Blogs > Cliopatria > HNN "Breaking News" on Norman Finkelstein

Jun 9, 2005 7:25 pm

HNN "Breaking News" on Norman Finkelstein

Could someone please tell me who posted a Breaking News item with a quotation from and link to an article that calls Norman Finkelstein a "nazi"? I don't know what makes Finkelstein tick. But HNN listing headline news in the form of potentially libelous screeds is not something that I want to be affiliated with.

Who, exactly, posts and screens the Breaking News items?

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Irfan Khawaja - 8/4/2006

I don't know who posted the item, but I think you need to explain how linking to a page that describes Finkelstein as a Nazi commits the linker to endorsing what the page describes, and then commits everyone at HNN (or bloggers at any rate) to an "affiliation" with the claims made on the page.

It is certainly newsworthy that Dershowitz and others are making accusations of Finkelstein. Evaluating their accusations is another matter. The presence of the link is not by itself an evaluation or an affiliation-maker.

Irfan Khawaja - 8/4/2006

Yes, ideally it should, but not doing so is hardly the big deal that's being made of it here.

Looking at the other items under Breaking News, the non-use of quotation marks seems to be a matter of in-house editorial style, somewhat mechanically applied in this case with mildly problematic results. Fair enough. But there is a difference between the over-mechanical application of a stylistic rule (a problem, but a fairly trivial one) and HNN's actually being committed to the idea that Finkelstein is a Nazi because it has a link on site that alleges that. Vanke is raising the latter, not the former issue.

As for the former issue, I think one can assume that trained historians don't jump to conclusions by reading a blurb, and that they're capable of clicking a link and evaluating a source without paternalistic intervention. Yes the blurb might mislead an incautious reader. But that's about the size of the issue here. Not very big.

Irfan Khawaja - 8/4/2006

The link is not offered as though HNN endorsed the story's terms. You're free to infer from the linked item whatever you wish, and even free to blog it to pieces, however tendentious and scurrilous you find it.

You're begging the question by taking issue with HNN's "professionalism." There is no significant lapse of professionalism here. You're simply assuming that when you see a link posted under some section of the site, it comes with the tacit assertion, "And we at HNN agree with how this is being presented." There is no such assertion or implication. A link is just a link and presented as no more than that. (By "the link" I mean the link on the HNN site.)

Irfan Khawaja - 8/4/2006

Well, you've gone wrong right from the start. If HNN posts an unauthored blurb and link, it's posted an unauthored blurb and link, and invited you to say what you think about it. Period. There is no "institutional HNN endorsement" involved at all. I agree that the blog in question is of a very, very low standard. But that's the authors' problem, not HNN's.

If your students will pull anything off the Internet, they have to learn to stop. They'll learn when the error makes a significant differences to their grade. Again, their problem, not HNN's.

By all means, teach your students to rely on the imprimatur of a reputable web publisher. Also teach them that a reputable web publisher doesn't put its "imprimatur" on trash simply because it posts a link to it. Ultimately, the lesson they have to learn is that one can't rely on mechanical rules or imprimatura to sift truth from falsity. It takes judgment. And it doesn't take all that much judgment to figure out what is going on in that blog.

Irfan Khawaja - 8/4/2006

Strict thresholds are in order where endorsement is involved; where no endorsement is involved, none. So my principle is: No endorsement, no threshold. So long as they're not endorsing it, HNN should feel free to post breaking news from the North Korean Ku Klux Klan Al Qaida Nazi-Communist Club for all it matters.

Irfan Khawaja - 8/4/2006

I have to go, so this will be my last point for now, but the great virtue of HNN is that it's a forum for opposing points of view. Once you set "thresholds" of appropriateness for "Breaking News" based on Vanke's "minimally plausible/decent" criterion, there will be an inevitable push to do the same for blog content and articles on the home page. It's worth asking about the consequences of that.

As far as I am concerned, nothing that Peter Kirstein has written will ever even approximate my threshold for plausibility or minimal moral decency. (Remarkably, people have the audacity to say the same about my writing.) And yet I see the point of HNN's publishing Kirstein's stuff, and I don't fault Rick Shenkman for doing so. He (Kirstein) has a unique view that people need to grapple with, warts and all (not that there's much left after one is done with the warts). HNN is one of the few places where that is possible, and that's to its credit. It implies no endorsement of Kirstein, or even an ascription to him of "minimal plausibility". The same may be said of lots of crazy authors who show up here. To endorse them would be a crime. To publish them is to open them up to the criticism they deserve. Which is what we should be doing with that blog about Finkelstein.

Jeff Vanke - 6/10/2005

Marc & Rick, It's very thoughtful of you to respond so directly to this issue. And it's very understandable that fast-paced electronic publishing will lead to some occasional oversights. Thanks for doing what you do. Jeff

Assistant Editor - 6/10/2005

First of all I want to make clear that neither HNN or Rick Shenkman were at all responsible for this mess up. The cause was myself. I am afraid I am still relatively new to the proper etiquette and formatting involved. The BN article is in no way representative of HNN (or me for that matter). Sorry for the mix-up.

Marc Wiseman

HNN - 6/9/2005

It is HNN's policy to use neutral language in describing news developments. It is our policy that Breaking News entries express no opinion unless it is in quotes or attributed to a particular person. And of course libelous statements are never permissable.

The entry in question was rewritten when reviewed by the editor to reflect our standards.

HNN apologizes to readers for the oversight.

Jonathan Dresner - 6/9/2005

But its not from the HNN breaking news collection. You're trying to be funny, right?

Ralph E. Luker - 6/9/2005

A neutral identification of a source and putting quotation marks around its own words would make very clear, for example, that HNN is not casually describing Norman Finkelstein as a "neonazi".

Jeff Vanke - 6/9/2005

my response, other sub-thread, #62562

Ralph E. Luker - 6/9/2005

Irfan's got a point, Jeff. HNN does not endorse any report it publishes. It would be impossible to replicate points of opposing view if it did. Nonetheless, HNN has readers of greater and lesser sophistication. And it would be helpful to bracket quotations in quotation marks to clarify the fact that a given report does not have HNN's imprimature merely because it appears on this site.

Jeff Vanke - 6/9/2005

Surely there's a threshold HNN won't cross? Fringe elements and unsavory characters across the global web abuse history on it every day. I put this presentation of this story on the other side of that threshold. If you think HNN should have no such threshold, that's a different matter.

Jeff Vanke - 6/9/2005

If HNN posts an unauthored blurb and link, I read that as an institutional HNN endorsement of the content as at least plausible. The blog on that link is not exactly putting forward two sides of a story, or presenting a nuanced version of its own side.

How many HNN readers are not trained historians? Many, but exactly how many, I don't know.... I teach college composition. My students will pull anything off the internet as a source. Fine. But I try to teach them to rely on the imprimatur of a reputable web publisher. HNN has given its imprimatur in this case, and I object profoundly.

Jeff Vanke - 6/9/2005

But Ralph, do you know the answer to my two main questions? Who has the authority to post Breaking News blurbs, and who supervises that?

Jeff Vanke - 6/9/2005

Agreed that it's newsworthy. But I thought I could rely on a certain degree of professionalism at HNN to point me to a more professional presentation of such news.

It's not just the "presence of a link" in a bigger story. The whole story is at the other end of the link.

A whole lot of people turn to HNN for breaking history-related news. I'll presume for a moment that HNN doesn't post everything that comes its way.

Such tendentious and scurrilous commentary as this blogger's may be commented upon here, sure, but I don't don't care to have HNN posting it on its own terms, which is what happened. If it's newsworthy, then either let's link to a more professional presentation, or let's find someone to do an original professional story on the subject.

Ralph E. Luker - 6/9/2005

Irfan, If it is going to replicate the opening lines of stories from another site, "Breaking News" should bracket them in quotation marks. Right?

Louis N Proyect - 6/9/2005

My good Doctor Luker, the source of the story was the august journal Weekly World News that is edited by the acclaimed Romanian scholar Hukalakka Meshabob, who fled Ceaucescu's dictatorship in 1964.

Ralph E. Luker - 6/9/2005

What is the source of the story, Louis?

Ralph E. Luker - 6/9/2005

Jeff, I couldn't agree with you more. What happens in "Breaking News" is that the first few sentences of a story from another site are reproduced without the necessary quotation marks that should serve as a marker. In this case, the Breaking News story comes from Front Page Rag's "Moonbat Central". But surely "Breaking News" should carry quotation marks _and_ forewarning when the story comes from such a tendentious source as Front Page Rag.

Louis N Proyect - 6/9/2005

I am somewhat puzzled myself about how items get included there myself, especially this one:



An astounding discovery of cosmic proportions has been made in the wake of the horrific Asian tsunami that has killed more than 150,000 men, women and children.

Weekly World News has learned from a respected scientific source that rescuers searching for survivors of the December 26 monster wave stumbled across a UFO half buried in the beach on Hong Island, a remote isle off the coast of Thailand.

Thai officials have desperately tried to hush up the staggering find, but WWN has managed to obtain top-secret photos of the craft, which measures 90 feet across, and its insides taken by Thai solders and other officials probing the discovery.

The source tells WWN that the drowned corpses of two space alien astronauts were found in the saucer-shaped craft's cockpit. Even more incredible, a human abductee -- a Missoula, Mont., woman missing since October 31 -- was found strapped to an examination table in a water-tight chamber. The source says she was naked, babbling incoherently and was possibly a guinea pig for ghoulish experiments.

"The human survivor, identified as 27-year-old Wendy Carpsdale, has been airlifted to a medical facility in Bangkok," reveals Dr. Robert Wilton, a leading Australian physicist with high-level contacts in the Thai scientific community.

"She has thus far been unable to recall anything about either her abduction ordeal or the craft's disastrous encounter with the massive tidal wave.

"She is in good health under the circumstances, although the presence of numerous probing devices in the exam chamber suggest her bodily orifices were subjected to rigorous scientific study and possible experimentation."

The Thai government, which has seized the UFO, has imposed a total news blackout, with information ministry officials refusing to confirm any aspect of the sensational story.

But scientific sources who believe the earthshaking discovery must be shared with the whole world leaked the news along with dazzling photographs to Dr. Wilton, who passed them on exclusively to Weekly World News.

"The creatures found in the cockpit are classic 'gray-type' aliens with bulbous heads, elongated limbs and two belly buttons," says the scientist, well known for his balanced writings about the possibility of extraterrestrial life.

"Clearly, they are not of this Earth." The 90-foot-in-diameter craft was discovered January 6 on Koh Lao La Ding beach by a helicopter crew searching for survivors. "Hong Island is uninhabited," explains Dr. Wilton. "Hunting for survivors there wasn't a big priority -- the initial focus was on more densely populated areas. That's why the saucer lay in the sand for days before it was spotted."

Experts aren't sure how the craft ended up in the water and on the beach. Thai scientists suspect the UFO was flying low to avoid radar, when it was unexpectedly struck by the tidal wave.

Dr. Wilton doubts that theory. "I believe this craft is a submersible" he explains. "This vehicle was almost certainly traveling beneath the surface when the tsunami struck."

It took investigators six hours to penetrate the hull of the saucer using powerful, industrial-grade lasers.

"It is made of an unknown metal alloy many times stronger than titanium," according to classified notes leaked to Dr. Wilton. Initial findings indicate they drowned.

"The cockpit window had been breached and a preliminary autopsy found they had water in their lungs," says Dr. Wilton. "Luckily, the human abductee was in a watertight laboratory or she, too, would have drowned.

"The girl was frightened and woozy. She kept moaning, 'Keep your filthy little gray hands off me.'"

A data base on missing people kept by a UFO group identified her.

"She turned out to be a Montana schoolteacher who vanished on her way to a Halloween party," says Dr. Wilton. "Her clothes, including the Martha Stewart mask she was wearing at the time, were found neatly folded in a cubbyhole."

Other amazing discoveries reportedly found inside the saucer include:

--A ray gun capable of vaporizing a boulder the size of an African elephant.

--A food synthesizer able to replicate any food.

--A McDonald's Happy Meal.

--Some sort of transporter capable of "beaming" living creatures

History News Network