Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Maybe Distance Matters

A couple of days ago I speculated that perhaps distance matters, and well-meaning professionals such as Thomas Friedman and Jeffrey Goldberg really see our reality in different terms than we do. This then prompted an American woman with a Jewish-sounding name to reprimand me for being a far-rght obstructor of everything good that could happen in this region, but I haven't yet decided if she's real. I mean, anyone can invent any identity they wish to on the Internet.

Here's more grist for my thesis. Thomas Friedman, again, versus Avi Issacharoff. Both are fine professionals, much better than most of what passes for journalism these days. Both have been following the Israel-Palestine-Mideast story for decades. Both are well connected. I'm not certain Friedman knows the local languages, as Issacharoff does, but he has lived here. (Goldberg also knows the languages, by the way, but I'm not shooting at him this morning). And both, each in their respective context, are left-of-center in their politics.

Friedman reports from Ramallah. His thesis: the Arab World is in a serious mess, but the (West Bank) Palestinians, of all people, are showing signs of vitality creativity and general adaptibility to modernity that may yet serve as a model to the rest of the region. Sounds great, doesn't it. But then Issacharoff spoils the mood. The next violent explosion, he says, is already in the works. To be fair, he puts quite a bit of the responsibility for this at the feet of Israel, but I'm not going to argue with him here. My point is the disparity between the two journalists.

Richard Beeston of the London Times, by the way, tells that Hezbullah is well advanced in its preparations for the next war, in which it will rain rockets on Tel Aviv. This irrespective of the Palestinian issue, mind you; yet another reminder that we could abjectly give in to every single Palestinian demand and still the war against us would go on. So that's comforting.


4infidels said...


I think you give Friedman too much credit. He's been consistently wrong for two decades. His style of journalism consists of conversations with his "Arab friends," overlooking the way Islamic doctrine influences Arab societies. Many of those friends are unrepresentative of their larger societies while others are quite skilled in deception--their lies are transparent even in print. His criticisms of Israel strike me as gratuitous, included often just to show he's no Zionist stooge.

Goldberg has a left-of-center ideology which leads him to misread events (sees Fatah as more moderate than they are; thinks there is nothing inherently wrong with Islam or the Koran), but he is an honest reporter whose work contains more depth and integrity than Friedman's.

4infidels said...

Avi Issacharoff may have a different ideological outlook than I do, but he sees a similar reality, even if he favors some different policies, and his analysis is almost always sharp. I prefer his work to both Goldberg and Friedman. I read Issacharoff regularly, check out Goldberg's blog every so often and avoid Freidman whenever possible.

Anonymous said...

In according to Friedman's bio on Wikipedia he is a trained ME scholar and speaks the local languages.

4infidels said...

One instance where Friedman's anecdote or personal story works is the example cited in "Right to Exist" of the North African grocer (Sasson?) and how his views are potentially representative of the way many Mizrachi Jews approach relations and peace agreements with Arabs.

Unfortunately, in many cases, Friedman and other journalists don't use the anecdote or personal narrative to illustrate larger trends, but rather to push an agenda. For example, those like Friedman committed to the "peace process" no matter what, are happy to find a Palestinian who talks about just wanting to live in peace with Israel. They then lead the reader to the conclusion that there are hundreds of thousands of Palestinians ready to accept Israel when, in fact, this individual is either unrepresentative or lying. Sorry to get off on a tangent, but that is why I believe that so much of MSM reporting relies on the personal story or anecdote that does more to mislead the reader than to help illustrate larger truths.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the above comments. Friedman has been wrong more than right. He pushed the invasion of the Iraq to NYT readers arguing that it would spread democracy to the middle east. How naive. Though I enjoy reading his columns, I take them with a pinch of salt. He is an "idealist" with his head in the air rather than his feet on the ground. Sporadic visits for dinner parties in the the ME with friends is just not enough. Yaakov's critical evaluations on American pundits, and others in Israel, are very helpful. I say this even though I am a person of the left. Ron, Portland OR