She was a fire-breathing left-wing radical who championed revolutionary violence and gave aid and comfort to Islamic terrorists. But when Lynne Stewart died on March 7 at age 77, many obituarists in the mainstream media strove to soften her image. Not all of them, to be sure. The article sent out by the Associated Press, to its credit, made a point of mentioning that Stewart’s clients “included members of the Black Panthers, Weather Underground leaders, a former hit man and a man accused of trying to kill nine police officers,” that Stewart “was a longtime believer in armed struggle as a way of fostering political revolution,” and that she had described “the killings of police officers…as ‘a deterrent’ against the killings of unarmed civilians by police.” Brief though it was, the AP obit provided a pretty good picture of the kind of woman Lynne Stewart had been.
By contrast, while telling much of the truth about Stewart, Joseph P. Fried, writing in the New York Times, seemed determined to avoid some of the most damning facts about her and to whitewash others, all the while stirring in as many heartwarming and humanizing details as possible: “A former librarian and teacher, she had taken up the law in the cause of social justice after seeing the squalor in the area around the public school in Harlem where she taught. She built a reputation for representing the poor and the reviled, usually for modest, court-paid fees.” And then there was this: “Belying the image of a dangerous radical, Ms. Stewart, a short, round-faced woman, often arrived at court wearing a New York Mets cap and a floral-print housedress, dangling a cloth tote bag rather than the lawyer’s typical briefcase and inevitably drawing a clutch of news photographers.” Adorable!
Neither the AP nor the Times mentioned Mao. They should have, for it is important to know that Stewart was a convinced, passionate Maoist. She spoke affectionately not only about Mao but also about Fidel Castro and Ho Chi Minh. There appears to be no record of her ever expressing concern about the millions of people murdered by Mao, or about the lower but still impressive death tolls racked up by Castro and Ho. “I don’t have any problem with Mao or Stalin or the Vietnamese leaders or certainly Fidel locking up people they see as dangerous,” she said in 2002. The road to utopia, after all, is a bloody one.
Nor did the AP or the Times mention Stewart’s take on 9/11. She defended the terrorists’ actions. She called the atrocity an “armed struggle.” The closest she came to criticizing any aspect of it was when she opined that the Pentagon was a better target than the World Trade Center. But she wasn’t making a moral judgment – just a strategic one.