Commentary Magazine


Topic: media bias

The American Media, Language, and Selective Humanity

On September 11 of last year, as the attacks on the American missions in Benghazi and Cairo developed, the New York Times led with a description of the fate of the American flag at the embassy in Cairo: violent Islamists took down the American flag and replaced it with a black flag “similar to Al Qaeda’s banner.” About three months later, the Times ran another story about the fate of an American flag, this one in Illinois: a voter upset about President Obama’s re-election flew his American flag upside down.

Aside from having the American flag at the center of the stories, the two pieces had another element in common: in both, the offenders–a disgruntled Republican voter and violent Salafist Islamists–shared a descriptor. The New York Times regarded both as “ultraconservative.” The Times makes no attempt to justify this latest attack on the English language: it never explains what makes someone “ultraconservative.” The paper is simply content with vague designations that hint at opprobrium and ensure the near-impossibility of learning anything from its stories. Two stories in the news this week brought this to mind.

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On September 11 of last year, as the attacks on the American missions in Benghazi and Cairo developed, the New York Times led with a description of the fate of the American flag at the embassy in Cairo: violent Islamists took down the American flag and replaced it with a black flag “similar to Al Qaeda’s banner.” About three months later, the Times ran another story about the fate of an American flag, this one in Illinois: a voter upset about President Obama’s re-election flew his American flag upside down.

Aside from having the American flag at the center of the stories, the two pieces had another element in common: in both, the offenders–a disgruntled Republican voter and violent Salafist Islamists–shared a descriptor. The New York Times regarded both as “ultraconservative.” The Times makes no attempt to justify this latest attack on the English language: it never explains what makes someone “ultraconservative.” The paper is simply content with vague designations that hint at opprobrium and ensure the near-impossibility of learning anything from its stories. Two stories in the news this week brought this to mind.

One was the Associated Press’s announcement that it would forbid the use of the term “illegal immigrants” to describe illegal immigrants. In fairness to the AP, it has also resisted the phenomenally stupid term “undocumented,” noting in its own explanation that such a person “may have plenty of documents,” and therefore the term means nothing in the context of an immigration story. But AP editors also explained that many people told them they don’t like the term illegal immigrants, so the AP is getting rid of the term. Though I think comprehensive immigration reform including a path to citizenship has long been a wise goal to pursue, perhaps passing immigration reform becomes even more urgent now before the media deletes the entire relevant vocabulary and any pertinent legislation must be written in pictograph.

The other story was, unsurprisingly, from the New York Times, which offered a correction for the ages when it apologetically noted that this story “mischaracterized the Christian holiday of Easter. It is the celebration of Jesus’s resurrection from the dead, not his resurrection into heaven.” Michael Walsh at NRO had some fun with the Times, wondering how, among the paper’s reporters and legion of editors, no one caught the fact that a dispatch datelined Vatican City incorrectly described Easter on Easter Sunday. He also asked how the phrase “resurrection into heaven” made it into the correction.

The manipulation of language in the American leftist press is about more than simple political correctness, of course. And in this light the AP’s change on “illegal immigrants” is pretty harmless. The language will adapt, whether or not it should have been forced to do so. But the scourge of moral relativism is a much larger aspect of the media’s assault on language. The Times’s description of everyone of every nationality and every religion who is not an East Coast secularist as “ultraconservative” is an example, but the more famous example is the media’s persistent refusal to use the word terrorist to describe terrorists. “Militant” has emerged as the go-to replacement, but a fairly pathetic one. And now “ultraconservative” may at times stand in for it, which is the same term the Times uses to identify those who voted against Obama. But since moral relativism is a feature and not a bug of Western liberalism, it’ll have to do.

There are other corrosive effects of the media’s language manipulation. Mark Steyn pointed out a perfect example a couple of weeks ago, involving both the AP and the Times. A Times story described babies born alive–which advanced civilization prefers to call “people”–as “viable fetuses” still eligible for abortion. But isn’t abortion something else? Yes, and Steyn found a helpful Associated Press story to explain that “Abortions are typically performed in utero.”

One would hope. Regardless of a person’s position on the availability of abortion, the press’s insistence on twisting itself in knots to avoid humanizing a human is not a sign of cultural health. Coincidentally, that is just the complaint that led to the eventual dismissal of the term “illegal immigrant.” In the ABC News report on the AP’s decision, we are told that “Fusion, the ABC-Univision joint venture, does not use ‘illegal immigrant’ because we believe it dehumanizes those it describes.” Fair enough, I suppose, but is it too much to ask for this concern over humanity to be applied across the board?

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Easter in Palestine Means Blaming Israel, Not Muslims, for Christian Woes

Easter is an apt moment for the West to ponder the fate of Christians in the Arab and Muslim worlds but, as is usually the case on Christmas, the media tends to focus its attention on anything but the real problem. A typical example was this feature broadcast on CNN about the difficulties being faced by Palestinian Christians. The focus of the piece was how Israeli policies were negatively impacting Christians living in the West Bank.

But though Palestinian Christians, such as the Nablus family shown in the spot, are inconvenienced by security regulations intended to keep terrorists from slaughtering civilians, the discussion not only distorts that issue but also completely ignores the factor that is driving Christians out of the West Bank as well as other parts of the Middle East: Islamist intolerance.

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Easter is an apt moment for the West to ponder the fate of Christians in the Arab and Muslim worlds but, as is usually the case on Christmas, the media tends to focus its attention on anything but the real problem. A typical example was this feature broadcast on CNN about the difficulties being faced by Palestinian Christians. The focus of the piece was how Israeli policies were negatively impacting Christians living in the West Bank.

But though Palestinian Christians, such as the Nablus family shown in the spot, are inconvenienced by security regulations intended to keep terrorists from slaughtering civilians, the discussion not only distorts that issue but also completely ignores the factor that is driving Christians out of the West Bank as well as other parts of the Middle East: Islamist intolerance.

In a perfect world, Christians and Muslims from the West Bank would have free access to Jerusalem. Indeed, that was largely the case before the terrorist war launched by the Palestinian Authority in 2000 when not just worshipers but tens of thousands of Arab workers flocked to Israel to earn a living. The chief price of that wholly unnecessary conflict was paid in the blood of over 1,000 Israelis and many more Arabs who died as a result of a conscious decision of the Palestinian Authority to answer Israeli peace offers, including statehood, with violence.

Without the construction of a security fence, many more might still lose their lives. Yet CNN followed the lead of Palestinian propagandists in portraying its function as primarily a means for harassing innocent travelers and, on Easter, Christians who want to walk along the route that is thought to be that of Jesus.

Yet, as the broadcast throws in as a throwaway line, Israel has granted 95 percent of all requests by West Bank Christians to enter Jerusalem. This is consistent with the fact that the only period in its history in which all faiths have had free access to all of the holy sites has been in the years since Jerusalem was reunited under Israeli rule. That’s a fact that is curiously absent from the discussions in the media of Christians in the Middle East.

But as bad as that might be, it is not as great an omission as the complete disinterest on the part of the media in the most serious problem facing Palestinian Christians: the rise of an aggressive Muslim movement that has forced increasing numbers of them to leave the region.

While it is understood, though rarely reported, that Christians are now unwelcome in Hamas-run Gaza, the same is becoming true in areas of the Fatah-ruled West Bank, including the city of Nablus. Christian strongholds like Bethlehem have seen a dramatic population shift.

As is the case throughout the Middle East where an aggressive Islam has targeted all religious minorities—such as the Christian Copts of Egypt who are laboring under the burden of rule by the Muslim Brotherhood—Palestinian Christians are realizing that their future in a Palestine run by Fatah or Hamas is not one in which they will be allowed to flourish.

Yet Palestinian Christians don’t speak much about their woes at the hands of Arab Muslims and instead do their best to be as loud as possible in their complaints about Israel. Doing so gives them some legitimacy within Palestinian society, and foreign reporters who don’t understand what lies behind this dynamic follow along without asking pertinent questions.

There is something vaguely pathetic about the futile efforts of Palestinian Christians to prove their worth to their neighbors by being among the most outspoken enemies of the Jews, but it won’t alter the facts about what is really happening to them. Israel remains a haven of religious freedom while the areas under Palestinian control continue to sink in a morass of Islamist intolerance. But don’t expect CNN or most other media outlets to report that when blaming Israel for Christian problems remains a holiday tradition.

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The MSM Is Disappointed in Itself

In May 2012, the Washington Post published the findings of its deep dive into Mitt Romney’s past. The paper had been working on a big investigative journalism piece that would finally reveal what no one else could uncover about Romney. Utilizing the resources that only major dailies can marshal, and proudly speaking truth to power and defending the people’s right to know, the Post threw the 2012 election into pure chaos, upending everything voters thought they knew about the candidates.

Mitt Romney, as a youngster, once cut someone else’s hair.

It didn’t sound like such a bombshell at first blush, but then the Post–in a bid to make this as embarrassing as possible for the family of the victim–openly speculated about his sexuality. The family of the victim (who has since passed away), thoroughly humiliated by the Post’s behavior, denied the Post’s story and asked the newspaper to please stop spreading stories about their family “to further a political agenda.” Indeed, it was one of the low moments of the 2012 cycle. So why do I bring this up now? Because that same Washington Post reports today on a new Pew study showing that the media is increasingly echoing, instead of investigating, politicians. The Post, unsurprisingly, isn’t happy about this:

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In May 2012, the Washington Post published the findings of its deep dive into Mitt Romney’s past. The paper had been working on a big investigative journalism piece that would finally reveal what no one else could uncover about Romney. Utilizing the resources that only major dailies can marshal, and proudly speaking truth to power and defending the people’s right to know, the Post threw the 2012 election into pure chaos, upending everything voters thought they knew about the candidates.

Mitt Romney, as a youngster, once cut someone else’s hair.

It didn’t sound like such a bombshell at first blush, but then the Post–in a bid to make this as embarrassing as possible for the family of the victim–openly speculated about his sexuality. The family of the victim (who has since passed away), thoroughly humiliated by the Post’s behavior, denied the Post’s story and asked the newspaper to please stop spreading stories about their family “to further a political agenda.” Indeed, it was one of the low moments of the 2012 cycle. So why do I bring this up now? Because that same Washington Post reports today on a new Pew study showing that the media is increasingly echoing, instead of investigating, politicians. The Post, unsurprisingly, isn’t happy about this:

“Campaign reporters were acting primarily as megaphones, rather than investigators, of the assertions put forward by the candidates and other political partisans,” according to the report. “Only about a quarter of statements in the media about the character and records of the presidential candidates originated with journalists in the 2012 race, while twice that many came from political partisans.” …

When news organizations are pushed out of the information pipeline, voters alone are left to sort through messages that are tested in focus groups and opposition attacks tailored with great specificity. And on the heels of a presidential campaign in which one candidate’s pollster said he refused to let the campaign be dictated by fact-checkers, such a strategy is growing easier to execute.

The facts are these: Campaigns and candidates have more power than ever before to frame both their positive narrative and their opponents’ negative one.  And, if the Pew numbers are right, both sides are spending much more time on the negative side of the ledger — at least in 2012.

Think of those numbers the next time you run down the role of the political media.

Yes, you think about that the next time you feel like complaining about front-page stories in papers like the Post. In fact, you’ll probably have that opportunity again soon, because like clockwork the Post identifies the Republican it deems most dangerous to the liberal agenda and fires off a gobsmackingly absurd–and often factually incorrect–story about them. The Post usually follows that story with an article about its previous story, in which it drums up a fake controversy and then drums up fake outrage about it.

The truth is, if the Post is unhappy about the press acting “as megaphones, rather than investigators,” it only has itself to blame. Before Romney was the target, Democrats felt threatened by Texas Governor Rick Perry. So the Post published a story meant to be damning toward Perry’s character, in which it breathlessly reported the existence of a hunting property leased by Perry’s family that once had a rock with a racial epithet painted on it but which no one can find today. Before the Post went after Perry, the paper decided to weigh in on the 2009 Virginia governor’s race by attacking Bob McDonnell’s 20-year-old college thesis and publishing about a story a day on it for the first week or so. McDonnell won the election easily, needless to say. And the Post tried to dig up dirt on Marco Rubio, found nothing, and pretended it found something anyway. The Post story was quickly debunked.

None of this is to suggest that modern newspapers publish only nonsense. They do plenty of good work. And the fading of investigative journalism–a function of tightening budgets and lack of resources, mainly–is to be mourned. But too often investigative journalism as currently practiced discredits just this kind of reporting–especially when election season rolls around.

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Inciting Intifada: A New Low for the Times

The bias against Israel in the press, and especially the New York Times, has become so steady and predictable that it can be difficult to muster outrage. But that doesn’t mean the Times isn’t still trying to make waves. Indeed, since the paper flaunts, rather than attempts to disguise, its hostility to Israel, it can be easy to miss when the Times crosses yet another line. And the paper and its editors have done so again this weekend with its depraved magazine cover article cheerleading a new intifada against Israel.

As Jonathan wrote yesterday, the Times has chosen to greet President Obama’s trip to Israel with the magazine piece on the Palestinian settlement of Nabi Saleh and the story by Jodi Rudoren on the supposed injustice of allowing Jews to live in Jerusalem. Jonathan ably deconstructed the Rudoren piece and explained quite clearly why the author of the magazine piece, Ben Ehrenreich, who trumpets the nobility of anti-Zionism, lacks any credibility on the issue of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It can’t be argued that the Times didn’t know exactly what it was getting with Ehrenreich. And so it should be asked, instead, why the Times’s editors wanted a piece openly supportive of another intifada. After all, the article is crystal clear about its intentions. One key part comes late in the piece, when Ehrenreich writes:

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The bias against Israel in the press, and especially the New York Times, has become so steady and predictable that it can be difficult to muster outrage. But that doesn’t mean the Times isn’t still trying to make waves. Indeed, since the paper flaunts, rather than attempts to disguise, its hostility to Israel, it can be easy to miss when the Times crosses yet another line. And the paper and its editors have done so again this weekend with its depraved magazine cover article cheerleading a new intifada against Israel.

As Jonathan wrote yesterday, the Times has chosen to greet President Obama’s trip to Israel with the magazine piece on the Palestinian settlement of Nabi Saleh and the story by Jodi Rudoren on the supposed injustice of allowing Jews to live in Jerusalem. Jonathan ably deconstructed the Rudoren piece and explained quite clearly why the author of the magazine piece, Ben Ehrenreich, who trumpets the nobility of anti-Zionism, lacks any credibility on the issue of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It can’t be argued that the Times didn’t know exactly what it was getting with Ehrenreich. And so it should be asked, instead, why the Times’s editors wanted a piece openly supportive of another intifada. After all, the article is crystal clear about its intentions. One key part comes late in the piece, when Ehrenreich writes:

That elite lives comfortably within the so-called “Ramallah bubble”: the bright and relatively carefree world of cafes, NGO salaries and imported goods that characterize life in the West Bank’s provisional capital. During the day, the clothing shops and fast-food franchises are filled. New high-rises are going up everywhere. “I didn’t lose my sister and my cousin and part of my life,” Bassem said, “for the sons of the ministers” to drive expensive cars.

Worse than any corruption, though, was the apparent normalcy. Settlements are visible on the neighboring hilltops, but there are no checkpoints inside Ramallah. The I.D.F. only occasionally enters the city, and usually only at night. Few Palestinians still work inside Israel, and not many can scrape a living from the fields. For the thousands of waiters, clerks, engineers, warehouse workers, mechanics and bureaucrats who spend their days in the city and return to their villages every evening, Ramallah — which has a full-time population of less than 100,000 — holds out the possibility of forgetting the occupation and pursuing a career, saving up for a car, sending the children to college.

But the checkpoints, the settlements and the soldiers are waiting just outside town, and the illusion of normalcy made Nabi Saleh’s task more difficult. If Palestinians believed they could live better by playing along, who would bother to fight?

That is an almost-perfect distillation of the choice before the Palestinians. On the one hand there is peace, prosperity, international integration, and political autonomy. On the other is armed struggle. As Ehrenreich notes, the “normal” life, the peaceful life, is “worse than any corruption.” Those are Ehrenreich’s words, and easy for him to say since he doesn’t have to stay there. But Bassem Tamimi, the subject of the story, confirms them. He says he didn’t struggle and fight and sacrifice for peace, for nice cars, for a college education for his children–for “normalcy” that is worse than any corruption.

But in fact the article pushes this line from the very beginning. The headline asks “Is This Where the Third Intifada Will Start?” Note the word “will.” There will be blood, says the Times; who will get the glory? Incitement is the only theme of the piece. Ehrenreich explains the origins of the Nabi Saleh-based protest movement, marching first in 2009. But, Ehrenreich laments, the “momentum has been hard to maintain.”

He and others like him are doing their part, though. The villagers march each Friday, “joined at times by equal numbers of journalists and Israeli and foreign activists.” It isn’t clear why journalists and activists merit separate categories here beside for the propagation of a silly illusion that perhaps assuages some of Ehrenreich’s guilt. The activists may speak words of peace, but they are, he writes, “young anarchists in black boots.” Ehrenreich notes that “a pilgrimage to Nabi Saleh has achieved a measure of cachet among young European activists, the way a stint with the Zapatistas did in Mexico in the 1990s.” It isn’t about the Palestinians; it’s never about the Palestinians. But Ehrenreich and the others make sure not to tell the Palestinians that as they shove the Tamimis into battle, stand back and take pictures, and then get on a plane and fly home.

Bassem Tamimi condemns the Oslo peace process that gave the Palestinian leadership authority but no real power, as he sees it. As a result, Bassem is paid by the Palestinian Authority to do nothing, so he can stay home and stay care of his ailing mother and still receive a paycheck. But that’s not what he wants. When talk turns to the first intifada, Ehrenreich tells us, Bassem “speaks of those years, as many Palestinians his age do, with something like nostalgia.” They miss the armed conflict. “If there is a third intifada,” Bassem tells Ehrenreich, “we want to be the ones who started it.”

Throughout the piece, Ehrenreich continually brings up the prospects of a new intifada. What are its chances? What will be the “spark”? Is the village ready? The villagers try to sell the line that they are nonviolent, but that doesn’t even convince Ehrenreich, who points out that in fact they throw grenades, Molotov cocktails, and rocks like the one that put a young child in critical condition last week. A more important point is that, as Ehrenreich notes, past intifadas have only escalated; no matter where or how they started, they quickly became more and more violent. There is no way the intifada Ehrenreich, the Times magazine, and the Palestinian villagers encourage will be nonviolent. So, again: why does the Times want an article like this? We probably don’t want to know the answer.

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Obama Still Doesn’t Get It

In a CNN interview two years ago, Allen West shared a piece of advice his father gave him: “Never read your own press and never drink your own tub water.” That advice–well, the first half, anyway–is popular among athletes and other celebrities. And it’s advice President Obama clearly doesn’t take–but perhaps should. Both the New York Times and National Journal’s Ron Fournier report today that Obama’s advisors are openly admitting that the president’s outreach to Republicans is a sham, mostly because he thinks reporters aren’t smart enough to know when they’re being played–though the story of the Obama presidency really indicates they know very well, and are simply happy to be part of Obama’s life in some way.

Critics of the Obama administration have long noted the incongruity of the president’s relationship with the political press: they adore him and he loathes them with every fiber of his being. This may not appear to be hurting the president, because the press still mostly plays along, but in fact it is starting to take its toll on Obama. Because he obsessively reads his own press, he is too wrapped up in pretending to do things to actually do them. As Fournier reports:

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In a CNN interview two years ago, Allen West shared a piece of advice his father gave him: “Never read your own press and never drink your own tub water.” That advice–well, the first half, anyway–is popular among athletes and other celebrities. And it’s advice President Obama clearly doesn’t take–but perhaps should. Both the New York Times and National Journal’s Ron Fournier report today that Obama’s advisors are openly admitting that the president’s outreach to Republicans is a sham, mostly because he thinks reporters aren’t smart enough to know when they’re being played–though the story of the Obama presidency really indicates they know very well, and are simply happy to be part of Obama’s life in some way.

Critics of the Obama administration have long noted the incongruity of the president’s relationship with the political press: they adore him and he loathes them with every fiber of his being. This may not appear to be hurting the president, because the press still mostly plays along, but in fact it is starting to take its toll on Obama. Because he obsessively reads his own press, he is too wrapped up in pretending to do things to actually do them. As Fournier reports:

“This is a joke. We’re wasting the president’s time and ours,” complained a senior White House official who was promised anonymity so he could speak frankly. “I hope you all (in the media) are happy because we’re doing it for you.”

Another said the president was sincerely trying to find common ground with stubborn Republicans. “But if we do it,” the aide hastened, “it won’t be because we had steaks and Merlot with a few senators.”

Fair enough. And the Times adds:

Aides say Mr. Obama will continue his outreach even if the phone calls and other overtures can “feel fake to him,” in the words of one associate. The president signaled as much in his January news conference.

“Now that my girls are getting older, they don’t want to spend that much time with me anyway,” Mr. Obama said. “So,” he added, “maybe a whole bunch of members of the House Republican caucus want to come over and socialize more.”

Obama can be forgiven for preferring his kids to congressional Republicans, certainly. He has earned his reputation as a good father and a family man. But he and his advisors probably shouldn’t go around telling the media how much he hates bipartisan negotiations and having to be nice to other politicians. (Civility, and all that.)

But even more so, he should stop reading his press–cold turkey–because it is warping his view of his political predicament. It’s true that the political press can tend to focus on trivial and superficial elements of politics to the exclusion of substance–but it’s not like the president hasn’t been the primary beneficiary of this. (Does everyone remember the astronomically absurd “team of rivals” narrative?)

As Jonathan wrote last week, the fact that Obama is even superficially signaling that he’s ready to listen to Republicans is evidence of the GOP’s strength. House Republicans cannot govern from that one house of Congress, as Jonathan noted, and Obama and the Democrats still have the upper hand. But the public has grown weary of Obama’s dire predictions every time Republicans won’t simply pass legislation that meets his demands. It further undercuts Obama’s argument that the president approaches supposed fiscal emergencies by tossing out take-it-or-leave-it offers he knows Republicans can’t accept. And his credibility disintegrates even more when his prophecies of doom don’t come true.

In other words, the president got himself into this mess, not the media. He isn’t pretending to work with Republicans because White House reporters are goading him into it. He’s pretending to work with Republicans because the circumstances require him to actually work with Republicans. Until that message gets through, the bill for steaks and Merlot are all the president is going to have to show for this political theater.

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Don’t Let Facts Hinder Israel-Bashing

The human costs of last fall’s outbreak of fighting between Hamas and Israel was all too real on both sides of the border. Civilian casualties in war are inevitable, but should never be seen as anything but a tragedy that should be avoided if at all possible. But the willingness of the Jewish state’s critics in the media to embrace a Palestinian narrative of Israeli beastliness has led to a double standard that has distorted accounts of the conflict. Palestinian terror attacks that lead to Israeli counter-measures tend to be ignored unless they succeed in achieving their goal of mass slaughter. Israeli attacks on terrorists are depicted as disproportionate with little context to put them in perspective. And when Palestinian children are killed in a conflict in which Hamas uses civilians as human shields, the result is often an emotional account in which images of supposed Israeli atrocities substitute for a reasoned explanation of what has occurred.

But occasionally, facts have a way of outstripping even the formidable Palestinian propaganda machine. An example of this came this month when, as the New York Times explains, a report from–of all sources–the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, had the audacity to point out that a highly publicized case in which the death of an Arab infant in Gaza was blamed on Israel was actually the fault of the Palestinians.

One may say that when a death such as this happens the identity of the person or force that pulled the trigger is almost beside the point. The child is just as dead no matter who did it. But in this case, the revelation that 11-month-old Omar al-Masharawi’s death was the result of a Palestinian rocket aimed at Israel that fell short of its target rather than of an Israeli army missile deliberately fired at his home goes straight to the heart of the slanted accounts of the conflict that are commonplace.

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The human costs of last fall’s outbreak of fighting between Hamas and Israel was all too real on both sides of the border. Civilian casualties in war are inevitable, but should never be seen as anything but a tragedy that should be avoided if at all possible. But the willingness of the Jewish state’s critics in the media to embrace a Palestinian narrative of Israeli beastliness has led to a double standard that has distorted accounts of the conflict. Palestinian terror attacks that lead to Israeli counter-measures tend to be ignored unless they succeed in achieving their goal of mass slaughter. Israeli attacks on terrorists are depicted as disproportionate with little context to put them in perspective. And when Palestinian children are killed in a conflict in which Hamas uses civilians as human shields, the result is often an emotional account in which images of supposed Israeli atrocities substitute for a reasoned explanation of what has occurred.

But occasionally, facts have a way of outstripping even the formidable Palestinian propaganda machine. An example of this came this month when, as the New York Times explains, a report from–of all sources–the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, had the audacity to point out that a highly publicized case in which the death of an Arab infant in Gaza was blamed on Israel was actually the fault of the Palestinians.

One may say that when a death such as this happens the identity of the person or force that pulled the trigger is almost beside the point. The child is just as dead no matter who did it. But in this case, the revelation that 11-month-old Omar al-Masharawi’s death was the result of a Palestinian rocket aimed at Israel that fell short of its target rather than of an Israeli army missile deliberately fired at his home goes straight to the heart of the slanted accounts of the conflict that are commonplace.

This particular child’s death was made a cause célèbre because his father, Jihad al-Masharawi is an employee of the BBC. In a graphic account broadcast on the network, al-Masharawi, who is a picture editor, claimed “shrapnel” from Israeli artillery hit his son and another relative. In the video, al-Masharawi tearfully demanded to know “what did my son do to die like this?” The response from many who viewed it was to damn the Israelis as heartless murderers. Those who cited the child as proof of the injustice of Israeli actions in the Gaza fighting now ring hollow.

The point here is not just to illustrate that many of those Palestinians who have died in the fighting with Israel were the victims of “friendly fire” from their own side. In a very real sense, Omar al-Masharawi’s death was not a mistake. It was just one more example of a deliberate policy of sacrificing Palestinian children on the altar of unending war against Israel. When terrorists launch missiles from Gaza at Israeli civilian targets, the creation of a fresh batch of Palestinian martyrs is more important to them than even the shedding of Jewish blood.

This is a terrible tragedy that has all too often been aided and abetted by an international media eager to use shocking pictures and videos meant to depict Israeli atrocities to put forward a skewed version of what has happened in Gaza.

In this case, just as with the celebrated case of Mohammed al-Durrah–the picture of whose death in his father’s arms after supposedly being shot by Israelis at the beginning of the second intifada became a rallying point for Palestinians–the fictional narrative of Palestinian victimhood trumped the facts. Even after the story was conclusively debunked, the image of the dying child remains an icon of the campaign to defame Israel.

Some of those who were killed last fall did die from Israeli fire (though the overwhelming majority of casualties were Hamas fighters not civilians) as its army sought to take out the terrorists who rained missiles down on targets in southern and central Israel. But the ultimate responsibility for the deaths of all civilians in Gaza falls on the shoulders of Hamas leaders who continue to pursue Israel’s destruction and don’t care how many of their own people must die to keep that vile dream alive. Most of those who wish to delegitimize both Israel and its right to self-defense will ignore the UN report. But the al-Masharawi case, in which a terrorist missile landed in Gaza rather than Israel, should make this truth a bit more understandable even to those accustomed to accepting whatever lies emanate from Hamas and its enablers. 

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Waging an “Anti-Segregation” Crusade on the Palestinians’ Backs

Here are some of the headlines that appeared in papers worldwide earlier this week: “Israel introduces ‘Palestinians only’ bus lines, following complaints from Jewish settlers”; “Israeli buses for Palestinians spark accusations of segregation”; “‘A Palestinian Rosa Parks is needed’: Israel’s segregated buses spark outrage.” And here’s the headline that didn’t appear: “Palestinians thrilled: Finally, decent bus service for those who work in Israel!” That missing headline speaks volumes about the superficiality of global reporting on Israel–and also reveals, once again, how the Palestinians’ self-proclaimed champions often wind up making their lives worse.

Here are the facts everyone agrees on: Though Israel has barred entry to most Palestinians (for security reasons) ever since the second intifada erupted in 2000, tens of thousands have received permits to work in Israel after being vetted as low security risks. But for years, they had only two ways to get to and from work–take a shared taxi, which is expensive, or ride an Israeli bus, which is inconvenient: Israeli buses don’t serve towns controlled by the Palestinian Authority, so Palestinian workers had to commute to where they could pick up the bus.

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Here are some of the headlines that appeared in papers worldwide earlier this week: “Israel introduces ‘Palestinians only’ bus lines, following complaints from Jewish settlers”; “Israeli buses for Palestinians spark accusations of segregation”; “‘A Palestinian Rosa Parks is needed’: Israel’s segregated buses spark outrage.” And here’s the headline that didn’t appear: “Palestinians thrilled: Finally, decent bus service for those who work in Israel!” That missing headline speaks volumes about the superficiality of global reporting on Israel–and also reveals, once again, how the Palestinians’ self-proclaimed champions often wind up making their lives worse.

Here are the facts everyone agrees on: Though Israel has barred entry to most Palestinians (for security reasons) ever since the second intifada erupted in 2000, tens of thousands have received permits to work in Israel after being vetted as low security risks. But for years, they had only two ways to get to and from work–take a shared taxi, which is expensive, or ride an Israeli bus, which is inconvenient: Israeli buses don’t serve towns controlled by the Palestinian Authority, so Palestinian workers had to commute to where they could pick up the bus.

This week, Israel finally took a first step toward solving this problem: It instituted bus service direct to central Israel from the Eyal crossing near Qalqilyah, to serve workers from that PA-controlled city and its suburbs. And as the Israeli daily Haaretz reluctantly reported–even as its editorialist denounced this “racist segregation”–most Palestinians are thrilled: “Thousands pushed onto the Tel Aviv line. There weren’t enough buses to meet the demand.” As one worker explained, the new buses will save him NIS 250 a month, more than a full day’s wages.

Moreover, as Israel’s Transportation Ministry pointed out, Palestinians who prefer to ride the old buses can still do so. De facto, because West Bank Jews and Palestinians don’t live in the same towns, most Palestinians will find the new buses more convenient, whereas Jews will prefer the old ones. But calling it “segregation” to have different buses serving Qalqilyah and Ariel makes about as much sense as saying that America has segregated bus lines because New Yorkers and Chicagoans ride different buses to get to Washington.

The real question, however, is why it took so long to provide this service. A major part of the answer, as with everything in Israel, is bureaucratic inertia and incompetence. But equally important is that the international response to the new bus service was utterly predictable–which constitutes a powerful disincentive to launching it. If every Israeli attempt to offer better service to Palestinians is going to spark cries of “segregation” and “apartheid,” Israel has an obvious interest in refraining from such attempts.

In short, the people who suffer most from the world’s knee-jerk reflex of denouncing every Israeli action are often the Palestinians themselves. But that doesn’t bother their self-proclaimed supporters; they couldn’t care less if Palestinian laborers continue to suffer from inconvenient, overpriced transportation. All that matters to them is denouncing Israel–even if it’s for the crime of providing better bus service.

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War on Woodward May Be a Tipping Point

A week ago, the White House was absolutely sure that its position on the sequester would prevail and that the Republicans would soon be surrendering on the president’s demands for even more new taxes in order to avoid the implementation of the draconian across-the-board budget cuts. Most of the press, backed by polls that showed the unpopularity of Republicans, agreed. But the discussion has shifted a bit in the last few days and the administration’s confidence in its ability to prevail in this political struggle has to be slightly shaken, even if they are not publicly admitting it. Part of the president’s problem is that the attempts of the secretaries of transportation and homeland security to scare the public about airport delays and the border if the sequester went ahead sounded fake and appeared to be politically motivated. But just as important was the intervention into the debate of an icon of liberal journalism: the Washington Post’s Bob Woodward.

Woodward’s op-ed reminded the public that the sequester was the White House’s idea and that any attempt to include a request for more taxes into the discussion of putting it off was “moving the goalposts.” While seemingly just one voice among many talking heads, the Woodward assertions touched a nerve in the White House and set off a furious back-and-forth argument that betrayed the administration’s sensitivity to criticism as well as a thuggish intolerance for anyone who would try to alter their hand-crafted narrative about the issue. Most of the attention on this spat today is focused on a senior White House official’s threat to Woodward that he would “regret” contradicting the president’s chosen spin.

This has provoked a discussion about how this administration and its predecessors have used threats about future access to intimidate journalists. This is a long and unfortunate tradition, and it often works when applied to less influential persons than the man who was portrayed by Robert Redford in the film account of his Watergate reporting that took down Richard Nixon. But there is more at work here than just a case of White House flacks picking a fight with the wrong guy. The problem here for President Obama is that the willingness of Woodward to expose the falsity of the administration’s position on the sequester, as well as their threat, could mark the beginning of the end of the administration’s magic touch with the mainstream press.

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A week ago, the White House was absolutely sure that its position on the sequester would prevail and that the Republicans would soon be surrendering on the president’s demands for even more new taxes in order to avoid the implementation of the draconian across-the-board budget cuts. Most of the press, backed by polls that showed the unpopularity of Republicans, agreed. But the discussion has shifted a bit in the last few days and the administration’s confidence in its ability to prevail in this political struggle has to be slightly shaken, even if they are not publicly admitting it. Part of the president’s problem is that the attempts of the secretaries of transportation and homeland security to scare the public about airport delays and the border if the sequester went ahead sounded fake and appeared to be politically motivated. But just as important was the intervention into the debate of an icon of liberal journalism: the Washington Post’s Bob Woodward.

Woodward’s op-ed reminded the public that the sequester was the White House’s idea and that any attempt to include a request for more taxes into the discussion of putting it off was “moving the goalposts.” While seemingly just one voice among many talking heads, the Woodward assertions touched a nerve in the White House and set off a furious back-and-forth argument that betrayed the administration’s sensitivity to criticism as well as a thuggish intolerance for anyone who would try to alter their hand-crafted narrative about the issue. Most of the attention on this spat today is focused on a senior White House official’s threat to Woodward that he would “regret” contradicting the president’s chosen spin.

This has provoked a discussion about how this administration and its predecessors have used threats about future access to intimidate journalists. This is a long and unfortunate tradition, and it often works when applied to less influential persons than the man who was portrayed by Robert Redford in the film account of his Watergate reporting that took down Richard Nixon. But there is more at work here than just a case of White House flacks picking a fight with the wrong guy. The problem here for President Obama is that the willingness of Woodward to expose the falsity of the administration’s position on the sequester, as well as their threat, could mark the beginning of the end of the administration’s magic touch with the mainstream press.

Last week, Politico’s feature on the ability of the Obama White House to manipulate the coverage they received generated a heated discussion about whether the supine attitude of mainstream journalists toward the president was the result of clever tactics and not, as they claimed, liberal bias. I agreed that the administration had broken new ground in employing smart ways to bypass and frustrate the working press, but pointed out the obvious fact that these strategies wouldn’t work half so well if the vast majority of the publications and networks that employ the journalists weren’t happy to roll over for Obama. No president has received the sort of adulation and fawning coverage from the mainstream since the halcyon days of John F. Kennedy’s Camelot White House.

While the Woodward rebellion hasn’t really altered that reality, it is a sign that his expectation that he will be treated with kid gloves for four more years may not be fulfilled. That the administration is pushing back so hard on Woodward betrays their worry that if the Watergate icon can get away with saying the emperor has no clothes, lesser mortals will soon be tempted to do it too.

As important as the sequester may be, this spat is about more than just that issue. The White House has assumed all along that its narrative about the budget cuts and the need for more taxes–even after the recent hikes enacted to avert the fiscal cliff as well as the raise in payroll deductions–would never be contradicted by what has been their active cheering section in the press corps.

As Max pointed out, there are good reasons to fear the effect of the sequester. But the idea that the president can bulldoze his way through Republican opposition to his big government agenda armed with the notion that the public and the media will unite behind him has been shaken. Today, even the still loyal New York Times admitted the public might not be panicked into pressuring the Republicans into submission. If the White House is today waging an unexpected war on Bob Woodward, it is because they fear the beginning of the end of their four-year honeymoon with the media.

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In Praise of Bob Woodward

I want to add to what Jonathan wrote about Bob Woodward calling out the White House for misrepresenting its role in sequestration and “moving the goalposts” in order to get its way.

Mr. Woodward is clearly sympathetic to President Obama’s approach; he’s said as much. (“Obama’s call for a balanced approach is reasonable,” Woodward writes, “and he makes a strong case that those in the top income brackets could and should pay more.”) But Woodward has enough integrity as a journalist not to allow a willful distortion to go unchecked and unchallenged.

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I want to add to what Jonathan wrote about Bob Woodward calling out the White House for misrepresenting its role in sequestration and “moving the goalposts” in order to get its way.

Mr. Woodward is clearly sympathetic to President Obama’s approach; he’s said as much. (“Obama’s call for a balanced approach is reasonable,” Woodward writes, “and he makes a strong case that those in the top income brackets could and should pay more.”) But Woodward has enough integrity as a journalist not to allow a willful distortion to go unchecked and unchallenged.

Many in the elite media–NBC’s Chuck Todd prominently among them—have made a concerted effort to downplay the role of paternity when it comes to the sequestration idea. (Todd declared, “Of all the dumb things Washington does, this ‘who started it’ argument has proven to be one of the dumber ones, especially since we’re so close to the actual cuts going into place.”)

But this is a ludicrous position. Any journalist worth his salt must know that for a president to eviscerate a “brutal” idea that his own White House championed and that the president himself approved of is a big story. And you can be sure Chuck Todd would think so, and treat it as such, if the president was George W. Bush or Ronald Reagan instead of Barack Obama. 

In any event, we only know about the White House’s role because of Woodward’s book The Price of Politics. And now Woodward himself is holding the White House accountable for disfiguring the truth.

I don’t always agree with Mr. Woodward’s judgments, and I’ve expressed those differences publicly. I’m also aware of the fact that it’s fashionable among some, including some conservatives, to disparage Woodward. But the truth is that he’s a monumentally important figure in the history of journalism. His books have genuine historical value. He’s not afraid to take on either Republican or Democratic presidents. And whatever his own political views are, he is first and foremost a reporter, and an awfully good one. Which he’s showed once again, in this most recent dust-up with the White House.

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Media Bias in the Age of Obama

The soft and at times obsequious interview Steve Kroft of “60 Minutes” did with Barack Obama (and Hillary Clinton) has received a lot of justifiable criticism. (Conor Friedersdorf demolishes Kroft in this piece.) Mr. Kroft didn’t help himself when he told CNN’s Piers Morgan that one of the reasons the president turns to Kroft so often is that he doesn’t use “gotcha questions” on Mr. Obama–the kind that “60 Minutes” routinely used against President Bush and other Republicans like Representative Eric Cantor.

But Mr. Kroft, as embarrassing as his interview was, is merely symptomatic of a larger phenomenon: the unprecedented swooning and cheerleading by the press for Barack Obama.

To say that the elite media has a liberal bias is similar to declaring that the sun rises in the east. But it’s never been this transparent, the infatuation never this deep, the advocacy this passionate. We are now seeing shows like “60 Minutes”–once a fearless giant in journalism–give interviews that you would expect to see on Entertainment Tonight or state-run television. We’re at the point when we have to count on tough interviews coming from news outlets like Univision. There are of course exceptions to this–journalists who are both tough-minded and fair-minded. But among the most significant political developments of our time is how many members of the press have become partisans in ways we’ve never before seen.

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The soft and at times obsequious interview Steve Kroft of “60 Minutes” did with Barack Obama (and Hillary Clinton) has received a lot of justifiable criticism. (Conor Friedersdorf demolishes Kroft in this piece.) Mr. Kroft didn’t help himself when he told CNN’s Piers Morgan that one of the reasons the president turns to Kroft so often is that he doesn’t use “gotcha questions” on Mr. Obama–the kind that “60 Minutes” routinely used against President Bush and other Republicans like Representative Eric Cantor.

But Mr. Kroft, as embarrassing as his interview was, is merely symptomatic of a larger phenomenon: the unprecedented swooning and cheerleading by the press for Barack Obama.

To say that the elite media has a liberal bias is similar to declaring that the sun rises in the east. But it’s never been this transparent, the infatuation never this deep, the advocacy this passionate. We are now seeing shows like “60 Minutes”–once a fearless giant in journalism–give interviews that you would expect to see on Entertainment Tonight or state-run television. We’re at the point when we have to count on tough interviews coming from news outlets like Univision. There are of course exceptions to this–journalists who are both tough-minded and fair-minded. But among the most significant political developments of our time is how many members of the press have become partisans in ways we’ve never before seen.

What explains this?

A combination of factors, I think. One is the rise of Fox News. For decades progressives had a monopoly on news, which meant they were content to slant the news but not routinely cross the line into advocacy. But now that Fox News has offered not only a different perspective, but a popular one, journalists may feel they must, in order to compensate for their loss of influence, increase their liberal advocacy.

A second factor is Barack Obama. He is liberal, Ivy League, and a person of color. That is simply too powerful of a combination for the elite media to resist. (If Obama were conservative, Ivy League, and a person of color, he would be a marked man, as Clarence Thomas has been.) Mr. Obama touches the media’s erogenous zone in ways that no other president, even JFK, ever has. One gets to sense that journalists not only like Mr. Obama; they are in awe of him. They want to impress him and please him and are afraid of being rebuked by him. (It is very much how my 3rd grade son views his teacher.) Being a bright fellow, Mr. Obama understands this, which is why from time to time he transitions from being president to being media critic. He issues marching orders to the elite media–and a stunningly high number of journalists salute and do as they are told.

A third factor is that more and more “objective” journalists seem to feel that liberalism is synonymous with social justice and they want to be in the midst of the fight to advance it. Hence we see people like Bob Schieffer and Tom Brokaw–who once upon a time would have actually tried to keep their biases reasonably in check–frame the issue over gun control as if we’re in Selma in 1965. It’s all rather silly–efforts to manufacture melodrama usually are–but I suppose there’s something emotionally satisfying about trying to recapture, over and over again, the moral moment that was the civil rights era.

All of this helps explain why Americans’ distrust in the media hit a new high in 2012, with 60 percent saying they have little or no trust in the mass media to report the news fully, accurately, and fairly.

There is some rough justice, I suppose, in members of the press being the architects in their own profession’s destruction. It will be interesting to see how much worse things will get, and what will finally emerge from the wreckage. 

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Israel Punished in Survey of Press Freedom for Targeting Hamas

In November, New York Times media reporter David Carr wrote about the deaths of three alleged “journalists” in Gaza during Israel’s counteroffensive there. Alana Goodman pointed out here that two of the three were “cameramen” working for a television station owned by Hamas. Both Hamas and the television station itself are designated terrorist organizations. Alana then pointed to stories identifying one of the men as a Hamas military commander and another as an officer in Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

Blogger Elder of Ziyon wrote that the whole episode was “not just an indictment of Carr. This is a systemic problem in the entire profession. The smugness that they are infallible, and the groupthink that they can rely on others’ work without double-checking it, all indicate that there is some significant daylight between how many journalists do their work and what the truth really is.” Carr had defended himself by saying other organizations referred to those killed as journalists. One of the organizations Carr mentioned was Reporters Without Borders, which, having duped Carr into treating terrorists as journalists has just released its rankings of press freedom worldwide–and it has dropped Israel 20 places for killing those terrorists that the organization convinced news outlets to treat as innocent journalists:

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In November, New York Times media reporter David Carr wrote about the deaths of three alleged “journalists” in Gaza during Israel’s counteroffensive there. Alana Goodman pointed out here that two of the three were “cameramen” working for a television station owned by Hamas. Both Hamas and the television station itself are designated terrorist organizations. Alana then pointed to stories identifying one of the men as a Hamas military commander and another as an officer in Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

Blogger Elder of Ziyon wrote that the whole episode was “not just an indictment of Carr. This is a systemic problem in the entire profession. The smugness that they are infallible, and the groupthink that they can rely on others’ work without double-checking it, all indicate that there is some significant daylight between how many journalists do their work and what the truth really is.” Carr had defended himself by saying other organizations referred to those killed as journalists. One of the organizations Carr mentioned was Reporters Without Borders, which, having duped Carr into treating terrorists as journalists has just released its rankings of press freedom worldwide–and it has dropped Israel 20 places for killing those terrorists that the organization convinced news outlets to treat as innocent journalists:

Journalists in Israel (112th, -20) enjoy real freedom of expression despite the existence of military censorship but the country fell in the index because of the Israeli military’s targeting of journalists in the Palestinian Territories.

Israel was of course not targeting journalists; Israel was targeting terrorists aided by gullible and biased journalists. But since Hamas started the fighting with rocket attacks, fired at Israeli residential areas, and dressed up terrorists as journalists to attract Israeli fire, surely the Palestinian territories were punished by Reporters Without Borders as well? Nope: the Palestinians’ ranking  jumps ahead seven spots.

On Monday, Michael Rubin noted that human rights organizations often act against their stated cause by doing things that could make war more deadly. The stunt pulled by Reporters Without Borders with collusion from the Times and other outlets quite obviously makes war more dangerous for actual journalists (war is already dangerous for Hamasniks, though the international community is working on a way to fix that too). But the report makes something else clear: those who expose the fact that Israel was targeting terrorists instead of journalists are wasting their breath on groups like Reporters Without Borders. The organization acknowledges that it docked Israel points for going after Hamas:

The 20-place fall of Israel (112nd) is due to the actions of the Israel Defence Forces in the Palestinian Territories – actions that used to be given a separate ranking in the index under the label of “Israel extraterritorial”. During Operation “Pillar of Defence” in November 2012, IDF deliberately targeted journalists and buildings housing media that are affiliated to Hamas or support it. And the arbitrary arrest and detention of Palestinian journalists is still commonplace. Israeli journalists meanwhile enjoy real freedom of expression but military censorship continues to be a structural problem.

The entry on the Palestinian territories does not even mention Hamasniks posing as journalists. Compared to last year, according to Reporters Without Borders, it’s all good news:

An improvement in relations between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas has had a positive impact on freedom of information and the working environment for journalists.

Neither the Palestinian Authority nor Hamas is known for having a “positive impact” on freedom of the press, but Hamas is worse than its rivals. I predict disappointment in Reporters Without Borders’s future if Hamas gains in influence within the PA structure in the West Bank. Meanwhile, the campaign to delegitimize Israel among NGOs continues apace without fairness, accuracy, shame, or, indeed, borders.

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John Kerry and the Spy

Scott Shane’s New York Times account of the prosecution of former CIA operative John Kiriakou begins:

Looking back, John C. Kiriakou admits he should have known better. But when the F.B.I. called him a year ago and invited him to stop by and “help us with a case,” he did not hesitate. In his years as a C.I.A. operative, after all, Mr. Kiriakou had worked closely with F.B.I. agents overseas. Just months earlier, he had reported to the bureau a recruiting attempt by someone he believed to be an Asian spy. “Anything for the F.B.I.,” Mr. Kiriakou replied.

Hence, under the pretense of that counterterrorism episode, Kiriakou agreed to speak to the FBI without a lawyer present. What Shane does not describe, however, is the backstory, an episode that reflects on how newly-confirmed Secretary of State John Kerry has put his own personal ambition above national security.

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Scott Shane’s New York Times account of the prosecution of former CIA operative John Kiriakou begins:

Looking back, John C. Kiriakou admits he should have known better. But when the F.B.I. called him a year ago and invited him to stop by and “help us with a case,” he did not hesitate. In his years as a C.I.A. operative, after all, Mr. Kiriakou had worked closely with F.B.I. agents overseas. Just months earlier, he had reported to the bureau a recruiting attempt by someone he believed to be an Asian spy. “Anything for the F.B.I.,” Mr. Kiriakou replied.

Hence, under the pretense of that counterterrorism episode, Kiriakou agreed to speak to the FBI without a lawyer present. What Shane does not describe, however, is the backstory, an episode that reflects on how newly-confirmed Secretary of State John Kerry has put his own personal ambition above national security.

Kiriakou was serving on Kerry’s Senate Foreign Relations Committee staff when he was allegedly approached by an Asian national who apparently offered him money for information. Kiriakou is not a wealthy man and despite the leaking plea, he is a patriot; he not only refused, but he also apparently reported the contact to the FBI immediately, as all government officials in a similar situation should.

The FBI requested Kiriakou cooperate in an effort to gather evidence on the alleged spy—presumably wear a wire or some such thing—and Kiriakou agreed. Enter Senator Kerry: Fearing any controversy which could envelope him—and a foreign intelligence service seeking confidential information counted in his mind as controversy—Kerry and his Senate Foreign Relations Committee staff director Frank Lowenstein, now with the Podesta Group, forbade any cooperation with the FBI that would prolong an investigation and involve a Kerry staffer cooperating with the FBI.

Problem solved, if the problem is political imagery. But if the problem is defense of national security, then Kerry seems to have decided his own ambition was the greater concern. How unfortunate, then, that he has been rewarded for such a cynical calculation. And how typical it is that The New York Times would not report on the broader issue because it might reflect badly on a politician the paper supports.

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Fox News Fights Back Against Obama Smear

Recently in an interview with the liberal magazine the New Republic on “his enemies, the media and the future of football,” President Obama took aim not just at his antagonists on Capitol Hill but also those in the press, particularly Fox News. He told the New Republic

One of the biggest factors is going to be how the media shapes debates. If a Republican member of Congress is not punished on Fox News or by Rush Limbaugh for working with a Democrat on a bill of common interest, then you’ll see more of them doing it.

The swipe at Fox wasn’t the president’s first, though it appears to have struck a nerve at the network. Two Fox personalities, Megyn Kelly and Kirsten Powers, responded to the president’s remarks. In a blog post on the Fox website, Kelly’s remarks were partially transcribed by the network, indicating the following was the main thrust of Fox’s argument against the statement:

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Recently in an interview with the liberal magazine the New Republic on “his enemies, the media and the future of football,” President Obama took aim not just at his antagonists on Capitol Hill but also those in the press, particularly Fox News. He told the New Republic

One of the biggest factors is going to be how the media shapes debates. If a Republican member of Congress is not punished on Fox News or by Rush Limbaugh for working with a Democrat on a bill of common interest, then you’ll see more of them doing it.

The swipe at Fox wasn’t the president’s first, though it appears to have struck a nerve at the network. Two Fox personalities, Megyn Kelly and Kirsten Powers, responded to the president’s remarks. In a blog post on the Fox website, Kelly’s remarks were partially transcribed by the network, indicating the following was the main thrust of Fox’s argument against the statement:

“For me this isn’t about what he said about Fox News [...] it’s about once again the president saying that if somebody disagrees with him, if Republicans disagree with him, it’s because someone has ‘gotten’ to them,” she told Fox News Digital political editor Chris Stirewalt. “It sounds dismissive of heartfelt beliefs that Republicans may hold or their constituents may hold that just don’t line up with his.”

One of Fox’s most vocal liberals, Kirsten Powers, took to the Fox opinion page to discuss Obama’s “war on Fox News.” 

Whether you are liberal or conservative, libertarian, moderate or politically agnostic, everyone should be concerned when leaders of our government believe they can intentionally try to delegitimize a news organization they don’t like. 

In fact, if you are a liberal – as I am – you should be the most offended, as liberalism is founded on the idea of cherishing dissent and an inviolable right to freedom of expression. 

That more liberals aren’t calling out the White House for this outrageous behavior tells you something about the state of liberalism in America today. 

Powers’s entire column is a must-read and holds the president’s feet to the fire on his administration’s efforts to remove Fox from the national conversation by denying the network equal access to conference calls and interviews. Despite Fox’s record-setting ratings, the president has deemed the network an illegitimate source of news while his allies at Media Matters declared their intention to destroy the network through “guerrilla warfare and sabotage.” It’s easy to imagine the kind of uproar President George W. Bush would have faced if he had made a similar attempt at stifling MSNBC or another liberal news outlet. It’s more difficult, however, to imagine President Bush actually attempting something so hostile to the free exchange of ideas and information.

While some media liberals spent the eight years of the Bush administration accusing the president of fascism, one would hope that the current president’s attempts to limit the freedom of the press to do their jobs would elicit a response of some kind. That no liberal but a Fox News paid contributor has forcefully pushed back against the president’s efforts portends a sad future for American liberalism, as Powers herself notes: “That more liberals aren’t calling out the White House for this outrageous behavior tells you something about the state of liberalism in America today.”

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The Israeli Election and the Media’s Teachable Moment

After the 2012 presidential election, liberals gave conservatives a piece of advice: do some soul searching, and get out of your media bubble. Conservatives were wrong about the election, they were told, because they turned their assumptions into predictions. So it will be interesting to find out if the leftist foreign-policy press is ready to take its own advice, after a colossally botched year of coverage leading up to this week’s Israeli Knesset election.

In his wrap-up of just how wrong the media was, Walter Russell Mead gives his readers the following tip: “As negotiations to form a coalition government unfold in the next few weeks, expect more of the same from the MSM”–referring to the mainstream media. I imagine he’s right about that; the liberal press in America got the Israeli election so wrong because they get Israel itself so wrong. But it’s easy to understand how this happens by reading the article that Mead singles out as the “piece of journalism that got furthest away from the facts”–David Remnick’s essay in the New Yorker, dated for this week to coincide with the elections, on the rise of Israel’s right. Remnick writes:

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After the 2012 presidential election, liberals gave conservatives a piece of advice: do some soul searching, and get out of your media bubble. Conservatives were wrong about the election, they were told, because they turned their assumptions into predictions. So it will be interesting to find out if the leftist foreign-policy press is ready to take its own advice, after a colossally botched year of coverage leading up to this week’s Israeli Knesset election.

In his wrap-up of just how wrong the media was, Walter Russell Mead gives his readers the following tip: “As negotiations to form a coalition government unfold in the next few weeks, expect more of the same from the MSM”–referring to the mainstream media. I imagine he’s right about that; the liberal press in America got the Israeli election so wrong because they get Israel itself so wrong. But it’s easy to understand how this happens by reading the article that Mead singles out as the “piece of journalism that got furthest away from the facts”–David Remnick’s essay in the New Yorker, dated for this week to coincide with the elections, on the rise of Israel’s right. Remnick writes:

More broadly, the story of the election is the implosion of the center-left and the vivid and growing strength of the radical right. What Bennett’s rise, in particular, represents is the attempt of the settlers to cement the occupation and to establish themselves as a vanguard party, the ideological and spiritual core of the entire country. Just as a small coterie of socialist kibbutzniks dominated the ethos and the public institutions of Israel in the first decades of the state’s existence, the religious nationalists, led by the settlers, intend to do so now and in the years ahead. In the liberal tribune Haaretz, the columnist Ari Shavit wrote, “What is now happening is impossible to view as anything but the takeover by a colonial province of its mother country.”

If that strikes you as a bit overdone, and maybe a conclusion that should have been subjected to rigorous cynicism before endorsing it, what follows that in the article offers a map for how this came to be published with such certainty. The next paragraph begins with a contemptuous dismissal of the Labor Party’s election platform and its focus on domestic issues, without even a quote from the party. But those aren’t important issues, we are told, and Remnick knows this because in the next paragraph he quotes Tzipi Livni telling him so. Livni’s old party was almost shut out of the next Knesset completely, holding on to what looks to be two Knesset seats (down from 28 in the 2009 elections). It’s fair to say that Livni was wrong about the “core issues.”

Remnick’s pessimism about the settlements continues, as he follows Livni’s section of the story with quotes from the director of Peace Now’s “Settlement Watch” project. And that is followed by former Palestinian legislator Ghassan Khatib, who is then followed in the story by the pro-settlement politician Danny Danon. After that, Remnick talks about the left’s favoritoe Israeli bogeyman, Avigdor Lieberman, and moves on to how Theodor Herzl would disapprove.

You’ll notice one thing missing from all this: the Israeli voter. There is no discussion of what was actually bothering Israelis about the Netanyahu government or their rejection of Livni’s attempts to lead a credible opposition. Remnick deserves credit for much about the piece: he interviews people with whom he vehemently disagrees at length, and lets them speak for themselves. He doesn’t simply bring up old quotes from the rightist Moshe Feiglin, for example, but talks to Feiglin himself to see if that’s where he still stands on the issues. He does not seem to cherry-pick statements or conceal the context of his conversations from the reader.

But it’s an article full of politicians whose beliefs dovetail with Remnick’s own expectations. Yair Lapid, who was the big story of the election by leading his party to 19 seats, is mentioned exactly once. Labor, the other party that improved its standing greatly by addressing the kitchen-table issues that regular Israelis had been talking and fretting about, is virtually absent; Labor Party head Shelly Yachimovich is not mentioned at all.

So should we expect more of this type of coverage from the media? History tells us that the writers and pundits who get Israel wrong do so consistently. But there’s a real opportunity here for a “teachable moment,” as our president might say. If you want to know what everyday Israelis think, just ask them. Trust me, they’ll tell you.

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Israel’s Equilibrium

Because of the consistent participation in Israel’s Knesset elections of new, ill-defined, and self-styled “centrist” parties, it can be difficult to accurately apply the labels “left” and “right” until after each election. Nonetheless, yesterday’s Israeli Knesset elections clearly represent a leftward shift. How far left? That remains to be seen. The election, as Evelyn noted, was about domestic issues and not the peace process. This is beneficial for Israelis, Jewish and Arab alike.

But because the resurgent Labor Party–which performed as well as it did because it has learned to downplay Oslo in favor of bread-and-butter issues–has more to gain long-term by staying out of the next governing coalition and regrouping and recruiting some more, the leftward shift will be most clearly felt on issues of religious identity. Simply put, the ultra-Orthodox will be up against something of a secular mandate. But all this will sort itself out in the coming weeks as coalition forming and its attendant horse-trading begins. The more interesting question for now is: Could the liberal American press, which hysterically predicted that the election would create a suicidally fascistic government, have known all along how wrong they were? The answer is yes–they just needed to learn a bit of Israeli history.

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Because of the consistent participation in Israel’s Knesset elections of new, ill-defined, and self-styled “centrist” parties, it can be difficult to accurately apply the labels “left” and “right” until after each election. Nonetheless, yesterday’s Israeli Knesset elections clearly represent a leftward shift. How far left? That remains to be seen. The election, as Evelyn noted, was about domestic issues and not the peace process. This is beneficial for Israelis, Jewish and Arab alike.

But because the resurgent Labor Party–which performed as well as it did because it has learned to downplay Oslo in favor of bread-and-butter issues–has more to gain long-term by staying out of the next governing coalition and regrouping and recruiting some more, the leftward shift will be most clearly felt on issues of religious identity. Simply put, the ultra-Orthodox will be up against something of a secular mandate. But all this will sort itself out in the coming weeks as coalition forming and its attendant horse-trading begins. The more interesting question for now is: Could the liberal American press, which hysterically predicted that the election would create a suicidally fascistic government, have known all along how wrong they were? The answer is yes–they just needed to learn a bit of Israeli history.

Israeli elections often hover around what amounts to an equilibrium. Two mainstream parties–Likud and Labor, historically–usually compete to form either a center-right government or a center-left government. Floating centrist parties come and go, often within one election cycle. Kadima is the exception that proves the rule. It was created by Ariel Sharon just before he was incapacitated. Once it was out of government and led by Tzipi Livni, it remodeled itself as the peace party–its existence as such only made possible by the struggles of Labor. It is no surprise, then, that in yesterday’s election Labor’s surge back to respectability and the emergence of Yair Lapid’s new centrist party nearly wiped Kadima out completely.

The equilibrium includes an Orthodox party, Shas, and in recent years there’s been more of an effort to include specifically secular representation to make up for the fading of the Israeli left. For a couple of election cycles that has been Avigdor Lieberman’s Israel Beiteinu, which has pushed for conscription for the ultra-Orthodox, civil marriage, and the decentralization of the Rabbinate’s state authority. This is an important point because for all the media’s complaints of the electorate’s rightward shift, thanks to Lieberman the left had many of its policy preferences championed from within a supposedly right-wing government. Space for a new secular party opened up when Israel Beiteinu merged with Likud prior to this election.

And that gets at a broader problem with the “Israel’s lurch to the right” chorus. Israeli politicians have opinions on an array of issues, both foreign and domestic. The Western left elevates any politician’s opinion on the peace process above all others; Israelis are not so myopic or simplistic. A consensus has formed in Israel about Oslo, the peace process, and Jerusalem. Few politicians gain much success by being far beyond the parameters of that consensus–to the right or left. In recent years, the left has been outside those lines, clinging to the memories and legacy of Oslo and stuck in the mid-1990s. Labor has now emerged from that vacation from reality enough to offer coherent thoughts on domestic policy, and has been rewarded by the electorate for joining the country in the 21st century.

This doesn’t mean the country is anti-peace. It’s simply the hardheaded realism that sustains Israel’s electoral equilibrium. The peace process has a way of crowding out everything else–meetings, summits, negotiations, visits to and from every busybody who wants a piece of the action, and the parade of special envoys convinced they’re Kissinger abound. And that leaves no time or energy or political capital–and in Israel, everything takes political capital–to attend to domestic reforms.

The Western press may sneer at an election that was more about the price of cottage cheese than the future of the two-state solution, but that’s because they don’t for one second put themselves in Israelis’ shoes and walk a mile or two. Israelis are not pieces on a chessboard, and yes, the price of cottage cheese makes a difference (though that was really just a stand-in for a general sense of concern over certain household economic trends).

The ability to compartmentalize the issues and leave the peace process in its box every so often is essential for Israel. Liberal journalists don’t seem to have this ability to compartmentalize and thus they cannot see past Oslo. Call it the triumph of Haaretz over experience–the leftist press lives in its own world. The irony of all this is that only by discarding liberal editorial boards’ peace process fantasies has the Israeli left been able to rebound back from relative obscurity. You can be inside the consensus sustained by Israel’s equilibrium or you can have an obsessive focus on the peace process, but not both–as yesterday’s election demonstrated once again.

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Are You There Obama? It’s Me, CNN

Over the weekend, CNN anchor and reporter Tom Foreman wrote a piece for CNN’s website explaining the genesis of a tradition he has kept for the last four years. He was absolutely correct that his behavior required an explanation, but the one he provided was far from adequate. Foreman has been writing President Obama a letter every single day of Obama’s first term. Some letters offered Obama advice, while others explained to Obama why Foreman rarely buys a lottery ticket. Some talked about his family, others about sports. He wondered whether Obama had read any of the 1,460 letters, and he asked the president to call if he got the chance. Some demonstrated Foreman’s lack of self-awareness more clearly than others, such as when he wrote this before Inauguration Day:

Of course, as a journalist I am paid to never get that “into” any candidate, but even if I had, I can’t imagine that I’d ever feel so strongly about an elected official that I’d pack my bags and get onto an airplane just to cheer for him or her from a distance. But hundreds of thousands of our fellow Americans are going to do that in just a few days because that is how they feel about you. Isn’t that something?

As an objective CNN reporter, he would never get so “into” a candidate as to travel to watch him speak. But he would write said candidate more than a thousand letters. But beyond the strangeness of it all, and the obvious questions about bias, lies another revealing element of this. The family updates, the requests for Obama to please call him when he’s not too busy, the wondering if Obama ever read all those letters: liberals, especially those in the media, have a particularly off-putting way of treating Obama as a father figure.

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Over the weekend, CNN anchor and reporter Tom Foreman wrote a piece for CNN’s website explaining the genesis of a tradition he has kept for the last four years. He was absolutely correct that his behavior required an explanation, but the one he provided was far from adequate. Foreman has been writing President Obama a letter every single day of Obama’s first term. Some letters offered Obama advice, while others explained to Obama why Foreman rarely buys a lottery ticket. Some talked about his family, others about sports. He wondered whether Obama had read any of the 1,460 letters, and he asked the president to call if he got the chance. Some demonstrated Foreman’s lack of self-awareness more clearly than others, such as when he wrote this before Inauguration Day:

Of course, as a journalist I am paid to never get that “into” any candidate, but even if I had, I can’t imagine that I’d ever feel so strongly about an elected official that I’d pack my bags and get onto an airplane just to cheer for him or her from a distance. But hundreds of thousands of our fellow Americans are going to do that in just a few days because that is how they feel about you. Isn’t that something?

As an objective CNN reporter, he would never get so “into” a candidate as to travel to watch him speak. But he would write said candidate more than a thousand letters. But beyond the strangeness of it all, and the obvious questions about bias, lies another revealing element of this. The family updates, the requests for Obama to please call him when he’s not too busy, the wondering if Obama ever read all those letters: liberals, especially those in the media, have a particularly off-putting way of treating Obama as a father figure.

Foreman’s far from alone. Whether it’s liberals writing in worshipful tones that Obama is like a basketball star taking the time out to play with kids (Congress, in this case), or Kevin Drum’s announcement that if he and Obama “were in a room and disagreed about some issue on which I had any doubt at all, I’d literally trust his judgment over my own,” the leftist intellectual class speaks and writes from a childlike perspective when it comes to Obama.

It is human nature to think more highly of those we agree with than those we think are usually wrong. And it is true that the liberal anti-intellectualism of recent years has not yet begun to fade. But the liberal inclination to literally–to use Drum’s word–outsource their thinking to a Democratic president is an Obama-era phenomenon. And this kind of bias as well as the more popular brand of cultish behavior will only get worse in Obama’s second term, with the president’s Second Inaugural clearly expressing the fact that yes, he is a standard-issue left-liberal and no, he’s not Eisenhower, or George H.W. Bush, or Bill Clinton or any other of the centrist personalities to which the left bizarrely and against all evidence compared Obama in his first term.

It also presents CNN with a bit of a challenge. They’re not hiding Foreman’s letters, after all–they’re promoting them. And CNN reporter Jim Acosta was observed on-air expressing his giddiness over being close to Obama at the inauguration. Of the three major cable news stations Fox has always been on the right, CNN the left, and MSNBC far out on the fringe. But CNN has sought to move MSNBC into the mainstream left and position itself in the center. It is unlikely that a single person in the country believes this. And it makes CNN look a bit ridiculous, like they’re the only ones not in on the joke.

Liberal journalism professor Jay Rosen has for quite some time advised media companies to just embrace their biases and stop pretending. It would probably earn them some goodwill from viewers, who can’t possibly take CNN seriously if the network is going to claim impartiality while its anchors are one-way pen pals with the president.

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Misunderstanding Israel’s Election

Just as we already know the broad outlines of today’s Israeli election, we also know pretty much what the international and American media will say about the results. They will tell us that the victory of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the parties that make up his current coalition represents a sharp step to the right for Israel. It will be portrayed as a rejection of peace and a blow to the chance of a two-state solution to the conflict. Sadly, it will almost certainly lead to editorials and op-eds calling for a reevaluation of the U.S.-Israel alliance and even for American Jews to question the ties between their community and the Jewish state. The narrative of a cruel Israel that is indifferent to the suffering of the Palestinians will be endlessly rehearsed and the vote will be used to justify the isolation of Israel and to garner support for the BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) movement. But while it is true that the likely outcome of the vote will show gains for Israel’s right-wing and nationalist parties, the reason for this, as well as the sentiments of the voters, will be misunderstood and falsely construed.

Netanyahu’s victory as well as the major gains that will be scored by the party to his right, led by Naftali Bennett, will not be largely the result of a philosophical shift to embrace right-wing ideology. It is not the charms of the notoriously unlikeable Netanyahu or even the undeniable attraction that Bennett has for many Israelis who like his modern outlook as well as his military and business record. The change in the Israeli electorate from an evenly divided electorate between left and right is due entirely to the experience of the last 20 years, during which Israel has tried to make peace with the Palestinians. It is the Palestinians’ consistent rejection of peace and embrace of terror and violence that has changed the minds of so many Israelis and convinced them that even though they want a two-state solution, there is no partner for peace with whom they can make such a deal. Rather than damn Israelis for turning their backs on peace, the rest of the world, and especially Americans who think of themselves as friends of Israel, should be asking themselves what it is that Israelis know about their neighborhood that they have preferred to ignore.

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Just as we already know the broad outlines of today’s Israeli election, we also know pretty much what the international and American media will say about the results. They will tell us that the victory of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the parties that make up his current coalition represents a sharp step to the right for Israel. It will be portrayed as a rejection of peace and a blow to the chance of a two-state solution to the conflict. Sadly, it will almost certainly lead to editorials and op-eds calling for a reevaluation of the U.S.-Israel alliance and even for American Jews to question the ties between their community and the Jewish state. The narrative of a cruel Israel that is indifferent to the suffering of the Palestinians will be endlessly rehearsed and the vote will be used to justify the isolation of Israel and to garner support for the BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) movement. But while it is true that the likely outcome of the vote will show gains for Israel’s right-wing and nationalist parties, the reason for this, as well as the sentiments of the voters, will be misunderstood and falsely construed.

Netanyahu’s victory as well as the major gains that will be scored by the party to his right, led by Naftali Bennett, will not be largely the result of a philosophical shift to embrace right-wing ideology. It is not the charms of the notoriously unlikeable Netanyahu or even the undeniable attraction that Bennett has for many Israelis who like his modern outlook as well as his military and business record. The change in the Israeli electorate from an evenly divided electorate between left and right is due entirely to the experience of the last 20 years, during which Israel has tried to make peace with the Palestinians. It is the Palestinians’ consistent rejection of peace and embrace of terror and violence that has changed the minds of so many Israelis and convinced them that even though they want a two-state solution, there is no partner for peace with whom they can make such a deal. Rather than damn Israelis for turning their backs on peace, the rest of the world, and especially Americans who think of themselves as friends of Israel, should be asking themselves what it is that Israelis know about their neighborhood that they have preferred to ignore.

Bennett’s rise is the big story in this election, and there’s little doubt that his mix of traditional Zionist sentiment and hardheaded thinking about the Palestinians is generating a surge for his Jewish Home Party that puzzles liberal Americans. It is true that many in his party represent hard-core settlers and illiberal religious leaders who have little in common with Americans. But his appeal is also the product of a realization on the part of some more secular Israelis that his approach is a throwback to a more heroic era in Israeli thought. Though the tension between Netanyahu and Bennett, who once worked for the prime minister, is palpable, he is a mainstream figure whose future in his country’s politics is likely to eventually find him back in the Likud rather than leading a smaller party.

But while some insist that this is a “Seinfeld” election that is about nothing, that nothing is a context in which the country’s once-dominant left-wing parties and traditional left have been essentially marginalized or forced to drop peace as a major issue, as is the case with Labor. Where once there was a consensus that Israel needed to try to trade land for peace with the Palestinians, after Oslo, the withdrawal from Gaza, and the rejection by both Yasir Arafat and his successor Mahmoud Abbas of Israeli offers of statehood that included a share of Jerusalem, only a mindless ideologue can pretend that the lack of peace is due to Israel’s failure to make concessions. The fact that the Likud and its nationalist competitors have shifted even more to the right on peace is rooted in a widespread understanding that, as Bennett’s TV ads say, the Palestinians are no more likely to ever accept a two-state solution (no matter where Israel’s borders would be drawn) than for “The Sopranos” to make a comeback.

If many Americans not otherwise prejudiced against Jews and Israel nevertheless blame the Jewish state for the standoff in the Middle East, it is largely due to ignorance of the context of events in the Middle East and the history of the conflict. Rather than thinking, as President Obama reportedly does, that we understand Israel’s “best interests” better than the country’s voters, Americans should show a little humility. If Netanyahu and the right are winning, it is not because Israelis don’t want peace but because they have paid attention to the events of the last two decades and drawn the only possible conclusion.

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The Times Spots a Squirrel

The New York Times, the very apotheosis of agenda-driven “journalism,” has a front-page story today that takes up a quarter of that page, above the fold, and half an inside page, entitled, “Not Even Close: 2012 Was the Hottest Ever in U.S.” It covers the recently issued report of NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center regarding last year’s weather statistics.

The Times correctly tells its readers what NOAA reported, which fits in perfectly with the Times’s take on global warming. What it does not do is question in any way, shape or form, whether the statistics in the report are accurate.

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The New York Times, the very apotheosis of agenda-driven “journalism,” has a front-page story today that takes up a quarter of that page, above the fold, and half an inside page, entitled, “Not Even Close: 2012 Was the Hottest Ever in U.S.” It covers the recently issued report of NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center regarding last year’s weather statistics.

The Times correctly tells its readers what NOAA reported, which fits in perfectly with the Times’s take on global warming. What it does not do is question in any way, shape or form, whether the statistics in the report are accurate.

But there are a lot of questions, as Power Line reported yesterday. Anthony Watts, who runs the highly popular Watts Up With That blog on climate change, has uncovered evidence that the data had been systematically corrupted in order to produce the desired curve of rising temperatures. For instance, he found that in the original paper versions of data from February 1934, the average temperature for that month in Arizona is given as 52.0 degrees F. In the current on-line data available from the National Climatic Data Center, the average temperature for Arizona in February 1934, is given as having been 48.9 degrees. The difference of more than three degrees is huge.

If Anthony Watts’s reporting is accurate, this would be gross scientific malpractice. I haven’t the faintest idea who is right here, Anthony Watts or the NCDC, as I am neither a climatologist nor a statistician. But one would think that the New York Times, with its unmatched journalistic resources, might have looked into the discrepancy before running with the story.

After all, if they could discredit Watts Up With That, they would diminish a major critic of the global warming hypothesis. If they can prove that the NCDC data has been cooked, they will have uncovered a major government scandal, and that sells newspapers, which is the business the Times is supposed to be in.

But, it seems, there’s an agenda to advance and so … Oh, look, a squirrel!

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Those Courageous Liberals

The question at the heart of the Chuck Hagel controversy was always whether President Obama actually wanted Hagel as his secretary of defense, or whether it was all a gimmick to trick the press into further proclaiming the absurd-beyond-belief characterization of Obama’s cabinet as a “team of rivals.” You would think it would raise some eyebrows that this supposed ream of rivals all agree with each other. But Obama figured the press could be fooled again by appointing a registered Republican to run the Pentagon.

A gimmick, however, is generally not worth fighting for. But to understand why Obama thought the press could be fooled so easily into this nonsense, take a look at yesterday’s National Journal article, which broke the news that the White House is considering dropping Hagel. It’s a well-reported piece that got a scoop where everyone else merely had inklings. But notice the way this straight news story characterizes Hagel’s stand on the Iraq War:

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The question at the heart of the Chuck Hagel controversy was always whether President Obama actually wanted Hagel as his secretary of defense, or whether it was all a gimmick to trick the press into further proclaiming the absurd-beyond-belief characterization of Obama’s cabinet as a “team of rivals.” You would think it would raise some eyebrows that this supposed ream of rivals all agree with each other. But Obama figured the press could be fooled again by appointing a registered Republican to run the Pentagon.

A gimmick, however, is generally not worth fighting for. But to understand why Obama thought the press could be fooled so easily into this nonsense, take a look at yesterday’s National Journal article, which broke the news that the White House is considering dropping Hagel. It’s a well-reported piece that got a scoop where everyone else merely had inklings. But notice the way this straight news story characterizes Hagel’s stand on the Iraq War:

While much of the criticism centers on questions of whether Hagel has been a strong enough supporter of Israel and tough enough on Iran–as well as past comments he made about gay people–he is also paying, in part, for his bluntness and bravery in advocating unpopular positions during his 12 years in the Senate. Hagel’s gutsy and prescient stand against his own party and President George W. Bush in the run-up to the Iraq invasion—and his criticism of the war’s management afterwards—all but cost him his political career, turning him from a possible GOP presidential contender into a pariah within his party.

As John Tabin noted last night, something is missing from the description of Hagel’s “prescient” stand against the Iraq War. And that something would be Hagel’s vote in favor of the Iraq War. What’s more, turning on the war effort when trouble hit was far from constituting “bravery,” as National Journal would have it. It was the popular thing to do.

Beyond the fact that reporters should not be bestowing medals upon politicians in straight news articles such as this, and in addition to the need to actually get the history and the facts right, there is the pattern of the press deciding that whenever a politician takes a stand on an issue that they agree with, it’s brave and courageous.

Hagel didn’t vote against the Iraq War, so his bravery consists of badmouthing Republicans and conservatives. In our current media climate, that is possibly among the least-brave acts one can take. But yesterday’s news also centered on the ongoing controversy over gun control in the wake of the Newtown tragedy–and it followed the same pattern and took the same tone it has since the fatal shooting took place. In a column about gun control, the New York Times’s Nicholas Kristof had earlier asked: “Do We Have the Courage to Stop This?” What kind of courage, specifically, do we need? Kristof answers: “the gumption to stand up to National Rifle Association extremists.”

Of course. Just as in the case of Hagel’s nomination, we hear of powerful lobbies controlling members of Congress. But is it really courageous to attack the NRA? Bashing the NRA has been a daily ritual since the tragedy in Newtown, and both Republican lawmakers and Democratic legislators have said they’re open to adjusting their positions on gun control in favor of stricter rules and in defiance of the NRA.

But of course to the left, listening to interest groups can also be courageous and wise—it just depends on the interest groups. California Governor Jerry Brown is presiding over a fiscal basket case well on its way to becoming a failed state. But the L.A. Times, in discussing how to grade Brown’s year, can’t decide “whether to give him a B-plus, an A-minus or a full A.” What did Brown do to earn such accolades? He raised taxes on the state’s high earners. Specifically, “He merged his tax proposal with a more liberal version sponsored by the California Federation of Teachers.”

So allowing public sector union leaders to write legislation aimed at protecting their benefits by getting to choose who pays for them gets Brown on the dean’s list. It doesn’t seem to matter that the tax increase is already seen as a laughable bit of delusional public policy and that the state’s finances keep getting worse even as Brown and the unions celebrate their victory. When the tax initiative seemed headed for defeat, its supporters in the business community stepped forward to rally support. In another supposed straight news article, the San Francisco Chronicle called supporters of the tax hike “The few and the brave.” In case you didn’t get the point, one of the major liberal groups supporting the measure calls itself the Courage Campaign. After the tax passed, Brown praised the state’s “courageous decision.”

The liberal press knows bravery when it sees it. It’s just a coincidence that by their own criteria, America’s newspaper reporters join the Hagels and Browns up on that pedestal.

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The Times Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Map

On December 7, the New York Times website ran a “correction” to Jodi Rudoren’s article on the E1 area between Jerusalem and Ma’ale Adumim (a community of about 40,000 Jews living less than two miles east of the capital). The Times acknowledged that, contrary to the article, the E1 plans “would not divide the West Bank in two” and “would not technically make a contiguous Palestinian state impossible” (emphasis added). As Israeli ambassador Michael Oren noted, one would know this if one were to “just look at a map.”

Elliott Abrams wrote that it was “just plain extraordinary” that the Times’ Jerusalem bureau chief “knows so little about the geography of the Jerusalem area that she could write such things.” He suggested a reason for her errors:

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On December 7, the New York Times website ran a “correction” to Jodi Rudoren’s article on the E1 area between Jerusalem and Ma’ale Adumim (a community of about 40,000 Jews living less than two miles east of the capital). The Times acknowledged that, contrary to the article, the E1 plans “would not divide the West Bank in two” and “would not technically make a contiguous Palestinian state impossible” (emphasis added). As Israeli ambassador Michael Oren noted, one would know this if one were to “just look at a map.”

Elliott Abrams wrote that it was “just plain extraordinary” that the Times’ Jerusalem bureau chief “knows so little about the geography of the Jerusalem area that she could write such things.” He suggested a reason for her errors:

“Here’s my theory: that just about everyone she knows … know that they are true. Settlements are bad, the right-wing Israeli government is bad, new construction makes peace impossible and cuts the West Bank in half and destroys contiguity and means a Palestinian state is impossible. They just know it, it’s obvious, so why would you have to refer to a map, or talk to people who would tell you it’s all wrong?”

In an email to Politico, Rudoren said she “deeply regretted” that “on deadline, late at night and at the end of a very long couple of weeks, I used imprecise language and, yes, did not study the map carefully enough.” She asserted she consults “a broad variety of people” and that “most of the people” she associates with do not have “any particular perspective.” At Israel Matzav, Carl in Jerusalem ran an experiment to test Rudoren’s assertion, and cast some doubt on it.

Then on December 20, the Times ran an editorial entitled “The Fading Mideast Peace Dream”–and repeated the same Rudoren errors, alleging the E1 plans “would split the West Bank” and “prevent the creation of a viable contiguous Palestinian state.” What made the Times–two weeks after it knew the assertions were false–repeat them on its editorial page? The editors were not working on deadline, and they had ready access to maps. They had corrected Rudoren’s assertions not only December 7 on their website, but on December 16 in the print version of the paper, on page A3. They had presumably read Oren’s “just look at a map” article, since it appeared in the New York Daily News a week earlier.

I have a theory. The Times has a “worldview” of “political and cultural progressivism” that “virtually bleeds through the fabric of The Times,” treating certain developments “more like causes than news subjects.” Actually, it’s not a theory, and it’s not mine. The words are those of Arthur Brisbane, in his final column earlier this year, summing up his two years as the Times’s public editor. There is a logical corollary: you are not likely to become the Times’s Jerusalem bureau chief without subscribing to its worldview of Israel–one that, as the Times editorial shows, produces errors caused by something more than long weeks and nights, deadlines, and insufficient map study.

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