View From a Height
Commentary from the Mile High City
Friday, January 23, 2004

Defending Thomas Friedman

If ever there were a September 10 publication, it's the Village Voice. It has reinforced its move from liberal to lefist. Since revolutions eat their own, I suppose it makes some sense that media critic Cynthia Cotts has now penned an article attacking Thomas Friedman for donating some prize winnings to his synagogue library.

It seems that Friedman, along with Joshua Micah Marshall, Paul Krugman, and Charlotte Observer columnist Tommy Tomlinson each won $2,000 from Tina Brown's new periodical, The Week, in its inaugural Opinion Awards. Krugman and Tomlinson each gave their money to public libraries; Marshall gave his to his old prep school. Apparently, the scandal of the evening was Friedman's announcement that his cash was going to the library of a synagogue he (and Times bete noir William Safire among others) had founded.

Daniel Radosh, widely-published freelancer, actually asked on his blog whether this was an attempt to launder the money so as to keep it. What do you mean, "started a synagogue?" Especially, as Cotts takes pains to point out at the end, one that doesn't even have a building? Cotts apparently is unaware of the multitude of synagogues that start out renting space from apartment buildings, storefronts, and even churches. The Palo Alto Orthodox Synagogue for years met in the basement of a bank, but that didn't help them gain the considerable financing necessary to put up a buiding.

While Cotts spends some time attacking the monetary ethics of the shul rabbi, the target of the piece is clearly Friedman. Certainly a columnist or a reporter has no business contributing directly to political campaigns or causes he'll be convering. But the path by which she gets to her conclusion is so tortured that whatever "freight" she sees has been dumped by the roadside long before then: Friedman donates to a shul library; that shul is Conservative; it's part of the Masorti movement; religion and politics are mixed in Israel; so the Masorti movement has taken political positions, maybe even on Israeli foreign policy; Friedman has written nice things about Israel. Voila! Friedman is really giving his money to support political causes in Israel.

Hers is a media column, so from time to time she looks at journalistic ethics. I looked through her columns on Lexis-Nexis, although they're all available on line at the Village Voice site. I couldn't find anything criticizing black journalists for belonging to churches that hold political rallies on the Sunday before election day. I can't find any investigation of the relationship of Muslim editorial writers to Mosques, and those mosques' relationship to stateside fundraising arms of Hamas and Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah.

Her slant on the Middle East is clear, too. Before 9/11, she accused the American media of being too sympathetic to Israel. After 9/11, two weeks after 9/11, she accused the American media of being afraid to float the theory that it had been payback for our support of Israel. (Evidently she missed the daytime and Nightline appearances of Hanan Ashrawi to say just that.)

Fear of being blacklisted may explain why mainstream media are downplaying all kinds of stories that connect the WTC attack to ill-conceived homegrown policies--from America's decision to train Afghan rebels in the 1980s to U.S. support of Israel's crackdown on Palestinians to U.S. sanctions against Iraq, which are believed to have caused the deaths of some 500,000 children.

On a column on the blurring between media & political "insiders" and "outsiders," she had this to say about suicide bombings:

In part, the uncertainty can be traced to spiraling global violence, which had everybody worried about their location. Thus, a Jerusalem rabbi told the Times, "When you get on the bus, you check everyone out before you sit down. At restaurants, you wonder, is it safer to be inside or outside?"

Ah yes, what party you get invited to. Just like being shredded by the emissaries of a pathological society. But then, living inside the fishbowl of the leftist New York escrittati makes your life the standard by which all else must be judged.

But the real victims of WMD may turn out to be the journalists who were issued gas masks and fed a constant diet of hype. By reporting over and over on a hunch that did not come to pass, they risk the fate of the boy who cried wolf--when they discover an authentic threat in the future, no one will believe them.

Never mind the thousands of people who may actually die if they don't take proper precautions. The "real victims" are going to be writers-turned-Cassandras that nobody listens to. Never mind that, in their eagerness to avoid making that mistake, the journalists themselves return to form when it comes to Iran and the North Koreans.

By Cotts's logic on Friedman, which of course I don't accept, Krugman's contribution to a public library helps support a librarian who belongs to the ALA, which annually passes resolutions condemining Israel, castigating the United States, and praising Castro's spirit of academic and intellectual freedom.

Such criticism would be absurd. Worse than that, it would make meaningful participation in civic life impossible, not just for reporters but for everyone.

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