Posted on: January 22, 2011 Posted by: Mitchell Plitnick Comments: 18

There was a time when the Washington Post was understood to be one of the better mass media newspapers in the country, often regarded as on a level with the New York Times as a serious paper.

Media analysts (which is where I started this work, so I’d count myself among these) would assuredly contend that this was damning with faint praise. Still that regard the WaPo, as it’s often called on the internet, was once held in has been in sharp decline for some time now.  Their coverage of Israel, for example, just gave us a startling example of that decline, when the Post decided to hire Jennifer Rubin as blogger.

Washington Post blogger, Jennifer Rubin (photo by Daniel Sieradski)

Rubin had previously written for the neoconservative Commentary Magazine and other outlets after leaving her career as a lawyer. Columnist Ali Gharib, writing in the Columbia Journalism Review, says of her:

Rubin has a penchant for relentlessly sticking political opponents with negative labels… During the “Ground Zero Mosque” controversy, Rubin claimed that Obama’s “sympathies for the Muslim World take precedence over those, such as they are, for his fellow citizens.” Last year, Rubin derided Obama as “the most anti-Israel U.S. president (ever),” a judgment unequivocally repudiated by even the hawkish Israel lobby group AIPAC. Undeterred, this summer Rubin lamented, in a typically overblown overstatement, that the Israel “must figure out how (quite literally) the Jewish state is to survive the Obama presidency,” insisting the following day that Israel will have to go it alone against Iran.

Rubin got called this week on that penchant for labeling, which some think is libeling.

Earlier this week, I reported on a letter that Steve Clemons of the Washington Note had organized urging President Obama to vote in favor of a proposed UN resolution condemning Israeli settlement activity. Rubin said of the letter, in a Post op-ed “The usual crowd of Israel bashers has sent the president a letter urging him to go along with a U.N. resolution condemning Israel for its settlements (emphasis added).”

In fact, anyone familiar with Washington would note that the signers were a broad array of diplomats, journalists and academics, including Jewish leaders and others who do not usually sign on to such initiatives. Well, Clemons fought back.

I would like to know from Jennifer Rubin and from her editor — and from the Chairman of the Board of the Washington Post– what I have ever said, what I have ever written, what I have ever organized that deserves the characterization I received from Jennifer Rubin today at the Washington Post. What does she consider makes me an Israel-basher?… Calling someone as Israel-basher is akin to calling them an anti-Semite or a bigot, and that can’t go without response. I’m a strong believer in Israel and want a healthy and constructive relationship between Israel and the United States. I have traveled to Israel, have met people from nearly every political party in the Knesset, and love the place and people.

This kind of insidious character attack is irresponsible — and beneath the Washington Post. I think Rubin is smart and informed — but has a way with her writing that slimes recklessly. I hope she tacks in new directions. David Brooks would be someone for her to consider emulating.

To complete the point, I think columnist Eli Clifton of Lobelog put it very well:

Rubin’s proclivity towards smearing her opponents as Israel-bashing belies the fundamental weakness of the hawkish, Israeli right-wing — a position she consistently advocates from her perch at The Washington Post. While she can’t be blamed for continuing the abrasive tone that she perfected on Commentary’s Contentions blog, Clemons is right in pointing out that Rubin’s character attacks are beneath The Washington Post and should be called to the attention of the Post’s editors and chairman.

It is not Rubin’s ideas that are at issue. I have had a great many debates, publicly and privately, with supporters of the harshest of Israeli policies and other political issues I would characterize as right-wing, sometimes even extremely right-wing. And many of those discussions were civil and interesting and I often learned much from them.

It is, however, about the tone of those conversations, and the use of smear tactics and name-calling.

It can also be about misinformation. When Rubin interviewed Obama’s “Anti-Semitism Czar” Hannah Rosenthal, she both misled her audience and the woman she was interviewing in a very conniving way. Just look here at Matt Duss’ systematic takedown of Rubin’s piece.

Rubin is far from alone in this practice. Alan Dershowitz has stopped bothering to masquerade as a liberal, and shamelessly twists and bends reality, and when that doesn’t work he makes things up. Dershowitz’s stuff now appears on the sites of right-wing think-tanks but it’s still easy enough to take him to task.

But Dershowitz is known as an advocate, not a journalist. He’s a lawyer, not a reporter, and so is not bound by any ethics (which he takes to an extreme, even for a lawyer). Rubin is supposed to be held to a different standard.

So is Caroline Glick, of another Post, this one in Jerusalem. Glick is the JPost’s columnist, but is also the paper’s deputy managing editor. I’ve written about Glick before, in the context of her blatant racism, which is really quite shocking.

But in her January 7 op-ed, “Agents of Influence Glick simply told falsehoods, alleging B’Tselem had falsified video materials that they publicized. Whether they were the result of willful lying or inexcusable negligence, they are the very essence of a reporter violating every professional ethic.

Jerusalem Post columnist, Caroline Glick

The lies she told were directed at my former employers, B’Tselem. They elicited quite a passionate response from B’Tselem’s Executive Director, Jessica Montell.

Now, I got to know Jessica pretty well in my two and a half years at B’Tselem. I can attest, without fear of contradiction, that for her to write an article as blunt and direct as this one reflects an offense and a deep anger that was provoked in her that, quite frankly, I have never seen before. But those sentiments were very much warranted.

The JPost would not publish Jessica’s response, nor has there been any hint of retraction from Glick. But, luckily for us, we have 972 magazine, and they did print the response. I’ll let Jessica speak for herself, and for B’Tselem:

Free speech enables us to speak the truth, even when such truth is harsh. So for example, I am free to say that Caroline Glick is a hack of a journalist, who parrots any drivel that suits her extremist ideological agenda without having the basic journalistic integrity to check her facts…

Caroline Glick’s column earlier this month, accus[ed] B’Tselem of everything from fabricating incidents to blood libel. All without a shred of evidence, based mostly on false information spread by extremist settlers, and government-apologist hatchet group NGO Monitor*.

Glick cites a false report provided by settler sources, claiming that a Palestinian shepherd who complained that settlers attacked his sheep later admitted that he fabricated the incident. It is not incidental that the only source repeating this allegation is the settler media – it was denied by the shepherd who is sticking to his version. B’Tselem’s media statement focused solely on the fact that he submitted a complaint, and was careful to avoid irresponsibly accusing anyone of wrongdoing. Glick should try that sometime.

*For more on NGO Monitor’s lack of credibility, check out articles here here , and here.

Is the problem that people like Glick and Rubin (and obviously Dershowitz) are making arguments that are so weak that they need to avoid the truth? That would be convenient, and maybe it’s true. But wherever we think the problem comes from, there is a pretty clear line between even the most passionate disagreement and the tactics that have been described here. And, in my experience, there are plenty of right-wing or conservative writers who can make these arguments within the bounds of civil discourse.

The Glicks and Rubins and Dershowitzes poison the whole debate over Israeli policies, the conflict with the Palestinians and the occupation. All sides should be able to present their ideas, no matter how radical. But it’s not too much to ask that they present them honestly. Is it?

18 People reacted on this

  1. I’m interested in what Jessica Montell says in defence of her organisation’s press release on the allegation of sheep burning. Jessica says:

    ‘B’Tselem’s media statement focused solely on the fact that he (the shepherd) submitted a complaint, and was careful to avoid irresponsibly accusing anyone of wrongdoing. Glick should try that sometime’.

    I’ve read Glick’s response and she seems to believe B’Tselem squarely pointed the finger at Israeli settlers.

    It would help if the press release was available for examination in the same form it was released; according to Glick in her piece, that was on the 19 Dec 2010.

    It seems a little odd that a press release, the subject of such contention, and being defended by Montell in her article is apparently not available on the B’Tselem website although numerous other press releases are.

    I’ve tried every area of the site, which seems quite sophisticated and has various headings – one of which is Press Releases. I would have thought this particular press release would be available for view, so those trying to make a judgment could see for themselves.

    Where is the B’Tselem press release about the alleged sheep burning incident? Was it ever posted on their website? If so has it been taken down, and why? Can it be reposted, or posted here on The Third Way?

    I for one, would really like to see it…

  2. Adrian, I have e-mailed my friends at B’Tselem and will let you know when I hear back from them.

    I would just point out that a “media statement,” as Glick calls it is not necessarily a press release. There may not have been one on this incident (which was, after all, not of an uncommon type), but rather could have been simply a statement to a reporter.

    But we’ll see. I’ll let you know when I have an answer.

  3. And just like that, Sarit Michaeli, B’Tselem’s spokesperson and press officer, responded to me thusly:

    The issue was not the subject of an official press release, but rather was sent to a group of the relevant israeli journalists by sms (text message). We routinely send relevant correspondents sms messages to alert them to events that B’Tselem is made aware of through reports from the field. This is standard practice for many spokespeople for organisations.

    As opposed to their practice with official releases, like the ones sent by the IDF Spokesman’s office or the police spokesman, Israeli media do not publish verbatim B’Tselem info, but rather check it with the relevant official body. In this particular sms I alerted the media to the fact that the shepherd submitted a complaint about an event, and was careful to explain that it was his version of the event. I shall be happy to send you the Hebrew text if this is necessary.

  4. Thank you Mitchell the Hebrew text would be lost on me I’m afraid, but thank you for your prompt reply anyway.

    I wonder if Ms Montell’s original piece was in Hebrew and the term ‘media statement’ a translation into English? I still think ‘media statement’ is a slightly overblown description of a text message unless something was added/lost in translation.

    Given that there is no ‘media statement’ as such to examine, it’s hard to tell whether Glick has over-reacted or not and it looks like something of a ‘draw’ in the credibility stakes.

  5. Well, Adrian, I’d be happy to get the text from Sarit and translate it for you. I don’t know for sure, but it is overwhelmingly likely that Jessica’s piece was written in English, since it was initially intended for the Jerusalem Post, an English daily, and appeared on, an English web site.

    A statement to media, is just that, and it is often in the form of a text, an e-mail or a phone conversation. Formal press releases are different matters.

    Glick, however, never saw the text in question either. She is basing her view on media reports of the incident, which were initiated by B’Tselem relaying a complaint they got. Once I get the text, I will post it here in the comments section on this piece, along with the original Hebrew, since my own translation may be doubted or not sufficiently skilled. You should be able to make a judgement then.

  6. Adrian, here is the text of the text Sarit sent to Israeli journalists. My translation (and I hasten to add, i am far from a proficient translator of Hebrew) follows:

    סמס1: רועה צאן תושב עקרבה שמדרום לשכם הגיש בדקות האחרונות תלונה במת”ק חווארה נגד מתנחלים שלדבריו הציתו אש ששרפה מספר כבשים בבעלותו אתמול מדרום להתנחלות איתמר. לדבריו של סמיר אבו-לחייה, הוא רעה את צאנו כאשר מספר מתנחלים הניסו אותו מהמקום והציתו את הכבשים. יהיו לי תמונות של הכבשים בעוד כחצי שעה, אפיץ.

    סמס 2: תיקון לגבי המיקום: קילומטר וחצי מדרום מערב למעלה אפרים ולא כפי שמסרתי.

    SMS 1: A shepherd from Akraba, south of Nablus, filed a complaint moments ago with the DCO (District Command Officer) of Hawara against settlers whom he says ignited a fire just south of the settlement of Itamar yesterday that burned a number of his sheep.

    According to Samir Abu-Lahaya, he was grazing his flock when several settlers chased him away and set fire to the sheep. I’ll have pictures of sheep in half an hour or so.

    SMS 2: correction about the location: 1.5 kilometers south-west of Ma’ale Ephraim, rather than the location I gave.

    That was the extent of the texts. the journalists were clearly directed to the DCO, where they gathered their own facts and B’Tselem made it absolutely clear that this was an allegation made by an individual.

  7. On reflection the B’Tselem text message(s) seem more of media ‘tip off’ than a media statement – and nothing terribly wrong with that I suppose. However, I can’t see much wrong with Glick’s rebuttal either. It would seem B’Tselem did actually furnish ‘reporters with graphic photos of the dead sheep’.

    The only possible quibble would be that Glick wrote: ‘B’Tselem claimed that the previous day, Palestinian shepherd Samir Bani Fadel was peacefully herding his sheep when he was set upon by a mob of Israeli settlers’.

    Montell’s version is that B’Tselem never said that, they only referred the media to a shepherd who was saying that.

    However to me, and I suggest most outside observers, this is splitting hairs and hardly justifies Montell’s own fairly robust attack on Glick, eg: ‘I am free to say that Caroline Glick is a hack of a journalist, who parrots any drivel that suits her extremist ideological agenda without having the basic journalistic integrity to check her facts’. Pretty stern stuff.

    I mean, who cares whether B’Tselem actually made the claim or whether they simply put the media in touch with the shepherd. It’s fairly obvious that B’Tselem believed and still believes the shepherd’s version of events. That’s quite apparent from Montell’s own article.

    It also seems apparent that B’Tselem is in the business of discrediting and embarrassing the IDF wherever possible; and this was their motivation in the media ‘tip off’ in the first place.

    Again I don’t see anything particularly wrong with this. Surely they do admit to being a anti-Zionist lobby group don’t they? B’Tselem is not claiming to be a completely impartial media organisation are they?

    In light of all this I just don’t understand the rather ‘precious’ reaction to Glick’s op-ed. Seems to me she’s just giving as good as she gets.

  8. Well, it’s quite clear from the evidence that Glick was either repeating lies or lying herself, and given her track record, likely the latter.
    B’Tselem is not anti-Zionist, nor is it a media group. It is an Israeli human rights group, whose mandate, like all locally focused human rights groups is to monitor and report on its country’s adherence to human rights standards as prescribed by international law.
    As to the rest, I’m happy to let you and anyone else make their own judgments.

  9. As for lies, it seems each side is making the same accusation and it’s very hard to say who is telling the truth.

    Thanks very much for your assistance Mitchell but in terms of credibility, it still seems like a ‘draw’ to me

  10. leftist bashing of rubin glick and dershowitz.all three are far brighter then their critics.abusing dershowitz because he is a lawyer and so supposedly untrustworthy is silly and also stupid.

  11. both glick and rubin follow their convictions.the attacks on them are mean.
    using words like hacks shames the accuser

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