April 26, 2002
How's this for a pincer movement? The same issue of the Wall Street Journal that ran Benjamin Netanyahu's screed calling on the US to "expand democracy" and "free speech" to the Middle East presumably by overthrowing the current brutes in power featured WSJ deputy features editor Tunku Varadarajan demanding that the parameters of free speech in this country be constricted. Disdaining the recent US Supreme Court decision upholding the First Amendment overturning the ban on simulated depictions (via Photoshop) of underage sexual activity, Tunku sighs:
"We're so in thrall to the First Amendment, so conditioned to swallow it whole, that even when faced with stomach-churning speech that owes its very existence to the law's indulgence, we rarely stop to question whether the amendment always serves our best interests."
Our best interests? This reference to a collective "we" may seem mysterious, at first, but Tunku clears this up right away: the target of his ire, it turns out, isn't child pornography, but something much worse, in his view: anti-Semitism.
RUMPUS AT RUTGERS
The scene of the crime: Rutgers University, where, it seems, two student publications have caused a stir. The Medium which the buttoned-down Wall Streeter describes as "scatological" (translation: irreverent, and sometimes even intentionally funny) published an ad in the "personals" section that went like this:
"Die Jew. Die, die, die, die, die, die. Stop living, die, die, DIE! Do us all a favor and build yourself [an] . . . oven."
I don't know what's been lost in those ellipses, but the back pages of The Medium also feature other, uh, very unusual personal ads, such as the following:
"To the really hot first string bench warmer on the basketball team, you are disgustingly hot. Sometimes, when you walk by, I just want to suck on your nipple through your often sleeveless shirt ."
"Everything is retro."
And my favorite:
"To my CS 205 professor: Stop pronouncing 13 as thirty and 18 as eighty. And to that fat-ass mother*****r in a wheelchair who doesn't know how to speak either, stop causing an earthquake everytime you come into class. I f***king hate you! You are so f**king pathetic that everything you answer is wrong. What a dumb-ass! You are just a blob of fat, shut the f**k up in class and stop interrupting with your loser comments. God, I hate fat people."
Now, I won't defend the first example cited by Varadarajan it's either a death threat (already illegal), or a satire so subtle that it's virtually undetectable but it seems far less sinister put in its context: The Medium's "personals" section, it seems, is a reinvention of what we used to call a "slam book," wherein everybody in the school was listed and all were invited to inscribe their comments, which were often quite uncomplimentary. In addition, these backpage screeds are always addressed to particular individuals, and are always anonymous. We don't know who posted it, or why: it could even be a deliberate provocation. It is, at any rate, hardly grounds to start questioning the First Amendment.
Another student publication, The Caellian staffed, it seems, by lefty lesbians offended campus sensibilities by featuring naked women on the cover. Horrors! The authorities moved quickly to crack down on the First Amendment run amok by limiting the distribution of the two periodicals to bins that cover up the offending covers: the editors, quite rightly, cried foul, and a meeting was held to discuss the matter. This was an event of such earthshaking import, obviously, that the nation's leading financial daily felt compelled to send a reporter. Tunku was perturbed by what he saw: students "playacting" at being editors.
Imagine that students play-acting the roles they will one day assume in the adult world! Who ever heard of such a thing?
The editors of The Caellian are gently mocked for their crackpot egalitarianism can't you just see old Tunku rolling his eyes as they earnestly explained that they publish all submissions in the order in which they are received? LOL! But the real target of this editorial thunderbolt from on high is the editor of The Medium, "a burly chap in a basketball jersey," for having defended his paper's editorial credo: "No one is above getting it." Mr. Basketball Jersey averred that The Medium is "an envelope-pushing paper, and the university would stagnate to an incredible degree without it." Tunku finds this outrageous:
"Behind him, a Jewish student in a yarmulke raised his hand and adverted to the 'personal' in which his kind had been urged to die. 'I'm scared by this,' he said. To which an editor stood up and purred, 'The Medium is satire, humor.' If this consoled the Jewish student, it was not writ large on his face. He shook his head. The editor, meanwhile, sat down. Butter wouldn't melt in his mouth--but it might turn rancid there."
But of course anyone who actually goes to The Medium website can see for themselves that we are hardly talking about the local chapter of the National Socialist White Workers Party: the paper bills itself as Rutgers' "entertainment weekly," fer chrissakes. The most recent issue features a major story on "Priestly Sex" (with pictures!). But ideologues of Tunku's type are notoriously humorless, and, besides, the idea that "no one is above getting it" is a heresy that neoconservatives find particularly appalling.
POLITICAL CORRECTNESS, POST-9/11
Conservatives imagine that "politically correct" campus speech codes are the product of a sinister leftist conspiracy David Horowitz has made a career out of that claim but the reality is that the neoconservatives also want to ban "hate speech." This means not only silencing the juvenile satirists of Rutgers, but also smearing as "anti-Semitic" any and all criticism of Israel in the adult world. This censorious spirit need not call on the State to intervene, although, in the case of private institutions that receive government aid (i.e. virtually all educational institutions in the US), there is always the threat of state action. It also includes an organized effort to economically strangle sources of independent news, and threaten their advertisers.
The recent boycott of the Los Angeles Times by pro-Israel groups who characterize the paper's coverage as "pro-Palestinian" is a case in point. Not that there's anything wrong with that. After all, a boycott is peaceful usually, that is and it isn't "censorship" in the sense that a government bureaucrat is looking over your shoulder. But anyone who believes that the paper's advertisers aren't being subjected to a merciless campaign of complaints and harassment is being naοve. What's notable is the impulse to suppress an opposing viewpoint, rather than countering it: it is the tendency of a certain mindset, often (but not always) animated by a religious or near-religious belief. The same people who laud Israel as a great "democracy" and contrast its free press with the controlled media of the Muslim world are trying to control the American media's Mideast coverage by means of relentless pressure.
This attempt to "manage" and filter the news through the lens of a new political correctness also erupted in Minnesota, where a pressure group calling itself "Minnesotans Against Terrorism" presumed to instruct the editor of a local paper how news stories about suicide bombers ought to be worded. Deputy editor Jim Boyd told them to get stuffed, and denounced the politicians including Jesse Ventura who endorsed the Language Police as "craven" and clueless, and for that he surely deserves some kind of medal. Boyd writes:
"Not craven in the least were the folks of the Star Tribune newsroom including quite a number of Jewish faith. I applaud their courage and their journalistic integrity in refusing to knuckle under on this issue. John Cowles Sr., the patriarch of this newspaper who set down many years ago the principles that the newsroom today defends, would be very proud."
THE LANGUAGE POLICE STRIKE AGAIN
Then there's the newest exhortation of the Language Police: use "homicide bomber" instead of "suicide bomber." But aren't all bombers homicidal by definition? Not much bothered by such grammatical niceties as avoiding redundancies, these avatars of the new post-9/11 spirit of "unity" won't be happy until they do to the English language what Ariel Sharon did to Jenin.
CNN's Andrea Koppel is also in the dock, facing charges that, as the New York Post put it, she "made blatant anti-Israel statements at a conference in Tel Aviv." In an email circulated far and wide, David J. Blumberg, head of Blumberg Capital Management, accused Ms. Koppel of saying what all the world but the readers of the New York Post know to be true: Israel committed a "'slaughter' against Palestinian civilians and that the current violence would lead to the death of the state of Israel." The Post's "Page Six" columnist reports this rendition of an alleged conversation with Koppel:
"Blumberg claims that when an Israeli friend of his told Koppel, 'We could lose our lives, or we could lose our country,' she coldly replied, 'Yes, you will lose your country.' Blumberg asked Koppel if he had heard her correctly. 'Yes,' he recalls her saying. 'I believe we are now seeing the beginning of the end of Israel.' Blumberg relates that when the Israeli complained that CNN had compared the accidental killings of Palestinian civilians by Israeli soldiers to the murder of Israelis by suicide bombers, Koppel shot back, "So when Israeli soldiers slaughter civilians in Jenin, that is not equivalent?"
Koppel denies the whole thing, but even if "Page Six" is right and she did say that there is plenty of evidence (albeit circumstantial, so far) of a slaughter at Jenin what of it? That Koppel is herself Jewish doesn't immunize her, naturally, from charges of "anti-Semitism." Israel's amen corner in the US is probably more intolerant of dissent from Jews, as evidenced by some of the really vicious hate mail addressed to Antiwar.com's own Ran Hacohen. As for predicting the beginning of the end of Israel, surely this is hardly an unusual or unreasonable assessment: it is, for one, foretold in the Bible, as well as among those demographers who have compared the Israeli and Palestinians birth-rates.
AMEN TO THAT!
Some readers have written to inquire why I use the term "amen corner" to describe the pro-Israel lobby, and ask if, perhaps, this isn't a little harsh. Well, uh, yes, but it is also accurate, always an overriding concern when it comes to word choice. The attempt to discredit Koppel attests to this. For the Blumberg email just happened to coincide with the formal protest of the Israeli foreign ministry, which lodged a complaint with CNN's ethics department on March 29, hours after Israeli tanks began to roll over Ramallah. The Israeli government speaks, and its Foreign Legion acts with unabashed swiftness.
YOUR LYING EYES
But, then again, even the most efficient organization can only achieve so much. The Jerusalem Report [linked above] records the lamentation of Gideon Meir, the foreign ministry official in charge of propaganda, bemoaning the almost insuperable odds faced by apologists for Sharon's blitzkrieg:
"When Israel attacks, its PR faces the nigh impossible task of countering images with words. 'When a tank goes into Ramallah, it does not look good on TV,' he says. 'Sure we can explain why we are there, and that's what we do. But it's words. We have to fight pictures with words.'"
Why, after all, should you believe the evidence of your own eyes? The enforcers of the new political correctness have taken it upon themselves to reinterpret those nasty images like the cover of The Caellian, they ought to be kept out of sight, anyway, don't you think? with words, veritable volumes of obfuscating verbiage. Seen through this gauzy filter, the sordid acts of senseless brutality committed by the IDF will seem almost glamorous, like the haggard features of yesterday's glamour queen viewed through a vaseline-covered lens.
THE 'AMEN CORNER' IN ACTION
A recent report in Editor & Publisher gives us some indication of the extent and intensity of the organized campaign to sanitize the news and give a pro-Israel spin to the worst IDF atrocities:
"Veteran newsroom leaders are being battered by more e-mail, letters, and phone calls than ever before on this issue, from all sides, and with an unusually high level of anger, while newspapers such as the Star Tribune of Minneapolis and the Los Angeles Times are being singled out through organized protests and boycotts."
"Some of the opinions are sort of violent," says Marshall Ingwerson, managing editor of the Christian Science Monitor. The Sacramento Bee is accused of "sympathizing with a Palestinian suicide bomber," while the editors and reporters at the Washington Post regularly receive "e-mail messages comparing the Post with the former pro-Nazi paper Der Stuermer." According to Editor & Publisher, "the charges of bias and conspiracy are growing by the day."
Pickets on the doorstep of the Chicago Tribune, a campaign in Minnesota against the Star Tribune: "It's scary, this idea that one group or another could turn on journalists," says Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. Hey, I'll tell you what's scary: that a self-appointed board of censors acting on behalf of a foreign power is openly seeking to control the content of the news, not through the power of the state at least, not yet but through intimidation. As Gary Gilbert, executive editor of the Oakland Press, in Pontiac, Michigan, put it:
"There is a tone of hatred that we don't see in anything else."
The hatreds of the Middle East intractable and ugly have been imported into the nation's newsrooms: this is the inevitable consequence of our policy of global intervention, one that coarsens American society and vindicates the advice proffered by George Washington in his Farewell Address:
"A passionate attachment of one nation for another produces a variety of evils. It gives to ambitious, corrupted, or deluded citizens (who devote themselves to the favorite nation), facility to betray or sacrifice the interests of their own country, without odium, sometimes even with popularity; gilding, with the appearances of a virtuous sense of obligation, a commendable deference for public opinion, or a laudable zeal for public good, the base or foolish compliances of ambition, corruption, or infatuation."
AGENTS OF INFLUENCE
It is absolutely outrageous that individuals and organizations openly acting as agents of a foreign government are brazenly trying to manipulate, suppress, and "manage" the news so that it is more to their liking. There are laws covering the registration of foreign agents. Why aren't they being enforced?
Tunku's critique of the "playacting" Rutgers students is that their publications are subsidized, and aren't answerable to the market. But I wonder if the same yardstick applies to such subsidized periodicals as The Weekly Standard, The New Republic, and the newly-founded New York Sun, all of which are shielded from the cruel exigencies of the market by subsidies from corporate donors.
THE FIRST AMENDMENT FEELS SO GOOD
The censorious spirit of the new political correctness and its self-appointed enforcers was again on display in James "No Talent" Taranto's WSJ column, "Best of the Web," wherein Taranto gloated that he had managed to get Yahoo to suppress the Microsoft "online community" known as 'deathtoisrael," and then listed yet more nominees for oblivion: the "Dump Israel Now" and "Antizionism" discussion groups, as well as "Defenders of the Reich." "We'll see if they survive the next 24 hours," Taranto snarked.
See? Now we know the essential social function of public spaces like The Medium's personals section, where you can come right out and say:
"F**k you, you fat-ass motherf*cking prig. Who died and left your fat-ass in charge? I f***king hate you! You are so f**king pathetic that everything you write is wrong. What a dumb-ass! You are just a blob of fat, shut the f**k up and stop boring us with your loser comments. God, I hate fat people."
Ah, I feel much better now and that's why I just looove the good old First Amendment, no matter what some foreigner thinks.
Theres a move afoot to stifle political discourse in this country: Israels lobby in the US is trying to drag us into a war with Iraq, and the entire Muslim world, without a national debate, by smearing anyone who opposes their agenda as an "anti-Semite." But it wont work. Americans dont like being told what to think and what to write; they dont like pushy lobbyists with not-so-hidden agendas and, contra Tunku, they do indeed believe the First Amendment serves their best interests, and arent likely to get rid of it any time soon.
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