Commentary Magazine


Topic: New York Times

Friedman’s Immoral Intifada

After the publication earlier this week of the New York Observer’s scathing feature about the New York Times opinion section, the focus of much of the behind-the-scenes dishing in the piece—foreign affairs columnist Thomas L. Friedman—as if on cue, produced another vivid illustration of why his reputation is in tatters, both in his own newsroom and beyond. Friedman’s cliché-ridden postulations of the conventional wisdom have become a bi-weekly self-parody and an embarrassment not only to liberalism but also to journalism. But yesterday’s column is a particularly good example of why it’s now officially open season for critics of his work and the paper’s opinion section that he calls home.

The column, entitled “The Third Intifada,” is but his latest iteration of an all-too-familiar Friedman rant on why Israeli settlements in the West Bank are wrong and will ultimately undermine support for the Jewish state. He claims the movement to boycott, divest, and sanction (BDS) Israel is, in effect, the third uprising against the Jewish state, and one that will have a better chance of succeeding than the earlier two, perpetrated by the Palestinians alone. Speaking up in support of Secretary of State John Kerry’s threats of more boycotts should the Netanyahu government fail to satisfy the Palestinians, Friedman says the reason this intifada will succeed where the others failed is that this one, supported by leftists in Europe and in academic swamps in the United States, makes Israelis feel “morally insecure.”

There is an argument that can be made to support the proposition that Israel’s policy of building Jewish communities throughout the territories was a mistake. But Friedman does not make this argument. Friedman’s column falls apart because of two basic flaws that are typical of his work whenever he writes on Israel. One is that he perennially ignores or dismisses the Palestinian role in the equation. The other is that even as he gives the boycotters the moral high ground he concedes—albeit buried at the bottom of his column—that many of them are not motivated by morality or even by concern for the plight of the Palestinians but by simple anti-Semitism. That single point renders his entire column both self-contradictory and patently illogical. In other words, you needn’t be a supporter of settlements or even of Israel to understand that this column—like so many others he has written—is a jumble of clichés that sheds no light on the subject other than to highlight the author’s unfailing anti-Israel bias and utter moral confusion.

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After the publication earlier this week of the New York Observer’s scathing feature about the New York Times opinion section, the focus of much of the behind-the-scenes dishing in the piece—foreign affairs columnist Thomas L. Friedman—as if on cue, produced another vivid illustration of why his reputation is in tatters, both in his own newsroom and beyond. Friedman’s cliché-ridden postulations of the conventional wisdom have become a bi-weekly self-parody and an embarrassment not only to liberalism but also to journalism. But yesterday’s column is a particularly good example of why it’s now officially open season for critics of his work and the paper’s opinion section that he calls home.

The column, entitled “The Third Intifada,” is but his latest iteration of an all-too-familiar Friedman rant on why Israeli settlements in the West Bank are wrong and will ultimately undermine support for the Jewish state. He claims the movement to boycott, divest, and sanction (BDS) Israel is, in effect, the third uprising against the Jewish state, and one that will have a better chance of succeeding than the earlier two, perpetrated by the Palestinians alone. Speaking up in support of Secretary of State John Kerry’s threats of more boycotts should the Netanyahu government fail to satisfy the Palestinians, Friedman says the reason this intifada will succeed where the others failed is that this one, supported by leftists in Europe and in academic swamps in the United States, makes Israelis feel “morally insecure.”

There is an argument that can be made to support the proposition that Israel’s policy of building Jewish communities throughout the territories was a mistake. But Friedman does not make this argument. Friedman’s column falls apart because of two basic flaws that are typical of his work whenever he writes on Israel. One is that he perennially ignores or dismisses the Palestinian role in the equation. The other is that even as he gives the boycotters the moral high ground he concedes—albeit buried at the bottom of his column—that many of them are not motivated by morality or even by concern for the plight of the Palestinians but by simple anti-Semitism. That single point renders his entire column both self-contradictory and patently illogical. In other words, you needn’t be a supporter of settlements or even of Israel to understand that this column—like so many others he has written—is a jumble of clichés that sheds no light on the subject other than to highlight the author’s unfailing anti-Israel bias and utter moral confusion.

Friedman is right about one thing. The BDS movement must be seen in the same historic context as the previous intifadas and, indeed, all the other Arab wars waged against Israel since its birth in 1948. The purpose of BDS is not to shame Israelis into giving up a bit more land than they’ve already offered the Palestinians, who refused three offers of an independent state including almost all of the West Bank, Gaza, and a share of Jerusalem in 2000, 2001, and 2008. Like mainstream Palestinian nationalism, BDS seeks Israel’s total destruction.

Anti-Semitism isn’t merely an aspect of BDS: it is its essence. Those who single out the one Jewish state in the world for moral opprobrium that they choose not to impose on any other country—including those with monstrous rights violations—is nothing but an expression of bigotry. Those who would deny the Jews what they grant to all others—the right to sovereignty in their homeland and the right to self-defense—are bigots, not human-rights activists. To grant such a movement, as Friedman does, the mantle of the late Nelson Mandela, as the cutting edge of human-rights activism isn’t merely obtuse; it’s an abomination.

The sinister motives of the BDS movement ought to have been a red flag to Kerry and his sidekick Friedman that its actions are beyond the pale. Instead, they offer their tacit support in the unconscionable belief that an American threat of isolation will weaken Israel’s resolve to drive a hard bargain with the Palestinians. Also like Kerry, who regards Palestinian incitement and murderous attacks on Israelis as not worthy of his attention, Friedman treats the behavior and the demands of the Palestinian Authority in this conflict as beneath his notice. Yet as long as the Palestinians continue to demand a “right of return” for the descendants of the 1948 refugees and refuse to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn—measures that would signify their willingness to end rather than to merely pause the conflict—any discussion of settlement freezes are pointless.

Friedman’s latest demand for a freeze in building in the settlements is all the more deceitful because he knows that previous freezes have failed to persuade the Palestinians either to negotiate in good faith or to reduce their deadly violence. The focus on the building is also disingenuous because Friedman is well aware that almost all new building is taking place either in Jerusalem or within settlement blocs that he knows perfectly well Israel will retain in the event of a peace treaty. Rather than encouraging peace, columns such as Friedman’s that focus on such freezes merely encourage the Palestinians to think they can get the U.S. to back their demand for the eviction of hundreds of thousands of Jews from their homes, most of whom are living in Jewish neighborhoods or in suburbs of Jerusalem that have existed for decades.

Treating such building or the anger of many Israelis at Kerry’s presumptions as the moral equivalent of the Palestinian Authority’s honoring terrorist murderers or broadcasting hate speech is merely further proof of the profundity of the columnist’s moral confusion. Unlike Friedman, Israelis have been forced to pay the closest, daily attention to what the Palestinians have been doing and saying during the past 20 years of peace processing. That’s why serious-minded Israelis pay no attention to the Times‘s foreign-policy guru. Unfortunately for his newspaper, as the Observer noted, the rest of the world, not to mention his New York Times colleagues, have also caught on to him.

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The Tragedy of the Times Editorial Page

The New York Observer ran an article yesterday not only on how awful the New York Times editorial pages have become (hardly a stop-the-presses news item), but how fed up and in “semi-open revolt” the news side of the Times is about the editorial side. Referring to Andrew Rosenthal, the Times’s editorial page editor, one Times reporter said, “Andy’s got 14 or 15 people plus a whole bevy of assistants working on these three unsigned editorials every day. They’re completely reflexively liberal, utterly predictable, usually poorly written and totally ineffectual. I mean, just try and remember the last time that anybody was talking about one of those editorials.”

For obvious reasons, the reporter was speaking not for attribution. The article is not-to-be-missed reading, as Times reporters eviscerate the likes of Tom Friedman (“an embarrassment”) and Maureen Dowd, (“[she’s] been writing the same column since George H. W. Bush was president”).

Today, the Times’s lead editorial demonstrated just what the news-side guys are talking about. Entitled “Freeing Workers From the Insurance Trap,” it is nothing more than a slight restatement of what Jay Carney peddled yesterday at the White House news briefing. Had it been issued as a White House press release (and maybe it was, just sent only to Andrew Rosenthal), I doubt anyone would have doubted its authenticity.

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The New York Observer ran an article yesterday not only on how awful the New York Times editorial pages have become (hardly a stop-the-presses news item), but how fed up and in “semi-open revolt” the news side of the Times is about the editorial side. Referring to Andrew Rosenthal, the Times’s editorial page editor, one Times reporter said, “Andy’s got 14 or 15 people plus a whole bevy of assistants working on these three unsigned editorials every day. They’re completely reflexively liberal, utterly predictable, usually poorly written and totally ineffectual. I mean, just try and remember the last time that anybody was talking about one of those editorials.”

For obvious reasons, the reporter was speaking not for attribution. The article is not-to-be-missed reading, as Times reporters eviscerate the likes of Tom Friedman (“an embarrassment”) and Maureen Dowd, (“[she’s] been writing the same column since George H. W. Bush was president”).

Today, the Times’s lead editorial demonstrated just what the news-side guys are talking about. Entitled “Freeing Workers From the Insurance Trap,” it is nothing more than a slight restatement of what Jay Carney peddled yesterday at the White House news briefing. Had it been issued as a White House press release (and maybe it was, just sent only to Andrew Rosenthal), I doubt anyone would have doubted its authenticity.

It argues, like Carney, that the destruction of 2.5 million jobs over the next ten years, as predicted by the non-partisan (but liberal-leaning) Congressional Budget Office, is wonderful news because it will mean that 2.5 million wage slaves have decided, thanks to ObamaCare, to opt for a life of elegant leisure instead of working. How that squares with the universally held opinion that robust job growth, not shrinkage, is the key to a robust recovery, or the fact that 7.8 million Americans are working part-time because they can’t find full-time jobs, is blithely ignored.

Virtually no one agrees with the White House or the Times on this, of course. The Wall Street Journal writes that, “now we learn that the law is a job destroyer that is removing rungs from the ladder of upward economic mobility.” As Peter Wehner noted, John Podhoretz thinks the CBO report is a “death blow” to ObamaCare. Even Dana Milbank of the Washington Post, not exactly a right-wing zealot, writes that “This is grim news for the White House and for Democrats on the ballot in November. This independent arbiter, long embraced by the White House, has validated a core complaint of the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) critics: that it will discourage work and become an ungainly entitlement. Disputing Republicans’ charges is much easier than refuting the federal government’s official scorekeepers.”

The descent of what was once by far the world’s most influential editorial page into banal irrelevance and party-line predictability is a journalistic tragedy. It reminds me a bit of King Lear.

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Hillary and the “Preventable Tragedy”

In today’s New York Times, the paper’s editorial column addresses the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on the Benghazi terror attack and draws some strong conclusions about what happened and why. The piece soberly digests the findings and rightly concludes that even when one takes into account the difficult circumstances in Libya on September 11, 2012, there is no escaping the fact that the State Department was at fault:

In the last analysis, however, it is the State Department that must bear most of the blame for failing to provide adequate security and not preventing the preventable. This leaves the department on the same hook that an investigation by former Ambassador Thomas Pickering and Adm. Mike Mullen, the retired chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, put it on last year when it faulted the department’s “systemic failures and leadership and management deficiencies.”

For once, the Times editorial page is right on target with its analysis. Though the department’s leadership has consistently attempted to divert public attention from its blunders, as the paper accurately concludes, subsequent reforms in its procedures have come “tragically very late in the game.” But there is one element missing from this analysis. Indeed, one could say there are two vital and inescapable words that are nowhere to be found in it: Hillary and Clinton.

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In today’s New York Times, the paper’s editorial column addresses the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on the Benghazi terror attack and draws some strong conclusions about what happened and why. The piece soberly digests the findings and rightly concludes that even when one takes into account the difficult circumstances in Libya on September 11, 2012, there is no escaping the fact that the State Department was at fault:

In the last analysis, however, it is the State Department that must bear most of the blame for failing to provide adequate security and not preventing the preventable. This leaves the department on the same hook that an investigation by former Ambassador Thomas Pickering and Adm. Mike Mullen, the retired chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, put it on last year when it faulted the department’s “systemic failures and leadership and management deficiencies.”

For once, the Times editorial page is right on target with its analysis. Though the department’s leadership has consistently attempted to divert public attention from its blunders, as the paper accurately concludes, subsequent reforms in its procedures have come “tragically very late in the game.” But there is one element missing from this analysis. Indeed, one could say there are two vital and inescapable words that are nowhere to be found in it: Hillary and Clinton.

As Senator John McCain noted this week on the floor of the Senate when discussing the paper’s coverage of the aftermath of the Benghazi attack and the scandal attaching to subsequent attempts by the administration to mislead the public about it, the Times has been “an ever-reliable surrogate for the administration” on all things Benghazi. But never, even when publishing a badly reported piece falsely claiming that there was no al-Qaeda involvement in the attack, has the paper displayed its partisan bias in so brazen a manner as in this editorial.

Contrary to conspiracy theorists, Mrs. Clinton did not intend the death of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans at the American post in Benghazi, when she chose not to involve herself in the discussions about security in Libya. There is almost certainly no “smoking gun” memo to be found in which she expresses indifference to the possibility of a terror attack or another in which she orders people to lie about the event after it had occurred, even though that is exactly what happened when talking points were distributed that falsely characterized the terror attack as a case of movie criticism run amok. But if, as the Times correctly notes, the fault for not “preventing the preventable” must lie with the State Department, how is it possible to condemn the agency without even mentioning that responsibility for that failure must be laid at the feet of the person running the place?

The reason for the decision not to prioritize security in Libya is not exactly a mystery. Mrs. Clinton did not ask questions about the topic or see to it, as was her responsibility, that our missions were not being left unprotected simply because the topic was not of any great interest to her. Since the president was running for reelection in part on the strength of a belief that al-Qaeda was no longer a threat after the death of Osama bin Laden, any attention devoted to counter-terror activities or security in a country that was thought to be securely in the hands of friends of the United States was bad politics. That also explains the almost reflexive instinct on the part of Clinton and others in the diplomatic and security apparatus to deny what happened was an act of terror even after it was obvious to all those in the know.

Though these were the aspects of the job that Mrs. Clinton relished, running a vast enterprise like the U.S. Department of State is about more than making speeches and racking up frequent flyer miles on the way to photo opportunities. It also means taking responsibility for an enormous government agency and holding all those who administer its various departments accountable. And, as Benghazi proved, it was on that more prosaic but ultimately vital task, that her leadership proved inadequate.

Given that Mrs. Clinton appears on track to be asking the country to put her in charge of a far larger enterprise than merely the State Department—the entire federal government—if she is elected president in 2016, it is not unfair to ask whether her record on Benghazi ought to influence the decision of the voters. But that is one question that the New York Times dare not ask even as it takes the agency she ran to task for failures and misconduct that happened on her watch.

Though there is really no comparison to the most notorious public scandal of the last week—New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s Bridgegate—it should be noted that the Times has run three editorials in the last eight days on that topic. The Times has rightly taken Christie to task not just for the egregious traffic jam that his aides manufactured but also for creating an atmosphere in which such misconduct could happen. It has also correctly noted that whether or not he knew in advance about the scheme, since it happened on his watch as governor, he bears responsibility for what happened. Yet even though four more people died in Benghazi than perished (other than metaphorically from frustration and boredom) in the traffic jam on the George Washington Bridge, the Times saw fit never to mention Clinton in the editorial about what happened on her watch at the State Department.

As the flagship of elite liberal opinion in this country, it is to be expected that the Times would support Clinton’s candidacy even long before she declares her intentions about 2016. But for it to publish a scathing editorial about the conduct of the State Department during the period of her stewardship without even alluding to the fact that she was the one who presided over the disaster illustrates the paper’s utter lack of intellectual integrity.

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Clemency for Snowden?

The year is still young, but I would say the New York Times’s editorial board has already retired the prize for the most irresponsible, unconvincing, and pernicious editorial of the year with “Edward Snowden, Whistle-Blower.”

To get to the bottom line up front: The Times would like the U.S. government to offer “a plea bargain or some form of clemency that would allow him to return home, face at least substantially reduced punishment in light of his role as a whistle-blower, and have the hope of a life advocating for greater privacy and far stronger oversight of the runaway intelligence community.”

Personally, the only kind of plea bargain I would like to see offered to Snowden is one that allows him to serve life in a maximum-security prison rather than face the death penalty for his treason.

Why does the Times think we should adopt a more lenient approach to one of the most damaging traitors in our nation’s history–a man who, in the words of Gen. Keith Alexander, director of the NSA, “has caused irreversible and significant damage to our country and to our allies”?

Because, the Times claims, Snowden’s leaks are justified on the following grounds: “The public learned in great detail how the agency has exceeded its mandate and abused its authority, prompting outrage at kitchen tables and at the desks of Congress, which may finally begin to limit these practices.”

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The year is still young, but I would say the New York Times’s editorial board has already retired the prize for the most irresponsible, unconvincing, and pernicious editorial of the year with “Edward Snowden, Whistle-Blower.”

To get to the bottom line up front: The Times would like the U.S. government to offer “a plea bargain or some form of clemency that would allow him to return home, face at least substantially reduced punishment in light of his role as a whistle-blower, and have the hope of a life advocating for greater privacy and far stronger oversight of the runaway intelligence community.”

Personally, the only kind of plea bargain I would like to see offered to Snowden is one that allows him to serve life in a maximum-security prison rather than face the death penalty for his treason.

Why does the Times think we should adopt a more lenient approach to one of the most damaging traitors in our nation’s history–a man who, in the words of Gen. Keith Alexander, director of the NSA, “has caused irreversible and significant damage to our country and to our allies”?

Because, the Times claims, Snowden’s leaks are justified on the following grounds: “The public learned in great detail how the agency has exceeded its mandate and abused its authority, prompting outrage at kitchen tables and at the desks of Congress, which may finally begin to limit these practices.”

Maybe the Times editorialists have some special information that the rest of us are not privileged to have, but I have been following this story pretty closely and I am not aware of anything that the NSA has done without the authorization of Congress, the executive branch, and the special court that oversees its activities–even if (in the case of eavesdropping on the German chancellor, Angela Merkel) the president would rather have some “deniability” about his personal responsibility.

In fact there is no evidence of the NSA exceeding its mandate and the only evidence of it doing anything wrong (such as accidentally entering the wrong phone number) was a small number of errors in its data searches which were caught and reported and corrected by its own internal audits. There is no sign of any malicious or criminal intent in any of these errors–and no evidence that the NSA has become a Big Brother listening in on everyone.

You don’t have to take my word for it. Listen to the members of Congress, such as Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat, who has said about one of the NSA’s most controversial activities (the collection of meta-data on phone calls): “The NSA call-records program is legal and subject to extensive congressional and judicial oversight.”

Even if you think that the NSA’s collection programs are excessive, it is hard to make the case that sharing the most vital secrets of the U.S. government with the news media–and probably hostile foreign governments in Beijing and Moscow, although the Times doesn’t mention this inconvenient probability–is the way to address the problem. Snowden now claims that he tried to notify a couple of superiors about his concerns; the NSA denies it. Whatever the case, there is no evidence he tried to notify the NSA’s inspector general, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, or the intelligence committees of Congress. No doubt this is precisely because he knew that all of the activities he disliked were fully authorized by all three branches of government.

What we have here is not a case of “whistle-blowing,” as the Times disingenuously claims, but a case of a young, arrogant, headstrong techie with a libertarian bent and a taste for fame who has taken upon himself the responsibility of deciding which intelligence programs the U.S. government may carry out and which it may not. A true whistleblower, like Daniel Ellsberg, stays to face the consequences of his actions–he does not flee to hostile foreign capitals.

By his actions Snowden has placed the entire nation at risk. Even if terrorists and foreign enemies don’t manage to take advantage of Snowden’s disclosures to attack the U.S., the cost of repairing the damage he has caused will be steep–certainly amounting to billions of dollars because he has rendered some valuable collection programs useless.

Perhaps there is a prudential case, as an NSA investigator recently suggested, for offering Snowden amnesty in return for preventing the disclosure of even more highly classified information that he stole–but that is not what the Times is suggesting. It is instead granting its benediction to Snowden’s activities, suggesting he should be considered a hero, not a traitor. That’s a funny stance for a newspaper to take that, not so long ago, in the Valerie Plame case, was aghast at the notion of blowing any secrets–even though the Plame disclosure had an infinitesimal impact on national security compared to the Snowden disclosures.

If Snowden is allowed to get away with his crimes, it is hard to see how the intelligence apparatus of the U.S. can function. Successful intelligence, after all, is premised on secrecy–and that secrecy will not last long if every intelligence community employee feels free to disclose whatever secrets he knows simply because he disagrees with what his superiors are doing. Yet that would be the logical consequence of the Times‘s risible suggestion to rehabilitate Snowden.

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What Wendy Sherman Hasn’t Learned

It’s possible that many of the liberal readers of the New York Times just can’t get enough the paper’s fawning pieces heralding Secretary of State John Kerry’s diplomatic prowess that have been repeatedly published in recent months. Then again, maybe even the Times readership has noticed that its news pages aren’t merely being used to editorialize in favor of the Obama administration’s foreign policy but have become home to some of the most embarrassing puff pieces the Grey Lady has ever published. For a change of pace today, chief Washington correspondent David Sanger switched from his usual bouquets thrown at Kerry to one lobbed in the direction of one of his functionaries: Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman.

In the wake of the nuclear deal with Iran concluded last week, this is Sherman’s moment to bask in the praise handed out by the Times. The ludicrously weak agreement that granted Western recognition to Iran’s nuclear program and did nothing to roll back the progress it had made in the last five years was largely Sherman’s handiwork, which makes her a heroine in the Times. Sanger pulled out every gimmick to laud Sherman, even giving a breathless account of how she didn’t let a fall that left her with a ruptured tendon in her finger prevent her from conducting a confidential briefing for skeptical members of Congress. That leaves no doubt that Sherman can rise above pain.

But unfortunately, along with other flattering details Sanger doesn’t spare us, Sanger was forced to include the most embarrassing item in her biography that ought to inform the country about dealing with Iran: the all-too-similar nuclear disaster she crafted with North Korea. While Sanger can claim that she is now “pushing back” against critics who cite her last nuclear disaster claiming that this discussion is based on “tempting, but overly simplistic sound bytes,” it’s apparent that most of the widely acknowledged determination that Sherman is known for is spent on ignoring the lessons of her past mistakes.

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It’s possible that many of the liberal readers of the New York Times just can’t get enough the paper’s fawning pieces heralding Secretary of State John Kerry’s diplomatic prowess that have been repeatedly published in recent months. Then again, maybe even the Times readership has noticed that its news pages aren’t merely being used to editorialize in favor of the Obama administration’s foreign policy but have become home to some of the most embarrassing puff pieces the Grey Lady has ever published. For a change of pace today, chief Washington correspondent David Sanger switched from his usual bouquets thrown at Kerry to one lobbed in the direction of one of his functionaries: Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman.

In the wake of the nuclear deal with Iran concluded last week, this is Sherman’s moment to bask in the praise handed out by the Times. The ludicrously weak agreement that granted Western recognition to Iran’s nuclear program and did nothing to roll back the progress it had made in the last five years was largely Sherman’s handiwork, which makes her a heroine in the Times. Sanger pulled out every gimmick to laud Sherman, even giving a breathless account of how she didn’t let a fall that left her with a ruptured tendon in her finger prevent her from conducting a confidential briefing for skeptical members of Congress. That leaves no doubt that Sherman can rise above pain.

But unfortunately, along with other flattering details Sanger doesn’t spare us, Sanger was forced to include the most embarrassing item in her biography that ought to inform the country about dealing with Iran: the all-too-similar nuclear disaster she crafted with North Korea. While Sanger can claim that she is now “pushing back” against critics who cite her last nuclear disaster claiming that this discussion is based on “tempting, but overly simplistic sound bytes,” it’s apparent that most of the widely acknowledged determination that Sherman is known for is spent on ignoring the lessons of her past mistakes.

Sanger skips over much of the details about the deal with North Korea, but suffice it to say it was structured in much the same way as the gift she has handed Pyongyang’s Iranian friends. That “searing experience” was a fiasco as the North Koreans agreed to halt their nuclear program in exchange for financial blandishments only to turn around and confront the West with a secret nuclear fuel program that allowed them to acquire the bombs that Sherman thought she had ensured would never see the light of day. But rather than learn from that colossal miscalculation, Sherman has repeated the pattern in which the West chases after a nuclear scofflaw, bribes them, and then hopes for the best.

In her defense, Sherman and Sanger claim the analogy is inexact:

“It’s a different time, a different culture, a different system,” she said. By the time the Clinton administration began negotiating with North Korea, American intelligence agencies had assessed that the country already had weapons-grade fuel for one or two bombs; in Iran’s case, Ms. Sherman argues, “No one believes they are there yet.” There are other differences, too, she said. “Iran has a middle class” that the United States is trying to appeal to by giving it a taste of sanctions relief. “It’s people who travel, within limits, and see the world.” Those factors, she believes, create the kind of leverage that was missing in talks with North Korea, whose citizens are almost completely isolated from the rest of the world.

There are a number of problems with these arguments.

First, the Iranians already have a huge stockpile of refined uranium that can be converted into weapons-grade material in a matter of weeks, something that her efforts with Iran hasn’t fundamentally changed. The U.S. is gambling everything here on the assumption that the Iranians are so far away from a bomb that there is little danger of a breakout. But unlike North Korea, the Iranians have a large network of nuclear facilities and hundreds of centrifuges and all of Sherman’s negotiating did nothing to dismantle a single one of them.

As for the Iranian middle class, as she may have noticed, the Islamist leadership of Iran has already conclusively demonstrated that it isn’t terribly interested in what they think. But even if we were to throw away everything we know about the way the ayatollahs have suppressed dissent, this actually works against Sherman’s strategy.

The point here is that when the U.S. negotiated with North Korea it had very little leverage in dealing with its maniacal Communist leadership. It’s arguable that there was nothing the West could ever do to dissuade the North Koreans even if Sherman’s deal was a disgraceful swindle that only added humiliation to the frustration Americans felt. However, the existence of a vast Iranian middle class as well as the support of an international community prepared to enforce sanctions on Tehran and give up its oil argued for a tougher stand against Iran. But instead of using this leverage, Sherman stuck to the same playbook she used with the North Koreans and conceded the Iranians’ demands simply because the ayatollahs said they would settle for nothing less.

That’s where Sherman’s background and characteristic style comes in. As Sanger makes clear, Sherman is all about negotiating more than actually getting results. Rather than focus on preventing the Iranians from doing what the North Koreans did to her, it’s obvious that she knows what happens when reaching a deal is your primary goal rather than ensuring that the other side never gets a nuke. Though she claims to have sewn up some of the loopholes that the North Koreans exploited, at best the deal she got froze the Iranians in place where they can leap to a weapon anytime they like with the confidence that the complacent West won’t re-impose the sanctions they never wanted to enact anyway.

The way Sherman got taken to the cleaners by the North Koreans should have made her the last person entrusted with stopping Iran. But instead, her zeal for the deal made her the perfect partner for both Obama and Kerry. In the world of Obama-era diplomacy, failure is an excuse for promotion, and agreements that do nothing to avert a nuclear peril are celebrated. With a negotiator like Sherman representing the United States, it’s little wonder the Iranians think they’ve nothing to worry about as they continue their pattern of using diplomacy as a way to run out the clock on their nuclear program.

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NY Times’s Sudden Aversion to Calling the President a Liar

Barack Obama’s election neatly coincided with the liberal left’s rediscovery of the value of civility in the public square. The time for derangement was over. Liberals remembered that they have had only modest success in outlawing political speech, and that when tempers flared they could be on the receiving end of overheated criticism now that they were back in power.

Among the results of the left’s newfound distaste for dissent was a suddenly self-censoring media. And, as evidenced by the New York Times’s rather amazing Sunday editorial on ObamaCare, giving the president the benefit of the doubt is back in vogue. The Times explained that when President Obama said that if you liked your health-care plan you could keep your health-care plan, period, he simply “misspoke.”

Believe it or not, the Times’s Andrew Rosenthal is defending the word choice. The paper’s public editor, Margaret Sullivan, wrote a post yesterday afternoon responding to the criticism the Times has received on the editorial. She asked Rosenthal for an explanation. Here is his response:

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Barack Obama’s election neatly coincided with the liberal left’s rediscovery of the value of civility in the public square. The time for derangement was over. Liberals remembered that they have had only modest success in outlawing political speech, and that when tempers flared they could be on the receiving end of overheated criticism now that they were back in power.

Among the results of the left’s newfound distaste for dissent was a suddenly self-censoring media. And, as evidenced by the New York Times’s rather amazing Sunday editorial on ObamaCare, giving the president the benefit of the doubt is back in vogue. The Times explained that when President Obama said that if you liked your health-care plan you could keep your health-care plan, period, he simply “misspoke.”

Believe it or not, the Times’s Andrew Rosenthal is defending the word choice. The paper’s public editor, Margaret Sullivan, wrote a post yesterday afternoon responding to the criticism the Times has received on the editorial. She asked Rosenthal for an explanation. Here is his response:

“We have a high threshold for whether someone lied,” he told me. The phrase that The Times used “means that he said something that wasn’t true.” Saying the president lied would have meant something different, Mr. Rosenthal said — that he knew it was false and intended to express the falsehood. “We don’t know that,” he said.

It may be honorable for the media to be more sparing with accusations of outright lying. But that is most certainly not the Times’s standard. Rosenthal’s spin about the paper’s “high threshold” is arrant nonsense, and the paper’s readers presumably know this. In January 2006, the Times published an editorial criticizing George W. Bush and calling attention to what the Times pronounced as “a couple of big, dangerous lies.”

What were those two “lies”? The first was that the Bush administration’s domestic spying apparatus “is carefully aimed” at those working with al-Qaeda, when in fact by the Times’s lights the program “has violated the rights of countless innocent Americans.” That’s some fairly clumsy–and dishonest–sleight of hand from the Times in what amounts to a disagreement over just how “careful” the surveillance had been. What was the other “lie”? That with the domestic surveillance now in place 9/11 could have been prevented. Perhaps that is an unlikely justification, but any threshold which considers that a “lie” is low indeed.

The idea that Bush “lied” the country into war with Iraq has long since been debunked: Bush, like those around him and our allies, was fooled by the faulty intelligence on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. But the Times editorial board painted Bush as a serial liar on the matter. In December 2008, reflecting on the Bush tenure, the Times published an editorial growling that it was by then public knowledge that “Mr. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney manipulated Congress, public opinion and anyone else they could bully or lie to.” Does the accusation–again, by then conclusively debunked–that Bush was a compulsive liar meet the “high threshold” the paper now claims governs its use of the word? Of course not.

Two years earlier the paper’s editorial board lamented that Bush needed “a blue ribbon commission” to tell him that “Government officials should not lie to the public.” It appears that the left, including the Times, was quite liberal with its use of the “l” word to an extent that rivaled the left’s obsession with calling Bush a fascist.

Yet aside from the Times’s obvious hypocrisy on the issue, there is another critique of the Times editorial. Even if it isn’t true that the Times has a high threshold for calling someone a liar, we could argue that they should. As I noted earlier, it would behoove the Times to live up the standards to which it pretends to adhere. Yet even so, Rosenthal presents what the president might call a “false choice.” Certainly there is something in between “liar” and saying the president “misspoke.”

Sullivan pointed this out in her correspondence with Rosenthal:

But “misspoke” does suggest a one-time slip of the tongue.

Wouldn’t it have been better, I asked Mr. Rosenthal, if the editorial had said that Mr. Obama’s statements “clearly weren’t true,” or that the president “was clearly wrong” when he repeatedly made those statements?

He responded that the editorial’s language was fine, but he also allowed, “We could have done that.”

The president did not have a “one-time slip of the tongue,” of course. Obama made the promise repeatedly and without qualification. We now know that, as the Wall Street Journal reported, the decision to make this promise was made knowing that it was inaccurate and after a debate within the administration over whether to be frank about ObamaCare or not.

The president obviously decided that accuracy was a luxury the administration could not afford if it was to get its agenda through Congress. The Times should be encouraged to be discerning when accusing the president of being a liar. But were the Times to show such restraint, it would be new indeed.

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Who Created the Gerrymandered Media?

New York Times media columnist David Carr thinks its shocking that some smart people don’t want to read his paper or the Washington Post. He was amazed to learn in a New York magazine interview that Justice Antonin Scalia a man who is widely acknowledged, even in the saner precincts of the left, to be an intellectual giant, won’t read either of them and that his daily sources for news are limited to the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Times and conservative talk radio. Carr presents this as evidence that denizens of the right wing echo chamber are not just “a bunch of narrow-minded, politically obsessed characters who send mass e-mails from their mother’s basement.”

To understand this problem more fully, he then asks our John Podhoretz about the problem. John is introduced to the Times readership as a conservative but one that should rate some respect because he recently criticized the architects of the government shutdown tactic. John rightly dissects the shrill nature of some of the most popular cable news programs and points out that the bifurcated ideological media don’t just disagree but make anyone who disagrees with their point of view unwelcome. That helps gin up the intensity level and manufactures a level of vituperation that has caused the two sides to largely insulate themselves from opposing points of view.

Carr deserves credit for acknowledging this problem rather than merely rehearsing the usual liberal complaints about conservatives but there is something important missing from the piece. What he fails to acknowledge is that his own newspaper is as good an example of the media echo chamber as anyone on cable television or talk radio. Indeed, if we have a gerrymandered media that has helped to exacerbate political differences it is to no small extent the responsibility of institutions like the Times whose liberal bias made the creation of conservative alternatives inevitable as well as necessary.

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New York Times media columnist David Carr thinks its shocking that some smart people don’t want to read his paper or the Washington Post. He was amazed to learn in a New York magazine interview that Justice Antonin Scalia a man who is widely acknowledged, even in the saner precincts of the left, to be an intellectual giant, won’t read either of them and that his daily sources for news are limited to the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Times and conservative talk radio. Carr presents this as evidence that denizens of the right wing echo chamber are not just “a bunch of narrow-minded, politically obsessed characters who send mass e-mails from their mother’s basement.”

To understand this problem more fully, he then asks our John Podhoretz about the problem. John is introduced to the Times readership as a conservative but one that should rate some respect because he recently criticized the architects of the government shutdown tactic. John rightly dissects the shrill nature of some of the most popular cable news programs and points out that the bifurcated ideological media don’t just disagree but make anyone who disagrees with their point of view unwelcome. That helps gin up the intensity level and manufactures a level of vituperation that has caused the two sides to largely insulate themselves from opposing points of view.

Carr deserves credit for acknowledging this problem rather than merely rehearsing the usual liberal complaints about conservatives but there is something important missing from the piece. What he fails to acknowledge is that his own newspaper is as good an example of the media echo chamber as anyone on cable television or talk radio. Indeed, if we have a gerrymandered media that has helped to exacerbate political differences it is to no small extent the responsibility of institutions like the Times whose liberal bias made the creation of conservative alternatives inevitable as well as necessary.

Carr writes that the Wall Street Journal is, “a really good newspaper that tilts right on its editorial page and sometimes in its news coverage.” But anyone who reads the Times regularly knows that its news pages, especially its front pages are often littered with “analysis” pieces that are thinly disguised op-eds. Whatever criticisms might be made about the Journal, by comparison it is model of Olympian objectivity. The Times editorial section isn’t merely almost uniformly liberal, even its letters column rarely includes criticism of the paper’s content from a conservative point of view.

But the problem is bigger than the shortcomings of the Times. The origins of the media divide must be traced to what it was like before the rise of Fox News and talk radio. If liberals lament the current split, it’s not just because they claim to despise the nasty, partisan nature of much of the contemporary media, but because they remember how much they liked it when there was no such diversity. The “golden age” of television news was one in which the three major broadcast networks were as uniformly liberal in their presentations as the Times and the Washington Post were in theirs with no competition from cable, the Internet or a talk radio market that was largely inhibited from political commentary by the so-called “fairness doctrine.” The enormous success of Fox News and talkers like Rush Limbaugh is the product of the fact that they filled a niche that was ignored by the mainstream media prior to their development. The bad news for liberals is that it was an underserved niche whose target audience was composed of approximately half of the American people who were begging for an alternative to the left-leaning monolith that had been forced down their throats for decades.

Even worse, was the conceit of these unaccountable liberal news institutions that they were not biased. The power of media icons like Walter Cronkite (who would later admit that he had slanted the news on his broadcasts to conform with his political opinions) was based as much on their pose of objectivity as it was on their lack of competition. As unfortunate as the divide between the hysterical liberals of MSNBC and their conservative antagonists, at least more journalists today are honest about their politics. Any discussion of this topic must note that among the most irresponsible and contemptible holdouts on this point have been Carr’s colleagues at the Times.

I agree with both John and Carr that it is too bad that nowadays we are a nation largely split between those who read the Times or the Washington Post, listen to NPR and watch the broadcast networks or MSNBC and those who read the Journal, listen to Rush and watch Fox. Both sides bear some responsibility for this state of affairs but it’s obvious that Carr is primarily interested in profiling why conservatives don’t read, listen or watch liberals rather than to examine why the liberal media does its best to drive conservatives away. That stance is consistent with the position of President Obama and his cheering section on the Times editorial board which sees liberalism as reasonable and its opponents as inherently irresponsible or extreme. But if he really wants to know why the country is split, he should look in his own mirror and examine what is wrong with a mainstream media that has never been able to be honest about its liberal bias.

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Want to Appease Iran? Demonize Israel

The willingness of much of the foreign-policy establishment and the mainstream media to embrace any opportunity to avoid conflict with Iran has never been much of a secret. Throughout the last five years, the administration has been able to count on unflinching support for its efforts to keep investing precious time and energy in a diplomatic process with Tehran that was dead in the water even before President Obama took office in 2009. After years of “engagement,” and two rounds of P5+1 talks that accomplished absolutely nothing, there’s no reason to believe the Iranians view negotiations as anything other than a clever tactic to buy more time to get close to their nuclear goal. But the election of a new Iranian president in June set off a new round of calls for yet more diplomacy. Hassan Rouhani’s false reputation as a “moderate” isn’t based on much; he’s a veteran of the Khomeini revolution, the regime’s involvement with foreign terror, and someone who has boasted of his success in fooling the West in nuclear talks. But as far as the New York Times editorial page is concerned, it’s enough to put on hold any toughening of sanctions on Iran, let alone talk about the use of force.

That the Times is eager to promote Rouhani as the solution to the nuclear question is not a surprise. But what it is a surprise is just how desperate they are to justify their position. In an editorial published today under the astonishingly obtuse headline of “Reading Tweets From Iran,” the newspaper seeks to treat the Iranian regime’s social media offensive as evidence of a genuine change in Tehran. To invest that much importance in what Rouhani’s staff says on Twitter in posts that are directed solely toward the West is laughable. No journalist at the paper would ever take the tweets produced by the official accounts of American politicians as anything but spin.

But far worse is the Times’s attempt to shift blame for the standoff from an anti-Semitic regime that is directly involved in atrocities in Syria and terrorist attacks around the globe onto Israel and its supporters in Congress. In doing so, the newspaper and the chattering classes whose views it represents are attempting to lay the foundation for President Obama to break his promises about stopping Iran and to treat those who object to such appeasement as opponents of peace. The editorial is right about one thing. If the administration is to betray its principles and appease Iran, it will require it to stop focusing on that regime’s record and instead lash out at those who are pointing out the truth about the threat it constitutes to the region and the world.

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The willingness of much of the foreign-policy establishment and the mainstream media to embrace any opportunity to avoid conflict with Iran has never been much of a secret. Throughout the last five years, the administration has been able to count on unflinching support for its efforts to keep investing precious time and energy in a diplomatic process with Tehran that was dead in the water even before President Obama took office in 2009. After years of “engagement,” and two rounds of P5+1 talks that accomplished absolutely nothing, there’s no reason to believe the Iranians view negotiations as anything other than a clever tactic to buy more time to get close to their nuclear goal. But the election of a new Iranian president in June set off a new round of calls for yet more diplomacy. Hassan Rouhani’s false reputation as a “moderate” isn’t based on much; he’s a veteran of the Khomeini revolution, the regime’s involvement with foreign terror, and someone who has boasted of his success in fooling the West in nuclear talks. But as far as the New York Times editorial page is concerned, it’s enough to put on hold any toughening of sanctions on Iran, let alone talk about the use of force.

That the Times is eager to promote Rouhani as the solution to the nuclear question is not a surprise. But what it is a surprise is just how desperate they are to justify their position. In an editorial published today under the astonishingly obtuse headline of “Reading Tweets From Iran,” the newspaper seeks to treat the Iranian regime’s social media offensive as evidence of a genuine change in Tehran. To invest that much importance in what Rouhani’s staff says on Twitter in posts that are directed solely toward the West is laughable. No journalist at the paper would ever take the tweets produced by the official accounts of American politicians as anything but spin.

But far worse is the Times’s attempt to shift blame for the standoff from an anti-Semitic regime that is directly involved in atrocities in Syria and terrorist attacks around the globe onto Israel and its supporters in Congress. In doing so, the newspaper and the chattering classes whose views it represents are attempting to lay the foundation for President Obama to break his promises about stopping Iran and to treat those who object to such appeasement as opponents of peace. The editorial is right about one thing. If the administration is to betray its principles and appease Iran, it will require it to stop focusing on that regime’s record and instead lash out at those who are pointing out the truth about the threat it constitutes to the region and the world.

The Times concludes its editorial in the following manner:

President Rouhani is sending strong signals that he will dispatch a pragmatic, experienced team to the table when negotiations resume, possibly next month. That’s when we should begin to see answers to key questions: How much time and creative thinking are he and President Obama willing to invest in a negotiated solution, the only rational outcome? How much political risk are they willing to take, which for Mr. Obama must include managing the enmity that Israel and many members of Congress feel toward Iran?

The notion that Rouhani’s tweets and other PR measures intended to deceive the West constitute “strong signals” that Rouhani will abandon a nuclear ambition that both he and the real power in Tehran—Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei—are committed to is not a serious argument. If President Obama is going to break his promises to stop Iran’s nuclear program and to refuse to countenance a policy of “containment” of it, he and his cheering section at the Times are going to have to do better than this.

But far more insidious is the way the Times seeks to goad Obama into treating the “enmity” of supporters of Israel toward Iran as the real problem.

Of course, the reason why so many Americans don’t trust Iran isn’t the “enmity” they feel toward the ayatollahs. It is due to Iran’s record of tyranny and anti-Semitism at home and terrorism abroad. But those who are bound and determined to ignore Iran’s record in order to justify not merely another round of diplomacy but a deal that would allow it to continue its nuclear program understand that whitewashing Iran requires demonizing its opponents.

Israel’s efforts to call attention to the dwindling time available to the West to do something about Iran have long been subjected to attack from venues like the Times as alarmist or rooted in some other agenda than preventing a genocidal regime from obtaining a weapon that would give them a chance to put their fantasies into action. But the cries of alarm emanating from Israel and Congress about Iran are not based in mindless hatred, as the Times implies. Instead they are based on a far more realistic assessment of Iran’s behavior and the ideology that drives people like Khamenei and Rouhani. But since telling the truth about Iran doesn’t help build support for more feckless diplomacy, the newspaper brands it as irrational antagonism.

The use of chemical weapons by Iran’s ally Bashar Assad is more proof that Iran represents a cancer in the Middle East. The Iranian regime’s goal is to establish its hegemony over the regime via its Syrian and Hezbollah allies. As much as we might wish it otherwise, there is nothing reasonable about this quest, nor is it remotely likely that the “strong forces” the Times imagines pulling the two sides to a deal will persuade Iran’s leaders to negotiate in good faith. But to those who wish to avoid conflict with Iran at any price, any justification—including blaming Israel for the problem—will do.

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More Anti-Israel Bias at the Times

Earlier this week I took the New York Times to task for its article on the Palestinian “hobby” of throwing rocks at Jews. The piece illustrated the way violence is accepted as normal behavior in Palestinian culture. But the author, Jerusalem Bureau chief Jodi Rudoren, also gave short shrift to the Israeli victims of this hobby and dismissed the thousands of casualties they’ve suffered over the years with one throwaway sentence that gave a second-hand account of one case that resulted in the deaths of two people. The piece failed to ask why Palestinians never thought to try to interact with Jews who live nearby as fellow human beings rather than mere objects that must wounded, maimed, or killed.

But the previous day in a different article on the settlements, Rudoren also threw in a false statement in which she claimed the United States considered Israeli communities in the West Bank and Jerusalem to be “illegal.” This is false, and credit should go to Adam Kredo of the Washington Free Beacon for calling her out on this point. The U.S. may disapprove of Israeli building, but it does not take the position that the settlements are, a priori, illegal. In response, the Times has now issued a correction on that point acknowledging that the U.S. does not take a position on their legality. That’s a minor victory, but this isn’t the first time Rudoren has made an egregious error with regard to settlements. Assuming they care about the integrity of their pages, this latest mistake should prompt both the reporter and her editors to think seriously about the biased manner in which the Times continues to report about Israel and its conflict with the Palestinians.

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Earlier this week I took the New York Times to task for its article on the Palestinian “hobby” of throwing rocks at Jews. The piece illustrated the way violence is accepted as normal behavior in Palestinian culture. But the author, Jerusalem Bureau chief Jodi Rudoren, also gave short shrift to the Israeli victims of this hobby and dismissed the thousands of casualties they’ve suffered over the years with one throwaway sentence that gave a second-hand account of one case that resulted in the deaths of two people. The piece failed to ask why Palestinians never thought to try to interact with Jews who live nearby as fellow human beings rather than mere objects that must wounded, maimed, or killed.

But the previous day in a different article on the settlements, Rudoren also threw in a false statement in which she claimed the United States considered Israeli communities in the West Bank and Jerusalem to be “illegal.” This is false, and credit should go to Adam Kredo of the Washington Free Beacon for calling her out on this point. The U.S. may disapprove of Israeli building, but it does not take the position that the settlements are, a priori, illegal. In response, the Times has now issued a correction on that point acknowledging that the U.S. does not take a position on their legality. That’s a minor victory, but this isn’t the first time Rudoren has made an egregious error with regard to settlements. Assuming they care about the integrity of their pages, this latest mistake should prompt both the reporter and her editors to think seriously about the biased manner in which the Times continues to report about Israel and its conflict with the Palestinians.

It’s worth remembering the correction the paper was forced to make about a story published in December, in which Rudoren swallowed a Palestinian lie about the building of a new Jewish suburb in the Jerusalem area cutting off Bethlehem and the southern part of the West Bank from Ramallah and areas to its north. As Elliott Abrams noted, Rudoren’s work reflects the prejudices of the far left of Israeli society, leading her to misunderstand the country’s politics (in which that far left has been completely marginalized) and to misreport security and settlement issues.

It needs to be remembered that these issues are not minor goofs. The West Bank is disputed territory in which both Israelis and Palestinians can put forward historic and legal claims. If peace is ever to be achieved, it will have to be done on a basis in which the two sides acknowledge the legitimacy of their antagonists’ position, not on the total surrender of one or the other. By adopting the Palestinian canard about Jews having no right to live or build in the heart of their ancient homeland, Rudoren is affirming the position that the settlers are thieves who deserve violence. In doing so, the Times dehumanizes these people and portrays the conflict as a morality play in which only Palestinians are victims and never the perpetrators of crimes.

In this context, it is also worth repeating the point I made on Monday when I noted that Rudoren’s choice of the village of Beit Omar to profile Palestinian hobbyists was particularly ironic because the surrounding neighboring settlements predate the 1948 War of Independence. The Gush Etzion bloc was the site of Jewish communities that were overrun by murderous Arab gangs, and their inhabitants were either massacred or captured. After the 1967 Six-Day War they were rebuilt. Of course, mentioning this history would have undermined the Palestinian narrative of victimization and Israeli usurpation and illegality.

Many in Israel and in the pro-Israel community have long since given up hoping for fair coverage of Israel in the New York Times. But while we are used to the bias on their opinion pages and the slanted nature of their news coverage, it really isn’t asking too much to expect them to at least get their facts straight and to put stories in an accurate context. Unfortunately, so long as Ms. Rudoren is in place and supervised by editors who don’t seem to care much about these concerns, there is little reason to expect anything better than her appalling “hobby” report.

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Liberal Obama Critics Pull Their Punches

Many of President Obama’s liberal supporters are angry today as they contemplate just how badly they were fooled by Democratic campaign rhetoric in both 2008 and 2012. Left-wingers who thought they were electing someone who would scale back or completely dismantle the measures put in place to defend the country against terror by George W. Bush and Dick Cheney are hard pressed to explain or rationalize the Olympic-scale hypocrisy of the administration after the latest revelations about data collection from Verizon phone subscribers. I agree with our Max Boot who thinks the PRISM program is justified and necessary, even if I sympathize with those who wonder how we can trust the same government that lied about Benghazi, had the IRS target conservatives and spied on working journalists not to abuse this power.

But for liberals, facing up to the fact that Obama has continued Bush’s policies and even gone further than his predecessor on drone attacks and information collection is a tough pill to swallow. So it was hardly surprising that the president would receive a stiff rebuke from the New York Times editorial page, even if its writers tend to be among his biggest cheerleaders. On Thursday afternoon, the Times posted an editorial that said the following:

The administration has now lost all credibility. Mr. Obama is proving the truism that the executive will use any power it is given and very likely abuse it.

The Times was right about the president’s credibility, even if he lost it long before this episode. But just as that editorial was being relayed around the nation as a significant rebuke from Obama’s base, the Times decided to qualify their condemnation and, as Politico reports, changed the piece to soften the blow. The words, “on this issue” were added to the text of the editorial online and then in print without explanation to the readers. This leads one to wonder whether the Obama cheer squad at the paper decided it had to qualify their attack because too many of the president’s critics on a whole raft of issues were quoting their piece as proof of the collapse of his support.

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Many of President Obama’s liberal supporters are angry today as they contemplate just how badly they were fooled by Democratic campaign rhetoric in both 2008 and 2012. Left-wingers who thought they were electing someone who would scale back or completely dismantle the measures put in place to defend the country against terror by George W. Bush and Dick Cheney are hard pressed to explain or rationalize the Olympic-scale hypocrisy of the administration after the latest revelations about data collection from Verizon phone subscribers. I agree with our Max Boot who thinks the PRISM program is justified and necessary, even if I sympathize with those who wonder how we can trust the same government that lied about Benghazi, had the IRS target conservatives and spied on working journalists not to abuse this power.

But for liberals, facing up to the fact that Obama has continued Bush’s policies and even gone further than his predecessor on drone attacks and information collection is a tough pill to swallow. So it was hardly surprising that the president would receive a stiff rebuke from the New York Times editorial page, even if its writers tend to be among his biggest cheerleaders. On Thursday afternoon, the Times posted an editorial that said the following:

The administration has now lost all credibility. Mr. Obama is proving the truism that the executive will use any power it is given and very likely abuse it.

The Times was right about the president’s credibility, even if he lost it long before this episode. But just as that editorial was being relayed around the nation as a significant rebuke from Obama’s base, the Times decided to qualify their condemnation and, as Politico reports, changed the piece to soften the blow. The words, “on this issue” were added to the text of the editorial online and then in print without explanation to the readers. This leads one to wonder whether the Obama cheer squad at the paper decided it had to qualify their attack because too many of the president’s critics on a whole raft of issues were quoting their piece as proof of the collapse of his support.

When asked about the change by Politico, the Times made it clear they thought it was no big deal:

“The change was for clarity’s sake,” Andrew Rosenthal, the Times editorial page editor, told POLITICO on Friday morning. “It was clear from the context of the editorial that the issue of credibility related to this subject and the final edit of the piece strengthened that point.”

That may be so. All publications are always working to hone their work as long as possible and to correct any possible errors or misunderstandings. But what’s at play here is the corner into which Obama has backed his most ardent supporters.

The Times and many on the left may not like the fact that Obama’s rhetoric turned out to be just so much blown smoke, as today he is being dubbed “George W. Obama” or having his administration being referred to as Bush’s fourth term. But they are very skittish about doing anything that might give comfort to Republicans who have been quicker to realize that the emperor at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue hasn’t been wearing clothes long before the PRISM leak was published.

Many in the mainstream liberal media may be upset about the president’s performance on issues like the Benghazi lies, the IRS scandal, the spying on the Associated Press and Fox News. But those who think liberal outlets will hold him accountable need to remember that however much the media may care about some of these issues or others on which the president has disappointed them, there is a limit as to how far they will go in pursuing that disagreement. The old “no enemies on the left” dynamic in which the political war with conservatives is always prioritized over anything else will always cause newspapers like the Times to pull its punches when it comes to an issue that could hurt Barack Obama.

The Times deserves some credit for consistency on this particular issue since it disagreed with both Bush and Obama. But no one should be under any illusion about whether they will press this or any other issue if they thought the president was in any real trouble. Their pious disclaimers notwithstanding, partisanship will always trump principle at the Times.

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Asking the Wrong Questions About the IRS

For anyone wondering what liberal elites really think about the IRS scandal, the front page of today’s New York Times gave us the answer. After burying the story inside over the weekend, the headline on the front page screamed the fears of the media establishment: “IRS Focus on Conservatives Gives GOP an Issue to Seize On.” The story gives the latest updates on the controversy in which conservative groups were targeted for scrutiny, including the troubling time line about knowledge of the abuses by top leaders of the IRS which gives the lie to their assurances to Congress in 2012 that no such abuses were going on. It also points out that the special treatment was not limited to organizations with the words “Tea Party” or “Patriot” in their names but extended to those who didn’t like the way the country was being run.

Virtually no one is defending the IRS this morning, but most mainstream commentary on it is stressing that to date there has been no link established between the White House or top Obama administration figures and this scandal. That is true, but as angry as citizens should be about what the tax agency has done, few are asking the crucial questions about it: why did it happen? How is it possible that what amounts to a political purge of conservatives from the roll of tax-exempt organizations was undertaken by what we are told was only a bunch of low-level civil servants in an office in Cincinnati? Can anyone truly believe that a decision to target conservatives and those who were unhappy with a government led by a liberal Democrat was simply a spontaneous event with no political guidance or input?

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For anyone wondering what liberal elites really think about the IRS scandal, the front page of today’s New York Times gave us the answer. After burying the story inside over the weekend, the headline on the front page screamed the fears of the media establishment: “IRS Focus on Conservatives Gives GOP an Issue to Seize On.” The story gives the latest updates on the controversy in which conservative groups were targeted for scrutiny, including the troubling time line about knowledge of the abuses by top leaders of the IRS which gives the lie to their assurances to Congress in 2012 that no such abuses were going on. It also points out that the special treatment was not limited to organizations with the words “Tea Party” or “Patriot” in their names but extended to those who didn’t like the way the country was being run.

Virtually no one is defending the IRS this morning, but most mainstream commentary on it is stressing that to date there has been no link established between the White House or top Obama administration figures and this scandal. That is true, but as angry as citizens should be about what the tax agency has done, few are asking the crucial questions about it: why did it happen? How is it possible that what amounts to a political purge of conservatives from the roll of tax-exempt organizations was undertaken by what we are told was only a bunch of low-level civil servants in an office in Cincinnati? Can anyone truly believe that a decision to target conservatives and those who were unhappy with a government led by a liberal Democrat was simply a spontaneous event with no political guidance or input?

As I noted yesterday, the damning nature of these investigations has put liberals in a position where they have been forced to join conservative condemnations of the IRS, though it is interesting to note that one exception to that rule is the Times editorial page, which curiously has yet to respond to the scandal in the three days since it broke. No doubt their editorial board, which endorsed a regime of politicized IRS scrutiny against Tea Partiers in March 2012, is pondering how to square their past stand with what even liberal ideologues understand is the need to distance themselves from an embarrassing mistake by the government.

The key to the scandal is to be found in that dilemma. As today’s Times news story points out:

The I.R.S. has been under pressure from Democrats and campaign finance watchdogs for some time to crack down on abuse of the 501(c)4 tax exemption, which is supposed to go to organizations primarily promoting “social welfare” but which is routinely granted to overt political advocacy groups with little or no social welfare work.

It is true that there may be some who seek tax-exempt status that didn’t deserve it. But the notion that this species of organization is to be found only on the right rather than across the spectrum is an idea that was nurtured by liberal elites. The IRS policy was rooted in a belief that such conservatives are beyond the pale of acceptable opinion and that there was something illegitimate about disagreement with President Obama’s policies or distrust of government. The president articulated this point of view last week only days before the government gave us even more reason to worry about his program to expand its power.

What must follow is a thorough investigation of these abuses. We already know that the chief liberal media organ in the country was urging the IRS to behave in this manner. We also need to learn whether, despite denials, someone within the administration whispered in the ears of IRS personnel about this topic.

In the meantime, the left would be foolish to think President Obama can survive this scandal unscathed by their attempt to frame this story, as the Times did this morning, as just a tool for Republicans to attack the administration.

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Benghazi News Fit to Post But Not Print

The New York Times put the Benghazi hearing on its front page as its lead story today, with a carryover to page 3 – a sign that even the Times concluded the news was fit to prominently print.

As published, the story differed from the version posted late yesterday on the Times’ website, which is not unusual, as stories posted quickly on the web are often refined for the later print version. But perhaps it is worth preserving two paragraphs from the initial web version that were left on the cutting room floor, since they reflect a unanimous view on an issue repeatedly raised in the hearing:

All three witnesses – Mr. Hicks, Mr. Nordstrom and Mark I. Thompson, the former deputy coordinator for operations in the State Department’s Counterterrorism Bureau – insisted that the inflammatory anti-Islamic YouTube video that the White House initially blamed for the attack was something they never considered a factor in the assault on the compound.

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The New York Times put the Benghazi hearing on its front page as its lead story today, with a carryover to page 3 – a sign that even the Times concluded the news was fit to prominently print.

As published, the story differed from the version posted late yesterday on the Times’ website, which is not unusual, as stories posted quickly on the web are often refined for the later print version. But perhaps it is worth preserving two paragraphs from the initial web version that were left on the cutting room floor, since they reflect a unanimous view on an issue repeatedly raised in the hearing:

All three witnesses – Mr. Hicks, Mr. Nordstrom and Mark I. Thompson, the former deputy coordinator for operations in the State Department’s Counterterrorism Bureau – insisted that the inflammatory anti-Islamic YouTube video that the White House initially blamed for the attack was something they never considered a factor in the assault on the compound.

Republicans raised the question of the video again and again on Wednesday because it has become clear that American officials on the ground and in Washington immediately believed that attackers were terrorists, not demonstrators who turned violent, as Ms. Rice alleged in a series of Sunday talk show interviews shortly after the Benghazi attack. 

In a statement that lit up Twitter yesterday as soon as it was made, Hicks said “the video was a non-event in Libya” – not just in Benghazi but elsewhere in the country. That statement was not reported by the Times in either its post or its printed story.

We still do not have the full story of how the State Department and the White House scrubbed the Benghazi talking points of any reference to a terrorist attack and handed them to the UN ambassador to deliver on TV. For that story, we will need to hear from witnesses other than those who testified yesterday. It has now been confirmed, however, as a result of sworn testimony, that those – unlike the UN ambassador – who had personal knowledge of what happened the night of September 11 all knew immediately what they were (and were not) facing. And undoubtedly so did those who gave the UN ambassador the talking points.

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NYT Deserves Praise for China Reporting

As someone who regularly critiques New York Times articles, I feel it is only fair to also give credit where it’s due. The Times deserves kudos for publishing an expose on the vast wealth accumulated by Chinese premier Wen Jiabao and his relatives–an article that has resulted, the newspaper revealed this morning, in four months of sophisticated attacks on its computer network by Chinese hackers.

There is nothing at all surprising about the Chinese cyber-harassment in response to criticism. This has long been a trademark of the Beijing regime, which typically operates through hackers that provide a layer of deniability to Chinese officials. Indeed last year Bloomberg was similarly targeted after running an article revealing the riches accumulated by Xi Jinping, then China’s vice president at the time.

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As someone who regularly critiques New York Times articles, I feel it is only fair to also give credit where it’s due. The Times deserves kudos for publishing an expose on the vast wealth accumulated by Chinese premier Wen Jiabao and his relatives–an article that has resulted, the newspaper revealed this morning, in four months of sophisticated attacks on its computer network by Chinese hackers.

There is nothing at all surprising about the Chinese cyber-harassment in response to criticism. This has long been a trademark of the Beijing regime, which typically operates through hackers that provide a layer of deniability to Chinese officials. Indeed last year Bloomberg was similarly targeted after running an article revealing the riches accumulated by Xi Jinping, then China’s vice president at the time.

The Times, therefore, must have published its well-reported article on Wen Jiabao with its eyes wide open as to the likely consequences. The fact that it went ahead anyway, and did not cave before China’s implicit and explicit threats of retaliation, is a credit to the company, and a sign of the good that a large media organization can do.

Online-only journals and blogs are great–hey, I’m a blogger too–but it takes a lot of resources to produce journalism like this and then deal with the blowback. If giant media corporations like the New York Times Company are unable to operate at a profit in the future, the consequence will be a serious loss of information which will negatively impact even those of us who often disagree with the Times‘s editorial line.

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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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The Times’s Idea of “Tax Reform”

The New York Times has a lead editorial today called “Why the Economy Needs Tax Reform.”  It starts off briskly enough:

Over the next four years, tax reform, done right, could be a cure for much of what ails the economy. Higher taxes, raised progressively, could encourage growth by helping to pay for long-neglected public investment in education, infrastructure and basic research. More revenue would also reduce budget deficits, helping to put the nation’s finances on a stable path. Greater progressivity would reduce rising income inequality, and with it, inequality of opportunity that is both an economic and social scourge.

Higher and more progressive taxation, in other words, is just the medicine the economy needs to begin to flourish again for the first time in six years. If the Times can produce even a single instance in history where higher and more progressive taxation led to economic prosperity I will eat my hat. The Times’s formula is precisely what FDR tried in the Great Depression. It didn’t work; the depression lingered on and on. But I can give you numerous instances where tax cutting produced near-instant prosperity (the 1920s, the 1960s, the 1980s, the 2000s in this country and many another instances in other countries; see this from Power Line).

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The New York Times has a lead editorial today called “Why the Economy Needs Tax Reform.”  It starts off briskly enough:

Over the next four years, tax reform, done right, could be a cure for much of what ails the economy. Higher taxes, raised progressively, could encourage growth by helping to pay for long-neglected public investment in education, infrastructure and basic research. More revenue would also reduce budget deficits, helping to put the nation’s finances on a stable path. Greater progressivity would reduce rising income inequality, and with it, inequality of opportunity that is both an economic and social scourge.

Higher and more progressive taxation, in other words, is just the medicine the economy needs to begin to flourish again for the first time in six years. If the Times can produce even a single instance in history where higher and more progressive taxation led to economic prosperity I will eat my hat. The Times’s formula is precisely what FDR tried in the Great Depression. It didn’t work; the depression lingered on and on. But I can give you numerous instances where tax cutting produced near-instant prosperity (the 1920s, the 1960s, the 1980s, the 2000s in this country and many another instances in other countries; see this from Power Line).

Yes, Clinton raised taxes in 1993 and the economy prospered for the next seven years. But that is a classic case of the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy. The economy was already growing well and the real economic growth of the 1990s (and the great rise in the Dow Jones Industrial Average) began only in November 1994, when a Republican Congress was elected and put real brakes on government spending. Government spending rose only 22 percent between 1994 and 2000, while revenues rose by 61 percent. 

As for increased spending on education, the country spends about four times as much, per pupil, in constant dollars, as it did in 1950. So public investment in education has hardly been long-neglected, but the results have been dismal. Obviously, money is not the problem here. Neither is it in higher education, where tuition has been rising far faster than either inflation or medical costs (a clear indication that a cartel is at work). But much of the increased income has gone not to better educating students but to administrative bloat on an epic scale. The University of Wisconsin at Madison has someone on the payroll with the you-can’t-make-this-stuff-up title of Vice Provost for Diversity and Climate.

As for reducing income inequality—which is simply assumed by the left to be pernicious without a shred of evidence being presented that it is—you can read what I think about this spectacularly stupid idea here.

The Times goes on:

A logical way to help raise the additional needed revenue would be to tax capital gains at the same rates as ordinary income. Capital gains on assets held for more than a year before selling are taxed at about the lowest rate in the code, currently 15 percent and expected to rise to 20 percent in 2013. That is an indefensible giveaway to the richest Americans. Research shows that the tax breaks do not add to economic growth but do contribute to inequality. Currently, the top 1 percent of taxpayers receive more than 70 percent of all capital gains, while the bottom 80 percent receive only 6 percent.

Let’s pick apart this farrago of intellectual dishonesty. Yes, capital gains are taxed at a low rate compared to ordinary income. But capital gains in stocks and small businesses come, indirectly, out of after-tax income. Publicly-held corporations pay corporate income taxes (35 percent). What’s left over and not paid out as dividends (also taxed a second time) adds to the book value and hence, indirectly, the stock price. The profits of sub-chapter-S corporations are taxed as the personal income of the stock holders, so, again, the retained earnings have already been taxed when the capital gains are realized. As for the capital gains in, say, a house sale, they are taxed without regard to inflation. So a house that was owned for, say, 40 years and sold in 2012 would have experienced over a five-times inflation but would be taxed as though there had been no inflation in those 40 years.

As for much of total capital gains flowing to the top 1 percent of taxpayers, this is lying with statistics. It implicitly assumes that the top 1 percent is the same group of people year after year (a group of J. P. Morgan clones sitting around in frock coats and top hats, I suppose, lighting cigars with $100 bills). But many of those in the top 1 percent this year won’t be there next year. For example, a small-business owner who worked for 50 years to build his business and then retires and sells the business for, say $2 million. He’s in the 1 percent that year. Next year, living on his retirement income and with no capital gains, he is not. But he worked hard for 50 years, so let’s penalize that effort and that success with confiscatory taxation.

The Times even calls for higher corporate taxes, although American corporate income taxes are now the highest in the world. Has the Times not noticed that capital is now totally global, that it can–and will–flow to where the return is the highest?

Finally there is this:

Mr. Obama would be wise to instruct the Treasury Department to start work on tax reform now, exploring carbon taxes, both to raise revenue and to protect the environment; a value-added tax, coupled with provisions to protect lower-income taxpayers from higher prices, to tax consumption and encourage saving; and a financial transactions tax, to ensure that the financial sector, whose profits have substantially outpaced those of nonfinancial corporations, pay a fair share.

It’s hard to escape the conclusion that for the New York Times editorial board, tax reform and more and higher taxes are simply the same thing. And that the purpose of taxation is two-fold. One, to feed, without restraint, the ever more ravenous federal beast, and, two, to punish economic success. The financial sector earns a higher return on its capital than other sectors? How dare it? We’ll fix that!

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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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NYT Reins in Jerusalem Bureau Chief’s Social Media Use

The New York Times has assigned an editor to oversee the social media use of its Twitter-happy Jerusalem bureau chief, Jodi Rudoren, according to its public editor, Margaret Sullivan. This isn’t out of nowhere, considering Rudoren’s history of Twitter-related controversies. What’s interesting is the tone of Sullivan’s explanation:

Start with a reporter who likes to be responsive to readers, is spontaneous and impressionistic in her personal writing style, and not especially attuned to how casual comments may be received in a highly politicized setting.

Put that reporter in one of the most scrutinized and sensitive jobs in journalism – the Jerusalem bureau chief of The New York Times.

Now add Facebook and Twitter, which allow reporters unfiltered, unedited publishing channels. Words go from nascent, half-formed thoughts to permanent pronouncements to the world at the touch of a key.

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The New York Times has assigned an editor to oversee the social media use of its Twitter-happy Jerusalem bureau chief, Jodi Rudoren, according to its public editor, Margaret Sullivan. This isn’t out of nowhere, considering Rudoren’s history of Twitter-related controversies. What’s interesting is the tone of Sullivan’s explanation:

Start with a reporter who likes to be responsive to readers, is spontaneous and impressionistic in her personal writing style, and not especially attuned to how casual comments may be received in a highly politicized setting.

Put that reporter in one of the most scrutinized and sensitive jobs in journalism – the Jerusalem bureau chief of The New York Times.

Now add Facebook and Twitter, which allow reporters unfiltered, unedited publishing channels. Words go from nascent, half-formed thoughts to permanent pronouncements to the world at the touch of a key.

There had to be a way to phrase that without making Rudoren sound completely inept, right? As New York magazine notes in its headline, this column makes it sound like they’re getting her a babysitter rather than an editor.

Sullivan gets to the larger question:

There is, of course, a larger question here. Do Ms. Rudoren’s personal musings, as they have seeped out in unfiltered social media posts (and, notably, have been criticized from both the right and the left), make her an unwise choice for this crucially important job?

On this, we should primarily judge her reporting work as it has appeared in the paper and online. During the recent Gaza conflict, she broke news, wrote with sophistication and nuance about what was happening, and endured difficult conditions.

This decision by the Times was likely driven by the latest outcry over a Facebook post by Rudoren that described Israelis as “almost more traumatized” by deaths than the Palestinians. Anti-Israel types — which probably includes a substantial portion of Times readers — claimed Rudoren was downplaying the feelings of Palestinians. The Times could have just assigned Rudoren an editor and left it at that. But this column sounds like the paper felt it needed to give an additional mea culpa. It also raises some interesting questions. What observations does the Times feel are out-of-bounds for its journalists to make? And if social media — which is primarily used for quick observations — has to be edited, is there any point for journalists like Rudoren to use it at all?

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NYT’s Carr Defends Article Accusing Israel of Targeting Journalists

New York Times reporter David Carr has responded to criticism from Contentions and elsewhere that he failed to identify several so-called “journalists” killed in Israeli strikes as terrorists in a recent article. BuzzFeed has the interview:

New York Times media reporter David Carr defended his Monday column accusing Israel of killing journalists in Gaza on Monday, after Israeli officials and their allies accused him of conflating Hamas operatives and reporters.

“The three men who died in missile strikes in cars on Nov. 20 were identified by Reuters, AP, AFP, and Washington Post and many other news outlets as journalists,” Carr told BuzzFeed in an email. “The Committee to Protect Journalists, which I treat as a reliable, primary source in these matters, identified them as journalists. (as did Reporters without Borders.)” 

“I ran my column by reporters and editors at our shop familiar with current events in the region before I printed it,” Carr said. “And I don’t believe that an ID made by the IDF is dispostive or obviates what the others said. Doesn’t mean that I could not have gotten it wrong, only that the evidence so far suggests that they were journalists, however partisan.” 

So because another news organization reported it, that automatically makes it accurate? Carr never even informs readers that he was relying on the reporting of other news outlets, and doesn’t attribute his information to the AP, AFP or the Washington Post (as the New York Times ethics policy requires). Instead, readers are given the impression that Carr verified the information himself.

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New York Times reporter David Carr has responded to criticism from Contentions and elsewhere that he failed to identify several so-called “journalists” killed in Israeli strikes as terrorists in a recent article. BuzzFeed has the interview:

New York Times media reporter David Carr defended his Monday column accusing Israel of killing journalists in Gaza on Monday, after Israeli officials and their allies accused him of conflating Hamas operatives and reporters.

“The three men who died in missile strikes in cars on Nov. 20 were identified by Reuters, AP, AFP, and Washington Post and many other news outlets as journalists,” Carr told BuzzFeed in an email. “The Committee to Protect Journalists, which I treat as a reliable, primary source in these matters, identified them as journalists. (as did Reporters without Borders.)” 

“I ran my column by reporters and editors at our shop familiar with current events in the region before I printed it,” Carr said. “And I don’t believe that an ID made by the IDF is dispostive or obviates what the others said. Doesn’t mean that I could not have gotten it wrong, only that the evidence so far suggests that they were journalists, however partisan.” 

So because another news organization reported it, that automatically makes it accurate? Carr never even informs readers that he was relying on the reporting of other news outlets, and doesn’t attribute his information to the AP, AFP or the Washington Post (as the New York Times ethics policy requires). Instead, readers are given the impression that Carr verified the information himself.

Carr claims he used the Committee to Protect Journalists as a “primary source,” even though he didn’t cite the organization. The problem is, if you check the CPJ website, it never independently confirmed that the terrorists killed in the Israeli strike were journalists. It clearly noted that it was citing outside news organizations, which means it wasn’t a primary source in this case. Here’s the CPJ story

Two Israeli airstrikes killed three journalists in the Gaza Strip today, according to news reports. The fatal attacks followed a series of Israeli strikes earlier in the week that injured at least nine journalists and damaged news outlets.

Mahmoud al-Kumi and Hussam Salama, cameramen for the Hamas-run Al-Aqsa TV, were covering events in the Al-Shifaa neighborhood of central Gaza when a missile hit their vehicle at around 6 p.m., according to a statement by Al-Aqsa TV. The statement said the journalists’ car was marked “TV” with neon-colored letters. The journalists suffered severe burns and died in a nearby hospital, the statement said. Ashraf al-Qudra, spokesman for the Gaza health ministry, confirmed the journalists’ deaths to Agence France-Presse.

A third journalist was killed when his car was hit by a missile this evening, The Associated Press reported citing a Gaza official. Initial local news reports identified the journalist as Mohamed Abu Aisha, director of the private Al-Quds Educational Radio. The reports said his vehicle was hit while he was driving in the Deir al-Balah neighborhood, but did not say whether Abu Aisha was reporting at the time. CPJ continues to investigate the circumstances of his death.

The CPJ posted this on November 20. That same day, the IDF publicly identified one of the “journalists” as Hamas military commander Muhammed Shamalah. Carr published his story six days later, yet does not cite the IDF’s identification of Shamalah at all. Carr is correct when he says the Israeli government’s ID of Shamalah shouldn’t necessarily “obviate” other information — it’s reasonable for journalists to be skeptical of information released by governments. The problem is, Carr’s “other information” came solely from other news organizations (and the CPJ citing other news organizations). The Israeli government is actually a primary source when it comes to identifying terrorists, while these other media outlets were not. It’s mind-boggling that Carr wouldn’t at the very least include the IDF’s statement.

Elder of Ziyon sums it up:

Real journalists are supposed to be skeptical. They are supposed to be spending their time uncovering the truth. They are supposed to be honest enough to admit when they are wrong, to revisit the story when facts indicate they are mistaken, because the real story should be more important than their egos. 

This is 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.

New York Times readers deserve a better explanation than the one Carr has given.

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Kristof in the Dark

Nicholas Kristof has one of the most prestigious perches in American journalism: a regular, twice-a-week column on the op-ed page of the New York Times. Yet on Wednesday he wrote a piece that, had it been turned in to a freshman expository writing class (if such things exist anymore), it would have deserved to have been flunked cold. It would appear to have been written off the top of his head, without any fact checking that I can discern. He just dipped deeply into his prejudices and hit the keyboard.

The column is about the perceived growing gap between the rich and the rest of us, this time manifested in the fact that an increasing number of  the prosperous have stand-by generators installed at their homes in case the power fails. Given the fact that I lost power for four days in August 2011 (Hurricane Irene), six days in October 2011 (the freak 10-inch snow fall), two days in July 2012 (a bad thunderstorm) and for nine days in October-November 2012 (Hurricane Sandy), a stand-by generator sounds like a damn good idea to me. (For Hurricane Sandy, I decamped from my cold, dark, waterless house to stay at the house of friends who were traveling and have a generator).

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Nicholas Kristof has one of the most prestigious perches in American journalism: a regular, twice-a-week column on the op-ed page of the New York Times. Yet on Wednesday he wrote a piece that, had it been turned in to a freshman expository writing class (if such things exist anymore), it would have deserved to have been flunked cold. It would appear to have been written off the top of his head, without any fact checking that I can discern. He just dipped deeply into his prejudices and hit the keyboard.

The column is about the perceived growing gap between the rich and the rest of us, this time manifested in the fact that an increasing number of  the prosperous have stand-by generators installed at their homes in case the power fails. Given the fact that I lost power for four days in August 2011 (Hurricane Irene), six days in October 2011 (the freak 10-inch snow fall), two days in July 2012 (a bad thunderstorm) and for nine days in October-November 2012 (Hurricane Sandy), a stand-by generator sounds like a damn good idea to me. (For Hurricane Sandy, I decamped from my cold, dark, waterless house to stay at the house of friends who were traveling and have a generator).

Kristof attributes the spread of auxiliary generators to … tax cuts for the rich! He writes:

That’s how things often work in America. Half-a-century of tax cuts focused on the wealthiest Americans leave us with third-rate public services, leading the wealthy to develop inefficient private workarounds.

Has Mr. Kristof never heard of an electric bill? Public utilities such as electricity are not paid for through taxes.  The problem is not lower taxes on the rich, but the fact that burying the wires would be prohibitively expensive  in many suburban areas. In my town (admittedly borderline exurbia) there are 66 miles of roads and about 2,500 houses. According to Popular Mechanics it would cost on average $724,000 per mile to bury the lines. That comes to $47,784,000 in my small town, or $19,113.60 per household. Increase everyone’s electric bill by $100 a month (more than doubling the average bill) and it would take 15 years to pay for the buried wires (ignoring interest costs, which would be very considerable). That’s just not going to happen.

So the rich, increasingly, are installing big, propane-fueled generators to power their whole spread, while the less rich buy generators at Sears that run on gasoline. You can get one for the less-than-princely sum of $500 that will power the necessities, such as lights, water pump, and refrigerator. That’s $500, Mr. Kristof, not $19,000 dollars.

Kristof goes on to give us the usual garbage about the rich not paying their fair share and climate change, etc. Any clever 10-year-old could design software that would produce liberal boilerplate of equal quality. And he would be happy to be paid a lot less than Mr. Kristof gets per column.

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Liberals and False Charges of Anti-Semitism

The notion that Jewish opponents of Israel are self-hating or anti-Semitic is the kind of thing we are used to hearing from the right. But recently it has become a theme increasingly heard from the Jewish left. Back in January, the Forward’s Gal Beckerman asserted the preposterous notion that Newt Gingrich, a longtime and ardent supporter of Israel and Jewish causes, was making a “dog whistle” argument to anti-Semites because he spoke about the philosophy and influence of left-wing activist Saul Alinsky. Now Peter Beinart has gotten into the act with his rants about Rupert Murdoch’s criticisms of Jews who publish newspapers that are hostile to Israel. I wrote on Sunday about Beinart’s argument with Murdoch that falsely asserts that what he — and pro-Israel activists — wants is for Jewish journalists and publishers to abandon their integrity for Israel’s sake when what they really want is just the opposite: for Jews in the media as well as everybody else to stop going in the tank for Israel’s foes.

Beinart has now doubled down on this argument in a new piece posted at the Daily Beast. He criticizes my piece on the subject, as well as an insightful contribution from the New York Sun that recalled the troubled history of the New York Times’s Jewish owners and their hostility to Zionism and reporting about the Holocaust. Though he begins his piece by asserting that he doesn’t believe Murdoch to be an anti-Semite, he spends the rest of the article contradicting himself and attempting to prove just that. He concludes by writing:

I don’t think anti-Semitism is widespread on the American right, any more than it is widespread on the American left. But when expressed, it should be publicly condemned. Whether it masks itself as hostility to Israel or support for Israel should make no difference at all.

In other words, Murdoch is an anti-Semite who is covering up his hate for Jews by supporting the Jewish state against its critics. While Beinart wonders why conservatives are bothering to defend Murdoch, a better question would be to ask why he is resorting to such convoluted and contradictory arguments? The answer is, of course, that Beinart’s real problem with Murdoch isn’t the patently false charge of anti-Semitism but the fact that he’s critical of publications that attack Israel.

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The notion that Jewish opponents of Israel are self-hating or anti-Semitic is the kind of thing we are used to hearing from the right. But recently it has become a theme increasingly heard from the Jewish left. Back in January, the Forward’s Gal Beckerman asserted the preposterous notion that Newt Gingrich, a longtime and ardent supporter of Israel and Jewish causes, was making a “dog whistle” argument to anti-Semites because he spoke about the philosophy and influence of left-wing activist Saul Alinsky. Now Peter Beinart has gotten into the act with his rants about Rupert Murdoch’s criticisms of Jews who publish newspapers that are hostile to Israel. I wrote on Sunday about Beinart’s argument with Murdoch that falsely asserts that what he — and pro-Israel activists — wants is for Jewish journalists and publishers to abandon their integrity for Israel’s sake when what they really want is just the opposite: for Jews in the media as well as everybody else to stop going in the tank for Israel’s foes.

Beinart has now doubled down on this argument in a new piece posted at the Daily Beast. He criticizes my piece on the subject, as well as an insightful contribution from the New York Sun that recalled the troubled history of the New York Times’s Jewish owners and their hostility to Zionism and reporting about the Holocaust. Though he begins his piece by asserting that he doesn’t believe Murdoch to be an anti-Semite, he spends the rest of the article contradicting himself and attempting to prove just that. He concludes by writing:

I don’t think anti-Semitism is widespread on the American right, any more than it is widespread on the American left. But when expressed, it should be publicly condemned. Whether it masks itself as hostility to Israel or support for Israel should make no difference at all.

In other words, Murdoch is an anti-Semite who is covering up his hate for Jews by supporting the Jewish state against its critics. While Beinart wonders why conservatives are bothering to defend Murdoch, a better question would be to ask why he is resorting to such convoluted and contradictory arguments? The answer is, of course, that Beinart’s real problem with Murdoch isn’t the patently false charge of anti-Semitism but the fact that he’s critical of publications that attack Israel.

Let’s get one thing cleared up. The idea that it is anti-Semitic for a Jew or non-Jew to note that some Jewish-owned publications have a history of being uncomfortable with Jewish subjects and especially Israel is simply absurd. The history of the New York Times on this subject is well documented. To assert that Murdoch’s tweet, ill-considered as it was, was evidence of either latent or overt anti-Semitism is the worst kind of slur and is exactly the sort of thing that would send Beinart over the edge if a right-winger said it about someone on the left.

Beinart also says that it is “nuts” for anyone to speak of the New York Times as being consistently critical of Israel. It is true that the Times supports Israel’s right to exist. But it has spent the last few decades blaming it for all the problems of the Middle East and blasting its measures of self-defense. Not all of its reporting is biased, but enough of it has been tilted against Israel to make it clear that most of what it presents as news, especially on its front page, amount to nothing more than thinly veiled op-eds. Its opinion pages are also disproportionately skewed against pro-Israel voices.

Since Beinart is himself a consistent critic of Israel, it’s little wonder that he thinks there’s nothing wrong with this, but to claim that those who disagree are crazy says more about his own bias than that of anyone else. As I wrote, Murdoch would have done better to have avoided mentioning the Jewish owners of publications like the Times since the phrase is problematic and it’s far from clear that the current generation in charge there even considers themselves to be Jews.

But the real issue here isn’t whether or not the Times is biased against Israel. It’s whether it’s OK to label political opponents of the left, like Murdoch, as anti-Semitic even though he has a long record of philo-Semitism and support for Israel.

The reason why some conservatives have pushed back against this smear is not so much for Murdoch’s sake — the media mogul can take care of himself — but because the goal of the Jewish left is to brand all conservatives as closet Jew-haters. Doing so appeals to many Jews since it confirms their liberal political prejudices as well as conjures up memories of the past when the right in this country really was anti-Semitic while in our own day, and contrary to Beinart’s false moral equivalence, it is the left that is the natural home for many anti-Zionists and Jew-haters.

One should be careful about labeling people anti-Semites. There is a difference between someone who is merely critical of Israel like Beinart and, for example, liberal church groups that seek to promote BDS measures or to cut off military aid to the Jewish state and make common ground with open Jew-haters to promote this cause. Unfortunately that is a distinction that liberals like Beinart are prepared to ignore in order to score bogus political points against easy targets like Murdoch.

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