So what's Malott’s Motives?
John Malott is an eminent man: the former United States Ambassador to Malaysia has maintained his involvement in Asian affairs, from helming the Japan-America Society of Washington, D.C., to working with the lobbyists at the Washington consultancy Manatt Jones, to writing articles on the internal politics of the country in which he served as Ambassador. It is in the last capacity that Malott is of interest here. He has, lately, taken to popping up wherever the trial of Anwar Ibrahim is discussed. This ranges from pieces in the Wall Street Journal to the comments and chat section of the Huffington Post in recent days.
If that latter bit strikes you as odd, it should. This is the age of new media, but new media is not, properly, new any longer, and most persons engaged in public communications know how to engage with it. The Internet and its forms give us a remarkable number of avenues for public engagement — far beyond the traditional channels of publications and letters — but the ill-kept secret of using them effectively is not to use most of them. Messaging should be channelled and disciplined, and this goes triple for an eminent person like former Ambassador John Malott. “Social” media in particular (in which we must include something as basic as conversation-oriented blog comments) is geared toward a pattern of share-and-react. What is appropriate among friends generates strife among strangers, and degrades the dignity of, say, an erstwhile Ambassador.
John Malott has not learned this.
He popped up in the Huffington Post’s comments section at nearly four in the morning, issuing two vitriolic responses to a column by Joshua Trevino on Anwar’s trial. Trevino’s essay was neither pro- nor anti-Anwar, being an evenhanded examination of the mistaken assumptions undergirding present Western press coverage of that trial. Malott, though, apparently took it as an attack on Anwar’s cause, and responded accordingly.
Malott’s first comment was a strange series of inaccurate statements, ranging from a declaration that assault was no longer an issue in Anwar’s trial, which is false; to a bizarre assertion that “Zionist terrorism” is a more morally reprehensible phrase than “Zionist aggression”; to a misunderstanding of what “protege” means. (The issue of anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic statements in Malaysian politics was far more accurately addressed by Trevino himself, in the July 20th Washington Times. Malott closed his comment with a haughty suggestion: “Perhaps you should pick another country to write about.” Unusual advice at the close of a passage that didn’t write about its country particularly well, seemingly petty.
Incredibly, just eight hours later, Malott was back for more. His second comment went in-depth on the specific charges against Anwar, emphasizing that the politician is on trial under Malaysia’s anti-sodomy statute — and not its rape statute — with the purpose of showing Trevino to have been wrong. Instead, he managed to accidentally support the point that Trevino was making: the Huffington Post columnist explicitly acknowledged that Anwar is prosecuted for sodomy, and then went on to examine the deeper meaning of the charges and its coverage. Malott’s argument that the absence of rape charges conclusively eliminates that as a factor in prosecutorial intent will strike anyone familiar with criminal prosecution as risible: reductions and changes in charges are a commonplace throughout developed nations’ legal systems. And as Al Capone discovered when jailed for income-tax evasion, prosecution on one charge doesn’t mean the prosecutor isn’t trying to get you for another. Malott managed to buttress Trevino’s point, and provide an example of the sort of agenda-driven interpretation of Anwar’s trial that the latter was writing about — surely not the former Ambassador’s intent in weighing in.
What, exactly, is Malott’s intent? As has been noted, he’s turning up in Anglophone media lately any time and anywhere that Anwar Ibrahim is mentioned. And he has long ties to the Malaysian politico, not least through his own wife, Hiroko Iwami Malott, who was head of the Japan chapter of the “Free Anwar Campaign” during Anwar’s first trial and imprisonment a decade ago.
Fast-forward to 2005, and we see Anwar and Malott turning up on academic panels together. The two are said to have remained close over the years. This is all circumstantial, of course, but it is suggestive of close personal ties to the defendant in the trial, and seemingly a conflict of interest for a credible commentator. Toss in the odd and unedifying spectacle of a former United States Ambassador picking petty fights in blog comments — with no other history of doing so — and one could reach certain conclusions. But it is not for us to speculate on Malott’s Motives, merely to report that he seems to have lost the sense of balance and serenity one normally expects from a diplomat. Read the original text here!