Today on my drive back to NY from PA I listened to some fine journalism about religion and politics, and it highlighted everything that is wrong with our coverage of Israel/Palestine.
The piece I listened to was an hour's conversation on Radio Times (WHYY Philadelphia) about the pedophilia scandal in the Catholic Church. I don't follow this issue closely, but let me lay out the roles that the different players assumed during the long conversation:
–The two experts on the show were both Catholic writers. Their attitude can be summed up: They want this scandal to come out and be addressed, but they don't want it to hurt the church. At one point one of the writers actually said that Catholic writers have an obligation to respect their "corporate identity" and not to behave like investigative reporters, but to respect the good things that the church does, and to get the full context.
–The host was Marty Moss-Coane. She was extremely professional, but assertive, skeptical of the writers' piety: she took up the side of our next two players. And I would note that (according to that link) Moss-Coane is not a Catholic, is married to a Jewish guy and is a former lefty.
–Offstage was the New York Times, which has recently done investigative pieces suggesting that Pope Benedict when a bishop or cardinal in Munich was informed of a pedophilia case in the '80s and played some role in its being covered up. The two Catholic writers on this show kept dissing the New York Times coverage, saying that it was zealous and investigative; and in other ways they echoed the Pope's recent warning that Catholics should not be "intimidated by the petty gossip of dominant opinion."
–The final players in the drama were the listeners. Several called. They were all outraged at the Catholic church. One said that life as an altar boy had hurt him in ways he did not want to talk about but is still coming to terms with. Another spoke of the culture of coverup. Another man said that celibacy was the issue.
Now let me get to the central dynamic of the show. The Catholic writers were performing damage control; still, Moss-Coane bored in on them, and whenever a caller went further than she had gone, for instance, about sexuality and celibacy, she promptly echoed the caller's point. She stood up for the Times coverage. She asked, wisely, Is the church treating a crime as a sin? She said, What signal does it send people when a former bishop who played an active role in covering up a sex scandal is awarded a sinecure? (The writers said, Well it's a giant step down for the bishop…) She said, What about what that caller just asked, How is this affecting congregations?
And to every push by Moss-Coane, the Catholic writers pushed back and defended the church. And they would: because they love the church, they see it as a force for good.
Why do I think this was fine journalism? Because the host was behaving as a good broadcast journalist with smart questions, the New York Times was behaving like a good investigative zealous newspaper when it smells a disgraceful scandal, and the listeners were sharp and engaged, pushing the story.
Now I hate the pedophilia scandal, I think it's a good reason for the Catholic hierarchy to collapse, for congregations to implode. I think it's wrapped up in celibacy. When the Catholic writers protested that the memo the Times uncovered from the '80s (describing slap-on-the-
The significance of this piece for me was wholly about the journalism of the Israel lobby. The central problem in that story is that the roles of the Journalist and the New York Times are being played by the Catholic writers! The very parochial attitudes that Moss-Coane found so distasteful in the Catholic story are exhibited by countless journalists when it comes to Israel. Because they are Jews who have an investment in the emotional goodness of the Jewish state. Yes, people like Dan Schorr and Wolf Blitzer and Tom Friedman and Jeffrey Goldberg and Ethan Bronner, but also a lot of fellow travelers whose investment is not as well known to me. And they all get away with their piety all the time!
In the Israel lobby case we have an allegation now several years old that is way more serious than the Catholic scandal: the allegation that the forcible conflation of American and Israeli interests is damaging our country's reputation. It is a form of corruption as deep and "cultural" as the Catholic mess Moss-Coane is investigating, but this time the broker-journalists are implicated in the culture. The former executive editor of the New York Times, Max Frankel, is vetting editorials to protect the Jewish state; my old newspaper the New York Observer is telling me to take a hike because I want to write about the Israel lobby; the Atlantic is killing Walt and Mearsheimer; Wolf Blitzer and Dan Senor used to work for the lobby and are now all over cable; and Jeff Goldberg used to be an Israeli soldier and is interviewed on Meet the Press by David Gregory, who is studying Hebrew. Ethan Bronner's son goes into the IDF, and Bronner is the lead reporter for the New York Times???!! And on it goes, it never stops.
I am saying that all the f—ing excuses that the two Catholic writers made for their beloved church are being made all the time for the Jewish state by our journalists; it is in the culture of our journalism; and meanwhile there is no Moss-Coane to jump on them and keep them honest. I wonder if she's ever covered the Israel/Palestine situation with half the honesty she covered the Catholic scandal, let alone the question of how it is corrupting our politics. I bet she hasn't. Has she ever had on Palestinians to talk about the separate roadways in the West Bank, and then asked, why Americans are supporting Jim Crow conditions?
Well you get the point. And again, the New York Times, which should be printing the Pentagon Papers of the Iraq war, which should be interrogating neoconservatives about their crazy theory that invading Baghdad would take the Arabs' minds off Israel/Palestine, which should be asking John Mearsheimer what his evidence is that oil had nothing to do with the disastrous decision to go to war, which should be telling readers why Sheldon Adelson and Haim Saban give so much money to the political parties, and asking whether Adelson's $300,000 gift in 2000 had anything to do with the hiring of Douglas "One-Jerusalem" Feith to a big job at the Pentagon where he would pass cooked data to Congress– the Times is doing no investigative journalism about the lobby at all. (In fact the best investigative work is being done by Grant Smith at IRMEP; and he's marginalized…
And now we have General Petraeus saying that the special relationship is hurting us; and Obama is trying to take Netanyahu on; and still these powerful men are getting no goddamn cover from the mainstream press in the form of investigative journalism that arouses the public about the abuses. If I were the Catholic church, I'd be mad.
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