I’ve been traveling and am just getting caught up on the latest developments in the flame-out of Chas Freeman, and am particularly enjoying Walter Pincus’s latest piece. Someone nominate this guy for coming up with the biggest dog-bites-man story of the year.
Here’s the thing about stories on Arab reactions to Israel-related American political stories: there is almost never any doubt about what those Arab reactions are going to be. There are no “trends” here — there is utterly predictable, hackneyed conspiracy-theorizing about Jewish power and Israeli puppeteering. When has a story involving the U.S.-Israel relationship not been reported in Arab quarters as an example of Zionist manipulation?
Trend stories, or any story documenting the reactions to an event of one discreet group, are to be avoided by discerning readers because they are one of the best ways for a reporter to conceal his political opinions with a patina of journalistic credibility. (Here’s the obverse story the Post could have run: “‘Israel Lobby’ Conspiracy Theory Increasingly Popular on Political Fringes, in Middle East.”) But there is something particularly rich about the example Pincus has set. Why is the Washington Post running stories about Arab reports on Washington, instead of, you know, reporting about Washington itself? The Beirut Daily Star — a fine paper, only insofar as it publishes Michael Young’s columns — does not have a Washington bureau, and assigned no one to actually report out the reasons for Freeman’s downfall. Why, then, is there any news value to the Daily Star‘s interpretation of these events?
I’m actually giving Pincus too much credit. The report he cites from the Daily Star as evidence of the Lebanese analysis of Freeman is not actually written by anyone at the Daily Star. It is a reprint from an Inter Press Service analysis (IPS is a left-wing nonprofit journalistic collective) written from Washington, by two neocon-hunters named Jim Lobe and Daniel Luban.
So here’s the actual Walter Pincus story: a pair of Washington, D.C. writers prepare an updated version of the same conspiracy analysis they’ve been writing for several years, which is reprinted in a Lebanese paper, which in turn is quoted in the Washington Post as an example of what the Arab world is thinking.
Around the merry-go-round of journalistic hackery we go.
UPDATE: More hilarity. Philip Weiss writes a cover story for the un-American, un-conservative magazine called The American Conservative, and in it he quotes Pincus’ source for his “Arab” analysis of the Freeman debacle — the IPS’ Jim Lobe. Here is Lobe opining to Weiss about Freeman:
“I can tell you from personal experience that he is absolutely brilliant and incredibly well-rounded in his knowledge.”