Sleepy in Seattle on Terror: Newspaper Plays Up 'Passionate' Female Fire-Bombers

In Friday's Best of the Web Today column, Opinion Journal's James Taranto displayed how a major American metropolitan newspaper shows they can be soft on fire-bombing terrorism -- if it seems devoted to a fierce love of trees and turkeys.

"Jennifer Kolar and Lacey Phillabaum seem unlikely criminals," declares an article in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer:
Well-educated young women passionate about environmental causes, they share a love of the outdoors and similar backgrounds.

Then we get some background on them. Both attended the same high school in Spokane, Wash. Phillabaum was "bright, outspoken, sometimes in-your-face but never dull." Kolar, who studies science, "had the makings of a good scientist, her adviser said, but her heart seemed elsewhere."Then we get to what they did:

The women were concerned about what was going on around them--the logging of old-growth forests, the slaughter of animals for sport. Like many Northwest activists, they pushed for change. But their activism morphed into something more dangerous--and now both are headed to prison. Before dawn on May 21, 2001, Kolar cut the glass that allowed fellow Earth Liberation Front members to sneak into the University of Washington office of professor Toby Bradshaw, who was studying the genetics of fast-growing hybrid poplar trees. Phillabaum's role is still unclear, but she was also on the scene, court documents show. Bradshaw and other researchers at the UW Center for Urban Horticulture would be arriving within hours, so the ELF squad must have worked quickly to plant the firebombs--plastic buckets of fuel rigged with cheap digital timers, assembled in someone's garage. Their goal: destroy the research on genetic engineering of poplars to avert an "ecological nightmare" for native forests.

Mostly the piece is more puffery--we learn that Phillabaum "was socially conscious even as a teenager," that she had "a strong mind of her own," and that she once worked for a nonprofit where she was "an exemplary employee." Kolar is a bit less appealing: "bright and skilled but distracted" while in college, "passionate about animal rights." Her doctoral adviser says, "It's not the least bit surprising to me that she carried her passions that far."But here's a question for you: Suppose this pair were "pro-life" rather than "environmental" activists. Suppose they had firebombed not a research lab but an abortion clinic--or, for that matter, suppose they'd firebombed a lab that conducted embryonic stem-cell research.Would an establishment newspaper ever give them such favorable treatment?

There's an easy answer for that: No way. Reporter Phuong Cat Le also seemed a little soft in this sentence, the one that uses the T-word: "The FBI has branded ELF an underground radical group and a top domestic terrorism threat." In the midst of all this solicitude for the social conscience of the secret arsonists, you might wonder if the reporter disagrees with this "branding." Would a liberal reporter wait for an FBI "branding" to declare an abortion-clinic fire-bombing "radical" or a "terrorist"? No way.

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis