On Monday’s Countdown show, MSNBC host Keith Olbermann delivered a "Special Comment" in which he invoked Nazi Germany and suggested that blocking construction of a mosque near Ground Zero could be the first of a "thousand steps" toward another holocaust. He also hinted at a moral equivalence between the Islamic Empire’s conquests and America’s expansion into the lands of Native Americans as he attempted to discredit former House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s concerns about the choice of "Cordoba House" as the original name planned for the mosque as being intentionally symbolic of a Muslim victory at Ground Zero.
After starting his "Special Comment" by quoting Pastor Martin Niemoller’s famous words about the Holocaust of World War II, he at first tried to make his rant sound more moderate as he contended that, "I make no direct comparison between the attempts to suppress the building of a Muslim religious center in downtown Manhattan and the unimaginable nightmare of the Holocaust." He added: "Such a comparison is ludicrous – at least, it is now."
But the Countdown host was still alarmist enough to fear the mosque controversy could lead in that horrific direction. Olbermann: "Niemoller was not warning of the Holocaust. He was warning of the thousand steps before a holocaust became inevitable. If we are at merely the first of those steps again today, it is one step too close."
When reporting on the nationality of a criminal from another country who has already been arrested, it normally would be considered unnecessary or even uncalled for to take the extra step of explicitly identifying the suspect’s ethnicity or religious affiliation as well. But, given that Israelis, the vast majority of whom are Jewish, often face sharp criticism and negative press reaction over conflicts with their Arab neighbors – inflaming anti-Semitic sentiment – if an Israeli citizen who is non-Jewish is implicated in a violent crime, informing viewers that he is non-Jewish would seem to be in order.
But so far in the media coverage of serial stabber Elias Abuelazam’s arrest, some major news shows on both broadcast and news networks have avoided explicitly informing viewers that he is not a Jewish Israeli, while others have been more upfront with viewers on the subject. CNN’s The Situation Room, the NBC Nightly News, FNC’s Fox and Friends, and CBS’s The Early Show all have directly relayed to viewers at least once that Abuelazam is an Israeli Arab. But ABC’s World News, the CBS Evening News, FNC’s Fox Report, ABC’s Good Morning America, CNN’s American Morning and NBC’s Today show have all avoided such a direct identification of ethnicity.
The Israeli commandos who intercepted a flotilla bound for the Gaza Strip on May 31 were cleared of wrongdoing by a military inquiry into the matter. The same panel faulted the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) for "mistakes that were made in decisions, including some taken at relatively high levels," according to retired Israeli Major General Giora Eiland.
While we at NewsBusters have taken Reuters to task before for their biased coverage of the Middle East, the news wire actually broke from the pack a bit in its portrayal of the story, focusing on the conclusion that there was no wrongdoing by the Israelis in the now infamous raid.
By contrast, the Washington Post and Associated Press opened their stories focused on the negative. Below are the lede paragraphs for the respective news agencies:
Here's Bauder's fourth paragraph wherein he described the Lebanese cleric that Nasr had praised as "[o]ne of Hezbollah's giants [she] respects a lot" (emphasis mine):
Lebanon's Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah died Sunday after a long illness. He was staunchly anti-American and linked to bombings that killed more than 260 Americans, a charge he denied.
Here's Bauder's lead paragraph:
NEW YORK -- Octavia Nasr has been fired. CNN fired the editor responsible for Middle Eastern coverage after she posted a note on Twitter expressing admiration for a late Lebanese cleric considered an inspiration for the Hezbollah militant movement.
Wouldn't a better lede incorporate elements of the fourth paragraph? Something like:
Both CNN and CNN.com have punted on the firing of Octavia Nasr, the network's senior editor of Middle East affairs, after she mourned the death of Islamist cleric Sayyed Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah, "one of Hezbollah's giants," to use her own phrase, on Twitter. None of CNN's on-air programming nor the website has mentioned her "leaving the company" since the news broke on Wednesday afternoon.
In an interview with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday, CBS Evening News anchor Katie Couric noted President Obama's unpopularity in Israel and pressed Netanyahu to remedy that fact: "To change public opinion in your country, should you be more strongly advocating on his behalf?"
Couric preceded that question by citing a recent poll of Israelis, which she seemed perplexed by: "Can you explain this to me, then? In a poll conducted a month ago – just a month ago – 71 percent of the Jews in Israel surveyed said they dislike President Obama; 47 percent expressed a strong dislike."
Earlier in the interview, Couric tried to gauge Netanyahu's feelings toward Obama: "Do you trust Barack Obama?...surely there have been disappointments with the Obama administration. Can you just be candid with me and tell me how the administration has disappointed you?" While Couric asked about Israeli "disappointments" with Obama, she never cited any specific Obama administration policies or actions as the cause of those disappointments.
On Monday, NewsBusters wondered how CNN would handle one of its senior editors expressing regrets for the death of the Hezbollah cleric that possibly orchestrated the 1983 bombing of two Marines barracks in Beirut, Lebanon.
Two days later, the self-professed "most trusted name in news" dropped Octavia Nasr for tweeting, "Sad to hear of the passing of Sayyed Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah.. One of Hezbollah's giants I respect a lot.."
Good Morning America's George Stephanopoulos on Wednesday repeatedly berated Benjamin Netanyahu as to what the Israeli Prime Minister will do for the peace process.
Focusing almost entirely on Israel, while excluding the U.S. and the Palestinians, he hectored, "What are you prepared to do? More security autonomy for the Palestinians on the West Bank? Prisoner releases?"
Stephanopoulos did highlight the contrast between April's frosty meeting with President Obama and a more friendly visit at the White House, Tuesday.
In the tease for the show, he wondered, "President Obama and Israel's Prime Minister all smiles at the White House. But, is the friendship as solid as they claim?" Yet, the former Democratic operative failed to ask a single question as to what Obama could do to make the relationship stronger.
CNN's senior editor of Middle East affairs on Sunday publicly expressed regrets for the death of Hezbollah's Sayyed Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah the cleric that possibly orchestrated the 1983 bombing of two Marines barracks in Beirut, Lebanon.
According to the New York Times, he also "justified suicide bombings and other tactics of asymmetrical warfare by arguing that if Israel and its allies used advanced weaponry, Islam permitted the use of any weapons in retaliation."
But before we get to Fadlallah's background, here's what CNN's Octavia Nasr tweeted on July 4 (h/t Weekly Standard via Seton Motley):
Great idea. While we're at it, let's invite al Qaeda to a conference on Israel's future . . .
On Morning Joe today, Zbigniew Brzezinski recommended that the US organize an "international conference" on Afghanistan's future—and invite Iran to participate. The former Carter National Security Advisor didn't say what positive contributions he might expect from a country working in defiance of international sanctions to develop nuclear weapons and which has stated its desire to wipe Israel off the map.
Catching up on an item from last week on the Tuesday, June 8, NBC Nightly News, correspondent Tom Aspell portrayed the residents of Gaza as living through a life prison sentence imposed by Israel: "Israel's blockade on Gaza isn't just about preventing goods from getting in, it's about preventing 1.5 million Palestinians from getting out. It sentences them to life inside a 140-square-mile prison." Anchor Brian Williams set up the piece: "We are back now with a rare look inside a place 1.5 million people call home. The Israelis call it a hotbed of terrorism, but the people who live there say they are prisoners of poverty and misery."
As Aspell asserted that dire conditions exist for those in Gaza, he barely mentioned reports to the contrary, and placed the burden of blame squarely on Israel as, even though Egypt actively takes part in the blockade, the NBC correspondent only indirectly alluded to Egypt’s participation as he mentioned that tunnels that lead from Egypt to Gaza are illegal, and related that "some supplies" are "smuggled through hundreds of illegal tunnels under the border from Egypt." But last February, FNC’s Mike Tobin devoted a report to the construction of underground walls by Egypt in an attempt to keep up its end of the blockade by closing off the tunnels: "With each elongated piece of steel Egyptians drive 20 yards into the ground down to the water table, they get closer to completing the iron curtain which will close Gaza's smuggling tunnels. When construction began a month ago, Palestinians in the Gaza strip rioted killing an Egyptian soldier."
Poor Barack Obama. Being president can take a lot out of him. That's why he needs to relax on the links, and relieve some stress into his golf game. No problem, says the Washington Post, the Gulf Spill can wait. This is the same Washington Post that berated President Bush for golfing while an armed conflict was taking place…in Israel.
Not that suicide bombings in Israel are an unserious matter, but doesn't the disaster in the Gulf require at least as much attention (far more, in my mind) from the President? The Post doesn't seem to think so.
So while the paper decried Bush's "golf cart diplomacy" and devoted over 600 words to suggesting that Bush's golf game was distracting from his work on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Post found no such grounds to criticize Obama. As a reporter for one of the paper's blogs put it, "who cares?" Obviously not the Post (h/t Jim Hoft).
During an interview on CNN’s Reliable Sources on Sunday, Rabbi David Nesenoff, known for exposing Helen Thomas’s anti-Semitic views, informed viewers that, up until now, he has considered himself to be a liberal Democrat – who even opposed the Iraq War and supported Barack Obama – but now asserts that "I have to really reevaluate liberal and conservative and really find out where I stand because I think I've been a little blind."
As Nesenoff recounted that he had previously agreed with Thomas in her opposition to the war in Iraq, and her challenging of President Bush on the matter, he now sees himself as unknowingly being allied with people who think that "Israel and the Jewish people don't have a connection." Before being interrupted by host Howard Kurtz, Nesenoff began to explain his evolution of thought:
They’re accusing me of being some right-wing ambusher, and it really rocked my world because I have to reevaluate my life and my standing in the agendas because, yeah, I’m a New York Democrat Jewish liberal supporter of Obama, donated to his candidacy for a year, said give him a chance ... watched all these liberal media, and now I have to reevaluate ... I have to now speak to people with all different agendas because if I was part of a team where their agenda was that Israel and the Jewish people don’t have a connection – which is exactly what Helen Thomas said – there’s no connection, why are they even there-
"The idea that there is a pro-Israeli bias in the broad media - whatever ‘the media' means at this point, I strongly disagree with," Meacham said. "I think if anything you run into a very strong feeling on the Palestinian side."
That led another panelist on Maher's show, MSNBC's Rachel Maddow to protest by asking who is pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel in politics or media.
On Friday’s Countdown show, after having decided not to include Helen Thomas as a nominee in his "Worst Person" segment for her anti-Semitic declaration that Jews should "get the hell out of Palestine" and "go home" to Germany and Poland, MSNBC host Keith Olbermann included Fox News Sunday anchor Chris Wallace in his "Worst Person" segment for suggesting that it would be "poetic justice" if Fox News were to be given her seat in the White House briefing room.
Olbermann went on to claim that FNC personalities are guilty of making comments that are similarly racist as compared to Thomas’s attack on Israeli Jews: "Wallace thus implying that a far right entity that occasionally says indefensible and even racist things should replace a far left entity that occasionally said indefensible and even racist things."
On Wednesday’s Countdown show, Olbermann had similarly found a reason to include as a nominee in his "Worst Person" segment the rabbi who exposed Thomas’s anti-Semitism, even though Thomas herself was never featured in the segment.
UPDATE: Kosmonauts upset Obama flack decried Helen Thomas comments: "when has he [Obama] ever kicked anyone's ass? Not counting little old ladies, that is."
Even as she sneered that the Jews should "get the hell out of Palestine," Helen Thomas could easily find fervent defenders in the hard-left environs of the Daily Kos. Some of them couldn't believe such a sweet and good-natured woman would be demonized. The blogger "General Choomin" literally claimed that on Tuesday night:
This diary is mostly about the smear campaign aimed at Helen Thomas and how right wing propaganda easily mixes with Israeli propaganda. It is a story that people would label me as crazy if I didn't have the facts to back it up. How could such a good natured woman have so many people denounce her without even knowing the effort that went into it? How could so many people turn their backs on her even though she served her country in a way that most civilians never could?
Perhaps these people should try being on the other end of one of her rants before they try to paint her as Sweet Polly Purebred. "Chipoliwog" agreed on Tuesday that Helen the "patient heroine" had been wronged and her legacy of greatness was unappreciated:
Yesterday, the world lost the voice of one of it's greatest journalists. Lost to the exigencies of political correctness. Hoisted on her own petard.
On Wednesday’s Countdown show, MSNBC host Keith Olbermann included Rabbi David Nesenoff – famous for exposing Helen Thomas’s anti-Semitic beliefs in a video of her posted on his Web site – for inclusion in his "Worst Person in the World" segment because Rabbi Nesenoff’s site also includes a video which the MSNBC host viewed as being racist toward Mexicans.
As he explained who Nesenoff is, Olbermann also misstated the severity of Thomas’s declaration that Israeli Jews should "get the hell out of Palestine," as many in the pro-Palestinian movement consider all of Israel to be part of "Palestine." But Olbermann suggested that she was only referring to Israeli Jews who live in settlements in the Palestinian territories: "Runner up, Rabbi David Nesenoff. He is the man who precipitated the end of Helen Thomas’s career, got the video of her saying Israelis in settlements in Palestine should go home to Poland and Germany and the U.S. It was sad. It was narrow minded. I can`t defend it. On the other hand, Rabbi Nesenoff doesn`t exactly have clean hands."
Notably, the Countdown host had passed on featuring Helen Thomas in his "Worst Person" segment for her anti-Semitic remarks, explaining on Monday that he was thinking of "reluctantly" including her in that night’s "Worst Person" list but chose not to because she had resigned from her position at Hearst. Olbermann, on Monday, introducing the "Worst Person" segment: "But first, with a thank you to Helen Thomas for doing the right thing and bowing out before I had to reluctantly put her out this list, get out your pitchforks and torches, time for tonight`s 'Worst Persons in the World.'"
The last two presidents have been elected on the very dubious campaign promise of “changing the tone” of Washington. Either could have proven his sincerity by shredding the press credentials of the White House press corps Dean of Mean, Helen Thomas. Her tone was nasty, and her “questions” usually meant more as insults than as requests for information. Still, presidents and journalists alike bowed and scraped before her, as if she were the Queen of All Media.
Her reign ended with an implosion. A rabbi and two high-school kids in yarmulkes exposed Thomas as not merely anti-Israel, but anti-Semitic. Asked her opinion about the Jews at a Jewish heritage event at the White House, this daughter of Lebanese immigrants said they should “get the hell out of Palestine,” and when asked where they should go, she snapped “home” to Germany and Poland, where so many were massacred in the Holocaust.
Thomas apologized quickly, then retired from her Hearst column after these remarks. Whether it was voluntary or mandatory is unclear. What is clear, however, is that some in the press returned immediately to kissing her ring. “Few White House correspondents ever achieved her high profile and respectability,” raved Jeremy Peters in the New York Times. “From her coveted seat in the front row of the White House briefing room to her ability to cow even the most hardened White House press secretary, Ms. Thomas was a legend in Washington.”
As debate has been raging over Israel and the Middle East it is important that we understand how Israel is treated in the region. Here is a video of an Egyptian woman being given a platform on Arab television to threaten that Israeli women should "leave the land" or be "raped." (Content warning):
As other media outlets have given Helen Thomas the kid glove treatment in light of her "trailblazing" career, media consumers may be forgiven for assuming that Helen Thomas's anti-Israel, arguably anti-Semitic comments were an aberration in an otherwise unblemished career of assertive but fair journalism.
To his credit, Washington Post's media reporter Howard Kurtz made note of other incidents, such as the time Thomas blamed Israel for inspiring "99 percent" of terrorism and the time in 2002 when she exclaimed "Thank God for Hezbollah," the Iran-backed terror group that murdered 241 U.S. servicement in 1983 and has plagued Israel for decades.
As the excerpt below shows, it's not just conservatives who have had complaints about Thomas (emphases mine):
MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell, Chuck Todd, and Savannah Guthrie on Tuesday’s “The Daily Rundown” were in “anguish” over the forced retirement of Helen Thomas, but showed little sympathy for the Israelis that the Hearst columnist so odiously disrespected.
“I think a lot of people feel some anguish about this because the comments were beyond the pale,” lamented Guthrie. “And yet it tarnishes a career that otherwise people would be celebrating because she was indeed a trailblazer.”
Glossing over the longtime reporter’s comments that Israelis should “get the hell out of Palestine” and go back to Germany or Poland, Mitchell lauded Thomas’s career as “storied” and proceeded to hearken back to a time when Washington was an “all-male town” and Thomas was blazing the trail for women.
“When I first arrived here, after dinner, at political dinners, women went to one room, men went to another to smoke cigars and have brandy,” recalled Mitchell. “This was a very traditional place–not like New York or other East Coast cities.”
In an attempt to make excuses for Thomas while appearing to condemn her remarks, contradictions ran rampant. First up, Mitchell:
On Monday’s Joy Behar Show on HLN, as host Behar led a discussion of long-time journalist Helen Thomas’s recent anti-Israel remarks with guest Jonathan Alter – of Newsweek and MSNBC – and comedian Robert Klein, Alter admitted that, as a Jew, he was offended by her words, but, although he claimed that "I`m not rationalizing it, Joy, I'm not trying to excuse her," he pinned some of the blame on "senility" and suggested that, because of her Lebanese background, her remarks are not necessarily anti-Semitic: "But she`s Lebanese. She`s a Lebanese American. And you do have to understand, you know, some of the history of the region and the feelings in the region, and not necessarily judge somebody who thinks of Israel as an occupying power as by definition an anti-Semite because they think Israel is occup-"
He also expressed his hope that Thomas’s rant would not tarnish the memory of her journalistic career, as he credited her with "asking the tough questions" to President Bush after 9/11, which he asserted other journalists were not willing to do: "I just wish that her whole career is not judged by this. ... I have known her for a long time, and she held many Presidents` feet to the fire at a time when nobody in the Bush press room would say boo about George W. Bush after 9/11, she was already asking the tough questions. And I just, you know, I like to see people be judged in the largest context of their career, not in their senility."
On the bright side, Behar complained that Israel "gets a bum rap a lot," sparking agreement from both Alter and Klein, with Alter observing that there is a "double standard":
During the Second Lebanon War in 2006, the news agency Reuters admitted that one of its pictures of smoke and destruction caused by Israel's bombing of Beirut had been augmented in a Photoshop program by photographer Adnan Hajj.
The Israeli newspaper Haaretz yesterday reported Reuters was under fire again yesterday for manipulating photographs in a bias against Israel, this time in the Gaza flotilla story. Natasha Mozgovaya reported Reuters cropped inconvenient truths out of the frame:
The Reuters news agency has been accused of removing images of activists wielding weapons and bloodied and wounded Israeli naval commandos from photographs taken on board a ship headed for Gaza during deadly clashes last week.
Reuters on Monday rejected accusations of biased coverage, adding that it had reverted to the use of "the original set" of images, once the organization realized that the photographs it had published had been cropped....
Well that didn't take long. The folks at the left-wing MoveOn.org are practically in mourning over Helen Thomas's "retirement."
Just a few hours after news broke that Hearst columnist Helen Thomas is calling it quits after a viral video of her anti-Semitic comments led to widespead condemnation of the White House press corps dean.
The abrupt retirement of Helen Thomas from her perch as the ranking member of the White House press corps was essentially accepted as a fait accompli by supporters and detractors alike after her controversial remarks urging Jews to leave Israel surfaced.
Indeed, if there was any defense made of Thomas's comments, it wasn't done persuasively or at an influential level. But that didn't stop the progressive community -- many hearing about her retirement while at the Campaign for America's Future conference in D.C. -- from collectively fretting on Monday about what the loss of her voice bodes for the day-to-day interaction between the White House and the Fourth Estate.
Her absence will be felt "significantly," said Ilyse Hogue, Communications Director of Moveon.org. "The burden will fall on the rest of the press corps to make sure the administration feels the need to be transparent about its plans to get us out of Iraq and Afghanistan."
CNN anchor Don Lemon repeatedly defended rabidly anti-Israel columnist Helen Thomas as he interviewed Ari Fleischer late in the 7 pm Eastern hour of Sunday's Newsroom. After playing Thomas's remarks, Lemon lauded her in his first question to Fleischer: "Helen Thomas has broken down many barriers for women....She has a lifelong achievement...in journalism. Should that count for anything?" [audio clips available here]
The former press secretary strongly condemned Thomas's comments and proposed that "if somebody said that all blacks need to leave America and go home to Africa, they would have already lost their jobs," while stating that two of them "always ideologically disagreed, but I liked her." Lemon followed through on this point: "Yeah, that was my next point. It's- I know that people disagree ideologically- but you can still be friends or still be co-workers. Have you reached out to her at all? Have you tried to talk to her about why she said this?"
Time's Joe Klein, no fan of the present Israeli government he, has weighed in on Helen Thomas's now infamous "get the hell out of Palestine" comments.
Writing for his magazine's Swampland blog yesterday, Klein denounced the Hearst columnist's comments as "odious," but stopped short of demanding her ouster from the White House press briefing room. Instead, Klein urged in his June 6 post that Thomas should forego her front row seat and get pushed towards the back of the room:
[I]t's not unprecedented for journalists with odious views to have access to the press room. What is unprecedented is for such a journalist to have a front-row center seat. Thomas should no longer have that privilege. The front row should be occupied by working reporters, not columnists. The WHCA should sanction Thomas by sending her back to the cheap seats. This would accurately reflect her current status as a journalist while preserving her First Amendment right to be as obnoxious as she wants.
Of course Thomas has a First Amendment right to be obnoxious, but that doesn't mean she has a constitutional right to a slot in the press briefing room. Perhaps Klein thinks his is a reasonable middle ground for the WHCA to stake out, but there were plenty of reasons to boot Thomas from the front row long before her anti-Semitic ranting made for viral video.
Jane Furse of the New York Daily News reports "Iconic White House reporter Helen Thomas was dropped by her speaking agency and booted as a high school commencement speaker Sunday following inflammatory remarks she made about Jews and Israel." The tone was daintier at The Washington Post, where she wasn't "booted," the agreement was mutual:
Alan Goodwin, principal of [Walt] Whitman [High School], where objections to the appearance had been raised, said he reached a niece of Thomas's earlier in the day. "We had a mutual understanding about her not coming," he said....
In an interview, Whitman parent Raisa Slepoy said, "I don't know why anybody would ask a person like that to speak at a commencement ceremony...especially where there's a pretty large Jewish population."
If Thomas had appeared, Slepoy said, there would "be a lot of people booing her off the stage....It would be an embarrassment."
Obviously, blaming former President George W. Bush is en vogue - for everything from the BP oil spill to the current economic malaise. But some things that are going wrong in the world - it just seems to be a bit of a stretch to pin on a former administration.
But that didn't stop CNN's Fareed Zakaria, also the editor of Newsweek International. On his June 6 show "Fareed Zakaria GPS," Zakaria pointed out the pivotal role Turkey played in last week's deadly Gaza flotilla raid.
"Turkey was also playing a new and potentially dangerous game here," Zakaria said. "Despite being physically and historically connected to Europe, Turkey is increasingly playing a role that distances itself from those roots. Once a strong U.S. ally, a founding member of NATO, Turkey now often looks more like a troublemaker than a friend."