Commentary Magazine


Posts For: March 30, 2014

A Murderer’s Life and the Chances of Peace

The New York Times did a valuable public service today by profiling the life of Muqdad Salah. But the story, which demonstrated how unlikely peace between Israelis and the Palestinians is, wasn’t intended as an indictment of Palestinian society. Salah, 47, is, as the Times reported, doing his best to make up for lost time. You see, he lost 20 years of his life to a prison sentence in an Israeli jail from which he was liberated last year. To help ease his transition back to society, the resident of Burqa in the West Bank got a generous settlement from the Palestinian Authority, an honorary rank of brigadier general in the PA military, and praise from his neighbors and fellow Palestinians. In the seven months since he got out, he has married a much younger woman, remodeled a family home, and bought a business. He’s now the picture of a successful Palestinian, but he’s got a couple of problems. One is that the no-show salary of $1,800 a month he’s collecting from the PA (which gave him $100,000 at his release) isn’t enough to live the life of ease he craves. The other is that his travel is restricted. And oh, yes: some Israelis are really mad about the fact that a terrorist with blood on his hands like Salah is walking around free and enjoying life.

Although his profile would seem to be similar to the stories of those Americans who were wrongly convicted of murder but who are then released many years later because the courts have discovered that they are actually innocent, Salah wasn’t sprung from jail because of new DNA evidence or a witness who has recanted their testimony. There’s no doubt that it was he who took an iron bar and struck a 72-year-old Holocaust survivor over the head and murdered him in cold blood in 1993. The only change in the story is that while Salah claimed at his trial that he killed Israel Tenenbaum while he was sleeping, now he boasts that he had a grudge against the aged hotel security guard and killed him while he was awake.

Times Jerusalem bureau chief Jodi Rudoren does a good job of amassing a lot of interesting detail about Salah’s life after prison and the way he and the dozens of other Palestinian terrorists who were released last year as part of the price Israel paid to get PA leader Mahmoud Abbas to return to peace negotiations. But she gives away the game when she attempts to strike a note of Olympian objectivity about the story when she notes that they have been “demonized as terrorists by Israelis and lionized as freedom fighters by Palestinians” but are just ordinary guys looking to “build apartments or start businesses, searching for wives and struggling to start families.” The problem here is not that these ordinary people are caught in the middle of a national struggle in which both sides distort the meaning of their actions. To the contrary, that most Palestinians consider a guy who brutally killed an elderly Jew is a hero worthy of a public subsidy (actually paid for by the PA’s foreign donors) tells us all we need to know about the chances for peace.

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The New York Times did a valuable public service today by profiling the life of Muqdad Salah. But the story, which demonstrated how unlikely peace between Israelis and the Palestinians is, wasn’t intended as an indictment of Palestinian society. Salah, 47, is, as the Times reported, doing his best to make up for lost time. You see, he lost 20 years of his life to a prison sentence in an Israeli jail from which he was liberated last year. To help ease his transition back to society, the resident of Burqa in the West Bank got a generous settlement from the Palestinian Authority, an honorary rank of brigadier general in the PA military, and praise from his neighbors and fellow Palestinians. In the seven months since he got out, he has married a much younger woman, remodeled a family home, and bought a business. He’s now the picture of a successful Palestinian, but he’s got a couple of problems. One is that the no-show salary of $1,800 a month he’s collecting from the PA (which gave him $100,000 at his release) isn’t enough to live the life of ease he craves. The other is that his travel is restricted. And oh, yes: some Israelis are really mad about the fact that a terrorist with blood on his hands like Salah is walking around free and enjoying life.

Although his profile would seem to be similar to the stories of those Americans who were wrongly convicted of murder but who are then released many years later because the courts have discovered that they are actually innocent, Salah wasn’t sprung from jail because of new DNA evidence or a witness who has recanted their testimony. There’s no doubt that it was he who took an iron bar and struck a 72-year-old Holocaust survivor over the head and murdered him in cold blood in 1993. The only change in the story is that while Salah claimed at his trial that he killed Israel Tenenbaum while he was sleeping, now he boasts that he had a grudge against the aged hotel security guard and killed him while he was awake.

Times Jerusalem bureau chief Jodi Rudoren does a good job of amassing a lot of interesting detail about Salah’s life after prison and the way he and the dozens of other Palestinian terrorists who were released last year as part of the price Israel paid to get PA leader Mahmoud Abbas to return to peace negotiations. But she gives away the game when she attempts to strike a note of Olympian objectivity about the story when she notes that they have been “demonized as terrorists by Israelis and lionized as freedom fighters by Palestinians” but are just ordinary guys looking to “build apartments or start businesses, searching for wives and struggling to start families.” The problem here is not that these ordinary people are caught in the middle of a national struggle in which both sides distort the meaning of their actions. To the contrary, that most Palestinians consider a guy who brutally killed an elderly Jew is a hero worthy of a public subsidy (actually paid for by the PA’s foreign donors) tells us all we need to know about the chances for peace.

The story of the re-entry of Salah and his fellow killers into Palestinian society is one that is ripe for the usual sociological examination of the problems of ex-prisoners. Though they are showered with love, their lives are not a bed of roses. As one concerned Palestinian bureaucrat notes to Rudoren:

“We receive them as national heroes, we give them awards and medals, and then we leave them to face their problems alone,” said Munqeth Abu Atwan, who works at the ministry. “Can you tell a hero that you need a psychiatrist, you need to participate in a rehabilitation program?”

Alas, not. Pity poor Salah and his colleagues who are trapped in a Garry Cooper-style silence about their problems and can’t unwind to a therapist because of their stature as heroes.

The problem here isn’t so much the manner with which Rudoren reports the extraordinary spectacle of a government that is praised by the United States as a good partner for peace for Israel treating Salah as a hero. She interviews the family of his victim who still mourn the man who was born in Poland and evaded death at the hands of the Nazis only to be felled by an Arab who thought it was an appropriate protest to slaughter him. Tenenbaum’s daughter even says that she wouldn’t mind her father’s murderer going free—a stance that is rare among families of Israeli victims of terror and probably the reason why Rudoren chose Salah as her subject rather than some other killer—if it would lead to peace.

But the fallacy at the core of such thinking—which is the basis of the U.S. pressure on Israel to release even more such killers—is that the very fact that Palestinians treat men with Jewish blood on their hands as heroes illustrates that theirs is a culture which is not ready for peace with Israel. Only when such people are regarded as relics of an age of unreason rather than lionized by Palestinians will it be possible to imagine that they are prepared to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn and live in peace beside it. Until then, gestures such as Salah’s release only make it likely that Palestinian society will produce and honor more such killers, making peace a distant dream.

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Media Bias and the Real Opportunists

Politico’s savvy and generally reliable media news columnist Dylan Byers wrote about Sharyl Attkisson’s forced departure from CBS news. In a piece published shortly after Attkisson expressed worries about her computer being tapped—at a time when we learned about government spying on Fox News’s James Rosen and several other journalists at the Associated Press—Byers broke the story about the antipathy for the investigative reporter’s work uncovering information about Obama administration scandals on the part of most of the CBS staff. It was clear, Byers wrote, that many of her colleagues thought that her fearless reporting was out of line. The majority of those working in the mainstream press think that giving Barack Obama the same aggressive scrutiny that had been directed at George W. Bush is unacceptable or even partisan. Thus, Attkisson’s departure earlier this month came as little surprise to Byers or anyone else.

But now that Attkisson is writing a book about her experiences and thinking about the next chapter in her career, Byers is taking a cynical tone about her struggles. In a piece published on Friday titled “Media career path: Cry media bias,” Byers seems to be saying that the same person he had previously praised as a “dogged reporter” who had not played political favorites with her coverage is merely doing what is necessary to get a big payoff and perhaps even land a gig at Fox News:

It’s an increasingly well-traveled path: Over the course of the past two decades, a handful of journalists have left mainstream media jobs while decrying what they saw as an inherent bias in their own industry. Among them: Bernie Goldberg, John Stossel, and Doug McKelway — all of whom found a home at Fox News, a cable news channel that markets itself on the premise that the media is unfair and unbalanced.

To those who don’t believe there is bias in the media, such criticisms can seem like a self-promotional stunt. Various national surveys show that a majority of the population doesn’t trust the media. So if you’re going to leave it, why not fashion yourself as a martyr, pick up a loyal following in the process, and prove your bona fides to Fox News chief Roger Ailes in the hope that he’ll offer you a contract?

While Byers finds sources to support and oppose this thesis, it is a preposterous argument. While it is true a few outliers have gone public with their complaints about the monolithic political culture of most mainstream broadcast and print outlets and eventually found their way to Fox, what happened to them is the exception that proves the rule. There’s a reason why people like that wind up at Fox. By breaking the code of silence about the supposed objectivity of newsrooms like the one at CBS, they have nowhere else to go.

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Politico’s savvy and generally reliable media news columnist Dylan Byers wrote about Sharyl Attkisson’s forced departure from CBS news. In a piece published shortly after Attkisson expressed worries about her computer being tapped—at a time when we learned about government spying on Fox News’s James Rosen and several other journalists at the Associated Press—Byers broke the story about the antipathy for the investigative reporter’s work uncovering information about Obama administration scandals on the part of most of the CBS staff. It was clear, Byers wrote, that many of her colleagues thought that her fearless reporting was out of line. The majority of those working in the mainstream press think that giving Barack Obama the same aggressive scrutiny that had been directed at George W. Bush is unacceptable or even partisan. Thus, Attkisson’s departure earlier this month came as little surprise to Byers or anyone else.

But now that Attkisson is writing a book about her experiences and thinking about the next chapter in her career, Byers is taking a cynical tone about her struggles. In a piece published on Friday titled “Media career path: Cry media bias,” Byers seems to be saying that the same person he had previously praised as a “dogged reporter” who had not played political favorites with her coverage is merely doing what is necessary to get a big payoff and perhaps even land a gig at Fox News:

It’s an increasingly well-traveled path: Over the course of the past two decades, a handful of journalists have left mainstream media jobs while decrying what they saw as an inherent bias in their own industry. Among them: Bernie Goldberg, John Stossel, and Doug McKelway — all of whom found a home at Fox News, a cable news channel that markets itself on the premise that the media is unfair and unbalanced.

To those who don’t believe there is bias in the media, such criticisms can seem like a self-promotional stunt. Various national surveys show that a majority of the population doesn’t trust the media. So if you’re going to leave it, why not fashion yourself as a martyr, pick up a loyal following in the process, and prove your bona fides to Fox News chief Roger Ailes in the hope that he’ll offer you a contract?

While Byers finds sources to support and oppose this thesis, it is a preposterous argument. While it is true a few outliers have gone public with their complaints about the monolithic political culture of most mainstream broadcast and print outlets and eventually found their way to Fox, what happened to them is the exception that proves the rule. There’s a reason why people like that wind up at Fox. By breaking the code of silence about the supposed objectivity of newsrooms like the one at CBS, they have nowhere else to go.

Labeling those who call out media bias as opportunists turns truth on its head. While Goldberg and Stossel (and perhaps now Attkisson) did not suffer for their candor the fact is the media practices de facto segregation when it comes to politics.

Anyone who wants to stay on the mainstream media gravy train either agrees with the industry’s liberal groupthink or keeps their mouth shut. Those few who do speak out about it are more or less ostracized and forced to seek employment elsewhere. Meanwhile the vast majority of those who continue to work at the big broadcast networks and most of the influential dailies are so biased they actually think critical reporting about a liberal president they personally support is somehow wrong and those who pursue such stories are worthy of suspicion rather than praise. The chattering classes may actually believe their pose of objectivity is based on the truth, but that is just an illustration of how distorted their viewpoint has become. It is they who are the real opportunists, not Goldberg, Stossel, or Attkisson.

Liberals—including the ones who currently work at the White House—look down their noses at Fox and dismiss the stories and the opinions it broadcasts. But it bears repeating that the reason it was created and for its astounding success is that it provided a much needed and long-delayed alternative to the stultifying and uniform liberalism broadcast elsewhere on the dial. The genius of Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes was in addressing the needs of an underserved market niche composed of almost half the American public.

Sharyl Attkisson’s fate at CBS wasn’t an illustration of opportunism but rather one that showed what happens to those who dissent from the liberal party line. Let’s hope she lands on her feet. But the bias problem she leaves behind at CBS and that at other liberal mainstream papers and broadcast outlets remains a glaring indictment of the American press.

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