The New York Times, the Charles Freeman Controversy, and the Israel Lobby Issue
Once again, The New York Times failed its readers when it came to coverage of the issues that forced Charles Freeman to resign as head of the National Intelligence Council. As Marty Peretz pointed out, the paper only covered the much debated issues at the very end, after he stepped down. In the preceding weeks, Eli Lake in The Washington Times, Jennifer Rubin at "Contentions" and PJM, Michael Goldfarb in The Weekly Standard and Noah Pollak in Commentary's "Contentions," had made its readers well aware of the high stakes.
Once Freeman left, the fight over the meaning of his action only got bitterer. Freeman, as I noted earlier, laid the blame for his resignation on the so-called Israeli lobby. There was no end of observers who tore apart his apologia, including some on the same ForeignPolicy.com website that Freeman and Stephen Walt write for. Today David J. Rothkopf reluctantly concludes that Freeman and the supporters of the Israel lobby thesis were dead wrong. Commenting on the support given by Stephen Walt (one half of the Walt-Mearsheimer duo) to Freeman, Rotkhopf writes that his Walt's comments were "a smug ‘I told you so' laden with a list of co-conspirators with names so Jewish that I could hardly read it without cringing." Whatever "the intellectual merits of his hackneyed argument may be," he writes, "he and Mearsheimer know full well that their prominence on this issue has come because...they were willing...to play to a crowd whose ‘views' were fueled by prejudice and worse."
Rothkopf believes that those concerned with Israel were responsible for mobilizing support against Freeman. But he notes the two major flaws with both the Walt and Freeman argument: First, it assumes that when the U.S. supports Israel it's because of the lobby, and not because it is in the national interest of our country. And second, it assumes that the lobby "is so powerful it is dictating policy rather than trying to influence it like every other lobbying group in Washington." The only reason to single out the Israel lobby, he writes, is "to suggest that American policy in the Middle East is being driven by the interests of an especially unsavory group of ultra-powerful people who are masters at manipulating Washington."
Rothkopf continues to give words of wisdom to people like Andrew Sullivan, who believe just that. The Israel lobby thesis, he writes "distorts reality, implies coordination where there is none, implies consensus across a group of people with widely divergent views," and "tars opponents as members of a lowly lobby while reserving the intellectual and moral high group for the views of Walt and co.-‘you lobby, we are patriots.'"
Although he thinks Freeman's record was distorted and many against him were supporters of Israel, Rothkopf notes his opponents were not "part of an orchestrated attack."
The above comes from a writer who is sympathetic to Freeman, and thinks he was wronged. Yet when we look at the coverage in The New York Times, it reads like a propaganda spread from Freeman and Stephen Walt. Hence the main March12th dispatch, in which Mark Mazzetti and Helene Cooper's article bore the headline: "Israel Stance was Undoing of Nominee for Intelligence Post." Their story concentrates on Freeman's own blast at the Israeli lobby for forcing him out, and quotes a former US Ambassador to the Saudis as saying "our political landscape finds it difficult to assimilate any criticism of any segment of the Israeli leadership."