“Peter Jennings, Palestinian sympathizer first, journalist second?” is how the conservative Media Research Center (MRC) put it in its CyberAlert of Dec. 4. “Israel,” the alert went on, “was the victim of a murderous terrorist attack by a terrorist group, Hamas, which claimed credit. “But on Monday night Jennings wanted to know if the Bush administration wished to ‘restrain the Israelis.’ Jennings also tried to absolve Yasir Arafat of responsibility as he referred to Hamas simply as an ‘organization.’ He asserted: ‘There’s some question as to whether Mr. Arafat can really control organizations like Hamas.’ ”
MRC’s apt analogy and sharp rejoinder to Jennings: “Imagine wondering on September 13 how to ‘restrain’ the Bush administration’s reaction to an ‘organization’ which completed suicide bombings two days before.”
MRC also reported on the attempted exoneration of Arafat by Bryant Gumbel, surely one of the more pompous and self-inflated windbags in a profession teeming with pompous, self-inflated windbags.
On the Dec. 3 edition of his CBS “Early Show,” Gumbel was chatting with former Senator George Mitchell. “You saw the tape, Secretary Powell chiding Yasir Arafat for not restraining those terrorist forces that he says are under his command,” said Gumbel. “Do you think it is within his capacity to restrain those forces, to restrain Hamas and Islamic Jihad?”
Gumbel followed that up with, “Should this administration be taking the same efforts to restrain Sharon, should they be acting much more even-handed than they’ve been?”
Finally, Gumbel exposed his underlying animus – as well as a terribly unsophisticated grasp of Mideast realities – by asking: “Is it realistic, Senator, to think that the Palestinians, whoever is in charge, would ever reach some kind of agreement with Ariel Sharon, a man who has done so much to oppose peace efforts in the Middle East?”
And then there’s the columnist Pete Hamill, who rarely writes about the Middle East. Unfortunately, when he does he turns out the kind of utterly predictable left-wing boilerplate published by the New York Daily News this past Monday.
Less than 24 hours after the worst-ever weekend of terrorism suffered by Israelis, here’s how Hamill began his column: “The killing goes on and on. In the morning, schoolboys throw stones at an Israeli tank in the West Bank village of Wad Burgin, near Jenin. An 11-year-old named Muhammad Salah is shot dead. On the other side of Jenin, an 18-year-old named Rami As’oos tries to move around an Israeli roadblock. He is shot dead.”
Only after establishing – by way of five completely misleading sentences, each lacking the slightest trace of context and nuance – that Israeli soldiers are a bunch of child-killers, did Hamill turn his attention to the bombings in Jerusalem and Haifa later that weekend. What followed were several gripping paragraphs (no one ever questioned Hamill’s prose skills), amounting in the end to nothing more than a well-written exercise in moral equivalency.
Ultimate blame for the violence – here’s a huge surprise – Hamill placed on Ariel Sharon: “Since his little stroll on the Temple Mount 14 months ago,” he drolly wrote, “many hundreds of Israelis and Palestinians have died in the deadly intifada.”
Hamill may be plain ignorant of the ample evidence that a Palestinian uprising was in the works from the day Yasir Arafat threw out his chips at Camp David, but perhaps something more than mere ignorance is at play here.
In a column he wrote back during the Lebanon war, Hamill quoted a conveniently anonymous “Israeli friend” who, speaking of Israeli troops, supposedly said, “Forgive me, but all I can think of is the Nazis.”
Ancient history? Perhaps. But a red flag should go up whenever a journalist resorts to anonymous sources, not just because such sources are difficult if not impossible to verify, but even more so because they have this annoying tendency to reflect and buttress a journalist’s own biases and predispositions.
Jason Maoz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org