Intimidation at the New York Times: How the Israel Lobby Silenced 2 Leading Columnists

by Kitchen Table Cartoons

Thomas Friedman was once brave. This New York Times columnist and author established his reputation reporting on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. His early work gave objective accounts of the suffering of the Palestinian people, placed blame for the failed peace talks squarely on the Israeli government, and exposed the undue influence that pro-Israel lobbyists wield on policies of the U.S. government.

Then the Israel lobby went to work on him.

In July 2001, the Media Monitor of the Jewish Press put Mr. Friedman on their Enemies List. Groups like CAMERA and AIPAC castigated his reporting as being anti-Semitic. The president of the Zionist Organization of America claimed “Friedman’s language conjures up disturbing stereotypical images of Jews conspiring to manipulate world leaders and events.” He was branded a “self-hating Jew.”

These relentless attacks worked their desired effect.

A “re-educated” Mr. Friedman suddenly embraced the pro-Israel position to go to war with Iraq. Famously, in his column of August 18, 2002, he coached President Bush on how best to begin that war, then subsequently called the invasion of Iraq “one of the noblest things this country has ever attempted abroad.” And he began denigrating the Palestinian people and their struggle for self-determination.

Today, Thomas Friedman receives $75,000 per talk to Jewish organizations. He lives in an $9 million mansion in Maryland. His change of message seems not to have hurt his career.

Columnist Frank Rich , too, once offered intelligent criticism about events in the Middle East.

Early on, he wrote about Baruch Goldstein, the Brooklyn-born settler who attacked a mosque during prayers, murdering 29 men and boys. Mr. Rich called him a Jewish terrorist for his “savage mass murder of praying Muslims ” and lamented that a shrine was erected by Israelis, celebrating Goldstein as a hero. For expressing this opinion, Jewish groups pilloried Mr. Rich for being anti-Semitic and disloyal to Israel.

In his May 11, 2002 column, “The Booing of Wolfowitz ,” Mr. Rich defended then Deputy-Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz for acknowledging at a large pro-Israel rally in Washington that “innocent Palestinians are suffering and dying in great numbers as well” in the Middle East. Wolfowitz, whose father’s family was killed in the Holocaust, was effectively heckled off stage and called an anti-Semite. Mr. Rich’s forthright essay rebuked such knee-jerk responses of anti-Semitism by American Jewish groups and dared to opine that right-wingers who tolerate no criticism of Israel undermine their own cause.

Predictably, these pro-Israel forces then turned on Mr. Rich and the New York Times . They threatened to boycott the paper, ceasing all advertising, even withholding Jewish death notices. Their response to Mr. Rich was more personal. He suffered a fusillade of attacks, “self-hating Jew” being their favored and highly effective calumny.

Frank Rich has learned the lesson. You will not be reading any more Baruch Goldstein or Paul Wolfowitz columns by him. Nowadays, cowed like Mr. Friedman, he toes the line, and is largely silent on Israeli-Palestinian issues. (See the following entry, “Frank Rich: Moral Hypocrisy? “)

So, am I anti-Semitic? No. I am against the Israel lobby that attempts, through intimidation (and rewards) to corrupt the critical role of the media in America — a role founded on the belief that an informed citizenry, engaged in open and public debate, is essential for our democracy. Thomas Friedman and Frank Rich are only two examples of many reporters who have been pressured to abandon their professional responsibility in covering the Middle East.

Mainstream media has failed us.  America will live with the consequences.

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Ted Conover 06.16.09 at 8:02 pm

Your excellent points help explain why the circulation of the New York Times is dropping while that of blogs is increasing. The free press will prevail.

2 Mary G. 06.16.09 at 9:18 pm

Your message would still be true if you interchanged US columnists with US congressmen. Both are vulnerable to the rewards and punishments of the Israel Lobby at the expense of the American public.

3 Jeffrey 06.18.09 at 10:32 am

If Tom Friedman writes only one-sided, biased commentary and receives $75,000 a lick from Jewish organizations, then he appears to be a paid propagandist for the State of Israel.

4 whistlingpast 06.20.09 at 7:30 am

The link to the WRMEA history of AIPAC was terrifying…and fascinating. We need an open, national debate on the subject of Israel /Palestinian conflict.

5 Jan 06.20.09 at 6:03 pm

Some thoughtful Jewish Americans are called PEPs (Progressive Except for Palestine)

6 Jim 06.21.09 at 11:14 am

I have lost family in every American War in the 20th century. Now after watching the policiticians and goverment reps curry favor with Israel and go to war for its benefit….I will not allow my son to serve this country. My relatives were taken as fools to do so in the past.

7 stevieb 07.08.09 at 8:27 am

I hope the Friedmann that you identify as being pro-peace process isn’t the same on who once opined that the key to solving the I/P conflict was to give “Ahmed a seat on the bus”.

I’ve a hard time believing that Thomas Friedmann was truly pro-Palestinian at any point in his career. After the Lobby was done with him though, he was definitely in the Likuud, Zio-fascist camp without doubt…

8 Phil Donnelly-rooney 01.06.10 at 7:12 am

not the first conflict to engage in such dirty tricks,
but no more acceptable for that.
Gruesome.

9 B 02.14.11 at 3:10 am

“Today, Thomas Friedman receives $75,000 per talk to Jewish organizations. He lives in an $9 million mansion in Maryland. His change of message seems not to have hurt his career.”

The house is irrelevant, as his wife is extremely wealthy.

Also, the link at these words–“relentless attacks”–do not support the claim that leads to them. All it says is that AIPAC has “a file” on him. Any lobbying group is going to keep files on journalists.

The “correction” that came from a complaint was, as CAMERA said, inadequate to their desires, so that is not much of a case against Friedman, either.

I have no respect for Friedman, but the evidence here seems quite weak. As far as I can remember, he has always been a war-mongering schmuck and a pro-Israel one at that, just not enough of one to satisfy AIPAC, et al, who can only be satisfied by someone who probably is an anti-Semite, if the Semites at issue are Arabs..

As to Frank Rich, since I couldn’t get to the link at “Frank Rich: Moral Hypocrisy? “, I have no way to comment on whatever evidence might be there.

It wouldn’t have occurred to me to think that you are an anti-Semite. I don’t, however, think you make a good case here.

10 David Morris 02.16.11 at 8:21 am

@B: Thanks for the thoughtful reading. I might argue that you’re nipping around the edges. The real test for NY Times columnists comes in the next month. When describing the forthcoming negotiations, let’s hope they stop referring to illegal settlement/fortresses as “Jewish neighborhoods.”

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