Kurtz deplored those who questioned Carroll's motives, but he was one of them

››› ››› JOSH KALVEN

CNN Reliable Sources host Howard Kurtz noted that Christian Science Monitor reporter Jill Carroll, released on March 30 by Iraqi insurgents who had held her for 82 days, had "been criticized and had her motives questioned by skeptics, critics, and conspiracy theorists here at home." But Kurtz seemed to have forgotten that he had joined numerous right-wing media figures in questioning the motives behind her statements.

On the April 2 edition of CNN's Reliable Sources, host Howard Kurtz noted that Christian Science Monitor reporter Jill Carroll, released on March 30 by Iraqi insurgents who had held her for 82 days, had "been criticized and had her motives questioned by skeptics, critics, and conspiracy theorists here at home." The criticism in question concerned a pair of video interviews that showed her praising the insurgency, criticizing the Bush administration, and asserting that her captors had not harmed or threatened her. In an April 1 statement, Carroll renounced these remarks and said that she had been under duress when she made them. But in calling attention to the earlier criticism of Carroll as the work of "skeptics, critics, and conspiracy theorists," Kurtz seemed to have forgotten that he had joined numerous right-wing media figures in questioning the motives behind her statements.

Shortly after Carroll's release, news outlets worldwide aired clips from the two interviews. In the first video, filmed by her captors the night before they let her go, Carroll denounced the U.S. war effort in Iraq and the "lies" told by the American government. She described the insurgents as "good people fighting an honorable fight, a good fight." After her release in Baghdad and before the Americans had retrieved her, Carroll gave an interview at the headquarters of the Iraqi Islamic Party, a Sunni political organization. In it, she emphasized that her captors had not harmed her. "I was treated very well," she said on camera. "It's important people know that, that I was not harmed. They never said they would hit me."

Both videos provoked a strong response from right-wing bloggers, some of whom suggested that she might be in league with the insurgents or else be suffering from Stockholm syndrome, in which hostages become sympathetic to their captors:

  • John Podhoretz: "[A]fter watching someone who was a hostage for three months say on television she was well-treated because she wasn't beaten or killed -- while being dressed in the garb of a modest Muslim woman rather than the non-Muslim woman she actually is -- I expect there will be some Stockholm Syndrome talk in the coming days." [National Review Online's weblog, The Corner, 3/30/06]

  • Jonah Goldberg: "Jill Carroll is increasingly starting to bug me. The details are still murky and it's hard to appreciate what she's been through. And maybe JPod's right about Stockholm syndrome. ... But it would be nice to hear her say something remotely critical of her captors" [National Review Online's weblog, The Corner, 3/30/06]. Goldberg later apologized for "suggesting she might have believed what she said."

  • Little Green Footballs: "Note that even after her release, Carroll maintained that she had been treated well by her captors -- so it would appear that this journalist for the Christian Science Monitor made these anti-American comments voluntarily." [Little Green Footballs weblog, 3/30/06]

  • Debbie Schlussel: "[S]he says her Islamic terrorist captors treated her 'very well,' and she talked about the nice shower and bathroom they gave her. Since things were so great in captivity, maybe she should have remained at Terrorist Day Spa. And maybe they should change the name from 'Stockholm Syndrome' to 'Baghdad Syndrome.'" [debbieschlussel.com, 3/30/06]

  • John Hinderaker: "No doubt her joy at being freed overwhelms all else, and it is probably churlish to critique her public comments. Nevertheless, I want to register a small protest against her statement, widely quoted in the press, that she was 'well treated' by her captors. ... [L]et's not encourage a lot of warm feelings toward the murderous thugs who kidnapped Carroll, shot her translator, and may well have received a ransom to let her go." [Power Line weblog, 3/30/06]

  • Orrin Judd: "May as well just come right out and say she was a willing participant." [BrothersJudd.com, 3/30/06]

Numerous other media figures soon began voicing their concerns about Carroll's allegiances and mental state. For instance, while interviewing Carroll family friend Matt Engelbert on the March 30 edition of Fox News' Hannity & Colmes, co-host Sean Hannity wondered if Carroll was not Muslim, "why would she be wearing that [headscarf], only if something has changed in her, perhaps?" Further, on the March 31 edition of MSNBC's Imus in the Morning, executive producer Bernard McGuirk called her "Taliban Jill" and commented, "She's carrying [terrorist leader Abu Musab al-] Zarqawi's baby. No doubt about it. ... She's wearing the terrorist headgear, and everything points to that." McGuirk later refused to apologize for his comments, claiming that they were "just speculation."

In his March 31 online column, Kurtz also questioned Carroll's behavior. As Editor & Publisher noted, Kurtz raised "serious questions about Carroll's interviews, even while admitting she might have been 'shell shocked' when she gave them. His admission, 'perhaps this is unfair,' did not seem to deter him." From Kurtz's column:

This is a courageous young woman.

I must say, though, that I found her first interview yesterday rather odd. Carroll seemed bent on giving her captors a positive review, going on about how well they treated her, how they gave her food and let her go to the bathroom. And they never threatened to hit her. Of course, as we all saw in those chilling videos, they did threaten to kill her. And they shot her Iraqi translator to death.

Why make a terrorist group who put her family and friends through a terrible three-month ordeal sound like they were running a low-budget motel chain?

Now perhaps this is unfair, for there is much we do not know. We don't know why Carroll was kidnapped and why she was abruptly released. She says she doesn't either, but surely she must have gotten some clues about her abductors' outlook and tactics during her 82-day captivity. Maybe she was just shell-shocked right after being let go. Maybe she won't feel comfortable speaking out until she's back on American soil.

As my colleagues in Baghdad point out, when that interview was taped, Carroll was still in the custody of a Sunni political party with ties to the insurgency. It may have just made sense for her to be especially cautious.

Kurtz's decision to raise questions about Carroll's motives was indicative of a larger pattern throughout the media in the 48 hours following her release. The cable networks devoted numerous segments to discussions of the videotapes and the possibility that Carroll might have developed sympathies for her captors. Like Kurtz's column, the large majority of these segments took pains to note that the actual circumstances surrounding Carroll's comments in the interviews were still unknown. Yet, they lent legitimacy to a theory originally put forth -- as noted above -- by right-wing bloggers.

On April 1, Carroll released a statement saying that she gave both interviews under duress, and that they did not represent her real views:

During my last night in captivity, my captors forced me to participate in a propaganda video. They told me they would let me go if I cooperated. I was living in a threatening environment, under their control, and wanted to go home alive. I agreed.

Things that I was forced to say while captive are now being taken by some as an accurate reflection of my personal views. They are not. The people who kidnapped me and murdered Allan Enwiya are criminals, at best. They robbed Allan of his life and devastated his family. They put me, my family and my friends -- and all those around the world, who have prayed so fervently for my release -- through a horrific experience. I was, and remain, deeply angry with the people who did this.

I also gave a TV interview to the Iraqi Islamic Party shortly after my release. The party had promised me the interview would never be aired on television, and broke their word. At any rate, fearing retribution from my captors, I did not speak freely. Out of fear I said I wasn't threatened. In fact, I was threatened many times.

In his discussion of this development with Time magazine Baghdad bureau chief Michael Ware and ABC correspondent Ann Compton on the April 2 edition of CNN's Reliable Sources, Kurtz cited "skeptics, critics, and conspiracy theorists" who had earlier questioned Carroll's motives but did not mention that he had raised questions as well:

KURTZ: In a videotaped interview right after her release in Baghdad, Carroll was careful not to say a negative word about her captors.

CARROLL [video clip]: They would come. They would bring me my food. I would eat. It was fine. I would go to the bathroom. I was treated very well. It's important people know that, that I was not harmed. They never said they would hit me. Never threaten me in any way.

KURTZ: But the kidnappers repeatedly threatened to kill Carroll, as the world saw in a series of videotapes. The day before she was freed, a tape was released with Carroll, obviously under duress, slamming the U.S. war effort.

CARROLL [video clip]: It's important that people hear from me. The Mujahedeen are only trying to defend their country.

KURTZ: Carroll renounced those remarks yesterday, as we'll discuss in just a moment.

[...]

KURTZ: Michael Ware, what do you make of the fact that Jill Carroll, after this terrible ordeal, you know, has been criticized and had her motives questioned by skeptics, critics, and conspiracy theorists here at home?

WARE: I find that appalling, actually. I mean, this seems to be part of, you know, a campaign by certain political interests within the D.C. landscape -- I think that's where it's being fueled.

[...]

WARE: This really needs to be seen in context, and people can't hijack it for cheap and tawdry political gain.

KURTZ: To be under that kind of duress for nearly three months is clearly something we all need to keep in mind.

[...]

KURTZ: Ann Compton, do you think some of this criticism of Jill Carroll over that first videotaped interview she did in Baghdad right after her release is just off-base?

We've changed our commenting system to Disqus.
Instructions for signing up and claiming your comment history are located here.
Updated rules for commenting are here.