The Demise of the Berkeley Daily Planet

When it announced last month that its final print edition would occur on February 25, 2010, the Berkeley Daily Planet also tacitly acknowledged defeat in its conflict with elements of the East Bay Jewish community. Viewed as anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic by increasing numbers of Jewish residents and ultimately by some leaders of the Jewish community, the Planet’s demise was, nonetheless, not a cause for celebration.

The aspiration of those who confronted the Planet was that it would reform. But the Planet’s publisher and editor, Becky O’Malley, appeared to be obsessed with Jews. O’Malley strongly denies being an anti-Semite, and as the conflict over the Planet heated up, O’Malley, at times, published letters attacking the Planet.  She even published one of mine.

But O’Malley’s objectivity ebbed and flowed, as did her attempts to portray the Planet as a local newspaper. On August 8, 2006, O’Malley published a commentary written by Kurosh Arianpour, an Iranian living in India. Arianpour’s screed recounted tragedies Jews experienced over the centuries, including the Holocaust, and then proceeded to blame the Jews themselves for incurring the wrath of those who hated and murdered them.

The commentary had nothing to do with local issues, and why Mr. Arianpour chose a local newspaper ten thousand miles away to vent his bile was never made clear. There was nothing redeeming about the commentary, unless a vicious, anti-Semitic diatribe is important because it appeals to the new anti-Semitism of Berkeley’s far left or satisfies some morbid psychological need of those who lust after such portrayal of Jews.

No one disputed the Planet’s legal right to publish hate. After all, the First Amendment, which O’Malley frequently wrapped herself in, does protect hate. But the First Amendment does not immunize O’Malley from criticism or from the implications of Mark Twain’s sarcastic aphorism about Americans being given the right to free speech and the good sense not to use it.

Certainly, O’Malley evidenced no compelling need to portray other ethnic or racial groups with similar contempt or generally to push her First Amendment rights elsewhere without restraint.  As John Gertz, O’Malley’s most insightful, passionate and influential critic and editor of the web site DPwatchdog, points out from his intensive analysis of the Planet’s writing, the Planet editorialized about its decision not to publish the Danish cartoons mocking Mohammed. But true to form, O’Malley published a series of anti-Semitic cartoons by Justin DeFreitas that could have come straight from the Nazi party paper Der Sturmer.