Commentary Magazine


Posts For: June 12, 2011

Re: Annals of Agenda Journalism

I agree with Rick’s evaluation of public editor Arthur Brisbane’s lame defense of the way the New York Times downplayed its coverage of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to a joint meeting of Congress. Rather than a stiff critic of the paper, Brisbane is yet another company apologist. Daniel Okrent, the first person to hold the job that in other organizations is called an ombudsman, took his responsibility to speak up for the readers and for the ethics of journalism seriously. All of his successors have avoided challenging the paper and its editors the way he did. So it is little surprise that Brisbane would choose not to take issue with such an obvious mistake.

But the problem with Brisbane’s column was bigger than his decision to defend burying the coverage of Netanyahu’s speech. As bad as that was, it was nothing compared to the most egregious example of Times bias about Israel that week. The worst such piece was Jerusalem Bureau chief Ethan Bronner’s atrocious analysis of the Israeli reaction to Netanyahu’s triumphant trip to the United States. Though Netanyahu’s popularity ratings soared after the trip, during which he successfully evaded Obama’s ambush on the issue of Israel’s borders, Bronner claimed it was a failure. His sole evidence for this startling conclusion came from recycled quotes from left-wing Israeli columnists. For a proper evisceration of Bronner’s atrocity, read this admirable post by COMMENTARY’s Evelyn Gordon.

Agenda journalism at the Times is more than a matter of mere article placement. As the Bronner piece on Netanyahu’s trip demonstrated, the paper has long since graduated into agitprop style distortions of the truth.

I agree with Rick’s evaluation of public editor Arthur Brisbane’s lame defense of the way the New York Times downplayed its coverage of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to a joint meeting of Congress. Rather than a stiff critic of the paper, Brisbane is yet another company apologist. Daniel Okrent, the first person to hold the job that in other organizations is called an ombudsman, took his responsibility to speak up for the readers and for the ethics of journalism seriously. All of his successors have avoided challenging the paper and its editors the way he did. So it is little surprise that Brisbane would choose not to take issue with such an obvious mistake.

But the problem with Brisbane’s column was bigger than his decision to defend burying the coverage of Netanyahu’s speech. As bad as that was, it was nothing compared to the most egregious example of Times bias about Israel that week. The worst such piece was Jerusalem Bureau chief Ethan Bronner’s atrocious analysis of the Israeli reaction to Netanyahu’s triumphant trip to the United States. Though Netanyahu’s popularity ratings soared after the trip, during which he successfully evaded Obama’s ambush on the issue of Israel’s borders, Bronner claimed it was a failure. His sole evidence for this startling conclusion came from recycled quotes from left-wing Israeli columnists. For a proper evisceration of Bronner’s atrocity, read this admirable post by COMMENTARY’s Evelyn Gordon.

Agenda journalism at the Times is more than a matter of mere article placement. As the Bronner piece on Netanyahu’s trip demonstrated, the paper has long since graduated into agitprop style distortions of the truth.

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Annals of Agenda Journalism

Assume you’re the editor of a newspaper formerly known as the paper of record. You have two big stories to cover: (1) a Middle East head of state addresses a joint session of Congress, capping a week in which he received a better reception than the President in his State of the Union address; and (2) a Republican candidate has a large account at Tiffany’s for his wife. Which do you put on page one, and which on page 6?

Arthur Brisbane, the public editor of the New York Times, addressed that issue today, sort of, in his Times column. He reported that reader Alice Alekman was surprised not to find the first story on Page 1 and to find there instead a story on Newt Gingrich’s $500,000 tab with Tiffany’s. Brisbane quotes the response of the Foreign Editor of the Times, Susan Chira:

Ms. Chira defended the decision on the Netanyahu coverage, saying: “In our mind, this was not news. He didn’t say anything he hadn’t said before.”

Brisbane writes that Ms. Chira’s response was “reasonable.”

The Page 1 article on Gingrich ran 928 words and noted it had been a week since Politico had broken the news. Here was the Times’ contribution to front-page news – “the glittering strand of diamonds that Mrs. Gingrich wore last month to the Washington premiere of the couple’s latest documentary movie looks strikingly like one that Tiffany advertises for $45,000.” The article featured a picture of Mrs. Gingrich wearing the jewelry.

The article on Prime Minister Netanyahu’s address to Congress ran on page A-6 with 956 words – fairly extensive coverage for something that “was not news.” Fortunately, the Times had sufficient staff to report it without mobilizing its readers in its latest quest to cover “news” with the “courage of our own convictions.”

Assume you’re the editor of a newspaper formerly known as the paper of record. You have two big stories to cover: (1) a Middle East head of state addresses a joint session of Congress, capping a week in which he received a better reception than the President in his State of the Union address; and (2) a Republican candidate has a large account at Tiffany’s for his wife. Which do you put on page one, and which on page 6?

Arthur Brisbane, the public editor of the New York Times, addressed that issue today, sort of, in his Times column. He reported that reader Alice Alekman was surprised not to find the first story on Page 1 and to find there instead a story on Newt Gingrich’s $500,000 tab with Tiffany’s. Brisbane quotes the response of the Foreign Editor of the Times, Susan Chira:

Ms. Chira defended the decision on the Netanyahu coverage, saying: “In our mind, this was not news. He didn’t say anything he hadn’t said before.”

Brisbane writes that Ms. Chira’s response was “reasonable.”

The Page 1 article on Gingrich ran 928 words and noted it had been a week since Politico had broken the news. Here was the Times’ contribution to front-page news – “the glittering strand of diamonds that Mrs. Gingrich wore last month to the Washington premiere of the couple’s latest documentary movie looks strikingly like one that Tiffany advertises for $45,000.” The article featured a picture of Mrs. Gingrich wearing the jewelry.

The article on Prime Minister Netanyahu’s address to Congress ran on page A-6 with 956 words – fairly extensive coverage for something that “was not news.” Fortunately, the Times had sufficient staff to report it without mobilizing its readers in its latest quest to cover “news” with the “courage of our own convictions.”

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The Progressive Monster

If you want to read a beautiful piece of historical synthesis, go right to Walter Russell Mead’s latest column at The American Interest.

He shows, in an elegant essay, how the Progressive movement that started out to address real needs of the country’s less advantaged citizens, and at first did much good, slowly morphed into a monster that is devouring the country’s fiscal resources. It is now harming the interests of the less advantaged, not helping them, all to advance the interests of a new elite.

If you want an example of that, you need look no further than the once-heroic NAACP, which has allied itself with the teachers unions in New York City against black parents desperate to get their kids out of failing public schools.

Killing the monster will not be easy, but understanding the monster’s origins is the necessary first step to doing so. Mead’s essay makes acquiring that understanding a pleasure.

If you want to read a beautiful piece of historical synthesis, go right to Walter Russell Mead’s latest column at The American Interest.

He shows, in an elegant essay, how the Progressive movement that started out to address real needs of the country’s less advantaged citizens, and at first did much good, slowly morphed into a monster that is devouring the country’s fiscal resources. It is now harming the interests of the less advantaged, not helping them, all to advance the interests of a new elite.

If you want an example of that, you need look no further than the once-heroic NAACP, which has allied itself with the teachers unions in New York City against black parents desperate to get their kids out of failing public schools.

Killing the monster will not be easy, but understanding the monster’s origins is the necessary first step to doing so. Mead’s essay makes acquiring that understanding a pleasure.

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Obama’s Not Done Hammering Israel on 1967 Lines

While President Obama’s apologists have been busy trying to spin his ambush of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last month as not a sign of his hostility to the Jewish state, the administration spent the past week attempting to hammer Israel into submission on the question of the 1967 lines. As Eli Lake reported in the Washington Times on Friday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton renewed the demand that was the highlight of Obama’s May 26 Middle East policy speech: that Israel accept the 1967 lines as the starting point for future Middle East peace negotiations.

While the administration is trying to sell this pressure to Jewish supporters as being part of a master plan whose aim is to head off a vote in the United Nations on Palestinian statehood, it is a mistake to view it as anything other than a renewed attack on Netanyahu. Once again, the administration is misjudging both the Palestinians and the diplomatic situation.

What is most astonishing about this strategy is that it should have already been made clear to both Obama and Clinton that any time they call for a unilateral Israel concession in the hope that it will entice the Palestinians to return to peace talks, their move has the opposite effect. Obama’s calls for settlement freezes in the West Bank and Jerusalem only caused the Palestinians to adopt these Americans demands as preconditions for talks. The same is now true of the  president’s ill-advised emphasis on the 1967 lines. Since the Palestinian Authority knows that it cannot sign a peace accord recognizing the legitimacy of Israel no matter where its borders may be drawn, they will seize upon any excuse not to talk and Obama has supplied them with just what they wanted. Read More

While President Obama’s apologists have been busy trying to spin his ambush of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last month as not a sign of his hostility to the Jewish state, the administration spent the past week attempting to hammer Israel into submission on the question of the 1967 lines. As Eli Lake reported in the Washington Times on Friday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton renewed the demand that was the highlight of Obama’s May 26 Middle East policy speech: that Israel accept the 1967 lines as the starting point for future Middle East peace negotiations.

While the administration is trying to sell this pressure to Jewish supporters as being part of a master plan whose aim is to head off a vote in the United Nations on Palestinian statehood, it is a mistake to view it as anything other than a renewed attack on Netanyahu. Once again, the administration is misjudging both the Palestinians and the diplomatic situation.

What is most astonishing about this strategy is that it should have already been made clear to both Obama and Clinton that any time they call for a unilateral Israel concession in the hope that it will entice the Palestinians to return to peace talks, their move has the opposite effect. Obama’s calls for settlement freezes in the West Bank and Jerusalem only caused the Palestinians to adopt these Americans demands as preconditions for talks. The same is now true of the  president’s ill-advised emphasis on the 1967 lines. Since the Palestinian Authority knows that it cannot sign a peace accord recognizing the legitimacy of Israel no matter where its borders may be drawn, they will seize upon any excuse not to talk and Obama has supplied them with just what they wanted.

Moreover the reported desperation of the Americans to avoid casting a veto in the United Nations of the Palestinian attempt to gain a state without recognizing Israel and ending the conflict is also misplaced. The Palestinians know their gambit has no chance and will die as soon as the Security Council takes it up. Appeasing them in this manner will not deter them from trying but it will damage Israel’s position. An Israeli concession on borders prior to talks even beginning will deprive them of their one bargaining chip. But since the president refused to demand that the Palestinians give up their call for a right of return for the descendants of refugees, they would still have it in their pocket in the unlikely event of negotiations re-starting.

The administration can’t have it both ways. It can’t claim that it is supportive of Israel while at the same time hammering it to give in on borders. The notion that Obama must pressure Israel for its own good is an argument that might fly with Israel-bashers or the leftists of J Street. But it is not one that ought to make any sense to mainstream Jewish groups as well as to the Congress that gave Netanyahu dozens of standing ovations last month.

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Bachmann Panders to Conservative Intellectuals

All politicians seek to ingratiate themselves with key constituencies but how many are willing to pander to conservative intellectuals? The answer this weekend is at least one. Michelle Bachmann was the subject of the weekend interview in the Wall Street Journal yesterday and the Tea Party heroine and her shout out to conservative economic icons put her devotion to the movement’s principles front and center. Stephen Moore asked Bachmann what she reads about economics:

She responds that she admires the late Milton Friedman as well as Thomas Sowell and Walter Williams. “I’m also an Art Laffer fiend—we’re very close,” she adds. “And [Ludwig] von Mises. I love von Mises,” getting excited and rattling off some of his classics like “Human Action” and “Bureaucracy.” “When I go on vacation and I lay on the beach, I bring von Mises.”

Though some in the chattering classes often dismiss her as something of a crackpot or a Sarah Palin knock off, there has been an interesting streak of intellectualism to Bachmann’s politics. If you add the image of Bachmann lying on the beach reading von Mises to her story of being converted to conservatism by outrage at a Gore Vidal novel it adds up to a unusual self-portrait for a populist politician. Those looking for differences between Bachmann and Sarah Palin can certainly point to their respective reading lists.

The profile also highlights Bachmann’s likes and dislikes when it comes to politicians. Though many see Sarah Palin as her rival, she has nothing bad to say about her potential competition for the votes of conservative activists. But there are no kind words for Tim Pawlenty. Bachmann clashed with Pawlenty while she was in the Minnesota state senate and he was governor and though he is currently positioning himself as a Reagan conservative in the presidential race, Bachman seems to see him as a RINO. When asked whether Pawlenty was a good governor, her reply is “I really don’t want to comment.” This sets up the Iowa caucuses, which will be crucial for the campaigns of both Bachmann and Pawlenty as something of a grudge match between those two old antagonists. Read More

All politicians seek to ingratiate themselves with key constituencies but how many are willing to pander to conservative intellectuals? The answer this weekend is at least one. Michelle Bachmann was the subject of the weekend interview in the Wall Street Journal yesterday and the Tea Party heroine and her shout out to conservative economic icons put her devotion to the movement’s principles front and center. Stephen Moore asked Bachmann what she reads about economics:

She responds that she admires the late Milton Friedman as well as Thomas Sowell and Walter Williams. “I’m also an Art Laffer fiend—we’re very close,” she adds. “And [Ludwig] von Mises. I love von Mises,” getting excited and rattling off some of his classics like “Human Action” and “Bureaucracy.” “When I go on vacation and I lay on the beach, I bring von Mises.”

Though some in the chattering classes often dismiss her as something of a crackpot or a Sarah Palin knock off, there has been an interesting streak of intellectualism to Bachmann’s politics. If you add the image of Bachmann lying on the beach reading von Mises to her story of being converted to conservatism by outrage at a Gore Vidal novel it adds up to a unusual self-portrait for a populist politician. Those looking for differences between Bachmann and Sarah Palin can certainly point to their respective reading lists.

The profile also highlights Bachmann’s likes and dislikes when it comes to politicians. Though many see Sarah Palin as her rival, she has nothing bad to say about her potential competition for the votes of conservative activists. But there are no kind words for Tim Pawlenty. Bachmann clashed with Pawlenty while she was in the Minnesota state senate and he was governor and though he is currently positioning himself as a Reagan conservative in the presidential race, Bachman seems to see him as a RINO. When asked whether Pawlenty was a good governor, her reply is “I really don’t want to comment.” This sets up the Iowa caucuses, which will be crucial for the campaigns of both Bachmann and Pawlenty as something of a grudge match between those two old antagonists.

But along with her high-toned economic reading matter, the piece also highlights Bachmann’s lamentable isolationist tendencies. She was one 86 House Republicans to vote for the resolution this past week calling for a halt to U.S. military action in Libya. She opposes the effort to oust the Qaddafi regime and takes a hard-line view of the 1973 War Powers Act that even Ronald Reagan opposed. But though she seems allergic to humanitarian interventions, Bachmann is no foreign policy “realist” since she is a strong supporter of Israel.

Bachmann is clearly a bit more complex than the Palin parody her critics have portrayed her as being. As both Pawlenty and the House Republican leadership can attest, she is no team player. And it is far from clear that any GOP candidate can win by running to the right of Paul Ryan when it comes to slashing entitlements as Bachmann does. But those who underestimate Bachmann are making a mistake. Though some may laugh at the notion of her lying on the beach reading van Mises, if Bachmann is able to harness the Tea Party as well as evangelicals in Iowa, she has the potential to turn the Republican presidential contest upside down.

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Fed Up With Scotch Boycotts of Israel? Boycott Their Whiskey.

In the last few weeks, the Scottish municipalities of Dunbar and West Dunbartonshire were in the news because of their official boycotts of Israel. In a gesture of support for the Palestinians, Dunbar has sought to boycott all products made in Israel while West Dunbartonshire has banned books by Israeli authors from being acquired by their public libraries. But some pro-Israel activists are not taking this lying down. They say two can play at this game and are now promoting a counter-boycott of the most famous product of the region where Israeli books may no longer be read: Scotch whiskey.

The Jerusalem Post reports today that the Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs (FJMC) has called for Jews to boycott whiskeys produced in the West Dunbartonshire region. The FJMC is an umbrella group for men’s clubs affiliated with the Conservative movement of Judaism has brought to its members attention that three well known producers of spirits, Morrison Bowmore, Loch Lamond and Chivas Brothers are products of that region of Scotland. Chivas, which also produces the Glenlivet and Ballantine brands, is a popular staple of Sabbath “Kiddush clubs” which follow services at some synagogues.

While there are some in the Jewish community that might view less alcohol consumption in synagogues as a good thing, the Scottish boycotts of Israel are no joking matter. They are part of an international push to treat Israel as a pariah state via boycotts, divestment and isolation. Since supporters of this movement treat the one Jewish state in the world differently from the way they view other countries, including those with real as opposed to trumped up human rights violations on their records, it is impossible to view these boycotts as anything other than anti-Semitic.

According to the Post, at least one of the whiskey manufacturers is attempting to distance themselves from the West Dunbartonshire Israel-bashers. A spokesperson for the Morrison Bowmore Distillery made it clear that they had no role in the municipality’s decision to boycott Israel and that they would be forwarding all protests they receive over the matter to the council to “ensure it is made fully aware of the potential implications of its policy.”

Though it is far from clear that there are enough Jewish or other pro-Israel imbibers willing to give up their favorite drink to make the Scots listen, the principle here is a sound one. Some Scots may think Israel has no right to defend itself against Palestinian terror, but there is no reason why anyone who cares about the Jewish state should not send a counter-message to the boycotters that regions that promote anti-Semitic measures will be given the same treatment.

In the last few weeks, the Scottish municipalities of Dunbar and West Dunbartonshire were in the news because of their official boycotts of Israel. In a gesture of support for the Palestinians, Dunbar has sought to boycott all products made in Israel while West Dunbartonshire has banned books by Israeli authors from being acquired by their public libraries. But some pro-Israel activists are not taking this lying down. They say two can play at this game and are now promoting a counter-boycott of the most famous product of the region where Israeli books may no longer be read: Scotch whiskey.

The Jerusalem Post reports today that the Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs (FJMC) has called for Jews to boycott whiskeys produced in the West Dunbartonshire region. The FJMC is an umbrella group for men’s clubs affiliated with the Conservative movement of Judaism has brought to its members attention that three well known producers of spirits, Morrison Bowmore, Loch Lamond and Chivas Brothers are products of that region of Scotland. Chivas, which also produces the Glenlivet and Ballantine brands, is a popular staple of Sabbath “Kiddush clubs” which follow services at some synagogues.

While there are some in the Jewish community that might view less alcohol consumption in synagogues as a good thing, the Scottish boycotts of Israel are no joking matter. They are part of an international push to treat Israel as a pariah state via boycotts, divestment and isolation. Since supporters of this movement treat the one Jewish state in the world differently from the way they view other countries, including those with real as opposed to trumped up human rights violations on their records, it is impossible to view these boycotts as anything other than anti-Semitic.

According to the Post, at least one of the whiskey manufacturers is attempting to distance themselves from the West Dunbartonshire Israel-bashers. A spokesperson for the Morrison Bowmore Distillery made it clear that they had no role in the municipality’s decision to boycott Israel and that they would be forwarding all protests they receive over the matter to the council to “ensure it is made fully aware of the potential implications of its policy.”

Though it is far from clear that there are enough Jewish or other pro-Israel imbibers willing to give up their favorite drink to make the Scots listen, the principle here is a sound one. Some Scots may think Israel has no right to defend itself against Palestinian terror, but there is no reason why anyone who cares about the Jewish state should not send a counter-message to the boycotters that regions that promote anti-Semitic measures will be given the same treatment.

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Will Celebrity Rehab Move Allow Democrats to Go Back to Slurring Ryan?

The Anthony Weiner scandal gained new momentum over the weekend as the news of his contact with a 17-year-old girl caused House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz to finally call for the congressman’s immediate resignation. While Weiner didn’t budge from his refusal to quit, his office did announce that he would be taking time off from work to “seek professional help.” Pelosi and the White House (for whom the DNC chair was acting as surrogate) have to hope that Weiner’s celebrity rehab stint will somehow put a cork in this story. But as long as there is a danger that Weiner will return from his sessions on the couch hoping to hold onto his seat, the story won’t die.

That’s a problem for the Democrats who seem to have finally understood that the only way to deal with such problems is the method House Speaker John Boehner employed the last time a member of Congress was sending racy pictures of himself to members of the public. After Republican Chris Lee was outed as a philandering fool the Republican leadership didn’t wait for things to get worse before they took action. They cornered Lee and told him to not let the door hit him on the way out of Congress. Boehner understood the ironclad law of Washington scandals was that the only way to deal with them is to end them immediately. Fortunately for the GOP, Lee obeyed and resigned that day.

So when all is said and done about the Weiner scandal perhaps the only substantial conclusion to be drawn from it is about which party has the more effective Congressional leadership. While the analogy is far from exact since Weiner was a much bigger deal in Washington than the obscure Lee, the assumption by the Democratic leaders that this would blow over quickly without them having to take action was a critical mistake. It derailed what had been a wonderful couple of weeks for them in the wake of their victory in the special election to replace Lee.

Democrats are probably thinking that if not for Weiner, they could have gotten up this Sunday and spent the day ranting on the talk shows about the mean GOP’s plans to reform Medicare. Demagoguery about Paul Ryan’s budget plan helped win them Lee’s old seat in Western New York on May 24 but nobody has talked much about that since Weiner’s fateful tweet. But instead of just blaming the odious Weiner, perhaps the Democratic leadership needs to look in the mirror. Had they been as tough and as decisive as John Boehner was with Chris Lee, then the story of the last two weeks might have been different. After two weeks of watching the Democrats dither about Weiner, their slurs about Paul Ryan and the GOP just don’t have as much bite.

The Anthony Weiner scandal gained new momentum over the weekend as the news of his contact with a 17-year-old girl caused House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz to finally call for the congressman’s immediate resignation. While Weiner didn’t budge from his refusal to quit, his office did announce that he would be taking time off from work to “seek professional help.” Pelosi and the White House (for whom the DNC chair was acting as surrogate) have to hope that Weiner’s celebrity rehab stint will somehow put a cork in this story. But as long as there is a danger that Weiner will return from his sessions on the couch hoping to hold onto his seat, the story won’t die.

That’s a problem for the Democrats who seem to have finally understood that the only way to deal with such problems is the method House Speaker John Boehner employed the last time a member of Congress was sending racy pictures of himself to members of the public. After Republican Chris Lee was outed as a philandering fool the Republican leadership didn’t wait for things to get worse before they took action. They cornered Lee and told him to not let the door hit him on the way out of Congress. Boehner understood the ironclad law of Washington scandals was that the only way to deal with them is to end them immediately. Fortunately for the GOP, Lee obeyed and resigned that day.

So when all is said and done about the Weiner scandal perhaps the only substantial conclusion to be drawn from it is about which party has the more effective Congressional leadership. While the analogy is far from exact since Weiner was a much bigger deal in Washington than the obscure Lee, the assumption by the Democratic leaders that this would blow over quickly without them having to take action was a critical mistake. It derailed what had been a wonderful couple of weeks for them in the wake of their victory in the special election to replace Lee.

Democrats are probably thinking that if not for Weiner, they could have gotten up this Sunday and spent the day ranting on the talk shows about the mean GOP’s plans to reform Medicare. Demagoguery about Paul Ryan’s budget plan helped win them Lee’s old seat in Western New York on May 24 but nobody has talked much about that since Weiner’s fateful tweet. But instead of just blaming the odious Weiner, perhaps the Democratic leadership needs to look in the mirror. Had they been as tough and as decisive as John Boehner was with Chris Lee, then the story of the last two weeks might have been different. After two weeks of watching the Democrats dither about Weiner, their slurs about Paul Ryan and the GOP just don’t have as much bite.

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