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September 21, 2014 / 26 Elul, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘Deborah Sontag’

Deconstructing Sharon

Wednesday, July 9th, 2003

Discriminating readers of The New York Times grew accustomed in the late 1990′s to the error-prone (as well as transparently biased) reports filed with mind-numbing regularity by the paper’s former Jerusalem bureau chief Deborah Sontag. (Given her stylish creativity with bothersome things like facts and details, Sontag happens to be much better suited to her current incarnation as a feature writer for the Times’s Sunday magazine.)

Memories of Sontag came flooding back last week as the Monitor beheld a particularly jarring assault on historical truth committed by Times reporter David Sanger in the middle of an analysis piece on the Bush-Sharon-Abbas summit in Jordan.

Referring to Sharon’s refusal to publicly commit to freezing the growth of Jewish settlements (as opposed to his agreeing to abandon some ‘unauthorized outposts’), Sanger wrote: “The prime minister, of course, helped create many of those settlements as Likud minister in the aftermath of the Six Day War in 1967, when Bush was a junior at Yale.”

Mon Dieu! Where to begin with this towering monument of Times-style inaccuracy? First of all, Sharon was not a “Likud minister in the aftermath of the Six Day War.” For one thing, there was no Likud until 1973; for another, Sharon was not a minister of any kind during those years; he was named head of the Southern Command in 1969 and didn’t leave the IDF until 1973. (Later that year, after helping Menachem Begin form the center-right Likud coalition, Sharon was recalled to service for the Yom Kippur War and led Israeli forces across the Suez Canal).

Though he was elected to the Knesset in December 1973, Sharon resigned after just one year of relatively undistinguished service and shortly thereafter took a gig as a special adviser to (Labor) prime minister Yitzhak Rabin from June 1975 to March 1976.

Contrary to the scenario spun by Sanger, it wasn’t until 1977 – a full decade after the Six Day War - that Sharon had anything at all to do with the building of settlements. That opportunity arose when Begin, having been elected prime minister in May of ’77, appointed Sharon minister of agriculture in charge of settlements.

Oh, and in case anyone feels inclined to give Sanger the benefit of the doubt by suggesting that perhaps he operates with a rather elastic understanding of the word “aftermath” (after all, we are, one could conceivably argue, still living in the “aftermath” of the Civil War, 138 years after the Union and the Confederacy laid down their arms), please go back to what Sanger wrote and note that he ends his sentence with: “when Bush was a junior at Yale.”

By his placing Bush at Yale in the context of his claim about Sharon, it’s clear that Sanger was referring to the more-or-less immediate ‘aftermath of the Six Day War’ – for the simple reason that Bush received his bachelor’s degree from Yale in 1968. (Or maybe Sanger is confusing Yale with Harvard, since Bush received a Master of Business Administration from Harvard Business School in 1975. But of course that still wouldn’t explain how the publication formerly known as the Paper of Record permits such factually-challenged reporting to grace its pages.)

Speaking of Sharon, the Monitor never ceases to be amazed at the bewilderment expressed by the prime minister’s more devoted fans, both here and in Israel, whenever he reveals himself to be something of a political chameleon.

As has been pointed out by writers as ideologically diverse as Barry Chamish and Chemi Shalev, Sharon was talking about territorial compromise - and more – a long, long time ago.In 1977, Sharon formed a political party he called ‘Shlomzion’ which held out the idea of an independent Palestinian state; Sharon even tried to get the super-dove Yossi Sarid (who went on to head the ultra-left Meretz party) to join Shlomzion.

Sharon disbanded Shlomzion after the party won just two seats and he was asked to join the new Begin government. As mentioned above, Begin gave him the Agriculture portfolio – and in the blink of an eye the man who just months earlier had considered himself a good match with Yossi Sarid became a born-again hawk and ardent advocate for settlements.

Jason Maoz can be reached at jmaoz@jewishpress.com

The Jayson Blair Affair: A Perspective

Friday, June 13th, 2003

It now appears that The Times is finally ‘fessing up to the most outrageous abuses by one of its reporters and is conducting an investigation into the full scope of Jayson Blair’s misleading of its readers. From what is already known, for a period of four years, Blair fabricated news stories. But what is intriguing is that some higher-ups at The Times apparently were aware of Blair’s wrongdoing, but for reasons not yet clear – he was not discharged. Some are suggesting that notions of “affirmative action” (Blair is African-American), were in play in Blair’s being hired and not let go.

It has long seemed to us that there is a culture at The Times that tolerates lies, inaccuracies and the coloration or discoloration of news, in order to further its own agendas. And we suspect that social engineering considerations of racial “diversity” did indeed result in an institutional reluctance to come down hard on an employee who was regularly deceiving its readers.

While The Times is at it, we suggest that an investigation of its coverage of the Middle East is also in order. We believe there ought to be an inquiry into the many palpable untruths that have been published about Israel’s confrontation with the Palestinian Arabs.

A good place to start would be the partisan reportage of Deborah Sontag. For many months, this relatively inexperienced young woman’s articles appeared on the front page and other prominent places in The Times. Her reporting was undisguisedly pro-Palestinian to the point that her columns triggered boycotts of the newspaper. Unlike Blair, however, she was quietly reassigned. Perhaps things went too far for The Times even though Ms. Sontag reported what The Times brass wanted to hear.

The Blair Affair vindicates at long last what we and others have been saying for years: The Times logo, “All The News That Fit To Print,” should really be replaced by “We
Print All The News That Fits.”

Sorry, But It’s Sontag Again

Wednesday, September 5th, 2001

For the second week running the Monitor is forced to postpone a celebration of the death last month of one of the wickedest Jews to walk the earth in this or any other generation. The continuing fallout over outgoing New York Times Jerusalem bureau chief Deborah Sontag’s novella-length rewrite of recent Middle East history leaves no choice but to put away the streamers and the silly hats and reschedule the party for the next column.

And what a fallout it’s been, starting with the obligatory letters to the editor in the Times from pro-Palestinian Arabs, pro-Israel Jews, and self-hating Israelis and Jews (an over-used term to be sure, but what else does one call individuals who argue their enemies’ case better and with more passion than the enemies themselves?).

The steady flow of letters appeared over several days against a backdrop of a Times editorial essentially defending Sontag’s fictionalized account; Op-Ed columns disputing Sontag’s version of events by former Israeli prime minister Barak and the Times’s token conservative pundit, William Safire; and a column praising Sontag by the Times’s tiresome knee-jerker Anthony Lewis, whose last original thought occurred sometime during the Eisenhower years.

Detailed criticisms of Sontag’s article began to appear almost immediately on the Web and in various magazines and newspapers; probably the best so far have been a withering analysis by Robert Satloff in The New Republic and an almost equally strong essay by Daily News publisher (and chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Organizations) Mortimer Zuckerman.

Satloff, executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, opens his piece on a sardonic note: “Imagine The New York Times covering the sinking of the Titanic with only a passing reference to the iceberg. Absurd? Not really. On July 26 the nation’s newspaper of record devoted 5,681 words to a retrospective by Jerusalem bureau chief Deborah Sontag titled ‘Quest for Mideast Peace: How and Why It Failed’ and mentioned the word ‘intifada’ just once.”

And therein lies Satloff’s main problem with Sontag, who in her July 26 narrative (as indeed in much of her reporting over the past 10 months) rendered the Palestinian uprising well nigh invisible. To Satloff, Sontag’s downplaying of the intifada reflects both her hyper-ideological journalism (“There is, of course, no ‘left wing’ in her story – only ‘peace advocates’ on one side and ‘right-wing’ politicians on the other,” he notes) and her unwillingness to blame Palestinian violence for the deteriorating state of affairs.

“For a journalist who takes aim at what at what she calls the ‘potent, simplistic narrative’ of Barak’s generosity and Arafat’s culpability, Sontag’s own story is remarkably free of complexity,” he writes. “This refusal to grapple with uncomfortable issues is most pronounced in Sontag’s avoidance of the intifada.

“To her, the failure of the peace process was due to bad chemistry (Barak chatting up Chelsea Clinton instead of Arafat at Camp David) and bad timing (Bill Clinton waiting too long to offer his own peace plan). In her telling, the Palestinian uprising is just part of the background landscape.

“But it is not just part of the background landscape. The uprising so transformed the Israeli-Palestinian political context that by the time the two sides were, in Sontag’s telling, agonizingly close, it no longer mattered…. But to discuss the intifada, its roots, and its impact would complicate Sontag’s tale of imminent peace gone awry, so she sets it aside.

“The result is that lynchings, stonings, mortar shellings and drive-by shootings are acts of violence that, like traffic accidents, just happen. The ‘cycle of violence started,’  ‘an intense spasm of violence erupted,’  ‘two Israelis were killed,’ she writes.”

Satloff ascribes the weakness of Sontag’s piece to “lazy reporting, errors of omission, questionable shading, and an indifference to the basic fact that the Palestinian decision to wed diplomacy with violence, not American and Israeli miscues, damned the search for peace.”

Jason Maoz can be reached at jmaoz@jewishpress.com

Those Calls For A Boycott Of The New York Times

Friday, August 31st, 2001

One reading Deborah Sontag's front-page article in the July 26th issue of The New York Times could well understand the calls one hears lately for Jews to suspend their Times subscriptions over its outrageous coverage of the Middle East. Ms. Sontag's piece is transparent revisionism which well serves the seeming omnipresent effort to shift the blame for the collapse of Camp David from the Palestinians to something systemic to the Middle East conflict. It almost seems that Ms. Sontag and others now hawking the same line are following a scenario scripted by Arafat lieutenants intent on minimizing Israeli concessions at Camp David and thereby set the stage for the next phase of negotiations.

It will be recalled that several weeks ago, Rabbi Haskel Lookstein of Manhattan's Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun and the Ramaz School announced a campaign for a 10 day suspension of subscriptions to the Times during the period between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. More recently, the president of Brooklyn's Yeshiva of Flatbush wrote to parents informing them that the school was “suspending all of the school's subscriptions to The New York Times and notifying the paper that we are doing so as a direct result of the distortions.” Similar calls abound on the Internet.

Ms. Sontag's piece was entitled “Quest For Mideast Peace: How And Why It Failed,” and carried the sub-heading, “Many Now Agree That All The Parties, Not Just Arafat, Were to Blame.” Early on in the article, she fleshes out what she is about:

During the largely ineffectual cease-fire now under way in the Middle East, peace advocates, academics and diplomats have begun excavating … to see what can be learned from the diplomacy right before and after the outbreak of violence. Their premise is that any renewal of peace talks, however remote that seems right now, would have to use the Barak-Clinton era as a point of departure or as an object lesson ? or both.

In the tumble of the all-consuming violence, much has not been revealed or examined. Rather, a potent, simplistic narrative has taken hold in Israel, and to some extent in the United States. It says: Mr. Barak offered Mr. Arafat the moon at Camp David last summer. Mr. Arafat turned it down, and then “pushed the button” and chose the path of violence. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is insoluble, at least for the foreseeable future.

But many diplomats and officials believe that the dynamic was far more complex and that Mr. Arafat does not bear sole responsibility for the breakdown of the peace effort.

Sontag's reference to “peace advocates, academics and diplomats” and her use of the phrase “many diplomats and officials believe” should have been fair warning of what was to come. But after all, her story was on the front page of The New York Times and surely we were to be given newly discovered facts.

Unfortunately, in her article, which runs over three pages and is longer than anything in memory since the Pentagon Papers story almost thirty years ago, Ms. Sontag offers up a one-sided pastiche of amateur psychology, anecdotes, dinner stories, opinion, speculation, innuendo and conclusions from an array of second and third tier officials apparently chosen because of their support for her thesis. The public statements of Messers. Clinton and Barak are cavalierly dismissed. That Arafat offered no counter proposal to the Israeli offer is not addressed. Nor is the fact that Palestinian violence erupted promptly after the collapse of the talks. Nor does she mention the public statements of Palestinian officials which confirmed that resort to violence was a calculated Palestinian tactic.

In an editorial several days later, “Looking Back At Camp David,” The Times continued the outrage even as it implicitly acknowledged the shortcomings of the Sontag article:

An article by The Times's Deborah Sontag this week reported on some newly revealed aspects of last year's failed search for a negotiated agreement. The story suggests that both Ehud Barak, who was then the Israeli prime minister, and Yasir Arafat, the Palestinian leader, made political and diplomatic miscalculations, as did President Bill Clinton and his aides….

Mr. Arafat did not offer any proposals of his own at Camp David. When the talks failed, he condoned the violent uprising that broke out in late September. (Emphasis ours.)

Suggests? A news report deemed worthy of the front page of The New York Times suggests? There is nothing to remark about the intentions and motives of someone who does not even respond to an offer? And in context, was the choice of the word condoned really an honest one?

In giving prominence to Sontag's astonishing contrivance and attempting to make it more digestible, The Times, perhaps more vividly than ever before, revealed its pro-Palestinian partisan agenda. So it should not be surprised at the growing feeling in the Jewish community that The Times should not be supported while it pursues that agenda.

Notes On A Pair Of Pinheads

Wednesday, June 20th, 2001
Would it be a tad tasteless for the Monitor to break into a hearty chorus of ‘Ding Dong, the Witch Is Dead’ at the welcome news that Deborah Sontag is soon to vacate her post as New York Times Jerusalem bureau chief? (Not that anyone wishes for Sontag’s literal demise, of course; she should live long and prosper – as far away from Israel as possible.) But it’s true, it’s true: According to The New York Observer, Sontag, arguably the most insidiously biased American reporter currently based in Jerusalem, will be returning to New York to write for The New York Times Magazine. Her replacement in Israel will be veteran Times reporter James Bennet.No word on the status of Mr. Deborah Sontag, otherwise known as William V. Orme, though one assumes he won’t be staying behind in Jerusalem, or of correspondent Joel Greenberg, whose work so much resembles Sontag’s in tone and style that he could well be her clone (hmmm…has anyone ever seen those two together?).

· · ·

The execrable Letty Cottin Pogrebin is at it again. Pogrebin, a left-wing feminist who helped found Ms. magazine in the early 70′s and whose hectoring of Israel becomes shriller by the year, is complaining about those who urge Israelis to unify behind the Sharon government.

Writing in Moment, the magazine that tries to be all things to all Jews with predictably unsatisfactory results, Pogrebin notes approvingly that fringe left groups like Gush Shalom, the Coalition of Women for a Just Peace and Rabbis for Human Rights have no intention of falling into line for what Gush Shalom spokesman Adam Keller calls ‘a bad government.’

Even better, Pogrebin breathlessly announces, ‘Peace Now is stepping up its dialogues between Jews and Arabs and continues to monitor settlement activity.’ (The myth that settlements are the main obstacle to peace, a central article of faith for Pogrebin and her ilk, is brilliantly refuted this week by Charles Krauthammer in his nationally syndicated column, which appeared locally in the Daily News on Monday and can be seen at JewishWorldReview.com.)  Consider: Eight months into a bloody Palestinian intifada, which came on the heels of Yasir Arafat’s rejection of then-prime minister Ehud Barak’s unprecedented concessions, and Pogrebin still swoons over the concept of ‘dialogue’; eight years into the Oslo process, with no indication that Palestinians are anywhere near ready to accept the existence of Israel, and all Pogrebin worries about is ‘settlement activity.’Frankly, Pogrebin has never been one to let inconvenient facts intrude on her Utopian fantasies. Remember the controversy back in late 1992 and early 1993 over a documentary called ‘Liberators’? The film purported to tell the story of how black soldiers liberated Jews from the Buchenwald and Dachau concentration camps in 1945, and its release was celebrated by liberal Jews as a landmark event in black-Jewish relations.

But then the investigative journalist Jeffrey Goldberg reported in The New Republic that black soldiers had never liberated those two camps, and the American Jewish Committee issued its own report which concluded that the film was riddled with ‘serious factual flaws.’ The credibility of the film and its producers vanished almost instantly.

None of that seemed to matter to Letty Pogrebin, who came up with a truly asinine piece for the radical magazine Tikkun in which she essentially downplayed the importance of truth when measured against political expediency.

‘The film presents us with a problem of ethical slippage and well-intentioned embellishment,’ she sheepishly acknowledged, but ‘not a hoax.’

And then Pogrebin got right to the heart of her intellectual dishonesty: ‘Truth must be defended, yes,’ she wrote, ‘but so must the liberal vision of black advancement and the struggle for black-Jewish harmony.’

Something to bear in mind the next time you read or hear Pogrebin’s brainless bleating about the struggle for Palestinian-Jewish dialogue or similar pabulum.

Jason Maoz can be reached at jmaoz@jewishpress.com

Reading The Mail

Friday, June 1st, 2001
The Monitor usually answers letters and e-mails privately, but sometimes a public response seems more appropriate, as the following three queries illustrate.
Jack Weissman of Miami is curious about a case of possible plagiarism he ‘heard something about’ involving the hopelessly biased New York Times Jerusalem bureau chief Deborah Sontag and ‘a British journalist with a Jewish-sounding name.’
‘Have you heard anything about this,’ Mr. Weissman asks, ‘and can it possibly be the nail in Sontag’s coffin we’ve all been waiting for?’
Yes, the Monitor is familiar with the incident to which Mr. Weissman refers, and no, unfortunately, it appears we can’t blame Sontag for this one – though the story does tell us something about the lockstep mentality of those who cover the Middle East for major Western news outlets.
As the website Honestreporting.com reported several weeks back, ‘Two notorious anti-Israel reporters gang[ed] up to cover the same piece of propaganda - and use[ed] nearly identical language in the process…. Deborah Sontag of The New York Times and Suzanne Goldenberg of the [London] Guardian both reported on the opening of a new exhibit in the West Bank town of Ramallah dedicated to the memories of 100 Palestinian ‘martyrs.’ Both reporters described the personal ‘totems’ exhibited – a sling-shot, a pair of jeans, a running shoe and other items - next to a photograph of the deceased.’
While the website notes that the use of the word ‘totem’ by both correspondents might have been nothing more than mere coincidence, the same can’t be said for the following nearly identical lines that appeared in their reports:
Sontag: ‘Israeli critics would say that the exhibit, ’100 Martyrs-100 Lives,’ glorifies death and encourages the cult of the shaheed, or martyr.’
Goldenberg: ‘Israeli critics would argue that the exhibit glorifies violent death and promotes a cult of martyrdom.’
Sontag’s article was published two days before Goldenberg’s, so any cribbing that occurred most likely came from Goldenberg. (‘Although,’ Honestreporting cautions, ‘we do not know when the reporters actually submitted the articles to their editors.’)
Goldenberg, whose stories rival Sontag’s for their consistently pro-Palestinian spin, has been drawing a fair amount of flak in recent months. A Jewish Telegraphic Agency report by Richard Allen Greene quoted a veteran British foreign correspondent who described Goldenberg as ‘extremely inexperienced, young, leftist, Jewish and overcompensating because she’s Jewish.’
On another subject, two letters received by the Monitor in the past few weeks concern the multi-part ‘Enemies List’ of anti-Israel journalists featured here quite some time ago. Linda Cole of Philadelphia wonders whether we might update the list in the near future, while Adam Fishman in Queens asks why someone like Deborah Sontag was never mentioned on the list.
The answer to Ms. Cole’s question is that the Monitor indeed intends to issue a revised Enemies List, probably by the end of June. Readers are invited to send in their nominations over the next few weeks.
The reason, Mr. Fishman, for Deborah Sontag’s absence from the original list was that she hadn’t yet achieved anywhere near the level of her current notoriety. Sontag’s been based in Jerusalem for just a few years, and at the time of the first ‘Enemies List’ her biases were not as out in the open.
In any event, even if Sontag had already emerged as the Israel-basher we’ve all come to know so well, there’s no guarantee she would have been included. The original list was heavily weighted to the broadcast side of journalism, and as a result many deserving newspaper reporters were left off.The revised version of the list will be more inclusive, and Sontag will most definitely be on it.
Sorry to ruin the suspense.
Jason Maoz can be reached at jmaoz@jewishpress.com

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