I finally heard back from Ami Eden, managing editor of JTA about their coverage of the cancellation of Desmond Tutu’s speaking engagement at University of St. Thomas. All I can say is that relations between JTA and this blog and much of the rest of the liberal Jewish blogosphere aren’t going to improve anytime soon. I admit I don’t take kindly to JTA’s often slanted, unbalanced coverage of Israel-related issues and write about such sloppiness here. But I think they’ve shot themselves in the foot on the Tutu story even when they attempted to rectify their omissions and errors. And when I brought the matter to their attention they reacted testily and frostily.
When JTA ran a story quoting a ZOA press release saying Tutu had said: “Israel is like Hitler and apartheid” I fired off an e mail to Ami notifying him that this was a fraud. He was on vacation. He replied he hadn’t followed the issue but would when he returned. When JTA “corrected” the mistaken report and still acknowledged the ZOA attribution was a ‘quote’ that they hadn’t been able to verify rather than a fake or non-quote, I also noted that to Ami.
I also noted yesterday that Ben Harris’ JTA story about the ZOA fakery didn’t acknowledge I (and at the same time Mitchell Plitnick of JVP) had discovered the fraud nor did he interview either of us for the story. In his article, Harris writes that he did an internet search to discover whether the “quotation” was legitimate and who had used the quotation previously. The only reason he did this was because I and possibly JVP (though I haven’t confirmed this with them) had pointed out the questionable status of the quote by doing the exact same research before him and publishing my research.
Further, Harris quotes the Minneapolis JCRC rep, Julie Swiler as concatenating the Tutu smear by introducing a new smear in which she says that the Nobel Prize winner compares “the Jewish lobby to Hitler.” Harris doesn’t think to challenge the assessment nor interview anyone else who might challenge it.
JTA bestows laurels on Abe Foxman for regaining Tutu’s speaking invitation (“…The national director of the Anti-Defamation League, Abraham Foxman, sent Dease a letter urging the school to reissue its invitation to Tutu. The next day, Dease announced he was reversing himself.”) without acknowledging the national campaign waged by JVP asking St. Thomas to reconsider. JVP’s campaign was featured in a Minneapolis Star Tribune op-ed and a story on the AP wire, and it was instrumental in The Forward’s editorial against the cancellation. One could credibly argue that without JVP Foxman never would’ve touched the story (strange as that may sound). Yet you won’t hear that at JTA.
This is an example of a news agency that isn’t doing its job well enough, isn’t challenging its reporters or interviewees to broaden their coverage to incorporate all points of view in this critical debate about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Instead Ami Eden takes umbrage at my critique and labels my work substandard without qualifying how or proving it is.
I know criticism is hard to take. I know JTA has played a central, almost monopolistic role as a national Jewish agency for decades. It’s not easy to have the new kids on the block take (what it perceives as) pot shots at you. But instead of swatting at us like flies and contending we’re illegitimate, JTA might actually try to listen and appreciate the criticism. It might make them do their jobs better.
[Note: The original version of this post contained several short quotations from e-mails Ami Eden wrote to me on this matter. He reminded me later that he had originally asked me not to quote here anything I wrote to him. I forgot this and at Ami’s request have deleted those passages to rectify my mistake. However, I also note that I no longer have such an agreement with him due to his showing what I consider bad faith in suggesting I might be a “liar” in my coverage of JTA.