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."
Their article contends that the lobbying campaign came from Sen. Charles Schumer (who indeed is glad to give himself the credit) and states that it was kicked off by Steven J. Rosen, whom they identify as a "former top official" of AIPAC, without noting he no longer has any ties to the group and is currently set to be tried for violation of the Espionage Act. Rosen's single blog, in other words, supposedly set off a massive round of lobbying by the Israeli lobby. Thus, they write, after Schumer protested, "other lawmakers and pro-Israel groups began applying pressure on the White House," and other "pro-Israel groups weighed in with lower-ranking White House officials."
Despite a brief mention at the article's end of Freeman's views on China, no reader of the paper could reach any conclusion but that Freeman was correct: the Israeli lobby forced him out. Fortunately, other news sources reached quite different conclusions. Writing in Newsweek, for example, Michael Iskikoff and Mark Hosenball reported that Freeman "abruptly withdrew after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and numerous other congressional leaders complained to the White House that he was too closely tied to Saudi and Chinese government interests," and that "Pelosi's objections reportedly focused on Freeman's ties to China." Nothing, evidently, about his views on Israel.
And, as I reported earlier, The Washington Post editorially concluded that Freeman's arguments were "a grotesque libel" and that he and his supporters showed "blatant disregard...for established facts." That, and his documented ties to China and the Saudis, were responsible for his downfall. Freeman was an individual, the editors wrote, who engaged in "crackpot tirades" and was engaging in simple conspiracy theories. Today's New York Daily News joined them with a similar editorial judgment, proclaiming that Freeman's "ranting over a powerful force that brooks no dissent about U.S. policy toward Israel left no doubt of his unsuitability to head a body that assesses data and presents considered judgments to the President." Freeman's views, the editors wrote, "were ill-considered,- and not just on Israel," while his views on Israel "run counter to documented fact. He is, they write, "so off the dial," and stress the danger of someone like that briefing the President.
As for the facts about the Israeli lobby, one has to read the major article in yesterday's issue of The Hill, in which Alexander Bolton wrote that Republican members of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence "said pro-Israel lobby groups did not spur their opposition to Charles Freeman." Bolton interviewed Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla), Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla), Sen. Kit Bond (R-Mo) and Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga) all of whom made the similar point. As Sen. Coburn told him, "When you see someone make those kind of statements that's going to be in that position and was unqualified to be there in the first place- it was the wrong appointment." Moreover, Bond said he received no pressure or contact from AIPAC and had not even heard of two lesser known Jewish groups who did take stands against Freeman. Chambliss, who also said no pro-Israel groups had contacted him, objected because Freeman "had absolutely no analytical experience." Hastings, who is close to AIPAC, told Bolton that if AIPAC "did come out against Freeman, I was not in the loop because no one called me to say a word about Charles Freeman."
None of this, of course, has stopped the conspiracy theorists from continuing. In his crazed website, journalist Philip Weiss, who writes for the anti-Semitic American Conservative (the only magazine I know of in this country who ran a column that called American Jews a "Fifth Column." ) calls Freeman "spirited," praises Walt and Mearsheimer for draping the bodies of the Israeli Lobby "on the barbed wire," relates that Freeman had an epiphany when in Abu Dhabi, he saw a home video of Israeli forces beating a Palestinian and shooting him in the back of the head. Evidently Freeman and Weiss have not checked about the validity of this video, and merely assume it to be accurate. Such an assumption, as we know since the French TV forgery a few years ago, is simply one that cannot be made. As for The Washington Post, this self-hating Jew accuses the paper of "ideological blindness" due to "the large number of Israel-inoculated Jews in the media," when Israel is supposedly a "secular religion" for American Jews. The old canard from the Charles Lindbergh days is born again: The Jews control the media.
And leading the pack, as we might expect, is The Nation magazine. True to form, the once pro-Israel publication goes out of its way to blast the Israeli lobby-actually Dreyfuss calls it "the Zionist Lobby"----- for "its successful campaign" against the Freeman appointment. Ignoring the kind of investigative reporting carried out by The Hill, it terms Freeman "brilliant, iconoclastic and outspoken," a man with "a long and distinguished record in national security." Journalist Robert Dreyfuss, who writes this post, praises him for opposition to "Israeli excesses." And the opposition came not from the mainstream, but from "right-wing blogs." Complaining that there is little room in the intelligence community for "dissenters," Dreyfuss quotes Freeman as having told him that under Porter Goss, four years ago, the CIA rejected analysts who were objective, and was "totalitarian." So that the new rejection of Freeman, Dreyfuss suggests, is proof of that verdict. As Jamie Kirchick writes, Dreyfuss' post is "a new low for The Nation." And he reminds us that Dreyfuss was once Middle East editor of the loony Lyndon LaRouche publication Executive Intelligence Review, in whose pages he published much the same kind of anti-Israeli screeds that he now writes for this mainstream left-wing magazine. Thus use of the word Zionist instead of Israeli. As Kirchick writes, Dreyfuss is "dog-whistling to his conspiratorial followers who believe Zionism itself to be a crime," and is "using the phrase as a slur."
All of the above indicates that although Freeman will not hold this key intelligence post, the slander about the power of the Israeli lobby will continue to be made. His supporters will grasp at straws to use his resignation as proof of its power, and to try and force the United States to change its policy in the Middle East, towards hostility to any alliance with Israel and to accommodation to the wishes of Arab despots.
At least, we should be able to hope for some honest thorough reporting, not mere repetition of the slanders of people like Charles Freeman- passed off as news.