Jews and the media


Do Jews Dominate in American Media?
And So What If We Do?

by Philip Weiss
Mondoweiss, 2008-02-17

[Here is its full text; paragraph numbers and emphasis are added.
Some of the links are from the original; some have been added.]

At least a half dozen times in recent months,
the suggestion has come from serious people
that Jews predominate in the American media--
that if we are not dominant, we are a major bloc.
In a Yivo event on Jews in journalism I’ve blogged about,
a questioner said that
Jews’ outsize proportion in the media has granted us
“a large influence over power.”
In his groundbreaking paper on
the New York Times’s role in shaping American policy toward Israel,
Jerome Slater spoke of
“religious beliefs and identifications” that affected the Times,
and cited former executive editor Max Frankel’s admission in his memoir
(one also cited by Walt and Mearsheimer):
“I was much more deeply devoted to Israel than I dared to assert.”

Lately broadcast reporter John Hockenberry related that
he wanted to do a piece on
the hijackers’ motivation after 9/11
but that
NBC executive Jeff Zucker scotched the notion:
“Maybe,” Zucker said,
“we ought to do a series of specials on firehouses
where we just ride along with our cameras.
Like the show Cops, only with firefighters.”...
[H]e could make room in the prime-time lineup for firefighters,
but then smiled at me and said, in effect, that
he had no time for
any subtitled interviews with jihadists raging about Palestine.

[Weiss’s emphasis]
[For some samples of what the media neglects, see my posts
Root causes of Islamic terrorism and
What “Islamic extremists” say.]

Then last month at a forum at the Nixon Center,
former Bushie Dov Zackheim said,
Jews don’t dominate the policy-making process,
but the media is a different story...

I don’t know that anyone has visited
the simple question raised by these statements:
Do Jews dominate the media?
This is something I know about personally.
I’ve worked in print journalism for more than 30 years.
I’ve worked for many magazines and newspapers, and for a time
my whole social circle was editors and writers in New York.
I don’t know television.
I don’t know Washington journalism well.
I don’t know the west coast.
My sample is surely skewed by the fact that I’m Jewish
and have always felt great comfort with other Jews.
But in my experience, Jews have made up
the majority of the important positions in the publications I worked for,
a majority of the writers I’ve known at these place, and
the majority of the owners who have paid me.
Yes my own sample may be skewed, but I think it shows that
Jews make up a significant proportion of power positions in media,
half, if not more.

Before considering what this means, let me make my experience concrete:

My serious journalism began at the Harvard Crimson in the 70s.
A friend said the paper was a Jewish boys club;
it was dominated by middle class Jews--
as apparently today there are a lot of Asians.
Many of these Jews are now powerful presences in the media.
Zucker is one of them.
My first paying job was in Minneapolis.
Five Harvard guys started a weekly; four of them were Jewish,
including the publisher paying our meager salaries.
I remember our editor walking the halls parodying the jingle we had on the radio.
The jingle went:
“We’ve got the news, we’ve got the sports…”
He sang it as
“We’ve got the Jews, we’ve got the sports.” Funny.

I was hired by a Jewish editor at my next job,
the Philadelphia Daily News in 1978,
and when I started freelancing in 1981,
Jewish Harvard friends got me work at the Columbia Journalism Review
and the Washington Monthly.
A gentile brought me in at Harper’s and the New Republic.
It was at the New Republic,
a launching pad for any number of highly-successful journalists,
that I briefly associated with Marty Peretz,
and did a story for him mocking the United Nations,
whose judgment he seeks at every turn to nullify
because the U.N. is critical of Israel.

Fast forward.
In New York, I have worked for a dozen magazines.
Most of my editors have been Jewish.
Both my book publishers were Jewish.
At one point at one publishing house,
the editor, his boss, and her boss were all Jewish,
and so was the lawyer vetting the work—
I remember her saying she would never travel to Malaysia
because of the anti-Semitic Prime minister.
Oh--and the assistant editor was half-Jewish.

I should point out that I have worked with many gentile editors and writers,
and I have never been aware of any employment discrimination against them
(though I may not be the best source).
In fact, at Spy, the three top editors were all non-Jews
and when I used the epithet WASP it was removed from my copy.
But that is the exception.
Generally it’s been Jews Jews Jews.
  • When I hear NPR do a piece with its top political team and both are Jews...

  • when a Jewish friend calls me and gossips about lunches
    with two top news execs at major publications
    who are both Jewish and who I’ve known for 20 years...

  • when a Jewish editor friend tells me that
    Si Newhouse would be disturbed if Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter--
    who has done such courageous work against the Iraq war--
    did anything to expose the Israel lobby...

  • when I say that my income
    has been derived overwhelmingly from Jewish-owned publications
    for years—
this is simply the ordinary culture of the magazine business as I know it.

I have some ideas why Jews have predominated,
but that’s not the purpose of this posting.
Last year Senator Russ Feingold,
buttonholed on CSPAN about why so many speakers on air were Jewish, said,
“Well, we’re good at talking…” That’ll do for now.

The real issue is, Does it matter?
Most of my life I felt it didn’t.
It’s just the way it is, at this point in history.
It will change (as Clyde Haberman pointed out at that Yivo event).
Jews are the latest flavor of the establishment.
In his landmark book, The Jewish Century,
Slezkine reports that
Jews were the majority of journalists in Berlin and Vienna and Prague, too,
in the late 1800s, if I remember correctly.

Now I think it does matter, for two reasons.
Elitist establishment culture, and
As to elitism,
I worry when any affluent group has power
and little sense of what the common man is experiencing.
I feel the same discomfort with my prestige-oriented “caste”
that E. Digby Baltzell did with his calcified caste, the WASPs--
when he called for an end to discrimination against Jews in the early ‘60s.
The values of my cohort sometimes seem narrow:
globalism, prosperity, professionalism.
In Israel the values are a lot broader.
None of my cohort has served in the military, myself included.
A lot of our fathers did; but I bet none of our kids do.
Military service is for losers--or for Israelis.

[Perhaps the author of this blog can be forgiven for mentioning in this context
that he proudly and voluntarily enrolled in Army ROTC in 1963
and was commissioned in 1967.]

So we are
way overrepresented in the chattering classes, and
way underrepresented in the battering classes.
Not a great recipe for leadership, especially in wartime.

Then there’s Israel.
Support for Israel is an element of Jewish religious practice
and more important,
part of the Jewish cultural experience.
Even if you’re a secular Jewish professional
who prides himself on his objectivity,
there is a ton of cultural pressure on you to support Israel
or at least not to betray Israel.
We are talking about a religion, after all, and
the pressures faced by Jews who are critical of Israel
are not that different from
what Muslim women who want greater freedom undergo psychically
or by evangelical Christians who want to support gay rights.
It is worth noting that great Jewish heretics on the Israel question
suffer anger or even ostracism inside their own families.
Henry Siegman talked about this on Charlie Rose once, I recall--
that even close family were not speaking to him over Israel.
And I have seen this for myself on numerous occasions.
There is not a lot of bandwidth on this issue.
Conversations about Israel even inside the liberal Jewish community
are emotionally loaded, and result in people not speaking to one another.
I lost this blog at a mainstream publication
[discussed here]
because the editor was Jewish and conservative on Israel
and so was the new owner, and the publisher had worked for AIPAC.
And all of them would likely call themselves liberal Democrats.

As former CNN correspondent Linda Scherzer has said,
“We, as Jews, must understand that we come with a certain bias ...
We believe in the Israeli narrative of history.
We support the values that we as Americans, Westerners, and Jews espouse.
Thus, we see news reporting through our own prism.”

There are many American Jewish journalists
who have done great independent work re Israel/Palestine.
Richard Ben Cramer and the late Robbie Friedman leap to mind.
But both these guys are exceptional,
and had to overcome/ignore a ton of pressure
that most of us would quail under.
They had to step outside the Jewish family to do their work...

The result is that Americans are not getting the full story re Israel/Palestine.
Slater says this dramatically in his paper--
that the Times has deprived American leadership
of reporting on the moral/political crisis that Israel is undergoing,
one that Haaretz has covered unstintingly.
At Columbia the other night,
Jew, Arab and gentile on a panel about the human-rights crisis in Gaza
all said that
Americans are not getting the full story.
Ilan Pappe has marveled in his book The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine,
that the Nakba is all but unmentioned in the U.S.--
while Haaretz has sought at times to document it,
for instance a former officer saying in 2004 that
if he had not helped to destroy 200 villages in southern Israel in ‘48,
there would be another million Palestinians in Israel.
To repeat Scherzer’s admission:
“We believe in the Israeli narrative of history...”

Why does the American press behave differently from the Israeli press?
I think the answer is guilt.
The Jewish cohort of which I am a part
has largely accepted the duty that Max Frankel felt, of supporting Israel.
This duty is rarely interrogated,
and yet consciously or not we all know that
American public opinion/leadership
is critical to
Israel’s political invulnerability;
and we think that if we take their fingers out of the dike,
who knows what will happen.
That is a ton of responsibility.
This responsibility is not executed with special care.
Generally, my cohort hasn’t been to Israel,
hasn’t seen the West Bank.
But they do feel kinship with Israeli Jews, and--above all--
have guilt feelings about the Holocaust,
or the American Jewish silence about it during the event,
the Jewish passivity;
and they are determined not to be passive during
Israel’s neverending existential crises.
And thus they misunderstand Israel and fail to serve their readers.

[An anonymous commentator, “D.”, to Weiss’s blog entry
on 02-17 at 04:03 PM added the following:]

BTW, Jeff Zucker is more than an NBC exec.
He's the President of the whole NBC Televison Group.
And the person under him in charge of news at NBC is Neal Shapiro.

Americans have access to five sources of electronic news:
ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox, and CNN.
The news departments of all five are either Jewish run or Jewish supervised --
or, as in the case of NBC, ABC, and CNN, both.

Washington Post Columnist Gives Private AIPAC Talks
on How to Help Israel in '08 Election

by Philip Weiss
Mondoweiss, 2008-02-12

[Emphasis is added.]

According to the AIPAC website, tomorrow in New York,
Peter Beinart, a columnist for Time and the Washington Post
and a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations,
will be giving a “briefing” to
“discuss Jewish involvement in American politics.
He will talk of
the role that the pro-Israel community can play
in the coming elections.”

Sounds like a pep talk.

I emailed AIPAC about going to the event and
Hila Stern, a “leadership” manager, called to say that
the briefing is off the record.
I imagine the same is true of
Beinart’s appearance at the Knoxville AIPAC next month.
And I see that Beinart also spoke 2 weeks back in Philadelphia
to AIPAC’s “Senate club,”
people who give over $10,000 to the organization,
where he also addressed
“the role that the pro-Israel community can play in the coming elections.”

Journalists should be allowed to make money from speaking engagements,
but I find Beinart’s appearances unseemly.
AIPAC is a “controversial” organization
(the adjective routinely used for Walt and Mearsheimer’s book in the mainstream media).
Or anyway,
it’s an important advocacy group on a central issue in the election.
I wonder what a Time and Washington Post columnist
is advocating to advocates about.

More important, Beinart’s 2006 book, The Good Fight,
urged Americans to make their country great again
by going to war against terror in Iraq and elsewhere
and in doing so utterly suppressed the Israel/Palestine issue.
Israel and Palestine are unmentioned in the index,
they show up glancingly in the text.
The big lesson of the book is a neoconservative lesson that
“tyranny breeds jihad”--
not American policies in the Middle East.
This argument might be more convincing
if its proponents would at least acknowledge a simple fact
(best expressed by Mohamed El Baradei) that
Palestinian conditions are a “red flag” of injustice across the Muslim world.
Beinart’s complete failure
to mention the hateful and illegal Israeli occupation of the West Bank
is of course consistent with
many other pro-war Jewish voices,
including Paul Berman, Lawrence Kaplan, Bill Kristol, and Ken Pollack,
that murderers’ row of intellectuals who pushed the Iraq war
and merged liberalism with neoconservatism
(The New Republic, Dissent, and the American Enterprise Institute).
None of them saw the Israeli occupation or Palestinian conditions
as a real problem.

The AIPAC notices confirm what I have suspected about Beinart,
a pro-Israel agenda.
There is nothing wrong with having an agenda; most everyone’s got one.
What’s wrong is when journalists hide ideas that are important to them
from the public.

Will AIPAC (or Time magazine or the Washington Post)
review the decision to bar reporters from Beinart’s talk?

Something Is Rotten Dept:
'Washington Jewish Week' Endorses Occupation, Settlements

by Philip Weiss
Mondoweiss, 2008-08-08

[An excerpt.]

Let's be clear about this.
The Washington Jewish Week is
defending the occupation and the colonization program.
Publications like this are the heart of the organized Jewish community.
Thus the Zionist project destroys the American Jewish moral compass,
compelling Jews here to be cheerleaders to apartheid.

The Media Slam Religion-n-Politics-
When It's Christian Republicans

by Philip Weiss
Mondoweiss, 2008-09-02

[The concluding two thirds; paragraph numbers and emphasis are added.]

But why are they [liberal media figures, some, perhaps all, Jewish]
completely unable to talk about
the exile of Jimmy Carter at the Democratic convention,

a more important gesture than
the failure to appoint a turncoat Democrat [Joe Lieberman] as V.P. nominee,
out of fear that the Dems would alienate the Jewish vote/Jewish donors?
We’re only talking about the Middle East, which could detonate the world.
We’re only talking about Iraq, where our neocon-ultra-Zionist-fed policies
have already destroyed hundreds of thousands of lives.

Do Jews in the media have anything to do with this?
Of course we do.
There are cultural prohibitions at work, which are indefensible.

It is one thing to discuss these issues in the Forward
or in the Jewish Telegraphic Agency,
among ourselves.
But no one is talking about them on mainstream air,
there’s a frikkin cavalcade of Jews on mainstream air,
and they know this issue damn well,
and how strongly many older Jews feel about it.
Don’t Americans have the right to know about this?
The right to know--the basis of the press’s power.

I know I’m repeating myself. And why not? No one seems to get it.

No one’s ashamed of having failed their job.
No one’s ashamed of having permitted dual loyalty
to pervade the American Jewish community,
no one’s ashamed of
displaying a thoroughgoing and unprofessional inability
to talk about the religious Jewish agenda
for Jerusalem, greater Israel, the settlements, the whole thing,

which has now isolated the Democratic Party from world opinion
and defiled the reputation of a great man, Jimmy Carter.

Just beat up on ignorant Christians in the heartland, all night long,
because they--oh my god--mix religion and politics!

'ABC News' Guilts Baptists for Political Beliefs,
Why Not Jews?

by Philip Weiss
Antiwar.com, 2008-09-28

[Weiss continues pointing out how
the media criticizes traditional religious Christians for their views
while giving religious Zionist Jews a free pass.

Here is the most relevant part, its conclusion;
emphasis is added.]

[I]t’s absolutely conventional for privileged east coast media
to mock poor southerners and other citizens of the great interior
when they display ignorant religious-based ideas,
but no media outlet likes to take on
crazy religious beliefs in the privileged waters in which they swim.

And yet 58 percent of American Jews
are for an undivided Jerusalem out of faith-borne ideology,
and about the same number of American Jews have never even seen the place.
These strange religious notions are surely one reason
that McCain invoked Israel and Iran three or four times in the debate,
and they have basically nullified all American motions at fairness in the Holy Land for 60s years,
Suez and a few other exceptions notwithstanding.
Where’s the journalism about those boobs?

[One may object to the value-laden words “ignorant” and “boob”,
but I think no matter what one’s religious and political orientation is,
there is a clear double-standard exposed here.]

Marty Peretz and the American political consensus on Israel
by Glenn Greenwald
Salon.com, 2008-12-28

This is posted in
Pro-Israel, anti-Muslim media (at kwhmediawatch.blogspot.com)
Jews and the media
America, American Jews, and Israel


Do You Have to Be Jewish to Report on Israel for NYT?
by Jonathan Cook
Antiwar.com, 2010-02-16

A recent assignment of mine covering Israel’s presumed links
to the assassination of Hamas leader Mahmoud al-Mabhouh
provoked some more thoughts about
the New York Times reporter Ethan Bronner.
He is the Jerusalem bureau chief who has been at the center of a controversy
since it was revealed last month that his son is serving in the Israeli army.
Despite mounting pressure to replace Bronner,
the NYT’s editors have so far refused to consider that
he might be facing a conflict of interest
or that it would be wiser to post him elsewhere.

Last week,
when suspicion for the assassination in Dubai started to fall on the Mossad,
a newspaper editor emailed to ask
if I could ring up my “Israeli security contacts” for fresh leads.
It was a reminder that Western correspondents in Israel
are expected to have such contacts.
The point was underlined later the same day
when I spoke with a left-wing Israeli academic
to get his take on Mabhouh’s killing.
I had turned to this Ashkenazi professor
because he counts many veterans of the security services as friends.
At the end of the interview, I asked him
if he had any suggestions for people in the security services I might speak with.
He replied: “Talk to Eitan Bronner. He has excellent contacts.”
Naively, I asked how I could reach this expert on
the veiled world of the Israeli security establishment.
Was he employed at the professor’s university?
“No, ring the New York Times bureau,” he responded incredulously
Oh, that “Eitan”!

A more interesting question than
whether Bronner is now facing a conflict of interest
over his son serving in the Israeli army is
whether the NYT reporter was facing such a conflict
long before the latest revelations surfaced.
Could it be that it is actually incumbent on Bronner,
as the NYT’s bureau chief,
to have such a conflict of interest?

Consider this.
The NYT has form when it comes to turning a blind eye
to reporters with conflicts of interest in Israel –
aside, I mean, from
the issue of the reporters’ ethnic identification or nationality.
For example, I am reminded of
a recent predecessor of Bronner’s at the Jerusalem bureau – an Israeli Jew –
who managed to do regular service in the Israeli army reserves
even while he was covering the second intifada.
I am pretty sure his bosses knew of this but, as with Bronner,
did not think there were grounds for taking action.

Shortly after I wrote an earlier piece on Bronner,
pointing out that most Western coverage of the Israel-Palestine conflict
is shaped by Jewish and Israeli journalists,
and that Palestinian voices are almost entirely excluded,
a Jerusalem-based bureau chief asked to meet.
Over a coffee he congratulated me, adding:
“I’d be fired if I wrote something like that.”

This reporter, who, unlike me,
spends lots of time with the main press corps in Jerusalem,
then made some interesting points.
He wishes to remain anonymous but has agreed to my passing on his observations.
He calls Bronner’s situation “the rule, not the exception,” adding:
“I can think of a dozen foreign bureau chiefs,
responsible for covering both Israel and the Palestinians,
who have served in the Israeli army,
and another dozen who like Bronner have kids in the Israeli army.”

He added that
it is very common to hear Western reporters boasting to one another about
their “Zionist” credentials,
their service in the Israeli army or the loyal service of their children.
“Comments like that are very common
at Foreign Press Association gatherings [in Israel]
among the senior, agenda-setting, elite journalists.”

My informant is highly critical
of what is going on among the Jerusalem press corps,
even though he admits
the same charges could be leveled against him.
“I’m Jewish, married to an Israeli and like almost all Western journalists
live in Jewish West Jerusalem.
In my free time I hang out in cafes and bars
with Jewish Israelis chatting in Hebrew.
For the Jewish sabbath and Jewish holidays
I often get together with a bunch of Western journalists.
While it would be convenient to think otherwise,
there is no question that this deep personal integration into Israeli society
informs our overall understanding and coverage of the place
in a way quite different from a journalist who lived in Ramallah or Gaza
and whose personal life was more embedded in Palestinian society.”

And now he gets to the crunch:
“The degree to which Bronner’s personal life,
like that of most lead journalists here,
is integrated into Israeli society,
makes him an excellent candidate to cover
Israeli political life, cultural shifts and intellectual life.
The problem is that Bronner is also expected to be
his paper’s lead voice on
Palestinian political life, cultural shifts and intellectual life,
all in a society he has almost no connection to, deep knowledge of
or even the ability to directly communicate with …
The presumption that this is possible
is neither fair to Bronner nor to his readers,
and it’s really a shame that Western media executives
don’t see the value in an Arabic-speaking bureau chief living in Ramallah
and setting the agenda for the news coming out of the Palestinian territories.”

All true. But I think there is a deeper lesson from the Bronner affair.
Editors who prefer to appoint Jews and Israelis
to cover the Israeli-Palestinian conflict
are probably making a rational choice in news terms –
even if they would never dare admit their reasoning.
The media assign someone to the Jerusalem bureau
because they want as much access as possible
to the inner sanctums of power in a self-declared Jewish state.
They believe – and they are right –
that doors open if their reporter is a Jew, or better still an Israeli Jew,
who has proved his or her commitment to Israel by marrying an Israeli,
by serving in the army or having a child in the army,
and by speaking fluent Hebrew,
a language all but useless outside this small state.

Yes, Ethan Bronner is “the rule,” as my informant notes,
because any other kind of journalist –
the goyim, as many Israelis dismiss non-Jews –
will only ever be able to scratch at the surface of
Israel’s military-political-industrial edifice.
The Bronners have access to power,
they can talk to the officials who matter,
because those same officials trust that
high-powered Jewish and Israeli reporters belong in the Israeli consensus.
They may be critical of the occupation,
but they can be trusted to pull their punches.
If they ever failed to do so,
they would be ejected from the inner sanctum
and a paper like the NYT would be forced to replace them with
someone more cooperative.

When in later years,
these Jerusalem bureau chiefs retire from the field of battle
and are promoted to the rank of armchair general back at media HQ –
when they become a Thomas Friedman
paid to pontificate regularly on the conflict –
they can be trusted to talk to those same high-placed officials,
explaining their viewpoint and defending it.
That is why you will not read anything in the NYT
questioning the idea that Israel is a democratic state
or see coverage suggesting that
Israel is acting in bad faith in the peace process.

I do not want here to suggest there is anything unique about
this relationship of almost utter dependence.
To a degree, this is how most specialists in the mainstream media operate.
Think of the local crime reporter.
How effective would he be (and it is invariably a he)
if he alienated the senior police officers
who provide the inside information he needs
for his regular supply of stories?
Might he not prefer to turn a blind eye to a scoop revealing that
one of his main informants is taking bribes,
if publishing such a story would lose him his “access” and his posting?
This is a simple cost-benefit analysis made
both by the reporter and the editors who assign him
that almost always favors the powerful over the weak,
the interests of the journalist over the reader.

And so it is with Israel.
Like the crime reporter,
our Jerusalem bureau chief needs his “access” more than he needs
the occasional scoop that would sabotage his relationship with official sources.
But more so than the crime reporter,
many of these bureau chiefs also identify with Israel and its goals
because they have an Israeli spouse and children.
They not only live on one side of a bitter national conflict
but actively participate in defending that side through service in its military.

This is a conflict of interest of the highest order.
It is also the reason why they are there in the first place.

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