When I was about three years old, I called a woman in the car with me a “fathead.” My mother was mortified. Thirty-four years later she, and I, have not forgotten the incident. There are certain things one does not say in my family and this was definitely one of them.
On Dec. 7, 2006, CNN journalist Glenn Beck savaged President Jimmy Carter’s important new book, Palestine Peace Not Apartheid, despite clearly not having given it a close read. In the course of his diatribe he referred to President Carter as a “fathead.” Time was that an employee would be fired on the spot for such a transgression. Had my mother or father run CNN and been listening I am quite certain that Beck would have been pulled from the set and a sincere apology offered to viewers within minutes. Clearly, no real standards exist at CNN.
Apparently, if an individual — even a former president — speaks out for Palestinian rights on CNN just about anything can be said against him or her.
Of course, Beck does not just stop with the Palestinians. He spends most of his time vilifying Muslims, including Rep.-elect Keith Ellison, with no repercussions from his employer. He is contributing not just to a coarsening of American political discourse, but to a climate in which Muslims in this country have every right to be worried each time they step out the front door. This is not the America I love. But apparently it is an America with which a growing number of television viewers, and television executives, are comfortable.
On Dec. 3, a right-wing organization named CAMERA (Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America) posted an article by Tamar Sternthal regarding a recent interview of Carter. Sternthal suggested Carter was “losing his mind” and perhaps showing signs of “senility.” Journalists from The New York Times and Boston Globe failed to report on this despite being provided with the information.
On Tuesday, CAMERA will join with dozens of other organizations comprising the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations to welcome Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Avigdor Lieberman to New York. There is no indication that CAMERA will be censured at this time and little indication that more than a handful of attendees will challenge Lieberman on his anti-Arab racism.
The Conference has an opportunity to address two serious errors of judgment:
1) the abusive language directed at a former American president by a member organization; and
2) the decision to abet the career development of Israel’s leading bigot.
Neither step is likely.
CAMERA has recently stripped the original language from Sternthal’s article, but no apology can be found on its website. More journalists should be exposing the over-the-top rhetoric of CAMERA and the demagoguery of Lieberman if Americans are to more fully understand the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Simultaneously, journalists can highlight the positive work of numerous Arab American organizations to expose the bigotry of Lieberman and the outspoken criticism offered by Americans for Peace Now, a Jewish peace organization.
Instead, in 2006 we mostly have silence on the visit of a racist from Israel and silence on the ugly broadsides leveled at President Carter by both Glenn Beck and CAMERA.
One possible corrective step is for thousands of Georgians to protest outside CNN in Atlanta in defense of the former president and in opposition to such ugly language from Beck. In New York with the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations it will be vitally important for concerned New Yorkers to gather outside the event and insist that attendees challenge Lieberman on his racism.
Friday night I found quite a few Saban Center for Middle East Policy dinner guests to be in agreement with my assertion outside the State Department that Lieberman is a racist who should be confronted on his views. Then, Sunday morning on the steps of the Ritz-Carlton in Washington, DC, absolutely nobody tried to contradict me when I told Lieberman to his face several times that he is a racist.
And indeed he is, even if the mainstream media fail to push the story.
Michael F. Brown is a former executive director of Partners for Peace. He is on the Board of Interfaith Peace-Builders.