Ari Morgenstern, John Hagee‘s PR flack for the Jewish community, has now weighed in on the controversy surrounding Zeek’s suspension of coverage of Christian Zionism and Pastor Hagee. For the background: Rachel Tabachnick contributed regularly to Zeek and that was her beat. In April, Morgenstern approached editor Jo Ellen Kaiser complaining about Tabachnick’s coverage. Zeek did extensive fact-checking and found she had not misrepresented anything Hagee had said or written and there were no errors in her reporting. On the strength of this, Zeek told Morgenstern to take a hike.
Then Morgenstern went higher up the food chain to Sam Norich, the Forward’s editor. Here is how the former characterizes that interaction:
Christians United for Israel (CUFI) contacted the editors of Zeek to request that they seek comment from our organization if the publication was to run further stories concerning Pastor John Hagee, CUFI, or Christian Zionists.This request is in accordance with the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics, specifically the second statement in the first section of the code which states “Journalists should:” “Diligently seek out subjects of news stories to give them the opportunity to respond to allegations of wrongdoing.”
Initially Zeek’s editor did not agree to this request; that decision prompted CUFI to contact the Forward’s publisher due to the two organizations’ co-marketing agreement. Zeek has now agreed to our request, therefore CUFI considers this matter closed.
At no point in time did anyone affiliated with CUFI threaten Zeek or the Forward with legal action.
So according to Morgenstern, if he can be believed, Sam Norich interceded with Jo Ellen Kaiser to allow CUFI to respond to anything Zeek intended to publish about Hagee, CUFI or Christian Zionism. And Zeek agreed. Again, if this is true it is extraordinary. In fact, I’ve never heard of any serious publication agreeing to allow a specific organization to comment whenever it planned to publish anything about that organization, its leader or the general movement of which the organization is a part.
That might explain why Kaiser suspended publication of any articles on this subject because every single one would have a reply appended from Hagee and his henchmen. It just wouldn’t look good.
Now to Sam Norich’s characterization of his own role in this:
I cannot speak for Zeek…We host that publication on our web site, TheJewishDailyForward.com [ed. actually someone should tell him that the Forward’s website is actually Forward.com]. That brings the editorial offerings of each publication to the attention of the other’s online readership, but they have no say about our editorial judgments and we have no say about theirs.
In other words, we have a he said-he said situation here in which Norich claims he had no involvement in any editorial decision Zeek made about this matter. I’ve written to Norich and asked him if he’d like to clarify or respond to Morgenstern’s claim. But given that Rachel Tabachnick has been removed from the Chrisitian Zionism beat at Zeek, it would appear that Morgenstern’s version is more credible than Norich’s.
What I cannot understand is why Sam Norich would think it was a good idea for Zeek to go easier in its coverage on John Hagee . Maybe the reason he wouldn’t talk to me about this was that it would be hard for him to explain it too.
We ought to return to Morgenstern’s comment for a little analysis. First, his little quotation from the Society of Professional Journalist’s code of ethics is a total non sequitur since Zeek was not accusing Hagee of “wrongdoing” in the sense that the code intended. It wasn’t accusing him of a criminal act or lawbreaking or even immorality. It was attacking his views and his statements. So there is absolutely no reason for Zeek to have agreed to this nor any reason Norich should’ve pressured Zeek to do so.
The fact that Zeek and The Forward did so indicates a callow sense of journalistic standards. Instead of standing by their newspapers, their product and their authors, they retreated and did the bully’s bidding. I feel ashamed really of both since they both, at their best, represent good journalism and humane values.
There is one portion of Morgenstern’s statement which is either a lie or a gross misrepresentation of fact. I know for a fact that after a conversation with Sam Norich, who’d just spoken with Morgenstern, that Kaiser wrote to others that she fully expected Hagee to sue. I know for a fact that she hired an attorney to represent Zeek in the event of such a suit. If I have to, I will bring forward the proof that Morgenstern is grossly dissembling.
Jo Ellen Kaiser too has weighed in with a comment on this affair. She seems to be engaging in a bit of revisionism regarding decisions she made about Zeek’s editorial approach to Christian Zionism and Israel:
Zeek has not ceased coverage of Israeli politics or even of Christian Zionists. I decided to put our coverage of Christian Zionism on hiatus for three months while we determine our editorial direction. I communicated this to all our writers. We will continue to publish articles about Israeli politics in the next three months, and I believe it is likely that we will resume some coverage of Christian Zionist activity in Israel–I just wanted to take a breather to reassess our editorial position. Zeek is a catalyst for conversations about the Jewish tomorrow. Our role is to engage Jews around questions of Jewish identity. How American Jews relate to Israel, and specifically the Israel-Palestine situation, is critical to our understanding of Jewish identity…
I know for a fact that besides Rachel Tabachnick, whose writing has been suspended, other writers who covered Israel changed their status. One resigned and one was told not to write about Israeli politics. So if Kaiser does intend to publish on Israel in the next three months either she’s going to find a new writer to do so or she’s changed her mind.
Further, she has specifically said that she intends for the Diaspora to be the central focus of Zeek and that coverage of Israel (and for some reason she sees Hagee as associated with Israel) is “tangential” (her word) to the magazine’s mission. So once again this seems to be revisionism. Either she’s changed her mind and Israel is no longer tangential or she’s not being fully honest with herself.
My final word on this affair to Sam Norich and Jo Ellen Kaiser is that if you lie down with dogs you’ll get up with fleas. Both of them played the game by Hagee’s rules and it makes them look all the smaller for it.