Midnight Confession

How CNN Captured John Walker

Who is John Walker really? Depends on where you're coming from. For Court TV anchor Nancy Grace: "He was the crown jewel for the Taliban!" and for that, he should fry. For The New York Observer's Ron Rosenbaum, he's a poseur who was "sucked in by the cult of authenticity." For the National Review's Rob Long, he's "a child of hot tubs, massage therapy, cultural relativism, amicable divorce, racial guilt, vegan diets, Chardonnay anti-Americanism, and 'Teach Peace' bumper stickers"—i.e., all that's wrong with liberal parents. Even The New York Times has piled on. A December 21 editorial pronounced Walker guilty of a mind-set that describes many a young Times writer: a search for enlightenment "coupled with unspeakable arrogance."

Is it possible that Walker is just a suburban kid who studied Islam and got caught up in something amazing, sitting under the Afghan moon at night? No doubt he has a dramatic story to tell. But after the way CNN helped the U.S. government demonize him, it will be a long time before Walker gets to tell the story his way, if ever.

Days after CNN broadcast the tape, Pelton was apparently having second thoughts. "I wasn't trying to muckrake or set him up in any way," Pelton told CNN's Howard Kurtz. "He's actually a very gentle, sort of unassuming person. He's not a militant person at all."

Pelton's penance did not stop there. "He didn't seem like a very bellicose person," he told Matt Lauer on December 26. "He was very sensitive. I mean, his whole concern was more the moral and religious . . . and not the fighting part. . . . This guy struck me as a guy that should be going to poetry readings."

In short, it's time for the media to stop treating Walker like a traitor.


ccotts@villagevoice.com

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