Journal Rolled Out Red Carpet for Netanyahu’s Speech

March 9th, 2015 · No Comments · foreign policy, journalism

By Arthur Alpert

Because we have not for a long time explicated the newspaper’s narrative on foreign policy, including Israel and the Mideast, let us consider the Albuquerque Journal’s lead story Wednesday, March 4.

To do so properly, we must read it in the context of the Journal’s basic stance on foreign policy. As regular readers know, that stance is simple – President Obama’s foreign policy is wrong. Always wrong.

Well, except when it agrees with John McCain’s foreign policy.

From reading news stories, opinion columns and editorials, I’ve also observed that the Journal’s disapproval of Mr. Obama’s international policies is stronger than its rejection of his domestic proclivities. Perhaps the president’s corporatism allows for some common ground.

Regular readers also understand the Journal is not partisan on foreign policy, but allies itself with those neo-conservative Republicans and Democrats who champion American military intervention in Iraq, Syria and the Ukraine, among other hotspots.

We know that because Journal editors never publish the views of those Republicans (old-time conservatives and “libertarians”) who fear repeating the tragic George W. Bush years. Interesting, no, how the Journal lets them preach economics but not weigh in on war and peace. Well, almost never. The paper does abide George Will’s rare, mild, parenthetical slaps at the warmongers.

Ergo, I was not surprised when the editors played Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s excellent, bellicose, stem-winder of a speech to the Congress on the front page Wednesday, March 4, making it the lead story, adorning it with a small photo and three – count ‘em – three rubrics.

At the top, in red, was: Israeli PM (colon). Next, in big, black type, came “Iran deal a ‘potential nuclear nightmare’. And finally, “NM reaction to Netanyahu’s controversial speech is mixed”.

Let’s pause for a moment for a question. What was new here? I mean “new” as in the word “news” or, for that matter, “newspaper.”

Not the lead. Not Netanyahu’s opposition to a deal with Iran.

Nevertheless, this is what the Journal rolled out its red carpet for.

Yet the Israeli’s speech justified some sort of story, so let’s find out what kind.

The Journal’s Washington reporter, Michael Coleman, opened:

“Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stood before a joint session of Congress on Tuesday and blasted a pending White House deal on Iran’s nuclear program, asserting it could ‘pave the way’ to mass destruction in the Middle East.”

Well, the event demanded some attention, but as noted what he said was not new.

Then Coleman reported on the reactions of New Mexico Democrats in graphs two, three and four.

Oh, and in the 10th paragraph, in the jump on page 5, we learn that President Barack Obama “dismissed Netanyahu’s speech as “nothing new.”

By contrast, Peter Baker of the NY Times put politics in his lead:

“With dark warnings and a call to action, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel used one of the world’s most prominent venues on Tuesday to denounce what he called a ‘bad deal’ being negotiated with Iran and to mount an audacious challenge to President Obama.”

Even less interested in Netanyahu’s message, the Washington Post’s Anne Gearan focused on the listeners:

“Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was speaking to any number of audiences Tuesday with his landmark speech to Congress warning against a ‘bad deal’ with Iran.

“Most of those listening, however, have only glancing authority to stop the deal or influence negotiations now nearing a deadline.

“Neither the wildly supportive Republicans who gave him multiple standing ovations nor the Democrats who showed up – but didn’t always stand up – have a direct say.

“Nor does a divided Israeli electorate that may or may not return Netanyahu to power in two weeks.”

Sharp reporter, Ms. Gearan. For she was on the same wavelength as the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg, described by an editor of the Columbia Journalism Review as “the most influential journalist/blogger on matters related to Israel.”

Goldberg, who favored the U.S. attack on Iraq, opined in a March 3 blog post that the Israeli leader’s speech was aimed at two targets. Here’s the second:

“The conservative portion of the Israeli electorate, which has, like much of the rest of Israel, grown tired of Netanyahu. He will be returned to power on March 17 if he can convince a large enough number of Likud-oriented voters to stick with his party. If they move to other right-wing parties, Israel’s president, Ruvi Rivlin, who loathes Netanyahu, will be presented with an opportunity to call for the formation of a national-unity government, or even a government led outright by the center-left Zionist Camp party.

“Right-wing voters in Israel aren’t upset by Netanyahu’s thumb-in-the-eye approach to President Obama…”

Target One? Goldberg writes that Netanyahu’s thumb was aimed at “President Obama, his secretary of state, John Kerry, and Kerry’s chief Iran negotiator, Wendy Sherman.”

Now you understand why House Speaker John Boehner gave Netanyahu the platform to wield his thumbs from.

Not persuaded? Well, Charles Babington, an AP Washington Bureau “reporter’ of rightist tendencies, says it’s true. From Babington’s story in the Sunday, Feb. 8 Journal:

“Some gleeful Republicans predicted Democrats’ complaints about Benjamin Netanyahu’s March 3 speech will drive Jewish voters to the GOP. Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., a member of the House Armed Services Committee, said. Democrats are making a ‘catastrophic mistake’ by protesting Netanyahu’s plans. ‘Traditionally, supporters of Israel have been really evenhanded in supporting candidates of both parties,’ Wilson said, but now “Democrats are slapping the friends of Israel in the face.”

So Journal editors emphasized what isn’t news (Netanyahu’s opposition to US negotiations with Iran to keep them from making a bomb) and miniaturized what is, Israeli and American politics.
Credit Coleman with trying to localize the story via the American Jewish community angle. Sadly, however, he did so by interviewing one Albuquerque rabbi.

Unbelievable! Interviewing one member of a minority to gauge the group’s opinion! I thought that went out with the Civil Rights era. But perhaps I shouldn’t jump to conclusions. Coleman is a pro and well, the editors must have reviewed his copy.

Of course, what American Jews think matters. Though committed to Israel’s survival, they increasingly distinguish between Israel and Netanyahu. A growing number rejects his rightist policies, including the dynamic, new American Jewish lobby, J Street – motto, “Pro Israel, Pro Peace” – which castigated the invitation and speech thusly, “The traditional US bipartisan unity regarding Israel has been seriously fractured as never before.”

Also, some Jewish members of the Congress skipped the Israeli PM’s speech, leading The Atlantic’s Goldberg to write:

“It is unprecedented for Jewish members of Congress to boycott a speech by an Israeli prime minister, and it is a bad omen.”

OK, by now, you realize how superficial and simplistic the Journal account was. But there’s more. The Journal piece also neglected to mention:

That Israel has a nuclear bomb and Iran doesn’t.

That the US intelligence community said in 2012 Iran has no active program to build a bomb.

That Iran is now fighting against ISIS in Iraq.

That Netanyahu fervently urged the disastrous US war on Iraq, which – along with its human and dollar costs – made Iran the superpower he now excoriates.

That Netanyahu has warned Iran was on the brink of a bomb for at least 10 years.

That he’s never offered an alternative to a US-Iran deal.

And that, as Paul Waldman of The American Prospect wrote for the Washington Post March 3:

“Based on his speech, [Netanyahu] must believe that Iran will succumb to international pressure or, alternatively, that war is inevitable. To call that position ‘absurd’ is too kind. You don’t have to be some kind of foreign policy whiz to grasp that there’s something weird about arguing that 1) Iran is a nation run by genocidal maniacs; 2) they want nuclear weapons so they can annihilate Israel; and 3) the best way to stop this is to abandon negotiations to limit their nuclear program and just wait to see what they do.”

You see what I’m driving at? Once again, the Albuquerque Journal has used its “news” pages to advance its political agenda, in this case one our daily newspaper shares with Netanyahu and Israel’s Likud party.

Once again, it has simplified complex reality to serve its agenda.

And once again, it’s done so on behalf of the War Party.

It’s not journalism. It’s politics

PS The Albuquerque Journal runs some essays by David Ignatius, a foreign policy savant who isn’t a partisan, but they did not publish his “A compelling argument on Iran” Wednesday, February 25. It’s worth reading if only to savor the complexities of the issue.

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