JTA: Foxman As Defender of Tutu’s Free Speech Rights
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.
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For some insight into the mind of JTA main man, Ron Kampeas, read this extended piece on the subject of M&W–
It was carried on very few sites, most of which just used his shorter no-nonsense interview with the authors. But in this piece he stretches out and lets us see what’s on his mind.
“Rant” is used pretty recklessly these days, but in this case it’s the only word that fits.
Walt Mearsheimer “on drugs?” That’s wild stuff.
I’m sorry to hear this as Kampeas was one of the JTA reporters I felt tried to straddle a middle ground position in his reporting.
Actually, I think it’s the reviewers like Samuel Freedman, Jeffrey Goldberg & Kampeas who’ve “gone off the rails” (to use Kampeas’ own criticism of W-M) in their bilious response to a formidable work that will triumph over all the negative reviews, find its audience, & have a huge impact on political & intellectual discourse.
Read it again. I said they’re clearly not on drugs. I was just wondering where they came up with the Iraq war and unseating Assad allegations, which are utterly unfounded – check out the story for why. Every argument is evidence-based. And my concern – if you read through to the end – is that the book is so profoundly flawed it actually undermines any open discussion about the pro-Israel lobby, something I favor.
Really, I thought that if the last seven years taught us anything, it’s that when a reporter actually knows the material, he should challenge errors. That’s what I tried to do here – ad hominem snark about “rants” and “stretches out” doesn’t really add much.
How about a point by point refutation? It’s what I attempted.
And “triumph over all negative reviews?” Is this a book or a belief-set for you?
(Okay, I allowed myself some snark.)
First, I’d like to welcome Ron to the comment thread. I’m glad that someone at JTA actually pays a bit of attention to this blog instead of ignoring it as usually happens.
With regards to the “on drugs” issue, here’s what Ron wrote: “Is this guy on drugs, you might wonder.” In the next paragraph he concludes: “I recognized that these guys are not on drugs. But why did they make up stuff?” So in truth, Ron has introduced the idea that one might legitimately wonder whether they were on drugs only to reassure people that while they aren’t really on drugs, they’re “making up stuff.” Pardon me for wondering which is a worse smear, the idea that they’re hallucinating or that they simply make it all up as they go along.
The book is NOT profoundly flawed. Every issue you raise in rebuttal is not really evidence based as you claim but rather a judgment call. You judge Walt-Mearsheimer’s statements one way while the book’s supporters–of whom there are many more than the number of negative Jewish reviewers writing about it–judge it another.
Take the statement you criticize:
You then go on to make the preposterous (at least to me and perhaps many others) statement that Paul Wolfowitz’s pro-Israel position is “rumored.” Can anyone doubt that Wolfowitz is “pro-Israel??”
I think it’s almost a moot point as to whether the Jewish neocons merely endorsed Bush’s Iraq invasion plans after he’d made them or were seminal forces in initiating them. There is certainly much evidence that these individuals were supporting these notions at least as long as Bush or Cheney. You neglect to mention the 1998 letter written to Bill Clinton by Bill Kristol’s Project for a New American Century and signed by prominent Jewish neocons Wolfowitz, Kristol, Elliot Abrams, William Schneider, Richard Perle, Robert Zoellick (& even a few non-Jewish neocons as well I concede) calling on him to overthrow Saddam & invade Iraq. Which came first? Did these neocon persuade Bush & Cheney in 1998 that Saddam had to go or did the two already believe that and merely find convenient allies in PNAC for advancing their goals? Personally, I don’t think it much matters. But I don’t find Walt-Mearsheimer’s sentence which you criticize to be out of bounds at all & certainly not “making it up” as you claim.
So I think yr review & those of the other Jews who panned the book have been entirely selective in what they focussed on.
As I think I’ve just shown, what you claim to be an error isn’t. So how are we to judge whether you’ve merely pointed out issues in the book you objected to because of yr own perception that the book threatens a U.S. consensus supporting Israel and Israeli policy?
There are times when a book crystallizes a set of attitudes and embodies them so well that it speaks for a large number of people & has influence far beyond what an ordinary book might have. Undoubtedly, The Israel Lobby already has done that in article form & continues to do it in its current form. The book indeed does indeed largely represent my beliefs on the issue. Though I should say I wrote critically about the essay when it was published & didn’t accept everything in it lock stock & barrel.
However, I think most of the negative reveiws are cheap shots. I don’t deny the sincerity of the reviewers. But I think they are alarmed by what they see the book represents (a gradual tearing asunder of the AIPAC-like pro-Israel consensus in the American polity) & so their reviews have largely been an attempt to lay obstacles in the road to stop the steamroller effect of its popularity. And this hasn’t succeeded nor will it.