Monday, July 09, 2007

All Quotes are Not Alike

[posted by Callimachus]

The only Muslim serving in the U.S. Congress stirred up some controversy in this newspaper graph:

On comparing Sept. 11 to the burning of the Reichstag building in Nazi Germany: "It's almost like the Reichstag fire, kind of reminds me of that. After the Reichstag was burned, they blamed the Communists for it and it put the leader of that country [Hitler] in a position where he could basically have authority to do whatever he wanted. The fact is that I'm not saying [Sept. 11] was a [U.S.] plan, or anything like that because, you know, that's how they put you in the nut-ball box -- dismiss you."

People are tearing into each other over what exactly he meant by that. Whether he's "not saying X because, though I believe X, if I say it they'll call me a nut," or "I'm talking about the similarities between the effects of two events, but not saying their origins were at all alike, and I want to make that distinction clear here."

But what I really want to know is the context of this comment. Did Ellison bring this up on his own? Or was he answering a question from the audience? (The story has alluded to the presence of at least one "Truther" in the crowd.) That makes all the difference to me in how I perceive the quote. Is he going there on his own? Or did some kook start out there, and is he, as a public servant duty-bound to answer the question, doing so while trying to keep his distance?

And this, typically, is something the reporting fails to tell me.