But we’ll let you, dear reader, be the judge.
Ami Eden, the editor of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency has accused me in a series of private e mails of lying about JTA’s coverage of the Desmond Tutu fake quote controversy. You’ll recall that JTA published a fabricated quotation from Tutu that equated Israel with Hitler. The real source of the statement was not Tutu, but Mort Klein of the ZOA who falsely attributed it to the South African Nobel Prize winner.
Both Muzzlewatch and I called JTA’s attention to the fact that they’d been had by Klein. For some reason it took them six whole days to acknowledge anything was wrong–and when they did they could only muster this:
A news release from the Zionist Organization of America, which condemned Tutu’s remarks, cited a report from Ha’aretz that quoted Tutu as saying that “Israel is like Hitler and apartheid.” A transcript of the speech available online does not include the Hitler quote.
This doesn’t state clearly that not only doesn’t the Haaretz article contain the quote, but it never existed to begin with. Do you see the words “mistake” or “apology” or “sorry” anywhere here?
A few days after this appeared, JTA’s Ben Harris wrote a more detailed and explicit story about the Tutu affair which allowed Klein to get away with claiming that his only mistake was in not attributing the Israel equals Hitler statement to himself rather than Tutu. As if it somehow would’ve made it more kosher if Mort Klein claimed Tutu equated Israel with Hitler rather than claiming Tutu actually said this himself
Again, nowhere in Harris’ article does he acknowledge JTA made a mistake. Nowhere does he acknowledge the damage done in the Jewish community to Archbishop Tutu’s reputation by this fraud. ‘Sorry’ doesn’t seem to be in JTA’s vocabulary.
In fact, Harris allows the Minneapolis JCRC’s representative to unload another smear against Tutu by claiming that Tutu ‘compares the Jewish lobby to Hitler.’ This statement isn’t rebutted. It isn’t challenged. It’s left hanging out there. JTA managing editor Ami Eden trusts JTA’s readers to make their own judgment and claims they don’t need to have Swiler’s statment “sugar-coated.”
Apparently, Eden isn’t reading the comments published at his own site and in local Jewish newspapers where JTA stories are syndicated. A large number of JTA readers DO believe these ideas about Tutu and don’t have the sophistication Eden attributes to them.
Eden said to me in an e mail regarding my claim that JTA hadn’t properly addressed its mistake:
…It’s a smear to claim that we did not correct the record with our readers about the Tutu story.
Not only did we do a story about Tutu that got the facts right, we wrote another story acknowledging that JTA and other news sources got it wrong — and we explained where the factually inaccurate information came from.
To suggest otherwise is simply lying. Have you been spreading this lie on your blog?
Dear reader, you be the judge. Did JTA “correct the record?” Did JTA “get the facts right?” Did JTA “acknowledge…it got it wrong?”
An additional word of disclosure. When Eden first became JTA editor [note: it is important to Eden that I note he is managing editor, and not editor–hereby noted] a few months ago I wrote to him about my dissatisfaction with JTA’s Mideast coverage. He asked me not to quote in my blog what he wrote to me. I responded that I would honor his request.
During the Tutu affair I forgot my promise and published four one-line snippets of his e mails to me. When Eden pointed out my breach I said I’d made a mistake. Not good enough for Eden since I hadn’t said I was sorry. That was when I asked him whether JTA had apologized for its own boneheaded mistake regarding Tutu. And you know what–he never answered my question.
When he accused me of lying that’s when I informed him that if he didn’t retract the statement my agreement not to quote him was ended. Needless to say, he never did that and that’s why I quote him here. He seemed to think that terms of an agreement, once made, can never be changed even when one party displays bad faith. He seems to think my credibility is at stake because I have changed those terms. I’ll let you be the judge of whether an honorable person accuses another of lying without a shred of evidence.
Why is all this important? Clearly, a spat between a Jewish blogger and a Jewish editor doesn’t’ amount to a hill of beans in this world. But consider this. JTA is not just an obscure news agency. It is a major source of news for affiliated American Jews. Yes, the number of affiliated Jews is declining year by year. But it is still significant (somewhere around 20% I believe). That means that several hundred thousand American Jews at least partially if not largely form their opinions on the Israeli-Arab conflict based on what they read in JTA, which not only maintains its own website but is syndicated in virtually every local Jewish newspaper in the country. Even more significant is that virtually all of the Jewish leadership and Jewish organizations do the same. For better or worse, AIPAC, the ADL, the AJC and President’s Conference determine the communal political agenda in this country. And JTA is their media mouthpiece.
So having a JTA which skews the news about Israel-related matters in a nationalist direction is a serious matter. As we’ve come to understand in the aftermath of the Iraq fiasco, a nation whose sources of information are constrained by ideological blinders and inaccurate assumptions doesn’t have the necessary background to make accurate assessments about what direction U.S. policy should take. Nor does JTA do American Jews a service through its slanted coverage. A cynic will argue that JTA does precisely what its overseers and supporters wants it to do. The distortions and omissions reflect the perspective of the Abe Foxmans, Howard Kohrs, David Harrises and Malcolm Hoenleins of the Jewish world and they wouldn’t permit a JTA that strayed from their own prejudices.
While that may be true, it doesn’t mean that liberal Jews have to stand for it. That’s why I’m going to blog about JTA (and other Jewish media). I’m going to point out their mistakes. I’m going to point out their successes. I’m going to take them to task when they fail the facts and their readers. I’m going to praise them for what they do well. I hope some other progressive bloggers will also do the same.
So here goes:
1. When JTA covered the story of Haaretz’s Danny Rubinstein speaking at a UN conference and calling the Occupation “apartheid” the news agency couldn’t manage to find a single source to either explain or defend Rubinstein’s usage of the term in the Israeli context. Eden contended that there was such a rush to publish the story there wasn’t time to find an alternative source.
2. When JTA covered the Nadia Abu El Haj tenure controversy, Ben Harris could only muster a single academic who said anything positive about her work compared to multiple sources who denounced it.
After she received tenure, Prof. Abu El Haj e mailed to tell me that Harris had asked her for an interview and asked what I thought of his work. I sent her the link to this story. I guess the interview never took place. And I guess that doesn’t bother JTA much. I should add that I want her to speak to JTA. I want her words to reach a mainstream Jewish audience. I want Jews to judge her for good or ill (and I’m prepared to have them judge her critically) by her actual words rather than fabricated quotations created by Jewish intellectual charlatans and passed on as gospel by sources like JTA. And I would’ve liked to help facilitate such an interview if I could. But what guarantee would she have had that the subsequent article based on her interview wouldn’t have been a set-up designed to take her down a notch or two as the first story did?
3. A current JTA story on the Australian election might lead you to believe that the only issue Australians care about is how “good” the various parties are on Israel. It also leads you to believe there is only one issue on the minds of Australian Jews–you guessed it, Israel. Iraq and the national economy come in for a brief mention. Immigration is nowhere to be found.
There’s also a somewhat incomplete claim in this report (provided thanks to Sol Salbe). Dan Goldberg says:
Michael Danby, the only current member of parliament who identifies as a Jew and who is expected to win re-election in Melbourne…
Sol published this comment on the website:
As a voter in Nicola Roxon’s electorate of Gellibrand I can vouch that Ms Roxon has always been proud of her Jewish heritage. The information about her Jewish father was available on her web site six years ago when I moved into the electorate. What happened two weeks ago was that the Australian Jewish News finally discovered what has been available on the public domain for years.
5. If you try to include a link with a published comment on the JTA site it will likely be rejected (mine have been consistently over several months). At first I thought the webmaster didn’t approve of my critical remarks about some of the JTA reporting and rejected the comments for that reason. Then I realized the site had a glitch. When pointed out to the webmaster and editor, as of the last time I checked, the behavior continued. Is this any way to run an allegedly interactive website?
Stories number 1 and 2 above are not aberrations. You will not find source balance in JTA stories about the Israeli-Arab conflict. You will find conservative sources quoted heavily. Perhaps you might find a liberal source quoted here and there. But the overwhelming slant is to the right. I suggested to Eden that if he didn’t want to use me as a liberal source he should seek out informed opinions from other liberal Jewish bloggers like Phil Weiss, Jerry Haber, Dan Fleshler, Daniel Levy, Eric Alterman or any number of others. Let’s see how long it takes before JTA acknowledges that there ARE liberal Jewish bloggers let alone quotes one of them in a story.
Lest anyone claim that I am solely focussed on JTA, by reviewing this site you will find I have critiqued stories from the Forward, Yediot Achronot and Haaretz. And I will continue to do so.