Wednesday 17th of April 2024

everything but the truth in international relations.....

I would like to share with you a story related to the theme of our gathering, which is being human and humanity and our future in a multipolar world order.
  Before doing so, however, I must first say something about being in-human and the inhumanity in the current world disorder, which unfortunately also pertains to this topic:
  It is about weapons of mass destruction in Syria and the obligation of multilateral organisations to work for the well-being of humanity and to protect it against war, poverty and exploitation.


Advocating truth in international relationsby Hans-Christof von Sponeck, Germany*

On 7 April 2018, Duma, a suburb of Damascus, was bombed, killing 43 people. A few days later, US, UK and French air forces attacked Syrian targets in retaliation for the Syrian government’s alleged use of poison gas. Inhumane great power politics has led to a serious crisis with worldwide consequences. Scientific investigations of the OPCW (Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons) have been manipulated and politicised to justify an air strike.
  After two years of work, a research report has now been published in July 2023, which you can consult, that sets out what happened and what needs to happen to enable a responsible review of the Duma incident and to restore the trust in the impartial work of international organisations like the OPCW and the UN. Without a doubt an ambitious undertaking.
  Now my story:
  There are four people who miraculously came together, two professors, one from the US and another from the UK, a Brazilian and former Director General of the OPCW, and a German, a former UN staff member. The four of us have one thing in common: we want to work unreservedly for the truth in international relations, which we consider to be seriously endangered in the Duma case. More importantly, we are concerned with protecting people who are victims of a proxy war, a war they do not want.
  The statements of two OPCW scientists in leading OPCW positions in the Duma investigations, who had become whistleblowers in protest at untruths, convinced us that the OPCW management in The Hague, under pressure from powerful member states, has repeatedly played with the truth about Duma and continues to do so …
  Therefore, after a confidential conversation in Brussels with one of the whistleblowers in Brussels in 2019, we decided to form a small citizens’ group that would further investigate this serious Duma issue. We gave ourselves the name ‘BerlinGroup 21’ because we first met in Berlin in 2021.


Geopolitics at the expense of people

The more we delved into the topic of chemical weapons and the Duma, the clearer it became what a terrible geopolitical game was and is still being played in The Hague at the expense of the people. For this reason, we contacted former OPCW employees and other experts to get more information. These included chemists, toxicologists, ballistics scientists, and individuals with military, intelligence, political, and Syria-related experience. This resulted in a ‘Statement of Concern’ in spring 2021, for which we invited 24 internationally known people to sign this statement, including four OPCW employees.
  The Presidents of the UN General Assembly, the Security Council and the Human Rights Commission, as well as the UN Secretary-General, have been the first to receive personal letters asking them to share the concerns expressed in the statement with the signatories. The UN response was silence. Those responsible for the world organisation, who are supposed to represent us – the citizens – had no understanding for our concerns and also did not have the courage to intervene in the interests of peace.
  It was also important for us to convey the statement of concern to the OPCW Director General, along with a personal letter requesting that all OPCW staff who had dealings with Duma be invited to review the published reports. His response was to return the envelope with the letter to us unopened. We really didn’t expect so much cold-bloodedness.
  No, we weren’t discouraged, just disappointed. However, the dismissive attitude of the two world organisations made it clear to us that an expression of concern could only be the beginning of a citizens’ initiative. The next step should therefore be to prepare a detailed report on OPCW manipulation, misanalysis and censorship. For this we needed appropriate experts and political support.
  We already had access to experts. Contacts with Members of the European Parliament were established and two Irish MEPs gave us their support and commissioned us to provide this report. This was an important step, which also provided the means to secure funding and distribution of the report. Up to that point, we had personally borne all previous expenses for the administration of our website, translations and material expenses. Until the report was published in July, after two years of difficult work in a complex environment, the cooperation with the two MEPs had to remain a secret for obvious reasons.
  During this time it was not easy to make everyone involved to understand that the Duma case was a very serious individual case, but that it was far more important to classify this individual case as symptomatic of a global conflict between the great powers and to act accordingly. While we were working on the report, opportunities arose again and again to present the causes of the Duma case in public discussions and, in a deliberately limited way, to also write corresponding articles. The big media in America and Europe had no interest in expressing themselves in our spirit. On the contrary, a witch hunt was set in motion, or rather we were hounded and accused of defending the dictator of Syria and submitting to Russian propaganda.


Attacking ad personam instead of factual discussion

Each of us has been personally attacked and vilified. One was blocked from speaking at the UN Security Council, another was certified by two ambassadors from the P5 group as unworthy of their hearing by not even attending the hearing. Elsewhere, referring to our group, an ambassador said: “Yes, and there are people throwing mud hoping it will stick.” A well-known and respected European academic institution drew an invitation to a congress on chemical weapons Convention back at the time our report was published, arguing “there has to be a balance between the political and academic dimensions” – a statement that frightens me. Another of us was attested as having destroyed his life’s work by participating in our group.
  A well-known Central European public television station last year ran a lengthy documentary on the subject of chemical weapons and the Duma, which concluded that chemical weapons had been used there – a finding that in no way corresponded to what we heard from the documents available to us. We contacted the head of the department and asked him to give us the same amount of time to present our findings. In his reply, he meant that we first had to prove that we could comply with his institution’s reporting standard.
  The head of the department received our report a few days ago. We are curious to see whether we will pass the television standard test and whether a conversation will take place. Incidentally, there were also false statements on the BBC and in the English print media, which – and this is a small ray of hope – then had to be retracted.
  Our report has now been sent to all 193 UN & OPCW member states, both digitally and in print format. The General Director of the OPCW and his Technical Advisory Board also received the report with a renewed request to the organisation to fulfil its obligations and to convene a new Duma investigation. In any case, the envelopes have not yet been returned.
  The new-old Brazilian government of President Lula da Silva reacted quickly to the report, instructing Brazil’s embassies in New York and The Hague to insist that the report be discussed at the UN Security Council and the OPCW. We expect other governments and the Secretary-General of the United Nations to do the same. Of course, we very much hope that civil society organisations will raise their voices and remind governments that organisations like the UN and the OPCW have an ultimate duty to citizens to protect the truth and uphold international law.  •




the maidan coup.....


By Max Jones / ScheerPost Staff Writer


In the aftermath of Tucker Carlson’s recent interview with Russian president Vladimir Putin, some corporate journalists offered relatively detailed analysis of the interview, while many did anything but. Most often, they dissuaded audiences from watching the interview by assuring them that “nothing new” occurred, painting Carlson as a Russian stooge and dumbing down the interview as nothing more than a piece of pseudo-journalistic propaganda. In what was meant to be, by any credible journalistic standard, an engaging debate about Putin’s claims, was replaced by a stenographic narrative that repeated the lines of the State Department. 

It’s understandable why corporate media did this. Since Russia’s invasion in February 2022, they have repeatedly called the war “unprovoked (also see herehere and here)” and characterized Putin as an expansionist warmonger with whom no one could ever reason. Putin’s explanations of the U.S. and NATO’s provocations against Russia, his admitting how long he tried befriending the West, his accounting of the nearly completed peace deal between Ukraine and Russia that Boris Johnson blocked at the beginning of the war, his clear declarations that Russia has no plans to expand its military presence beyond Ukraine, and his calls for diplomatic settlement of the war should raise serious questions for any reasonable audience member about Western media’s characterizations of Putin. 

Carlson’s interview should have challenged the media to examine the contradictions of these previous claims, and even some of the historical events that they have omitted from much of their analysis of the Ukraine war since its beginning. The most crucial among them is the 2014 U.S.-backed Maidan coup in Ukraine, which saw the CIA-enabled overthrow of the democratically elected Ukrainian president Victor Yanukovych. 

In a response to Carlson’s interview on her MSNBC show, former White House press secretary turned journalist Jen Psaki misinformed (or perhaps even lied) to her audience about the U.S. involvement in the coup. Specifically, after she described Carlson as a “noted conspiracy theorist” and a well-known “Kremlin mouthpiece,” she stated, “Tucker did not challenge Putin’s baseless accusation that the United States orchestrated a coup in Ukraine in 2014.”

Putin did not claim that the United States “orchestrated” the Maidan coup, but rather that the coup was done with the backing of the CIA. Psaki’s falsehood goes much deeper than a simple exaggeration, however. 

What Psaki does not tell her audience is that the U.S. has dedicated more than $5 billion dollars to Ukraine to achieve its “European aspirations” since 1991, according to Victoria Nuland, Biden’s under secretary of state for political affairs. The Maidan protests were originally sparked as the result of a policy dispute — specifically about whether or not Yanukovych should accept an E.U. association agreement, or as the founder of Consortium News, the late Robert Parry, put it: “The issue was whether or not [Yanukovych] should accept an E.U. economic package that involved major concessions to the [International Monetary Fund], i.e. more austerity for Ukraine, or whether he would accept a more generous package of a $15 billion loan from Russia, which is already supporting Ukraine through discounted natural gas. It was a policy issue, not an issue of whether democracy would go forward.”

Further, the U.S. government funded NGOs that played a direct role in getting the protests that led to the Maidan coup started. According to the Financial Times, a project under the Ukrainian NGO Center of United Actions titled “New Citizen,” “played a big role in getting the protest up and running.” According to the Kyiv Post, funds from Pierre Omidyar’s Omidyar Network accounted for nearly 36% of Center UA’s budget, while a USAID funded NGO called “Pact Inc.” covered 54%. The remaining funds were granted by George Soros’ International Renaissance Foundation, and the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), whose first director once told the Washington Post “A lot of what we do today was done covertly 25 years ago by the CIA,” and which has a long history of aiding U.S. regime change operations. The NED is funded by Congress.  

The NED also funded 65 projects in Ukraine to the tune of more than $20 million in 2013. Among the focuses of these projects were “conflict resolution,” “accountability and governance” and “democratic ideas and values.” Curiously, according to Monthly Review, the longest continuously published socialist magazine in the United States, on Feb. 25, 2022, the day after the Russian invasion, “The National Endowment for Democracy deleted all records of funding projects in Ukraine from their searchable ‘Awarded Grants Search’ database….The archived [NED] webpage (captured Feb. 25, 2022 from 14:53) shows that NED granted $22,394,281 in the form of 334 awards to Ukraine between 2014 to the present. The capture at 23:10 the same day shows ‘No results found’ for Ukraine.”

Further, the founder of Center of United Actions, Oleh Ryabchuck, told the Financial Post, “The Orange Revolution was a miracle, a massive peaceful protest that worked. We want to do that again and we think we will” (emphasis added).The Orange Revolution successfully overturned the election victory of Viktor Yanukovych in 2005.

Psaki also does not inform her audience that John McCain, Sen. Christopher Murphy (D-CT) and Victoria Nuland all spoke to protesters on stage in Kyiv during the civil unrest, showing support for their cause that ultimately led to the (second) ouster of Yanukovych. 

While speaking, McCain and Murphy shared the stage with Oleh Tyahnybok, the leader of the neo-Nazi Svoboda party in Ukraine. Oleh Tyahnybok and Ruslan Koshulinskyi, deputy head of the Svoboda Party, later met with an anonymous Western official and discussed how many Ukrainians needed to be killed by the Yanukovych government for the West to no longer recognize Yanukovych as Ukraine’s leader:

Oleg Tyagnibok : “I asked: we have four victims, why is there no reaction? – This is not enough. We will be able to react when there are 100 victims.”

Ruslan Koshulinskyi :“They talked about the first deaths – well, 5, 20… 100? When will the government be to blame? In the end, they reached the figure of one hundred. There was no pressure. There were no sanctions. They waited until a mass murder. And if there is a mass murder in the country, the government is to blame. , because…the authorities cannot allow mass murders.“

This was shortly before right-wing paramilitaries conducted what Dr. Ivan Katchanovski, a professor at the University of Ottawa and expert on the Maidan coup, called a “false flag mass killing of the Maidan protesters” that the West then pinned the blame on Yanukovych police forces and in result, facilitated the ousting of Yanukovych from the presidency of Ukraine. 

Psaki also ignored crucial forensic evidence of the false flag uncovered by Dr. Katchanovski as well as testimony by five Georgian ex-military members that claimed to have direct involvement in the massacre that also implicated Maidan politicians. As Dr. Katchanovski reported for Consortium News, 

“Testimonies by five Georgian ex-military members in ItalianIsraeli, Macedonian and Russian media and their published depositions to Berkut lawyers for the Maidan massacre trial have also been ignored. They stated that their groups received weapons, payments, and orders to massacre both police and protesters from specific Maidan and Georgian politicians.” (emphasis added) 

Nor does she mention that in a leaked phone call between Nuland and the U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt, the pair talked about who should make up the post-coup Ukrainian government, and bringing representatives from the U.N. in to “glue” their handpicked Ukrainian administration together. In the call, Nuland made it clear that she wanted Areseniy Yatsenyuk to be the next prime minister of Ukraine. Sure enough, Nuland got her wish, and Yatsenyuk became the next prime minister after Yanukovych was ousted. 

There is a reason Psaki’s analysis only consisted of ad-hominem attacks levied against her political opponents. If she engaged, for example, the substance of the Maidan coup debate, the narrative she ascribes to and helped create during her tenure at the White House would crumble.  

In effect, the tendency of corporate journalists to smear counter narratives and characterize their ideological opponents in the most exaggerated terms possible (i.e. Psaki calling Tucker a “Kremlin mouthpiece”) works to create a media discourse centered on tribal alliances and partisan politics. This then divides audiences from each other, into the binary camps of anti-Russians and pro-Russians, right-wing and left-wing, good and bad. 

From the perspective of the journalists who engage in the journalism that Psaki does, those are the kind that hurl insults and repeat talking points as opposed to those who question and investigate, partisan media is where they thrive. When politics become tribal like sports, it is unimportant whether journalists tell the truth to their audiences or not; so long as the journalist feeds their viewers the “right” information, even when it is as blatantly inaccurate as stating that the U.S. never backed the Maidan coup in Ukraine, their audience will return. This kind of journalistic venture does not hold power to account, or reveal the truth. Instead, it gives ideologically entrenched audiences the junk food they crave and grants institutions of power the division on which they capitalize. 

If corporate media ceased this kind of journalism and began seriously investigating the truth, the illusions that create the hyper-partisan perspectives of media consumers would dissipate. Disillusionment would ensue, which would spell disaster for figures like Psaki. With it, the once blinded would suddenly see their neighbor…and their enemy.



















"fence sitting"....


UK media shouldn’t be ‘impartial’ – but fearless and truthful    By Des Freedman


We need journalism that is committed to accurate and uncompromising investigation and not a spurious “impartiality” that hides brutal facts of occupation and genocide.

  • Issues deemed by UK media to be too controversial to be made visible are simply not being covered in Israel’s war on Gaza.
  • Since 1 February, there has not been a single mention of “genocide” in the Twitter feeds of BBC News, BBC World or Channel 4 News.
  • TV news raced to cover Israeli allegations that UNRWA staff were complicit with Hamas but are virtually silent on reports Israel coerced agency staff to falsely admit Hamas links.

The recent comprehensive analysis of British news coverage of Gaza produced by the Centre for Media Monitoring (CMM) found extensive proof that Israeli lives are valued more highly than Palestinian ones.

The report found that TV news output, regulated by Ofcom and required to respect “due impartiality”, was just as implicated in misrepresentation as its unregulated and overtly partisan newspaper counterparts.

On TV, for example, more than 70% of the use of terms like “atrocities”, “slaughter” and “massacre” referred to Israeli victims while “emotive language” on display was deployed far more visibly when speaking about Israeli, as opposed to Palestinian, victims.

“Due impartiality”, according to Ofcom, is meant to acknowledge that it would be impossible for “every argument and every facet of every argument…to be represented”. But nevertheless there is an understanding that impartiality means, as the BBC states in its editorial guidelines, “reflecting all sides of arguments and not favouring any side”.

So why has a commitment to “due impartiality” so obviously failed to provide an even-handed approach to the assault on Gaza let alone one that actually recognises and investigates the genocidal activities of Israeli politicians and generals?

Both sides of an argument

The first point to make is that “impartiality” ignores the fact that we live in a highly unequal world, not least when it comes to military conflict and occupation.

Giving equal weight to “both sides of an argument” often means accepting the false premise of one position over another – that, in this particular case, the argument is only about Israel’s right to defend itself as opposed to the rights of Palestinians to resist occupation.

This is hardly a new problem. In 2006, a report on BBC news coverage of Israel and Palestine commissioned by its then governors, identified a “failure to convey adequately the disparity in the Israeli and Palestinian experience, reflecting the fact that one side is in control and the other lives under occupation”.

This asymmetry is reflected in the CMM’s finding that TV news has promoted Israel’s right to defend itself compared with the Palestinian position by a ratio of 5 to 1.

Broadcasters can claim they are committed to impartiality but study after study shows that, when it comes to coverage of the conflict between Israel and Palestinians, Israeli spokespeople are favoured, Israeli lives privileged and Israeli contexts emphasised.

‘Tight restrictions’

Only recently, leaked accounts from CNN journalists, now managed by the former BBC director general Mark Thompson, revealed that there were “tight restrictions on quoting Hamas and reporting other Palestinian perspectives while Israel government statements are taken at face value”.

Even the most pallid version of impartiality should consist of equal treatment of Palestinian and Israeli deaths, eyewitness accounts, claims and perspectives. Yet the reality is that the news agenda all too often dovetails with the assumptions and starting points of powerful decision makers and western governments – all of them committed to supporting Israeli objectives.

The second issue is that impartiality, even if it was adhered to, is not appropriate for all stories. Would we expect impartiality in relation to the Holocaust and accept a debate between Holocaust deniers and proper historians as legitimate?

Impartiality about the climate crisis has all too often meant a sterile argument between actual scientists and climate sceptics that confuses, rather than illuminates, the issues. The BBC has now admitted that this approach was misleading and unnecessary and an example of the dangers of imposing a “false balance” on important issues.

In fact, following a major row involving one of their news anchors, Naga Munchetty, senior BBC executives asserted back in 2019 that the corporation is “not impartial on racism. Racism is not an opinion and it is not a matter for debate. Racism is racism”.

Approach to genocide

This has not translated into its approach to genocide.

As Declassified has pointed out, major UK news outlets, including the BBC, largely ignored growing claims of genocide against the people of Gaza until the South African government brought evidence to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in January 2024. The ICJ then found that there was a “plausible” case that genocide was taking place.

“How can UK public service news outlets justify being ‘impartial’ on genocide?”

Since then, references to genocide on broadcasters’ ‘X’ (formerly Twitter) feeds – a sign of their editorial priorities – have virtually disappeared. While there are 54 mentions of genocide in Al Jazeera’s feed since 1 February, there is not a single one in the feeds of @BBCNews, @BBCWorld or @Channel4News.

How can UK public service news outlets justify being “impartial” – or even silent – on genocide if they have declared that it wouldn’t be appropriate to take that position on racism?

Or is genocide simply an opinion and a “matter for debate” (at least when it is debated) and why haven’t broadcasters devoted additional resources, at the very least, to investigating genocidal language and acts as is their public service duty?

Too controversial

Finally, “due impartiality” fails to deal with questions that are not on the news agenda. Issues deemed to be too controversial even to be made visible are simply not covered.

TV news is happy to cover the slashing of a painting of Lord Balfour, one of the architects of Zionism, or to amplify the absurd claim that London is a “no-go zone” for Jews on days when pro-Palestine marches take place in London.

But there are no reports on many of the issues raised by Declassified, for example the reasons behind Israeli military jetslanding on UK soil or the links between British MPs and the Israel lobby.

TV news outlets raced to cover the withdrawal of funding from UN aid agency UNRWA by Western governments, following Israeli allegations that staff members were complicit with Hamas.

Yet not a single one of them has followed up in their bulletins reports from CNN and Reuters stating that “Israel coerced some agency employees to falsely admit Hamas links”.

Given this included allegations of waterboarding – a recognised sign of torture – you might have thought that this would prick the interest of editors but there remains only silence on the airwaves.

Instead of an anaemic and misleading commitment to “due impartiality” and the hyper-partisan scaremongering of the billionaire press, we need a journalism that is fearless and independent of the powerful.

If we are to understand what lies behind the current assault on Gaza and how we might secure peace for all people in the Middle East, we need a journalism that is committed to accurate and uncompromising investigation and not a spurious and misleading objectivity that simply hides asymmetrical power relations and the brutal fact of occupation and genocide.

Republished from Declassified UK on March 22, 2024.






NYT sewage....

By Chris Hedges / Original to ScheerPost 

NEW YORK: I am sitting in the auditorium at The New York Times. It is the first time I have been back in nearly two decades. It will be the last. The newspaper is a pale reflection of what it was when I worked there, beset by numerous journalistic fiascos, rudderless leadership and myopic cheerleading of the military debacles in the Middle East, Ukraine and the genocide in Gaza, where one of the Times contributions to the mass slaughter of Palestinians was an editorial refusing to back an unconditional ceasefire. Many seated in the auditorium are culpable. 

I am here, however, not for them but for the former executive editor they are honoring, Joe Lelyveld, who died earlier this year. He hired me. His departure from the Times marked the paper’s steep descent. On the front page of the program of the memorial, the year of his death is incorrect — emblematic of the sloppiness of a newspaper that is riddled with typos and errors. Reporters I admire, including Gretchen Morgenson and David Cay Johnston, who are in the auditorium, were pushed out once Lelyveld left, replaced by mediocrities.

Lelyveld’s successor Howell Raines – who had no business running a newspaper – singled out the serial fabulist and plagiarizer, Jayson Blair, for swift advancement and alienated the newsroom through a series of tone deaf editorial decisions. Reporters and editors rose up in revolt. He was forced out along with his equally incompetent managing editor. 

Lelyveld came back for a brief interim. But the senior editors who followed were of little improvement. They were full-throated propagandists – Tony Judt called them “Bush’s useful idiots” – for the war in Iraq. They were true believers in the weapons of mass destruction. They suppressed, at the government’s request, an expose by James Risen about warrantless wiretapping of Americans by the National Security Agency until the paper found out it would appear in Risen’s book. They peddled for two years the fiction that Donald Trump was a Russian asset. They ignored the contents from Hunter Biden’s laptop that had evidence of multimillion dollar influence peddling and labeled it “Russian disinformation.” Bill Keller, who served as executive editor after Lelyveld, described Julian Assange, the most courageous journalist and publisher of our generation, as “a narcissistic dick, and nobody’s idea of a journalist.” The editors decided identity, rather than corporate pillage with its mass layoffs of 30 million workers, was the reason for Trump’s rise, leading them to deflect attention from the root cause of our economic, political and cultural morass. Of course, that deflection saved them from confronting corporations, such as Chevron, which are advertisers. They produced a podcast series called Caliphate, based on invented stories of a con artist. They most recently ran a story by three journalists — including one who had never before worked as a reporter and had ties with Israeli intelligence, Anat Schwartz, who was subsequently fired after it was disclosed that she “liked” genocidal posts against Palestinians on Twitter — on what they called “systematic” sexual abuse and rape by Hamas and other Palestinian resistance factions on Oct. 7. It also turned out to be unsubstantiated. None of this would have happened under Lelyveld.

Reality rarely penetrates the Byzantine and self-referential court of The New York Times, which was on full display at Lelyveld’s memorial. The former editors spoke — Gene Roberts being an exception — with a cloying noblesse oblige, enthralled with their own splendor. Lelyveld became a vehicle to revel in their privilege, an unwitting advertisement for why the institution is so woefully out of touch and why so many reporters and much of the public despise those who run it.

We were regaled with all the perks of elitism: Harvard. Summers in Maine. Vacationing in Italy and France. Snorkeling in a coral reef at a Philippine resort. Living in Hampstead in London. The country house in New Paltz. Taking a barge down the Canal du Midi. Visits to the Prado. Opera at The Met.

Luis Buñuel and Evelyn Waugh skewered these kinds of people. Lelyveld was part of the club, but that was something I would have left for the chatter at the reception, which I skipped. That was not why the handful of reporters in the room were there.   

Lelyveld, despite some attempts by the speakers to convince us otherwise, was morose and acerbic. His nickname in the newsroom was “the undertaker.” As he walked past desks, reporters and editors would try to avoid his glance. He was socially awkward, given to long pauses and a disconcerting breathy laugh that no one knew how to read. He could be, like all the popes who run the church of The New York Times, mean and vindictive. I am sure he could also be nice and sensitive, but this was not the aura he projected. In the newsroom he was Ahab, not Starbuck.

I asked him if I could take a Nieman Fellowship at Harvard after covering the wars in Bosnia and Kosovo, wars that capped nearly two decades of reporting on conflicts in Latin America, Africa and the Middle East.

“No,” he said. “It costs me money and I lose a good reporter.”

I persisted until he finally told the foreign editor, Andrew Rosenthal, “tell Hedges he can take the Nieman and go to hell.”

“Don’t do it,” Andy, whose father was the executive editor before Lelyveld, warned. “They will make you pay when you come back.”

Of course, I took the Nieman. 

Halfway through the year Lelyveld called.

“What are you studying?” he asked.

“Classics,” I answered.

“Like Latin?” he asked.

“Exactly,” I said.  

There was a pause.

“Well,” he said, “I guess you can cover the Vatican.”

He hung up.

When I returned, he put me in purgatory. I was parked on the metropolitan desk without a beat or assignment. On many days I stayed at home and read Fyodor Dostoevsky. At least I got my paycheck. But he wanted me to know I was nothing.

I met with him in his office after a couple of months. It was like talking to a wall.

“Do you remember how to write a story?” he asked, caustically.

I had not yet, in his eyes, been suitably domesticated.

I walked out of his office.

“That guy is a fucking asshole,” I said to the editors at the desks in front of me.

“If you don’t think that got back to him in 30 seconds you are very naïve,” an editor told me later.

I did not care. I was struggling, often through too much drinking at night to blot out my nightmares, with trauma from many years in war zones, trauma in which neither Lelyveld nor anyone else at the paper took the slightest interest. I had far greater demons to battle than a vindictive newspaper editor. And I did not love The New York Times enough to become its lapdog. If they kept it up, I would leave, which I soon did.

I say all this to make it clear that Lelyveld was not admired by reporters because of his charm or personality. He was admired because he was brilliant, literate, a gifted writer and reporter and set high standards. He was admired because he cared about the craft of reporting. He saved those of us who could write — a surprising number of reporters are not great writers — from the dead hand of copy editors. 

He did not look at a leak by an administration official as gospel. He cared about the world of ideas. He made sure the book review section had gravitas, a gravitas that disappeared once he left. He distrusted militarists. (His father had been a conscientious objector in World War II, although later became an outspoken Zionist and apologist for Israel.) This, frankly, was all we wanted as reporters. We did not want him to be our friend. We already had friends. Other reporters.

He came to see me in Bosnia in 1996 shortly after his father died. I was so absorbed in a collection of short stories by V.S. Pritchett that I lost track of the time. I looked up to find him standing over me. He did not seem to mind. He, too, read voraciously. Books were a connection. Once, early in my career, we met in his office. He quoted from memory lines from William Butler Yeats’ poem, “Adam’s Curse”:

…A line will take us hours maybe;

Yet if it does not seem a moment’s thought,   

Our stitching and unstitching has been naught.   

Better go down upon your marrow-bones   

And scrub a kitchen pavement, or break stones   

Like an old pauper, in all kinds of weather;   

For to articulate sweet sounds together

Is to work harder than all these, and yet   

Be thought an idler by the noisy set

Of bankers, schoolmasters, and clergymen   

The martyrs call the world.

“You still have to find your voice,” he told me.

We were the sons of clergymen. His father was a rabbi. Mine was a Presbyterian minister. Our fathers had participated in the civil rights and anti-war movements. But that is where our family similarities ended. He had a deeply troubled childhood and distant relationship with his father and mother, who suffered from nervous breakdowns and suicide attempts. There were long periods when he did not see his parents, shuttled off to friends and relatives, where he wondered as a child if he was worthless or even loved, the subject of his memoir “Omaha Blues”.

We rode in my armored jeep to Sarajevo. It was after the war. In the darkness he talked about his father’s funeral, the hypocrisy of pretending that the children from the first marriage got along with the family of the second marriage, as if, he said, “we were all one happy family.” He was bitter and hurt.

He writes in his memoir of a rabbi named Ben, who “had zero interest in possessions,” and was a surrogate father. Ben had, in the 1930s, challenged racial segregation from his synagogue in Montgomery, Alabama. White clergy standing up for Blacks in the south was rare in the 1960s. It was almost unheard of in the 1930s. Ben invited Black ministers to his home. He collected food and clothing for the families of sharecroppers who in July 1931 after the sheriff and his deputies broke up a union meeting had engaged in a shoot-out. The sharecroppers were on the run and being hunted in Tallapoosa County. His sermons, preached at the height of the Depression, called for economic and social justice. 

He visited the Black men on death row in the Scottsboro case — all of them unjustly charged with rape — and held rallies to raise money for their defense. The board of his temple passed a formal resolution appointing a committee “to go to Rabbi Goldstein and ask him to desist from going to Birmingham under all circumstances and desist from doing anything further in the Scottsboro case.” 

Ben ignored them. He was finally forced out by his congregation because, as a member wrote, he had been “preaching and practicing social equality,” and “consorting with radicals and reds.” Ben later participated in the American League Against War and Fascism and the American Committee to Aid Spanish Democracy during the Spanish civil war, groups that included communists. He defended those purged in the anti-communist witch hunts, including the Hollywood Ten, spearheaded by the House Un-American Activities Committee. Ben, who was close to the communist party and was perhaps at one point a member, was blacklisted, including by Lelyveld’s father who was running the Hillel Foundation. Lelyveld, in a few torturous pages, seeks to absolve his father, who consulted the FBI before firing Ben, for this betrayal.  

Ben fell victim to what the historian Ellen Schrecker in “Many Are the Crimes: McCarthyism in America” calls “the most widespread and longest lasting wave of political repression in American history.”

“In order to eliminate the alleged threat of domestic Communism, a broad coalition of politicians, bureaucrats, and other anticommunist activists hounded an entire generation of radicals and their associates, destroying lives, careers, and all the institutions that offered a left-wing alternative to mainstream politics and culture,” she writes.

This crusade, she goes on, “used all the power of the state to turn dissent into disloyalty and, in the process, drastically narrowed the spectrum of acceptable political debate.”

Lelyveld’s father was not unique in succumbing to pressure, but what I find fascinating, and perhaps revealing, is Lelyveld’s decision to blame Ben for his own persecution. 

“Any appeal to Ben Lowell to be prudent would have instantly summoned to his mind the appeals made to Ben Goldstein [he later changed his last name to Lowell] in Montgomery seventeen years earlier when, with his job clearly on the line, he’d never hesitated about speaking at the black church in defiance of his trustees,” Lelyveld writes. “His latent Ezekiel complex again kicked in.”

Lelyveld missed the hero of his own memoir.

Lelyveld left the paper before the attacks of 9/11. I denounced the calls to invade Iraq — I had been the newspaper’s Middle East Bureau Chief — on shows such as Charlie Rose. I was booed off stages, attacked relentlessly on Fox News and right-wing radio and the subject of a Wall Street Journal editorial. The message bank on my office phone was filled with death threats. I was given a written reprimand by the paper to stop speaking out against the war. If I violated the reprimand, I would be fired. Lelyveld, if he was still running the paper, would not have tolerated my breach of etiquette.

Lelyveld might dissect apartheid in South Africa in his book, “Move Your Shadow,” but the cost of dissecting it in Israel would have seen him, like Ben, blacklisted. He did not cross those lines. He played by the rules. He was a company man.

I would never find my voice in the straightjacket of The New York Times. I had no fidelity to the institution. The very narrow parameters it set were not ones I could accept. This, in the end, was the chasm between us.

The theologian Paul Tillich writes that all institutions are inherently demonic, that the moral life usually requires, at some point, that we defy institutions, even at the cost of our careers. Lelyveld, while endowed with integrity and brilliance, was not willing to make this commitment. But he was the best the institution offered us. He cared deeply about what we do and he did his best to protect it. 

The newspaper has not recovered since his departure.    

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