The self-righteousness of Andrew Sullivan

I mostly enjoy Andrew Sullivan's writing most of the time. The Daily Dish (on our blog roll over yonder) is a good source of interesting material from around the Web, and he occasionally serves an invaluable service by collecting and distributing information of urgent importance, such as during the protests in Iran. But for the love of little green apples, the man has an ego that could qualify for its own zip code.

His "Dissent of the Day" and response this morning are particularly galling. A reader writes:
I am a capital habeas lawyer. I spend my days looking at crime scene videos and autopsy photos, and learning about the details of my clients' trauma-filled lives. I have experienced some of what the secondary trauma literature refers to as "numbing"--a dampened ability to react to photos/videos/facts that would horrify most people. But when I happened upon the photo of the dead and buried Palestinian girl, I was shocked and disturbed.

When someone in our office sends a disturbing photograph to be printed at a communal photocopier, he/she sends an email to the office warning others, who may happen upon the copy machine, that disturbing images are being printed. I wish you would do the same for your readers. Why not put the photo of the dead girl below the jump, and include a warning above the jump?

I appreciate the need to inform people about important events, and sometimes that information comes in the form of photographs. But some readers, for whatever reason, may feel they cannot handle such a photo, and those people deserve a warning. I do not think I am being unreasonably alarmist when I say that you may be subjecting readers to trauma from which some will have a very difficult time recovering.

I think this is a totally reasonable request. Readers who appreciate Sullivan's writing, and may even appreciate his dedication to disseminating the disturbing facts of the world may not necessarily want to see Nick Berg's decapitated corpse. To give readers a warning of graphic content is simple, basic human decency.

Sullivan's reply:
I appreciate that some readers do not want to see these images and I am sorry if they suffer trauma from it. But it is nothing like the trauma that the parents of that child felt, whose death was partly funded by US military aid. If you do not want to see these graphic images, please stop reading the Dish.

Of all the self-congratulatory claptrap. As though Sullivan is incapable of making his point without confronting us with the photographic evidence. I don't doubt that some readers will eventually make the choice not to read the Dish any longer and the ones who remain are likely to be the kind who already agree with Sullivan's worldview. In other words, by refusing to accomodate the reasonable concerns of a reasonable reader because of his own pride in the mission he feels he is serving, he renders himself less persuasive in the long run.

Also, it makes him look like a read prick.


  1. Flash from The Dish: war is hell, and civilians die. Upcoming posts on breaking news -- "water is wet" and "the Pope is Catholic."

    Also, you misspelled a phrase in the final paragraph; 'looks like' should be spelled ''.

  2. yeah, I saw the picture, there was nothing there that accompanied it, no explanation of whether it was real or doctored, or any story behind it, just what appeared to be the head of a little girl. I told myself it was fake since it made the reality easier to bear, so even his intent to shock or outrage didn't even happen to me.

    This photo absolutely violated the dignity of the child and her parents as well. If there was video evidence of a child being raped would he run it? Of course not.

    You are right, he was a prick.


  3. I agree that unless the child's parents gave him permission, it's a violation, even if it is newsworthy.

    And he really is a read prick.