Don’t get me wrong here. I like Muzzlewatch. I really do. And I understand that Muzzlewatch is different than Tikun Olam. It is the voice of Jewish Voice for Peace. As such it represents an organizational agenda where my blog represents a personal agenda.
JVP’s website’s weekly newsletter notes with pride that Ami Eden, JTA’s managing editor, would’ve included Cecilie Surasky, Muzzlewatch’s editor in the Forward’s Famous 50 list. I know as outsiders we Jewish progressives are all hankering to influence the mainstream political debate. We’re looking for that good word confirming that what we do impacts the mainstream. Hell, I’m even guilty of that myself. So I know how good it must’ve felt to JVP to get his praise. It means that maybe JVP could leverage such approbation to penetrate a wider audience–to get its voice heard by more people.
I mean it would be great to get onto the list–though you would share it with the likes of Michael Mukasey, Norman Podhoretz, Abe Foxman, Alan Dershowitz, Howard Kohr, Sheldon Adelson, Peter Deutsch (founder of the nation’s first “Jewish” public school), David Brog (Christians United for Israel), Charles Jacobs (David Project), Rita Katz (SITE Institute, anti-Muslim anti-terror group), Ronald Lauder, Michael Steinhardt, and Shlomo Cunin (Chabad). But I can’t help feeling awkward about Muzzelwatch basking in Ami Eden’s praise.
After all, this is the same JTA that published Mort Klein’s fake Desmond Tutu quote that supposedly equated Israel with Hitler. The same Ami Eden who called me a liar because I rightly noted that JTA had not apologized for smearing Tutu’s name. The same JTA which quoted a Maariv report which fraudulently claimed that Hamas called for the elimination of Jews from Palestine and never bothered to correct the report. The same JTA which couldn’t manage to find a single source to defend Danny Rubinstein’s use of the term apartheid to describe Israel’s Occupation policy. The same JTA which recycled fraudulent claims about the research of Barnard tenure candidate Nadia Abu El Haj and again couldn’t manage to find a single source to interview who would defend her. The same JTA which published a Ron Kampeas story about the Walt-Mearsheimer book asking whether they were “on drugs” when they wrote it.
It is really tempting to see Ami Eden’s comment as an indicator that Muzzlewatch has heft in the mainstream Jewish media. And it would be great news if this were so. But given JTA’s spotty (to say the least) journalistic record under Ami Eden–a record that predated him to be fair–the praise would give me as much pause as pleasure.
Why does JTA need to apologize for Mort Klein’s mistake?
Not only did JTA issue a news brief announcing that Klein’s Tutu quote was a total fabrication, but Ben Harris did an entire story on it, allowing Klein to hang himself with his own words.
What more could you possibly ask for?
Richard Silverstein says
I’ve already written about this, Mobius. Tell me this: does a news agency have a responsibility to vet material that should be fairly obvious as a fabrication before it publishes? I think so. Did JTA vet this? No. I and Cecilie Surasky smelled a rat as soon as we read the story. If we sussed this out why couldn’t Ami have done so? And why did it take 5 days before JTA did acknowledge what had happened?
If the NY Times had published a statement saying that Desmond Tutu equated Israel with Hitler there would’ve been an immediate correction. And tell me another thing: if JTA or anyone else said you equated Israel with Hitler wouldn’t you be pretty damn pissed if they didn’t apologize?
The first JTA statement after publishing the initial report did NOT state that it was a fabrication. Go back and read it again. Harris’s subsequent story allowed Klein to explain what happened fr. his perspective. It allowed you to read between the lines if you wished and decide for yrself that it was a fabrication. But the majority of JTA’s readers prob. have enough sympathy with the ZOA political perspective that they easily could’ve endorsed Klein’s explanation for what happened (an innocent mistake or so he claimed). And Harris did not use any language of his own to characterize what happened nor did he use the word fabrication or anything remotely close to that.
Not to be outdone by this mistake, JTA then published yet another story (this fr. Maariv) that could be seen by anyone with any knowledge of Hamas to be either a fabrication or serious mistranslation. But unlike the Tutu situation, this time no clarification fr. JTA about the mistake. Why? Never got an answer from Ami on that one. I guess JTA doesn’t care when it mischaracterizes Hamas’ political positions.
And if this type of serious journalistic error has happened twice you can be sure it will happen again. So the question is why doesn’t JTA put in place better controls to vet stories on contentious issues like the IP conflict to protect its journalistic reputation?
Frankly, following your “work” online for some years now has lead me to surmise that you smell a rat wherever you tuck your nose.
JTA merely reported the fact that Mort Klein said something egregious about Desmond Tutu. The author did not report that Klein’s remarks were facts themselves. While it’s fair to expect that journalists should always seek “a second opinion,” you go too far in assuming the author intended to mislead his readers. Where I see an oversight, you see a conspiracy.
And yes, in fact Richard, I have been completely misrepresented by the NY Times, and no, they did not issue a correction. And yeah, it annoys me, and it makes me imagine all sorts of paranoid reasons for them framing things the way they did. But then I consider my own experience as a journalist and I recognize that journalism is as much about approximation as it is specificity. In this field, errors are inevitable.
Your comparison to the NY Times is sort of laughable. What do they have, thousands of staff members? How many do we have in our NY office? 12? JTA is a community supported news organ. We’re not the NY Times and we don’t have an army of fact checkers. We have our reporters, and they do a damn good job considering what they’ve got to work with.
Furthermore, for a person who argues that there is no such thing as a politically homogenous Jewish community, you sure paint JTA’s readers with broad strokes. JTA’s readership is exceptionally diverse in its politics, as one can expect from an equally diverse Jewish community.
Finally, what do you know of Hamas, Mr. Silverstein? How many Hamas villages have you been in? How many Hamas representatives offices? How many of their homes? Did you even set foot in the West Bank during your stint at Hebrew U?
For a media so filled with bias everywhere you look, it’s astounding that you would presume the accuracy of what you’ve learned about Hamas from the distance at which you sit.
You know ’em so well? Okay, which Hamas is the one that “anyone with any knowledge of Hamas” can describe the universally-held positions of?
Hamas has become a reckless hydra, each head snapping at the other. Take a gander:
I think, Richard, that you are simply far too confident in your own subjective interpretations of the data at your disposal.
Richard Silverstein says
It would be better for you to simply state yr argument than to introduce it with snark like that. But that pretty much mirrors the attitude you’ve had toward me from the get go. But hey, it takes all kinds to make a world.
I’m not sure how much you ever “followed” my blog as this is the first comment you’ve ever published here and as far as I know you’ve mentioned my blog twice in Jewschool posts in the past 5 years, one time because I called yr attention to one of my posts and the other time you rather dismissively attacked another post. I’m glad you had the derech eretz to apologize some time later for the latter attack. But I assure you that I followed Jewschool and commented there far more assiduously than you did here even hoping at one time (many moons ago) that we might have a positive, friendly relationship. My blogroll included Jewschool for quite a long time until I realized you didn’t hold this blog in very high regard. This blog, as far as I recall, never was in Jewschool’s blogroll. This blog also willingly displayed free advertising for Matzat at your request.
Actually, the original JTA report quoted a statement by Mort Klein that HAARETZ said Tutu equated Israel with Hitler. This is diff. than JTA reporting that Klein said Tutu equated Israel with Hitler. Many more people will believe a statement coming from Haaretz than from Mort Klein. The 2nd report said that JTA had not been able to find such a reference in Haaretz, when there WAS an actual Haaretz report which I found & on which Klein based his claim (it’s just that the Haaretz story said nothing at all of what Klein claimed it did).
I think you’re misunderstanding where I’m coming from. I don’t think this is a conspiracy. I think it’s shoddy journalism mixed with having a certain corporate Jewish agenda that doesn’t place any premium on due diligence when it comes to covering partisan topics like the Israeli-Arab conflict & Jewish-Muslim relations. That’s diff. than seeing a conspiracy.
Let me give an example: if David Abitbol quoted you in my blog as claiming that Israel should never return to 67 borders I think I would have a due diligence responsibility to find out whether this is true. My gut would tell me that Abitbol was making it up. But I would not take such a statement from him at face value a) because I don’t trust the source; and b) because I have a hunch you’ve been misquoted. This is similar to what happened regarding Tutu. a) JTA shouldn’t trust Klein as a source on anything unless it’s been vetted; and b) the words Klein/Haaretz put in Tutu’s mouth made no sense given what I know of Tutu. But no alarm bell went off at JTA. Similary, no alarm bell went off when I presume a stringer submitted the Maariv story about Hamas. Why not?
First, you work for JTA so you have a vested interest. Note, I’m not saying yr opinion isn’t valuable, just that it comes with an agenda of its own. Second, I’ve written posts about each of the journalistic breaches I note in this post. In each of those instances JTA’s reporters in my estimation did a substandard job. Now you can take Ami Eden’s position which is that everything I say lacks credibility, that I lie, and cannot be taken seriously. Or someone at JTA could actually read the critiques and try to learn something from it. Ami and Ben Harris reacted so defensively to my private e mails & previous posts, I don’t think there’s much likelihood that that will happen. Third, I make clear in my writing about JTA that it does have some good reporters and that it covers almost all other areas of Jewish interest quite well. But the Israeli-Arab coverage is where the problems lie.
That may be so, but I’d feel a whole lot more comfortable with that generalization if you could verify it with a reader survey or objective poll. JTA’s readership reflects the affiliated Jewish community, and even more especially the corporate interests of the Jewish community. As you no doubt know, the leadership of the Jewish community (JTA’s core donor and reader base) is much more conservative than rank and file–and especially unaffiliated–Jews.
My last visit to Israel was in 1998 leading a UJA tour. The UJA doesn’t take tour participants to visit West Bank Palestinians as I think you know. My last year living in Israel before that was 1980. The West Bank was a different place then than it is now. But I did know Palestinians then, though I never visited their homes. If I didn’t have 3 small children for whom I provide childcare and if I had the financial wherewithal I would certainly spend time both in Israel and the Occupied Territories doing precisely the things you believe I haven’t done. But the fact that I can’t or haven’t done them doesn’t invalidate my pt of view in this matter.
There is no such thing as a “Hamas village.” Hamas is a political, not a tribal movement.
Instead of dealing with the fact that the JTA story didn’t bother to provide a journalistic source and the actual Maariv source mistranslated the actual Hamas flyer from which it “quoted” and JTA never published any clarification of the story–all journalistic issues–you choose to try to prove via a non sequitur that I know nothing about Hamas.
Let’s go back to the botched Maariv story: you find me a credible source that can authenticate that Hamas believes that Jews should be eliminated from Palestine. That’s what this all comes down to. Find such a reference. If you can’t then Hamas has been mischaracterized. And I think you know that there is often much to be desired in the standards of Maariv and Yediot, and I’ve written posts about specific stories in that vein. This story is a perfect example of that.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that I’m an apologist, supporter or friend of Hamas. I’m not. I just believe that if you’re going to know your opponent and quote your opponent you ought to know what they really say and believe, and not what some poor Israeli shlepper journalist claims they believe.
Regarding being misrepresented by the NY Times, a big part of the problem was you were covered by the Style section which is the most bizarre section of that paper focussing on supposed fashion and social trends in the most prurient fashion. Too bad the story wasn’t written by a news or tech reporter. A tech reporter interviewed me for his story on cyberbullying and got the interview right when he published.
But I do think it’s a bit much to compare yr bad experience with the Times over a post about kefiyehs with JTA allowing the world to believe for a time that Desmond Tutu equates Israel with Hitler. I sympathize with yr outrage that yr views were twisted, but what JTA allowed to happen to Tutu was far worse & more than deserved an apology.
Dr. Dave says
Richard – Please do your readers a favor and YOU do some research on what Hamas really stands for and what they have said and then get back to us. Your telling others to come back with evidence when you disagree with their opinions is getting old. You can be just as snarky and obnoxious as the commenter you to take to task and it makes you a less credible source. I continue to read your blog because I think the issues it covers are important and interesting. I hope you are up to the task of chewing what you have bitten off.
Richard Silverstein says
Dr. Dave: I appreciate yr positive words & am glad that people who disagree with me nonetheless feel this blog is something they should pay attention to.
As for Hamas: just do a keyword search here on “Hamas” & you’ll find many posts I’ve written about Hamas & its views about Israel. There are quotes galore, interviews with Hamas figures galore. Also, find the post I wrote about the botched JTA story about Hamas’ alleged support for eliminating Jews from Palestine. Hamas doesn’t believe this & Maariv’s mistranslation only confirms this. My job isn’t to prove that Hamas are good guys. If you think Hamas are exterminationists as the Maariv & JTA stories claimed then you have to provide proof of the claim.