The Big Lie
Show: Weekend Edition-Sunday (NPR)
Date: 12/31/02 & 1/23/03
Show: Morning Edition (NPR)
With a population of 1.75 million Jews, New York City is by far the largest Jewish town in the world. Jerusalem comes in a distant second with 440,000 Jewish residents, Miami, Florida, is third with about 400,000.
The prospect of many Jewish casualties must have been one of the things that warmed Osama Bin Laden's heart when he saw the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center come crushing down. How disappointed must he have been to find out that not a single American Jew, not a single Israeli was killed in the attacks — at least this is what an internet hoax dubbed by the Jewish Anti-Defamation League (ADL) as the "Big Lie" wants you to believe.
Osama Bin Laden [unattributed]
The hoax, widely believed in the Arab world and peddled on thousands of web sites, claims that the Israeli government was behind the terror attacks or, at least, knew about them and failed to warn the US authorities. The proof? The fact that 4,000 Jewish WTC residents failed to show up for work on 9/11, and that the FBI arrested five Israeli nationals who had been seen videotaping the burning twin towers from the roof of their company's building, all the while laughing and telling jokes.
The claim is bogus, of course. According to Bryan Curtis in Slate, the rumor originated from a September 17, 2001, special report on Al-Manar, a Lebanese TV station with close ties to Hezbollah. The story was picked up the next day by InformationTimes, the "premiere news source" for the American New Left, whose masthead lists names of such luminaries as Hanan Ashrawi, James Bamford, Brian Becker, Noam Chomsky, Louis Farrakhan, Ralph Nader, and James Zogby. The story also made an appearance on Pravda's web site, but was quickly dropped after it became clear that it was a fabrication.
Snope, a site dedicated to the investigation of internet legends, declared the story to be a hoax. If you want to judge for yourself, just look at the names of the WTC residents who perished in the attacks. About 400 of the victims have Jewish surnames, indicating that they were Jews, or married to a Jewish spouse — just about the same proportion of Jewish surnames as you will find on the list of survivors.
Amiri Baraka [aka. LeRoy Jones]
Why am I writing about this?
Because the Big Lie has raised its ugly head again in form of a poem written by New Jersey's poet laureate Amiri Baraka, a self-proclaimed Stalinist and America-hater. Under the title "Somebody Blew Up America," Baraka rimes
Who knew the World Trade Center was gonna get bombed;
Anti-Semitism doesn't spring up from the ground like a wild flower or a weed, it has to be nurtured by misinformation, lies, and deception. To fight it, the least a network can do is not to participate in the spreading of its seeds.
NPR came off to a good start: commenting for Weekend Edition Sunday, Alfred Lubrano sides with the critics of Baraka, scolding him for his anti-Semitic remarks. He also explains why Baraka is wrong, that the accusations he hurls against Jews and Israelis are lies.
From there, it's downhill: in a review of the year 2002 for Morning Edition, senior NPR correspondent Juan Williams plays an audio clip of Baraka in which he recites the offending lines. While Williams mentions that the public reading of the poem has set off a firestorm, he doesn't bother to say that the charges are false.
The libel receives the same lackadaisical treatment in a report about a vote in the New Jersey legislature to abolish the poet laureate's position. NPR correspondent Joel Rose gives Baraka plenty of time to deflect charges of anti-Semitism ("Ezra Pound did it too") and mock the New Jersey legislature for trying to strip him off his position, but does not find the time to say that Baraka was spreading a lie.
A Belated Apology: Better Late than Never
Show: Morning Edition (NPR)
More than a year after David Kestenbaum claimed that the FBI was looking at the conservative Traditional Values Coalition (TVC) as a suspect for mailing the anthrax letters, NPR finally issued an apology:
In a story broadcast on Morning Edition on Jan. 22, 2002, National Public Radio said it had called the Traditional Values Coalition to ask if that group had been contacted by the FBI, investigating the mailing of anthrax to Senate offices. This report violated NPR editorial principles. No one had told our reporter that the Traditional Values Coalition was a suspect in the anthrax mailing. No facts were available then or since then to suggest that the group had any role in the anthrax mailing. NPR deeply regrets this mistake and apologizes for any false impression that the coalition was involved in this investigation.
It is not that the network did not know earlier that Kestenbaum's claim was without merit. In fact, shortly after the broadcast NPR blocked access to the audio file and posted a note on the web site, stating that it was inappropriate for the Coalition to be named in connection with the anthrax letters.
Today's on-air apology, while belated and hardly sufficient to repair the damage to TVC's name, is a welcome sign that the network is willing to admit errors.
Truth the First Victim of the ICC
Show: All Things Considered (NPR)
Celebrating the swearing in ceremony for the 18 judges for the world's first permanent war crimes tribunal, Sylvia Poggioli fingered the truth as the first victim of the court:
As a matter of fact, the Clinton administration never intended to ratify the treaty which created a permanent International Criminal Court at The Hague. The reason for signing the treaty was to be able to influence the final wording of the court's charter — to write in some protection against politically motivated prosecutions of Israeli and American citizens. With the ICC treaty ratified by the necessary quorum of countries, the only choice left for the administration was to withdraw the signature or to send the treaty to Congress for ratification.
Oscar for Pinochet (unattributed)
The fear of the Clinton and Bush administrations that the ICC might be used for prosecution of its citizens is well founded. When the Belgian parliament extended jurisdiction of its courts to prosecute war crimes taking place anywhere in the world, the first person to be indicted was Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon for his alleged participation in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camp massacres. The leader of the Phalange militia that committed the crime remains unindicted until this very day.
Another example is the attempt of a Spanish judge to have the former Chilean dictator General Augusto Pinochet extradited from Britain where he was receiving medical treatment for a herniated disc. The request was based on the European Convention on Terrorism which requires signatories to cooperate with each others' judicial processes in cases of terrorism. After 16 month of house arrest, the ailing, 84-year old Senator for Life was allowed to return to Chile for humanitarian reasons. Honoring what many considered a miracle recovery following his return, the Socialist Youth in Chile awarded Pinochet in a mock ceremony the Oscar for best actor.
No judge ever asked for extradition of PLO leader Yasser Arafat during one of his many European trips.
Augusta, Georgia, on My Mind
Show: Morning Edition (NPR)
NPR is more than a news organization: it is also an interest group with an agenda — very much like Jesse Jackson's Rainbow Push Coalition, but without the shakedown side of it. That's why Augusta, Georgia, has been on my mind lately.
The Masters are arguably the most prestigious golf tournament in the world. When Martha Burk, chair of the National Council of Women's Organizations, read in the June issue of Golf for Women that the Augusta National Golf Club who is hosting the event has an all-male membership, she was besides herself. Burk immediately fired off a "friendly" letter to Hootie Johnson, chair of Augusta National, demanding that he dropped the male-only admissions policy, or else! Johnson replied coolly that the club would not be forced to admit women "at the point of a bayonet."
Clubhouse (©S. Bartkowski)
As a matter of fact, Augusta National does not have a policy barring women from being admitted, nor are they excluded from playing golf there (though, as every other non-member, they have to be accompanied by a member). To join the club, you have to be voted in by the membership. Obviously, the old fogies who run the club want to be left alone by the fairer sex while playing a round of golf or having a drink in the bar. Or as former National chairman Hord Hardin once put it: "We love our women — we just don't want any fussin' with 'em."
NPR and, first among the print media, the New York Times immediately jumped on Burk's bandwagon. While in years past the Masters tournament received scant attention from NPR, the 2003 tournament was featured prominently in 16 stories and commentaries, starting out as early as 9 month before the tournament. None of the coverage was sympathetic to the club, only one (Tavis Smiley, 4/10/03) included a guest who defended the right of club members to associate freely. Otherwise, it was Burk all the way.
Burk threatened the sponsors of the Masters (IBM, Coca Cola, Citygroup) with consumer boycotts unless they withdrew their support. She warned advertisers not to buy time for commercials. She threatened businesses whose CEO's did not quit the club. Democrats introduced a House Resolution condemning presidential appointees who belonged to organizations like the Augusta National. Treasury Secretary John Snow had to resign from the club to save his confirmation.
As a result, Augusta National decided to host the 2003 Masters without the support of sponsors. They even had to pay CBS to broadcast the event without commercials. Gleefully, Burk estimated that her activities caused the club to lose between 4 and 12 million dollars.
The campaign to force Augusta National to admit women ended with somewhat of a whimper. Less than 40 people joined Burk in an Augusta strip mall to protest the Masters. Some were dressed as Elvis.