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More Jewish Journalism from Both Ends of the Political Spectrum
Alan Tuttle
Alan Tuttle

Alan Tuttle

Commentary Magazine, founded in 1945, is described by its publishers as "the intellectual home of the neo-conservative movement" with "a special interest in Jewish issues and the State of Israel." Reading some of the writing in Commentary challenges one to refine one's thinking on certain topics, providing a chance for a reality check. Its style tends to be more thoughtful than some of the rubric coming from neo-conservative politicians and other journalists on the right.

A recent example of this comes in a review by Kevin Shapiro, M.D. of the book, The Republican War on Science by Chris Mooney. In it, Shapiro raises some questions and tries to counter Mooney's thesis that essentially accuses the Republicans of stymieing important scientific advances because of religious and political agendas, or because of business' desire to have research benefit them. In defense of the Republicans, Shapiro points to the increase in N.I.H. funding under Republican-controlled Congress. And he defends as a positive private industry's funding of research in their particular fields of enterprise. He then focuses on the apparent contradiction between the scientific community's insistence on peer-reviewed research (e.g., regarding Creationism) and much of the scientific community's adoption of the ?precautionary principle." This principle urges government to take environment-protecting actions even in the absence of indisputable evidence of harm. But then Mr. Shapiro reveals his ?bottom-line? concern with this apparent double-standard: he contends that science is used to support liberal programs that could affect many people "at a price tag of billions of dollars." He seemingly is more concerned by the possible loss of money than by the possible damage to the environment and its inhabitants.

Another article of interest in the January 2006 issue is entitled The Panic Over Iraq by Norman Podhoretz. His thesis is that the "panic" voiced by those opposed to the war is not at the prospect of defeat, but rather at the prospect of the success of President Bush's objectives, which Podhoretz considers as being imminent. He points to the fact that roughly 80% of the electorate participated in the first two post-invasion votes. He then observes that the overwhelming preponderance of news reporting from Iraq is "negative," that improvements and successes are under-reported, and that "mainstream media have been working overtime to show how badly things have been going for us..." Although it is doubtless true that there is subjectivity in what is chosen to be presented as "news," Mr. Podhoretz doesn't bother putting the "negative? news from Iraq in the context of the President's May, 2003 pronouncement that "major combat operations in Iraq have ended", or make mention of the devastation that has come to the population of Iraq, even excluding the insurgency suicide and car bombings.

Some of Mr. Podhoretz's questions are valid, if perhaps irrelevant: the issue of the legitimacy of the invasion aside, was "de-Baathification" necessarily a mistake? Would more troops have made a major difference in the outcome? He then asserts, providing figures to support his case, that there is significant progress being made in establishing a federal republic and reviving the economy and social infrastructure. The real problem, he states, is the ?Vietnam syndrome? that is hostile to the use of American force, and that the intelligentsia is leading the way in this defeatist attitude. What is completely left out is any mention of the economic interests influencing (or driving) the war effort. For example, he is impressed with the construction of schools that has been going on, but ignores the fact that many were destroyed during the invasion, and that the exorbitantly profitable contract given to Creative Associates International Inc. to provide curricula and textbooks was a no-bid contract. We needn't even mention "Halliburton."

On the other end of the political spectrum is Tikkun magazine, "a bi-monthly Jewish Critique of Politics, Culture, and Society." Founded by Rabbi Michael Lerner, the magazine is intimately tied in with the "Tikkun Community" of political activists who base their actions on a spiritual view of the world. They emphasize that their approach is not to dress the liberal agenda in "values" or "spiritual" language, but rather to address society's ethos of selfishness and materialism and how it plays out in peoples? lives in damaging ways.

Most of the online articles in Tikkun, both current and archived, aren't accessible for viewing unless one subscribes. In the current issue there are several interesting articles: The Junk Science of Abortion?Breast Cancer Syndrome, by Diana Dukhanovais a propos to the article above on the politics of science and is entitled ; A Spiritual Dimension For Business, by Ben Cohen and Mal Warwick delves into economic kashrut is ; and finally The End of Public Space: Israel's New Shopping Malls, by Micha Odenheimer. The main editorial, Hostile Takeover: Theocracy in America is a summary of Rabbi Lerner's critique of the Religious Right and the need for there to be a counter, progressive religious/spiritual voice.

Ari Paul writes an interesting book review of Stephanie Gutmann's The Other War: Israelis, Palestinians, and the Struggle for Media Supremacy. Ms. Gutmann's book was prompted by her frustration with the pro-Palestinian bias she sees in Western media, and was researched by her traveling to Israel to monitor Western journalists. Her discovery: these journalists are more sympathetic to the Palestinians, and present a David (Palestinians) v. Goliath (Israelis) picture. Mr. Paul argues that the two parties exist under very different conditions and power dynamics. Therefore it is appropriate that the approach to reporting be different for each. He assesses Ms. Gutmann's goal as being to "expose the shortcomings of many Western journalists . . . in order to call into question what we see concerning the occupation." Ultimately, Mr. Paul considers the author's attempt to garner more sympathy for Israel a failure due to her "overzealousness" in trying to correct the historical record without acknowledging ?the brutality of the Occupation." He accuses her of showing her bias, and in the process shows his. Indeed, in a conflict as emotion-laden and historically complex as the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, it is difficult to find truly balanced reporting.

Another article, Learning to Love Sharon by Anshel Pfeffer, the media critic for the Jerusalem Post, is a more balanced look at the history of the media's attitudes toward Ariel Sharon. From Sharon's early years as a war hero, through his revilement as a potential dictator, perpetrator of war atrocities, and party to financial scandals, to his current status (pre-stroke) as the most popular Israeli leader since David Ben-Gurion, Mr. Pfeffer sees the Israeli media as fickle and willing to forgive as long as the policies and outcomes fit their "left-leaning" worldview. No specific insight is given, except to say that Mr. Sharon doesn't have significant opposition in a battle-weary country.

Editor's note: Worth reading, the op/ed piece "In the Mountain?s Shade" by Trudy Rubin in the Philadelphia Inquirer Friday, January 6 and "THE GENERAL An Israeli Journalist's six years of conversations with Ariel Sharon" Ari Shavit's 12 page profile in the January 23 & 30 issue New Yorker Magazine.

Past Features of Media Watch