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PS on Steyn

September 15th, 2002

I pointed out a little while ago the falsity of Mark Steyn’s claim that only English-speaking countries were on the Allied side in both World Wars and the Cold War. In addition to France and Belgium, Greece joined the Allied side in 1917 (same year as the US) and was on the Allied side in World War II and the Cold War.
Leaving aside Steyn’s factual errors, I’d argue that World War I was a pointless bloodbath and award the full score only to the handful of countries that managed to stay neutral in WWI, while joining the right side in WWII and the Cold War. The winners on this count are the Netherlands, Norway and Denmark. My discussion with Jason Soon in the comments section raised the point that Denmark also managed to rescue nearly its entire Jewish population from the Nazis. The outcome in the Netherlands was far bleaker, but, according to the Simon Wiesenthal centre, the Netherlands had the highest proportion of ‘righteous gentiles’ (those who risked their lives to save Jews).
Every country has good and bad in its history. The kind of triumphalism that characterises Steyn’s journalism rests on denying this basic fact with respect to the countries he favors. This fundamental falsehood gives rise to the specific falsehoods and distortions that infect nearly everything he writes.
Update: As Ken Parish points out, Steyn sinks to a new low in his latest column, retailing absurd urban myths that Muslim schoolchildren in New York knew about the impending attacks, then claiming an elite media conspiracy to suppress these myths in the interests of ethnic harmony. Actually ‘urban myth’ isn’t quite right, since Steyn’s source, a journalist named Shapiro, gives the name of a schoolteacher who allegedly remembered the statement a week later. As this this site shows, dozens of stories of this kind, many with more convincing details, floated about in the immediate aftermath of September 11. Virtually all have disappeared for lack of any substance. It’s obvious by now that Al-Qaeda are a thoroughly professional group of killers and that any claim that their plans were leaked to the entire Muslim community (Steyn-Shapiro’s insinuation) or were well-known by Jews (the ‘Arab street’ version) is racist nonsense.
Further update: Don Arthur joins the fray, pointing out plagiarism and inaccuracy in Steyn’s reporting of events in Norway. (Janet Albrechtsen, another serial offender in this respect, is also named).

Yet further update: The ever-reliable Snopes.com Urban Legends Reference Pagespoint out the obvious explanation for this and other stories where ‘predictions’ of dramatic events are ‘recalled’ after the event. They focus on an almost identical story from Dallas, but cover Shapiro-Steyn as well.
” The Dallas boy’s “prediction” appears to have been yet another case of general statements being misremembered or afforded greater significance than they merit in light of subsequent events. ” It’s pretty startling that a top reporter like Jonathan Alter from MSNBC preferred clairvoyance to this prosaic explanation.

More interestingly, Shapiro claims that the same boy predicted a plane crash in November 2001 and that he (Shapiro) reported this to the FBI three days before the crash of Flight 587 on November 12 2001. If true, this would be pretty impressive. On Shapiro’s theory (that the boy was speaking from inside knowledge) it would imply incredible incompetence by Al-Qaeda, leaking information to someone who had previously spilled the beans and been grilled by the police. Otherwise, if Shapiro’s account is to be believed, the case for clairvoyance looks strong. The only question is why Shapiro, who had extensive contact with national media on the first story, decided to sit on this one for ten months, then print it in an obscure magazine. After all, his contact with the FBI would be easy to verify if it took place as he says.

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