Monday, February 23, 2009

Letter to the Editor

This is a letter written mostly for your edification but I also hope you will consider publishing in The Observer. (By the way, I've been sending my emails to two addresses because I'm not sure which actually gets to you.)

Dear John:

As I wrote in the letter you published in the February issue, "I was astounded to see the inflammatory, factually-challenged article by George Hajjar published in the January issue of The Waterbury Observer [after you] had earlier refused to publish an article I had submitted ... on the grounds that 'the Observer is not the forum to solve the' Arab-Israeli conflict and that you were 'not inclined to re-ignite the he said-she said-he said dialogue between Marilyn Aligata, Mr. Hajjar' and me." In no way was I suggesting, as you mistakenly implied in your editor's note, that you had any more obligation to publish anything I or anyone else wrote than I or anyone else had "to assist [you] in paying [your] monthly printing bill."

I was merely expressing my surprise at your apparent about face and double standard.

As a former editor of two different free community newspapers, I do have some idea of the realities you confront and have long valued the contributions The Observer has made to the Greater Waterbury community, particularly the in-depth interviews of office seekers during election campaigns.

However, I believe I also have some understanding of the obligations of journalists. These include the obligation to publish the truth, even on the opinion pages. This is recognized by various journalistic organizations.

For example, the Code of Ethics of the Society of Professional Journalists includes the clause that "analysis and commentary should be labeled and not misrepresent fact or context." The Statement of Principles of the American Society of Newspaper Editors says "editorials, analytical articles and commentary should be held to the same standards of accuracy with respect to facts as news reports. Significant errors of fact, as well as errors of omission, should be corrected promptly and prominently."

One can excuse occasional errors, especially if they are "corrected promptly and prominently," but as I have pointed out in the past, the columns by Aligata and Hajjar have been filled with gross errors and with no corrections being issued by The Observer.

This is not just a technical issue. The nature of opinion pieces is that the author is trying to influence the reader and the reliability of the writer is an important consideration.

The lack of accuracy in the anti-Israel diatribes published in The Observer fell to an almost laughable level with the publication of the absurd piece by Marie-Therese Saad, "Hajjar's American-Middle East Assessment is Spot On," in the February issue.

Perhaps her funniest assertions were about Dennis Ross and ironically came right after she correctly pointed out "it is important that our students receive accurate information as they will be the ones to solve the Middle East crisis."

Saad criticized Ross' role as a mediator (although she incorrectly referred to him as a negotiator, but that's a minor error), claiming that as a Jew he was completely biased in favor of Israel. I and many other believe she's wrong and that he erred seriously in putting far too much pressure on Israel while putting little pressure on the Palestinian Arabs, but Saad is entitled to express that opinion.

Where Saad made me laugh was in trying to buttress her opinion by asserting that Ross had "dual U.S. Israeli citizenship" and was a "co-founder of the American-Israeli Public Affairs committee [AIPAC]."

I'm used to seeing absurd assertions fabricated by anti-Israel fanatics and they are often difficult to definitely rebut. A Google search on "rebut assertion Ross AIPAC co-founder" turned up 907 hits, but I couldn't find any that seemed to say Ross was not a co-founder of AIPAC.

Fortunately, I had a useful contact to help me in this quest for the truth. A friend of mine has a son who works for Dennis Ross and I asked him about those two assertions. He sent me a concise answer: "Both dead wrong."

Investigating further, it became clear AIPAC was started around 1953 by Si Kenen, although I was unable to find any specific citation stating that Dennis Ross was not a co-founder. However, since Ross was born in 1948 and thus was about five years old when AIPAC was founded, Saad's assertion that Ross was an AIPAC co-founder is obviously laughable.

Saad did correctly include two citations from the PRIMER web site: PRIMER's credo that "Unanswered media bias and misinformation repeated often enough is accepted as truth" and Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels' famous advice to those who wish to misinform "A huge lie repeated often enough is accepted as truth."

I believe that The Observer, in repeatedly publishing error-filled commentaries, is performing a disservice to its readers. I strongly recommend that if you choose to continue to publish anti-Israel screeds, which is certainly your right, you fulfill your journalistic responsibility to ensure they are not filled with false information.



Alan H. Stein
President, PRIMER-Connecticut
Promoting Responsibility in Middle East Reporting

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