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The Origins of the "Terrorist Fist Jab"

7:09 PM, Jul 18, 2008 • By JOHN MCCORMACK
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Christopher Beam of Slate explains how his original misleading report on the infamous phrase "terrorist fist jab" was amplified by the right-wing freak show Time, Politico, Andrew Sullivan and friends:

The morning after Obama locked up the nomination, I was writing a "Trailhead" item that mocked the media's difficulty in figuring out what to call the now famous gesture. "Fist-pound," "knuckle-bump," and "fist-to-fist thumbs up" were among the funnier examples, but one of them-"Hezbollah-style fist jab"-was particularly risible. It came from the Web site for Human Events, a hard-right weekly. Unfortunately, I failed to note that its provenance was not the magazine itself but a reader comment posted below an unrelated column by Cal Thomas. I linked the phrase to the column but didn't explain that the words weren't Thomas'.

Many "Trailhead" readers clicked through to Thomas' column and, not finding the phrase there, assumed that Thomas or his bosses had wiped it from his column. What really happened, it seems, is that Human Events removed the reader comment after many other readers posted comments taking offense and/or debunking it. These latter comments remained, while the comment that provoked the outrage vanished into thin air, creating further confusion about its origin.

When I realized the confusion I'd helped cause, I posted a correction. But it was too late. Liberal bloggers from all over had already seized on the phrase. Time and Politico misreported that the words were Thomas'. Then, fatefully, Fox News anchor E.D. Hill jauntily paraphrased "Hezbollah-style fist jab" on air as "terrorist fist jab." Hill wasn't endorsing the phrase, but she failed to make clear that she was citing someone else's characterization. She apologized the next day but lost her show anyway.