Mind-boggling quote

(of course, if it's accurate; UPDATE: The Age has confirmed that the quote is indeed accurate, and a comment to this post points to an audio file of the interview).

Recall that Douglas Wood is an Australian who had until recently been held hostage in Iraq; after being released, he apparently publicly called his captors "assholes." Here's what the editor-in-chief of the Australian daily The Age (Andrew Jaspan) supposedly had to say about this on Australia's ABC radio:

I was, I have to say, shocked by Douglas Wood's use of the a---hole word, if I can put it like that, which I just thought was coarse and very ill-thought through and I think demeans the man and is one of the reasons why people are slightly sceptical of his motives and everything else.

The issue really is largely, speaking as I understand it, he was treated well there. He says he was fed every day, and as such to turn around and use that kind of language I think is just insensitive.

What sort of person would make an argument like that?

If it turns out the quote is inaccurate or taken out of context, please let me know. Thanks to Tim Blair for the pointer.

Christopher (mail):
Ah, he was fed every day. Perhaps Karl Rove should give Mr. Jaspan a job helping to defend detention policy at Guantanamo Bay.
6.27.2005 12:24am
Chris Lawrence (mail) (www):
Well, since he's Australian, he probably called them "arseholes." Not that it makes much difference.

If I'd been abducted and held as a hostage, I think that's about the nicest thing I'd have to say about my captors.
6.27.2005 12:46am
Robin Roberts (mail) (www):
I cannot understand the mentality of person who finds themselves sympathizing with the terrorist thugs because their ex-hostage calls them names. This is the mark of someone who is not well attached to reality.

As for a reference to Guantanamo Bay, I suspect that there are enough differences that Woods would be unable to relate. The lack of a daily threat of beheading might be a place to start in such a contract.
6.27.2005 12:58am
Robin Roberts (mail) (www):
"contract" should read "contrast".
6.27.2005 12:59am
Wood did get special treatment when he was a hostage. And he knew he was being treated much better than most of the other hostages because several of them were executed in front of him. I think what really upset Jaspan was not that he called his kidnappers "arseholes" but that he sang God Bless America after he was released, and praised John Howard and George Bush and apologised for calling for U.S. troop withdrawl when he was under durress. That was his real offense.
6.27.2005 1:19am
The general level of legal and philosophical discourse on the Volokh Conspiracy is extremely high. The general level of political discourse on the Volokh Conspiracy is extremely low. You all deserve a ton of slack on account of your accomplishments and high intelligence. But this is yet another example of crude, cringe-inducingly disingenuous Left-bashing. Please stop. It ruins the blog.
6.27.2005 1:36am
Eugene Volokh (www):
I appreciate the kind words about some parts of our blog, but I'm a bit puzzled by the criticism.

I pointed out one reprehensible thing said by one person who I gather is on the Left (or is at least seen that way by the story from which I drew the quote). I hope the quote was accurate; I'm pretty sure that my criticism of the statement is sound. I would hope that many people on the Left find it sound, and condemn Mr. Jaspan's views as I do.

What's crude about this? What's Left-bashing about it (as opposed to Andrew-Jaspan-condemning)? What's disingenuous about it? Why should anyone cringe at criticism of people who say such reprehensible things? (I can surely see why the post would induce cringing at Jaspan's comments, but I take it Guest wasn't referring to that.)

Say that someone on a center-left blog posted something bad that Rush Limbaugh had said, and criticized Limbaugh for it. Would you call that "crude, cringe-inducingly disingenuous Right-bashing"?
6.27.2005 1:53am
Tom in GA:
I suspect the guest was surprised that it was mentioned all here - in my experience of reading this blog, I'm not accustomed to seeing much political discussion brought in that doesn't at least have some legal angle. With that said, I personally see nothing wrong with pointing out this heinous quote.

As Glenn Reynolds used to frequently point out, people like Andrew Jaspan aren't anti-war, they are simply on the other side. To be symapthetic to the hostage takers like this, Andrew Jaspan shows where his loyalties are. For a high ranking journalist to be so forthright in his support for terrorists and their sympathizers is very disappointing to say the least.
6.27.2005 2:27am
A liberal:
Just to provide another viewpoint, I consider myself a liberal, and also find Jaspan's comments to be mind-boggling. If anything, "asshole" is too mild for Wood's captors. You don't call people like that names--you hunt them down and bring them to justice, if they surrender; or deliver it to them in the form a 500-lb bomb, if they don't.
6.27.2005 2:40am
The quote is mostly accurate, although there is some dialogue between the two paragraphs during the actual interview. Click to listen (starts about 4 minutes in and runs for about 4 minutes).
6.27.2005 2:43am
Michael B (mail):
Unconscionable and unsurprising; worth noting for both those reasons.
6.27.2005 2:44am
The quote by Jaspan becomes harder to sustain after an exclusive interview Wood gave to Channel 10 (Aus) last night. In the interview, Wood explained how two other hostages were killed by the captors just metres from him.

Mr Wood said his captors came into his room one night, tapped one of the Iraqi men on the shoulder, and gave him a karate chop.

"He collapsed to the ground, his head was maybe two inches from my foot and bang, bang, bang - even a silenced gun is very consciously a gunshot in an enclosed space," he said.

Mr Wood, who was freed two weeks ago by Iraqi troops backed by US forces, said the second Iraqi was shot the next night.

"The next night they came in and there was a television set. They turned up the volume … and then bang and a minute later another bang. And a few minutes later this water [was] being washed in the alley outside the door in front of my foot which got wet and they broomed it up.

"I'm assuming that the last dead man had blood or urine or something that had dropped and they were mopping it up."

I think calling them 'arseholes' is being too kind.

It is easy to manage why Wood's captors would fed him because if he died they have lost their bargaining chip. Jaspan shouldn't equate the captors providing food to Wood with meaning he was 'treated well'

Have a look at The Australian's editorial sets out the reason why some sections of the media have now turned on Wood.

IF Douglas Wood had emerged from captivity and blamed John Howard, Tony Blair and George W. Bush for his troubles, he would have become an instant hero in some circles. .. Instead, Mr Wood had the temerity to disparage his captors, praise his liberators and declare our Iraq mission worthwhile. His name has been mud ever since.
6.27.2005 3:25am
I find Jaspan's remarks (if they have been accurately quoted) to simply beggar comment. Could they have been parody, a morbid satire of moral equivalence? Could he have been deliberately taunting Wood? The possibilities, remote as they sound, are at least comprehensible.

But is it actually the case that an adult, presumably capable of dressing himself and operating a motor vehicle, holds the opinion that a victim of kidnapping and torture by a gruesome coterie of murderers is obligated, as a matter of etiquette, to refrain from criticizing those murderers? And this person further chose to express that opinion in public? Is that really what has happened here? Apparently so.
6.27.2005 3:54am
In response to Eugene Volokh:

Hm. It's a fair question (about Limbaugh). I don't think highly of him, and I wouldn't have much good to say about him in the company of my friends, this is true. But (and not to get too far into the comparison, 'cause that's not really the point here) I would think twice about posting about something that he said just to score points off the Right. If he had said something inflammatory or morally perverse I believe it would call for rebuttal, since he is an extremely influential figure. But I think I would end up apologizing later if I used the occasion of his statement to advance the view that "The Right" as a whole is morally perverse or defective. And that's exactly what the article you linked to was intended to express, only about the Left. Just look at the headline. It couldn't be clearer. "There go those loony lefties again" (or whatever). What in God's name has anything that guy said to do with the Left? Nothing at all, unless you're looking to confirm the incredibly insulting stereotype of the Left as "soft on Saddam" or whatnot. The author of the post is not famous or influential. The person about whom the article was written is not famous or influential. So why would you bring the matter up at all? People on the Left and on the Right say stupid things every day of every year, and they always will. But that doesn't mean "The Left" or "The Right" are stupid. If questioning the authenticity of the printed remarks had been the real point of your post, rather than a ironic rhetorical device, I would have expected your outraged attention to have been directed towards the guy writing the article (for spreading such obvious nonsense), rather than towards the bonehead who apparently shot his mouth off on the radio, or the ridiculous statements he made. And that's what engendered the "disingenuous" comment.

6.27.2005 4:36am
Arvin (mail) (www):
In response to Christopher and to Robin (A.A. Milne fans rejoice) the first and third commenters:

It is undoubtedly better to be held by the U.S. Military than Iraqi insurgents. However, the point is, many on the Right use the same language as Jaspan to defend Guantanamo. They don't say, yes, we're holding them indefinitely, but at least we don't behead them. They say, hey, we're holding them indefinitely without charge, but we treat them nicely. They get two choices of fruit every meal. So to call us violators of human rights is absurd.

In the same way Jaspan is saying hey, they held him as a hostage but they treated him well. So to call them assholes is wrong.

Now, I think Jaspan's comments are pretty stupid. But then, so too would I have to find the people who say Guantanamo is peachy because we serve fruits and vegetables. Instead our justification for Guantanamo is simply that we're willing to do certain things that we might condemn otherwise for the sake of national security -- not that it's okay because we're treating people well. But one can't say the former, it sounds bad.
6.27.2005 5:31am
Guest, you said,

What in God's name has anything that guy said to do with the Left? Nothing at all, unless you're looking to confirm the incredibly insulting stereotype of the Left as "soft on Saddam" or whatnot.

You're in some serious denial here if you can't admit that the quote has *everything* to do with the left because the left *is* soft on terrorists. The editorial is spot on. You're protesting too much.

BTW, in case it escaped your attention, Eugene Volokh didn't even mention the left.

6.27.2005 6:12am
Michael Hertzberg (mail):
"Guest" says: "The person about whom the article was written is not famous or influential." In fact, he's the editor-in-chief of the Melbourne Age, which is one of a handful of daily newspapers in Melbourne -- a city of over 3 million. The paper's readership is nearly 3/4 million daily and nearly one million on Saturdays. ( I don't know about "famous," but I'd say that Mr. Jaspan certainly qualifies as "influential."
6.27.2005 8:00am
Matt22191 (mail):
By way of comparison, the circulation of The Age seems to be roughly the same as that of the Washington Post as of 9/30/03. Yet The Age is published in a country with a population of only 20 million or so.

Perhaps I'm missing something, but it looks to me like The Age reaches around 3.5% of the population of Australia on any given weekday, and close to 5% on Sunday.** Circulation isn't the only measure of the influence of a newspaper; on the other hand, it's certainly a measure. And by that metric alone it would seem that what the E-I-C of The Age says is indeed worthy of discussion, at least when -- as here -- it reveals his moral compass to be significantly out of whack.

**Probably more, since I assume the reported circulation doesn't take into account Internet readers, those who bum copies from their friends, family and coworkers, etc., etc.
6.27.2005 9:30am
William Spieler (mail) (www):
The problem with the post as Guest points out is the article to which it links, which does have an explicitly anti-Left tone to it.

Disregarding that, Mr. Jsapan really said something stupid.
6.27.2005 9:56am
yahonza (mail):
I am listening to the braodcast of Mr. Jaspan's interview. The discussion starts off as a condemnation of vulgarity in general, like how Jaspan thinks that the eff word (as he says) shows a poverty of language or intellectual skills. He then uses Wood as the example of vulgarity that he disapproves of. Jaspan speaks about how Wood basically disgraces himself by calling his captors assholes (although I couldn't think of a more appropriate time to call someone an asshole in public).

Therefore, according to Jaspan, people became skeptical of Wood's true motive. Jaspan complains that Wood is going to make a profit from his ordeal, and seems to take offense that the Australian military or intelligence may have helped free him and that the Australian share of the cost of the operation may have been 10 Million, even though Wood doesn't even pay taxes to Australia, as he lives in California.

I can understand objecting to people profiting from their own misdeeds, but why would you object to someone profiting from being kidnapped?

If he shut up there, he would have sounded ridiculous but not offensive. However, he just didn't know when to shut up, because he changes the focus of his comments from the inherhent uselessness of bad language in general, to why Wood in particular was wrong to call his captors assholes. After all, he was well fed. Jaspan does indeed say Wood was insensitive, but it is not completely clear who Jaspan says he was being insensitive to.

A very generous interpretation of his (insensitive) use of "insensitive" would be that Wood was insensitive to the delicate ears of Jaspan and others who have snobbish attitudes about rough language.

Jaspan actually says Wood was insensitive twice, and the first time he MAY have been saying that Wood was insensitive to his family at the press conference who were offended that such language was used.

But the second time Jaspan uses "insensitive," in the context of how well Jaspan thinks Wood was treated, he really and truly does deem to be saying that Wood was insensitive to his own captors.
6.27.2005 11:23am
Eugene Volokh (www):
I should note that I linked to the article simply to provide a source to the quote. I can't speak to the merits of the article's claims that Mr. Jaspan is representative of some important part of the Australian Left, since I know little of Australia.

I agree with what other commenters have said about Mr. Jaspan indeed being seemingly quite influential in Australia. The moral folly of editors-in-chief of major newspapers is pretty newsworthy in a way that the moral folly of a less influential person (left or right) isn't. For the latter to be important, you'd need to make a case that the person is representative of a deeper problem. The former is important on its own.
6.27.2005 11:25am
lucia (mail) (www):
So Jaspan's complaint is supposedly Wood's linguistic poverty? Out of curiosity, did Jaspan demonstrate his rich use of language by suggesting a synonymn that might have conveyed the full meaning of "asshole"?
6.27.2005 2:44pm
Anthony (www):
I'm a little surprised that an Australian newspaperman was shocked about a relatively mild epithet. From what reports I've seen, invective in the Australian Parliament is far more crude than in the US Congress, and coarseness in public speech is far more common there than here in the US. Perhaps Melbourne is, or has pretensions to be, more genteel than Sydney or Australia in general, but as a resident of the same metropolitan area in which Mr. Wood lives (San Francisco Bay Area), I'm surprised his language wasn't stronger.
6.27.2005 3:02pm
I'm reminded of one of my father's sayings: "There are so few words that everyone completely understands the meanings of. It would be a shame to give up even one of them."

cathy :-)
6.27.2005 3:05pm
Seven Machos (mail):
How can you possibly be insensitive to people who TOOK YOU HOSTAGE?
6.27.2005 3:35pm
hey (mail):
as to the apparent substance of guest's complaints: I haven't seen anyone saying that the detainees in Guantanamo should be grateful or more appreciative towards the US. Rather, the point is that they are being very well treated and are not being tortured, killed, beheaded, or used as a bargaining chip. They are being rather well treated and interrogated intensively, in conditions that are nowhere close to that of a gulag (there are a few gulag survivors out there whou you could question on the availability and selection of food...).

Guest does seem to come for the legal issues and not appreciate the politics, and while I have rather more to say to him about his politics, beliefs and ideas, it would intrude on the hosts and not be amenable to what they have and are trying to accomplish.
6.27.2005 4:04pm
"You're in some serious denial here if you can't admit that the quote has *everything* to do with the left because the left *is* soft on terrorists. The editorial is spot on. You're protesting too much."

Prof. Volokh:

I think that Sandy's comment quoted above is an example of the significance of Guest's criticism. Andrew Jaspan's statement was so ill-conceived that anyone who is both intelligent and intellectually honest will recognize it as absurd without further comment. Yet Sandy now uses it ostensibly as evidence of how "the left" thinks, despite that at best a tiny minority of those who consider themselves to be on the left would agree with Jaspan's statement.

That is to say, posting the quotation does nothing to inform those interested in an intelligent debate, but does provide fodder for people who are not so inclined. It is thus not nearly so useful or interesting as any of your substantive posts about the law.
6.27.2005 4:38pm
erp (mail):
Re: Arvin's comment

I'm driven up the wall by comparisons of the terrorists being held at Guantanamo and the innocents taken hostage by Islamo-terrorists or tortured and murdered in the Gulags and concentration camps.

There is no comparison nor moral equivalency.

I couldn't care less what terrorists endure if it elicits information that saves one innocent life. My concern is for our military who must coarsen their lives by contact with these vermin.
6.27.2005 4:53pm
Michael B (mail):
"... posting the quotation does nothing to inform those interested in an intelligent debate, but does provide fodder for people who are not so inclined. It is thus not nearly so useful or interesting as any of your substantive posts about the law." K

Nonsensical and confused. Morality, in its various strains and manifestations, is very much that which undergirds and forwards the law, that which motivates legislators to debate and pass bills in their respective legislatures. Yet they are not coequivalent. The law, despite ambiguities as applied to specific cases, is nonetheless a more static object than morality. Hence a substantive discussion of the law will typically only appear to have a more positive grasp of that subject than an equally substantive discussion of morality (which the Jaspan quote reflects), which subject is not codified, obviously enough.

Apples are not oranges, though they're both estimable fruit and can be appreciated both for their differences and their similarities.
6.27.2005 5:03pm
"a substantive discussion of the law will typically only appear to have a more positive grasp of that subject than an equally substantive discussion of morality"

I demur.
6.27.2005 5:18pm
Michael B (mail):
A demure demurring though.

In one sense morality might be thought of as the meta-substance of the law, the metalaw. Physics is inherently a more readily ascertained subject matter than metaphysics (quibbles concerning Newtonian vs. quantum mechanics notwithstanding), this doesn't imply however that a substantive discussion of metaphysics cannot be forwarded. The law, precisely because it is a codified instrument can be approached in a more positive manner than the subject of morality allows.

Or from another aspect, and more generally still, not only can morality be legislated, it's virtually the only thing that can be legislated, the possibility of arcane or abstracted exceptions notwithstanding.
6.27.2005 6:10pm
I'm still demurring.

I certainly won't contend that "a substantive discussion of metaphysics cannot be forwarded." Or, if I do, I'll at least stop teaching metaphysics first.

However, that fact isn't relevant to the situation at hand. Reading this particular blog entry doesn't invoke much reaction in me other than "Yup. Jaspan's comment is stupid." By contrast, I've found some of Prof. Volokh's 1st Amendment posts quite incisive.

While I suppose I could ascribe this difference to the notion that "the law. . . is. . . a more static object than morality," I'd rather say that I consider Prof. Volokh's legal writing to be more interesting than this this post on Jaspan, and I'll hope that he posts more of the former and fewer of the latter.
6.27.2005 6:59pm
Michael B (mail):
Well, fewer, yes, agreed to that extent. Still, I would demur over the notion the analogy isn't relevant to the broader discussion invoked. A discussion of the moral can certainly descend into mere moralistic pretension; on the other hand the moral inextricably undergirds the law and often helps to inform specific applications of the law, they are inseparable. That serves to invoke a broader discussion, undeniably, yet one which can in turn recapitulate itself into discussions of international law (for one example only), once again demonstrating the inextricable quality involved, not to mention the timeliness of the overall discussion as well.
6.27.2005 8:07pm
Zev Sero (mail) (www):
The Age is Australia's equivalent of the New York Times, in terms of position in the news food chain. So its editor is a very influential person indeed.

As for comparisons between Wood and the prisoners at Guantanamo, one huge difference is that the Guantanamo prisoners were not kidnapped, they were captured in war, and the USA has every right to hold them. So the only question is how they are being treated, and the answer is that, all things considered, they're being treated far better than they had any right to expect. Wood's captors, on the other hand, were criminals who had no right whatsoever to hold him and their other hostages. Even if they had treated him like royalty, they would be arseholes and far worse; and the mere fact that they didn't starve him to death or murder him outright does not entitle them to his gratitude.

6.28.2005 2:46am
Mike G:
"The Age is Australia's equivalent of the New York Times, in terms of position in the news food chain."

That's more than a bit of an exaggeration. It's not even the most popular newspaper in the state it's published in. The Herald-Sun's readership is three times larger.
6.28.2005 12:47pm
Ripclawe (mail) (www):
From a profile in SMH about his newspaper philosophy. He was also editor at the Observer which is the Sunday paper of the Guardian.

"Mr Jaspan's newspaper philosophy has been described as liberal, but also "pro-enterprise and in favour of wealth creation", according to him."

He also had problems with his defense reporter Paul McGeough being discredited with some of his reports in Iraq.
6.29.2005 3:50am