Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Actually, I didn't do it


On March 6, as one investigator later put it, I was the "unluckiest person in the world." That morning, someone bombed the military recruiting station in New York's Times Square, and 3,000 miles away, the fallout landed on me.

A 64-page pamphlet and a 20-page memo I wrote to Capitol Hill Democrats had reached lawmakers the very day the bomb went off. Knowing the odds against anyone actually reading what I sent, I had included a photograph to grab their attention. It shows me in a victory pose in front of that Times Square recruiting station's neon flag, with the caption "We Did It!" To the authorities, it was a smoking gun. My explanation is found only at the end of the memo: "I have enclosed the Holiday card I sent out to family and friends after the 2006 election. I hope and fully expect to have reason to send out an equally jubilant card after this November's results."

Arriving home that evening, I was met by FBI agents, dogs and a bomb squad. I consented to thorough questioning and a search of my home, and was greatly relieved to learn the next morning that the FBI had publicly cleared me of any connection to the bombing.

As it turned out, my relief was a little premature. I began surfing the Internet and realized just how stridently fingers had pointed in my direction. The tabloid headlines left little room for doubt: "Letters Claim Responsibility for Times Square Blast" (the New York Post); "'We Did It' Taunts Sicko's Manifesto" (the New York Daily News).

Also striking was how the media, without firsthand information, had adopted stock descriptions of both me and my writings: an "antiwar activist" (Fox News and USA Today); an "anarchist manifesto" (cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com), and an "anti-Iraq war screed" (michellemalkin.com).

In fact, my "activism" rarely leaves my keyboard, and I have never opposed any U.S. military action before 2003. As for Iraq, it is only one of many topics addressed in my congressional mailings, and my message was that "there is no easy way out" and that instead of debating "withdrawal," Democrats should offer "compelling and alternative" positions on "unilateralist foreign policy, preemptive war, effective counter-terrorism (and) genuine 'pro-Israel' policies."

The only ones to get it right were the law-enforcement personnel who read what I actually wrote. One investigator told me (correctly) that many of my views sounded "conservative," and New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly fairly characterized the mailings as "innocuous."

I hoped my clearance by the FBI would keep me out of the spotlight, but the focus simply shifted to what one official described as an "incredibly unbelievable coincidence."

Given the odds, much of the right-wing blogosphere insisted that there must be a cover-up: "I do not believe in 'incredibly unbelievable coincidence(s)' " (freerepublic.com); "... Waterboard him!" (weeklystandard.com).

Then my name surfaced, and I became, as one friend told me, "the talk of the town," as well as a media stereotype: a 50-year-old, single, gay entertainment lawyer coming home from the gym to the Hollywood Hills.

Reporters next located my 82-year-old mother. She lives alone, and with the television news blaring and the phone ringing, anxiety got the best of her. She tried to defend me as "the most gifted, creative person. ... He's been writing letters since he was 13 years old." She then called me and burst out crying: "I hope I did the right thing."

Speaking out on political matters entails risks, but nobody should have to take the risk that the media will inflict personal damage without regard for innocence or content. My pamphlet -- titled "Common Ground" (with a nod to Thomas Paine) -- was modeled on classic American patriotic tracts. A lot of thought, time and money went into my writings, which were never quoted and reportedly were confiscated by Capitol police. And while I can now rest easy that my FBI file is clean, no such luck with Google.

Friends advised me to retain an attorney and even a publicist. But I decided to rest my case on "the best evidence rule" and let my writings speak for themselves. As for publicists, I don't see how anybody could say it any better than FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller already has: "This was a citizen exercising his right to make a political comment to his representatives."

David Karnes, an entertainment attorney in Los Angeles, wrote this article for the Los Angeles Times.

source: http://www.startribune.com/opinion/commentary/16796746.html

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