on exigent circumstances?

MS: Well again, I don’t think that was such a great answer, too, but I have a whole bunch of other problems with Rudy, too.

HH: Mark Steyn, we’ll get to those next Thursday, always a pleasure. www.steynonline.com, America.

End of interview.

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