Wednesday, August 02, 2006

How Our Media Analyze News of the Middle East

The Codger awoke at 7:30 this morning feeling not at all irate. Weeks ago he'd felt too beaten up, kicked around, and pummeled to work up real indignation over it. Do you get angry when you're hit by a truck? He turned on NPR. Ivan Watson was reporting from Tyre.
I'm stepping over the corpse of a small girl right now. There are rows of caskets before me, some of them for tiny infants. This is the third mass burial this town has had since the beginning of the war. There are about ninety bodies this time. For all of Lebanon, the death toll is now well above 600.
Ten thousand Israeli soldiers poured into southern Lebanon overnight.

A Katyusha rocket killed an Israeli, raising the civilian death toll in the Galilee to 19. Or is it 20?

The BBC reports that the oil spill into the sea as the result of an Israeli air strike on a power station south of Beirut may be much larger than was first thought, perhaps as much as 35,000 tons. For purposes of comparison, the Exxon Valdez spill totaled 40,000 tons. The damage done is incalculable. Tuna spawning grounds will be gravely affected. Efforts to contain the spill are feeble.

I think, "And all this because some Hezbollah guys made a raid into Israel, killed three guys, and snatched two? All this?" So the Codger turns to another matter he's been tracking in his compulsive news junkie-ex news director way, the analyzes of the Israeli-Hezbollah conflict (shall we now call it, for brevity, the Lebanon War?) provided American viewers by their television and radio news outlets. Nothing exhaustive, obviously, just what I've been watching on the evening news shows and listening to on NPR.

CBS Evening News, Friday, July 14. Bob Schieffer:
For perspective on what all this means, we turn to veteran diplomat Martin Indyk, director of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution. Dr. Indyk is a former US ambassador to Israel. Welcome, Dr. Indyk.
Dr. Indyk explains that at this stage of the conflict there is very little the United States is able to do. It is imperative that U.N. Security Council resolution 1559 be enforced, requiring the disarming of Hezbollah, and Hezbollah has shown no willingness to cooperate. Quite the reverse, in fact. That's about the size of it. Events will just have to play themselves out. "Thank you, Dr. Indyk."

Saturday Weekend Edition, NPR, Saturday morning, July 15. Scott Simon:
And now, to analyze these events, we call upon veteran diplomat Martin Indyk, director of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy of the Brookings Institution and former US ambassador to Israel. Dr. Indyk, what do you make of these developments?
Dr. Indyk explains that at this stage there is not much the United States can do. All depends eventually on the enforcement of UN Security Council resolution 1559, which requires the disarming of Hezbollah. Events have shown that that is absolutely critical to Israel's security.

The News Hour With Jim Lehrer, PBS, Monday, July 17. Jim Lehrer:
And now, to analyze events over the weekend, we call upon veteran diplomat Martin Indyk. Dr. Indyk was US ambassador to Israel under Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. He is now director of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution. Dr. Indyk, what do you make of all this, as of now?
Dr. Indyk explains that there is little that the United States can do while Hezbollah and its Syrian and Iranian masters continue to resist pressure from the world to stop the mayhem produced by their Katyushas. Of course, the disarming of Hezbollah, as called for by UN Security Council resolution 1559, is crucial to any lasting peace.

BBC Nightly News (TV, not radio), Tuesday, July 18. News reader:
And now, for perspective on these events, we call upon a former American ambassador to Israel, Dr. Martin Indyk, now director of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution in Washington. Welcome, Dr, Indyk.
Well, you know the rest. But wait. Unlike Schieffer, Simon, and Lehrer, the BBC announcer provides another perspective. Alongside Indyk, we have Robert Haass, (that's how his name is spelled), Rhodes Scholar, D. Phil., Oxford, eight published books, and former director of the State Department Policy Planning Staff under Colin Powell. Was he called on for "balance"? He's in full agreement with Indyk.

[Martin Indyk was born in Britain, raised and educated in Australia (Ph.D. in Political Science U. of Adelaide) and twenty years ago was the founder and first director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a spin-off from the Israel-America Public Affairs Committee. Although there are few gentiles among its members, the Institute has always been an Israeli talk shop (its present Senior Military Analyst, for example, is a former commander of the IDF), although it is never identified as such when one of its "senior fellows" appears on the News Hour with Jim Lehrer, as one invariably does when discussion turns to Israeli matters. I do wonder, however, about "Near East"--that's the Mahgreb, isn't it--Morocco, Algeria, Libya? The Saban Center was created in 2003 with a grant from Haim Saban, an Egyptian-born Jew raised in Israel who is a Hollywood mogul and billionaire (he created the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers) who is now in a spot of trouble with the IRS (he's identified as one of the "superrich Americans evading taxes using offshore accounts that law enforcement cannot control"---"Tax Cheats Called Out of Control," David Cay Johnston, NY Times, Tueday, Aug. 1). I suspect Saban created the Center and named Indyk as director to give the good doctor an institutional base of unquestionable eminence.]

NPR, "All Things Considered," Tuesday, July 25. Host Robert Segal:
And now for perspective on this, we turn to Dennis Ross, former diplomat for the first Bush and Clinton administrations and now with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
Ross says there's going to have to be a "strategic convergence" if we--the world's nations, that is--are to get out of this, and I can't begin to make out what he means by strategic convergence. A convergence of Israel and Syria?

Well, we all know the indefatigable Dennis, the "go to" guy for authoritative comment on the Middle East for Neal Conan of NPR's "Talk of the Nation," and for years now a senior foreign affairs analyst for Fox TV News. But not only is he the Director and Ziegler Distinguished Fellow at WINEP, he's also the first chairman of the newly created Institute for Jewish People Policy Planning, founded and funded by the Jewish Agency, a part of the Israeli government since 1948, and which since the Six Day War has been tasked with "carrying out settlement activities in the West Bank, the Golan Heights, and the Gaza Strip." (Wikipedia). You can't get much more authoritative than that, can you?

The News Hour With Jim Lehrer, Tuesday, July 25. For analysis of the latest developments surrounding the Lebanon War, Ray Suarez calls upon two guys: veteran reporter Ari Nir of the Forward, a century ago the fabled Jewish Daily Forward of Abraham Cahan, but now read by...retirement community oldsters in Miami? The other guy is Robert Alterman, formerly of the State Department Policy Planning staff under Bush. They got along just great.

The News Hour With Jim Lehrer, Wed., July 26. Full circle: Martin Indyk again! But this time there is--for once!--an opposing view, Robert Malley, with the National Security Council under Clinton, who has been dueling for years, it seems, with Dennis Ross over whether Yasir Arafat really "walked away from an unprecedentedly generous settlement offer" by Ehud Barak in 2000 in the pages of the New York Review of Books and on this show said the Bush-Olmert policy is an absolute disaster. Gosh it was refreshing to see some sanity flood into this heretofore hermetically sealed chamber of denial! Still, the all-time prize for deadly hypocrisy goes to Indyk. When asked what must now be done, he said, "First, we must deal with the humanitarian crisis." While of course resisting a cease-fire until enduring grounds for peace are achieved.

NPR's "Day to Day" with Alec Chadwick, Tuesday, August 2. Chadwick: "And now, for what this all means, we turn to....[didn't get his name] of the Israel Policy Forum, an independent and non-partisan organization seeking peace in the Middle East." Jesus, I thought, what is that? Of course I Googled it---thank God for Google. A press release: "Israel Policy Forum Commends House and Senate for 'Steadfast' Support for Israel." Blah, blah, blah. The president of the Israel Policy Forum, formed in 1993 to fight the Oslo accords, is Seymour D. Reich, twice chairman of the Conference of Major Jewish Organizations, and of Bnai Brith International, etc. etc. How can Chadwick, how can NPR, present this slop propaganda as analysis?

That brings us up to this afternoon. I must close by saying that despite Conan, despite his dumb wife Liane Hansen on Sunday Weekend Edition, despite Chadwick, I still need and deeply respect NPR. While Scott Simon was cringe-makingly deferential to Martin Indyk, he's also had on Rami Khouri of the Beirut Daily Star, that wary, hard-bitten "I've seen it all" observer of the insanities of the Middle East on all sides, and that NPR reporters in this conflict and everywhere around the world are doing journalism of the highest quality day in and day out (which is why I donate at least 300 bucks a year to NPR) and that since the sainted Joan Kroc bequeathed all those millions to public broadcasting, NPR has been the equal of the BBC (and I listen to BBC radio news at least a half hour and often an hour every evening (courtesy NPR, of course).

There is one exception to this rule of excellence: my bete noir, NPR's lady in Jerusalem for seventeen years, Linda Gradstein. This woman is bone lazy. She rarely produces anything. I mean go out, interview a bunch of people, edit the stuff, write continuity, tell a story. She has an MA in Middle East Studies from George Washington University and presumably reads Arabic, but I imagine her telling the people in Washington, "Look, I DON'T DO PALESTINIANS, okay? I just DON'T." So whenever a story necessarily involves having a Palestinian voice or two in it, they send in someone: the superb Deborah Amos, or Julie McCarthy, or Eric Westerveld, or Mike Schuster, or even Robert Segal. All Gradstein does is read press releases from the Israeli public affairs office. They should fire her and get an Associated Press ticker. It would save a lot of money. Besides, I can't stand her damned droning voice!