What's All This Then?

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Saturday, June 28, 2003
The following was sent to me via e-mail. It probably appears or will appear elsewhere on the Internet, but I thought it was worthy enough to be posted here....

Our Apology in the name of the Jewish People
by Prof. Stephen Berger,
Tel Aviv Medical Center

Following the latest atrocity in Jerusalem, Secretary of
State Powell urged the Palestinians to issue some form
of denunciation.

Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas complained that only
the Palestinian side is ever required to denounce terror.

Predictably, the Palestinian denunciation later mumbled
that they "deplore the murder of civilians on both sides."

Perhaps the Palestinians have a point, and so to set the
record straight, I do hereby denounce the following in
the name of the Jewish People:

1. All Jewish suicide bombers who have ever acted
against Arabs.

2. All Arab buses blown up by Jews.

3. All Arab pizza parlors, malls, discotheques and
restaurants destroyed by Jewish terrorists.

4. All airplanes hijacked by Jews since 1903.

5. All Ramadan feasts targeted by Jewish bombs.

6. All Arabs lynched in Israeli cities; all Arab Olympic
athletes murdered by Jews; all Arab embassies bombed
by Jews.

7. All mosques, cemeteries and religious schools fire
bombed or desecrated by Jews in North Africa, France,
Belgium, Germany, England or any other country.

8. The destruction of American military, governmental
and civilianinstitutions in Kenya, Pakistan, Iran, Saudi
Arabia and Yemen -along with the murder of U.S.
Marines and diplomatic personnel.

9. All Jewish school books which claim that Arabs
poison wells, useChristian blood to bake pita, control
world finance, and murdered Jesus; or that Arab elders
meet secretly to plot a world takeover.

10. And I am particularly ashamed at the way my fellow
Jews attacked the World Trade Center, Pentagon and
civilian aircraft on September 11th, and danced in the
streets to celebrate the act.

Monday, June 23, 2003

Someone who’s opinion I respect tells me that my comments about Oprah Winfrey and her book club were wrong, wrong, wrong.

I’m not sure how my comments were wrong. They amounted to an opinion that there is something disturbing about a television talk show host being able to move a book onto the New York Times best seller list simply by selecting it for a book club discussion.

My disagreeing reader pointed out that Oprah had always been an avid reader and conveyed a sense of excitement to her audience about books and their authors and I guess about literature in general and that this was a good thing.

Which really wasn’t a disagreement because it didn’t detract in any way from what I found a mite disturbing.

Many years ago, I worked in television and was on a first name basis with many of the "Oprah’s" of my day. To me they were fellow workers, making a lot more money , but no more or less human that I was.

To people who watched and listened to them at home, they were something else, and this would be brought home very quickly when I sat down in a restaurant or walked down the street with one of these icons of the small screen There would be oohs and ahs and furtive glances and admiring glances and awed glances and occasional approaches by people who wanted an autograph or just wanted to say hello because they somehow felt that they knew the icon personally. Some acted as though the icon should know THEM. As though they could see you, God-like, as you watched them on the screen..

These male and female "Oprah types" that I worked with, were for the most part decent people. Most were intelligent. Some quite bright with exceptional skills. But they were ordinary mortals. Their ideas, their likes and dislikes, their hopes and dreams were probably no different to most of the people who watched them on television. I would attach no greater importance to their advice on anything about which they had no particular expertise than I would that of my next door neighbor who wasn’t any kind of icon. But a lot of people who didn’t know them except as icons of the screen, would. And as I said, I find that sort of thing a mite worrisome.

So it seems, do others . So much so that today’s Chicago Tribune carried two articles, labeled point and counterpoint on the very topic of the return of the Oprah Book Club. Both pieces were mostly favorable, but referred to those who didn’t quite see it the same way and to some of the commercial tie-ins to anything Oprah does, the book club being one of them.

Maybe I can better illustrate what I was trying to say with some words from the theater and the big screen

In Fiddler on the Roof, Tevye is lamenting the fact that he was NOT rich and in the song IF I WERE A RICH MAN, speculating about how life would be if he WAS rich, he sings:

The most important men in town would come to fawn on me.

They would ask me to advise them

Like Solomon the wise

If you please Reb Tevye

Pardon me Reb Tevye

Posing questions that would cross a Rabbi’s eyes

And it won’t make one bit of difference

If I answer right or wrong

When you’re rich they think you really know

No television here, but I think the point is easy to understand.

In the movie NETWORK , news anchor Howard Beale, played by Peter Finch, has flipped his wig. He threatens to commit suicide on the air. His newscasts consist of ranting and raving on the air against corporate America and everything else that bugs the ordinary citizen. The entertainment division of the network takes over his program. His ratings soar. He urges the audience to join him in a crusade and in one memorable scene, he tells them to open the windows of their houses and apartments and yell at the top of their voices, "I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore." And sure enough, we are shown thousands doing just that.

In another scene he dreams he is having a conversation with God and asks why he has been selected to lead this crusade. And God answers him, "Because you’re on television dummy."

But then the ratings for his crazed ranting and raving begin to slip and in a later scene, he is seen sitting at a long table in a network boardroom, being bawled out by the CEO of the network’s parent company, played by Ned Beatty. And in a memorable piece of movie dialog, Beatty says:

"You have meddled with the primal forces of nature, Mr. Beale, and I won't have it, is that clear? You get up on your little twenty- one inch screen, and howl about America and democracy. There is no America. There is no democracy. There is only IBM and ITT and AT&T and Dupont, Dow, Union Carbide and Exxon. Those are the nations of the world today. We no longer live in a world of nations and ideologies, Mr. Beale. The world is a college of corporations, inexorably determined by the immutable by-laws of business. The world is a business, Mr. Beale, one vast and ecumenical holding company, for whom all men will work to serve a common profit, in which all men will hold a share of stock, all necessities provided, all anxieties tranquilized, all boredom amused. And I have chosen you to preach this message, Mr. Beale."

"Why me?" Finch asks.

And Beatty puts a hand on his shoulder and says . "Because you're on television, dummy.

Paddy Chayefsky would have understood my comments about Oprah’s book club. He might even have added Oprah to that world college of corporations.

It wasn’t just about Books.

Friday, June 20, 2003

I probably watch far too many television programs , but one that I never watch is the Oprah Winfrey show.

I am very much aware of who Oprah Winfrey is and how much success she enjoys. I’m just not drawn to her kind of program. I’ve caught glimpses of it, and like so many other phenomena that have caught on and led to great success and prosperity in the past, I just don’t understand it.

Perhaps an even better example of phenomena that I don’t understand is the success of Martha Stewart. I see nothing wrong with someone standing in front of a television camera and telling us how nice certain flowers look or what food goes with what wine or whatever other household hints the woman dispenses. But as the basis for a multi million dollar public company???

But I digress. The subject of the moment is Oprah and more particularly, Oprah’s Book Club.

I have been aware that in the past, the Oprah show would occasionally discuss and recommend a book and I gather that when she recommended a book, sales would increase dramatically.

Apparently she dropped her Book Club programs some time ago, a fact that became know to me in the past few days from blaring announcements within a television NEWS program that she was bringing it back!!!!

I put this announcement in bold italics because that is the emphasis with which it is or was being presented. And not just the fact that it was coming back, but that it was coming back with its first selected book, the title of which had been withheld while anticipation of the great event grew with every passing minute.(It turned out to be Steinbeck’s East of Eden and apparently this was to be the first of a series of "classics" that she would be discussing and presumably recommending).

My first reaction to the announcement, which, I have to repeat, was contained within a television NEWSCAST, was who the hell cares? This isn’t "news." What’s it doing in a newscast and not only what is it doing in a newscast, but why is it being given so much space and time?

My second reaction was to acknowledge the reason for my first reaction, which was, as I’ve already said, that I just don’t understand the Oprah phenomenon and that just about anything she does is news. But I do know that she’s syndicated all over the place, so, out of curiosity, I thought I would check to see who else was promoting the return of the Oprah Book Club and what they were saying. I went to Google and typed in both Oprah Book Club and Oprah’s Book Club, making sure I put both phrases in quotes to keep the results specifically focused. .


There were 128,000 hits for "Oprah Book Club," led by a headline from the London Free Press, a Canadian Newspaper, "Oprah Boosts Steinbeck" and several paid links hyping "Oprah’s Book List" and East of Eden in particular. "Oprah’s Book Club" produced 30,200 hits, led by an Associated Press story on the club’s resurrection and the same paid links

Not all of the hits referred to the return of the Book Club and of course not every search on Google using exactly the same search phrase produces the same number of hits. But there’s no question that the announcement that this talk show host will be plugging books again is big time world wide news, particularly to the publishing industry and particularly, at this moment in time, to the publishers of East Of Eden.

A lot of people will be buying or borrowing a copy of East of Eden just because it is an Oprah Book Club selection, and part of that is a good thing - the part about a lot of people buying or borrowing and presumably reading East of Eden. More people reading good books can only be a good thing.

What I can’t imagine being a good thing is WHY a lot of people will be reading this book. Because Oprah says so.

Like many other celebrities, Oprah’s only credentials as a literary critic and reading advisor, is her celebrity. There is certainly nothing wrong with a celebrity recommending a book or a movie or a play or a restaurant that he or she has enjoyed. But to me there’s something disturbing about tens of thousands of people responding in Pavlovian fashion simply because it’s a celebrity doing the recommending.

I don’t know this for a fact, but it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that a single book recommendation from Oprah creates a bigger boost in sales for that book than rave reviews published over a period of weeks by the top book critics in the nation. I wouldn’t even be surprised if Oprah could make a best seller out of a terrible book that those same top critics panned in unanimity.

I guess most people wouldn’t see anything wrong with that. To me, it’s positively scary.

I just hope Oprah doesn’t start a presidential candidate club.

Wednesday, June 18, 2003

I don’t usually read newspaper stories having anything to do with religion , but I have to comment on one that DID catch my eye over the week end.

It wasn’t a big story. A paragraph or two announcing the decision of London’s Metropolitan Police to allow Bobbies who happen to practice the Muslim religion, to wear TURBANS instead of the traditional Bobby helmet. This follows a ruling last year that allowed female police officers of the Muslim faith to wear HEAD SCARVES while on duty.

The news item also advised that Sikh members or the metropolitan police have been allowed to wear turbans instead of helmets for years!!!

A police spokesman was quoted as saying that Muslims account for about six percent of the 28,000 strong force, or less than 600 officers, male and female.

It’s amazing how much you can learn from one little news item. For example,. in England (probably in the U.S. and elsewhere too) there is such a thing as an Association of Muslim Police, and it has a spokesman named Mohammed Mahroof (strangely enough with no "also known as" cited), who is quoted as having praised the decision as follows:

"These turbans are a great tradition of our prophet (Muhammad), and striving to adhere to his traditions is an important part of Muslim life. The Met has recognized this importance and the move should further strengthen its efforts to reflect the community it serves."

Now I know London well. I’ve lived there. I’ve studied there. I’ve vacationed there. And I consider the London Bobby one of the city's great attractions. The site of a straight backed, square jawed, steely eyed London Bobby, his helmet perched firmly on his head with chin strap pulled tight , and truncheon dangling at his side, (no gun) has always made me feel a little safer in my being. And I always felt I could approach a Bobby with almost any kind of problem, and he would be able to help me.

But with turbans?? Head scarves??

What on earth has religion and religious dress got to do with the duties of police on the streets of London? And why on earth did the Metropolitan Police surrender to the ridiculous demands of Muslims and Sikhs to be allowed to wear non-standard headgear while on duty?

If it’s to "reflect the community it serves," are we then going to have gay Bobbies who only serve gay citizens, black Bobbies who serve black citizens, red-headed Bobbies to serve London’s red-heads??? Maybe Bobbies who only serve American visitors? I can’t imagine how they might be dressed!!
All that may be a little far fetched but it probably isn’t that far fetched to speculate about what may come next in the name of religious freedom of expression. How about Buddhist police demanding to wear long robes instead of tunic and pants? Jewish police demanding to wear yalmakes instead of helmets? Amish police demanding to wear "simple" clothing from head to foot? It could happen.

It seems in country after country, religion is becoming increasingly entwined with and influencing secular life. In theocracies of course, religion rules every aspect of life. But even in democracies with freedom of religion, the influence of religion in just about every aspect of every day life is so great that if you don’t pay it much much more than lip service, you can find yourself becoming distanced from the rest of society.

This the presidential primary season - and for George W, it’s the kick off of his re-election campaign. Almost anything can happen in a political campaign.. But one thing you can be absolutely certain will happen. Every political speech by George W and his opponents will have a reference to a deity and I will bet dollars to doughnuts that just about every speech will end with "God bless the United States."

No matter how you might try, you just can’t get away from the influences of religion. And it seems to be getting more influential all the time. .Most people don’t see anything wrong with that of course, but if I start seeing cops on the streets of Chicago in turbans, scarves, robes and yalmakes, I’m heading for the hills. .

Friday, June 13, 2003

As one goes through life, one encounters multiple annoyances, about which one is able to do just about nothing. So one adapts. One steels oneself against indignities and iniquities and mutters under one’s breath about how the world would change if one were the supreme ruler.

(O.K. Who’s counting? How many ones in that paragraph? If you said seven - wrong. There were SIX ones and ONE one’s. That’s with an apostrophe s)!!

But now we have the Internet and Blogging, so at least one can scream to the world in print and hope that some other one or ones reads the screams.

I don’t do a lot of driving, but when I’m out on local expressways, I usually have the radio on and usually, if there’s a traffic report of any kind, I try to listen. But more often than not, listening to it doesn’t do me the slightest good.

Anyone who drives in metropolitan areas in the United States, those areas that have multiple expressways and interstate highways, is familiar with the radio traffic reporter, and if they’re honest, they understand exactly what I mean by the reports not doing the driver too much good.

That is because they are all - at least all the ones I hear - graduates of the school of runitalltogethertalkasfastasyoucan university of incomprehensible speech.

You know how it sounds. Heavy on the King and Queen, busy from the 359 to the 443 except for six miles along 227, 20 minutes from the junction to the overpass, and 55 minutes inbound from the outbound detour on the circle road from Acheson to Topeka, an accident at 31st on the Raspberry, the inbound lane closed from, 18th to 19th on the 20th and 21st due to closures on those days. The beach front drive is fine from the jetty to the pier but slows down through parkway as it crosses interstate four thousand and twenty five and on and on and on and on at speeds that blur the words together into nonsensical gobbledygook.

Half the time you don’t even KNOW some of the streets that are in the report and more than half the time, if you’re driving on one that WAS in the report, you still don’t know what to expect. Was it slo-go or stop and go or bottles up at the junction or 35 minutes from the bend- in- the-road to the third pothole south?

Weather reports can be complicated and sometimes tedious, and even though it isn’t that important for you to know about the weather at that particular moment, usually the weather reporter speaks slowly enough for you to understand that it’s about to rain or snow or that the temperature is 90 degrees or ten below.

Not the traffic reporter. The information that NEEDS to be reported slow enough for everyone listening in their cars to hear and absorb, is rattled off like entries in a speed talking marathon.

I don’t know the "why" of this, but it makes me feel a little better to be able to scream about it here. It would be much better if I were the supreme ruler of course. Then I wouldn’t have to worry about traffic. I’d have bearers carrying me on a canopied throne, or I’d be in one of my helicopters.

But since I am but a mortal driver, I have two words for all traffic reporters everywhere, those in the studio and those who are eyes in the sky - SLOW DOWN!!

Wednesday, June 11, 2003
This may be the last word (from me) on the anti-Semitic Locher cartoon in the Chicago Tribune.

I thought perhaps the turmoil had died down and I was prepared to wait and see what the Tribune did in the future. But then I was told that it was one of the topics on the O’Reilly factor last night and today, the Tribune published a letter from a Rabbinical bigwig who is or was one of the people the Tribune consults on matters of concern to the Jewish community - and he was commending the Tribune for recognizing its own mistake!!

The Tribune has a habit of publishing letters from people with titles. If you have access to the paper, you can check it out yourself. Count the letters from people with an organization or with some sort of title, as opposed to letters from just plain people. You’ll soon conclude that the best way to get your letter published is to be something like the Executive Vice President in charge of Non Executives for Fair Letter Publishing.

The Tribune received two letters on this issue from "titled" people who identified themselves as being or who obviously were Jewish. The aforementioned Rabbi of course. And there was the legal bigwig from the U.S. Attorney’s office who saw nothing at all wrong with the cartoon.

The issue will die down soon, if it hasn’t already. People will get tired of it. People will start to resent it - or "them" - if they haven’t already begun to. (English purists, cool it. When you’re a blogmeister, you CAN end a sentence with a preposition).

But I just had to write to the Tribune one more time….. as follows:

The Tribune’s drawn out response to the Locher cartoon aftermath continues to astound me.
After approving the publication of a blatant piece of anti-Semitic imagery, you issue statements saying that no anti-Semitism was intended and your public editor writes a column saying more or less the same thing.

You publish a host of reader's letters pro and con - mostly con, though you manage to find one from a Jewish reader who saw nothing wrong with the cartoon.

Bruce Dold goes on television and repeats the excuse that the two editors who selected the cartoon saw nothing anti-Semitic about it. That statement really blew me away.

He was speaking of two highly placed journalists, working on one of the premier newspapers of the world, presumably educated and knowledgeable about world affairs and about history and about the communities that make up the country they live in, who saw absolutely nothing anti-Semitic about the caricature of Ariel Sharon, bent over, hook nosed, the hint of horns protruding from his head, wearing the star of David in a prominent position, as Jews were compelled to do under Nazi rule and occupation before and during World War Two, his eyes glued to a path of banknotes being strewn before him by a kneeling President of the Unites State, and with a caption implying that money is what will influence him to make peace with his Palestinian adversaries. He said it with a straight face and with genuine sincerity. It boggles the mind.

In an editorial on Sunday, June 8, 2003, you repeat the assertion that Dick Locher intended no slur and that you didn’t recognize one either. But in the same editorial you say that you’ve spent many hours over many years talking to hundreds of Jewish leaders and readers in order to get a better understanding of what constitutes anti-Semitic imagery precisely so this sort of thing would not happen. . In effect, you are telling us that you have learned nothing!!

Then to top it off, you publish a letter from the Executive Vice President of the Chicago Board of Rabbis who identifies himself as someone you have consulted in the past on issues of this nature and who congratulates you for admitting that you'd made a mistake.

One could easily conclude that you have either been consulting with the wrong people over the years, or that you are very poor students.

You may print all of the mea culpas and letters of support from Jewish readers with titles as you like, but this incident has left a sour taste with this reader that will take some time to go away. Maybe not until I see what kind of editorials and what kind of letters you see fit to print in the future about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict . It is simply not enough to publish letters with opposing views which you obviously should do. But you need to weed out letters that make unprovable assertions or that are simply inflammatory without substance.

The Locher cartoon is not that isolated an incident. You have published letters with recognizable anti-Semitic assertions and virtually nothing else in the past. On at least one recent occasion, you did so without publishing a single letter of rebuttal from among the many you must have received, mine among them!!

I hope the reaction to the Locher cartoon will truly serve as a wake up call to the Tribune and that it will acknowledge the seriousness of what has been revealed. Not that you've made a "mistake" but that you understand that you have editors who exhibit no understanding of anti-Semitic imagery or language and as one of the leading newspapers of this country, that can be a dangerous lack of understanding.

Tuesday, June 10, 2003
You will note dear reader (and I sincerely hope that that appellation is more plural than it sounds), that I will, from time to time, return to a previously discussed subject. The columnists who get paid for expressing their opinions do it all the time, so why shouldn’t I?

The subject of today’s dissertation is cruel and unusual punishment .

If you have read past commentaries since this blog began, you may not recognize that this subject has been visited before.

But think for a moment.

What if you were convicted of a crime and as your sentence, you would not be locked away or fined or publicly disgraced, but compelled, under the watchful eye of law enforcement, to learn the German language and then to listen to the speeches of Adolph Hitler ranting and raving against Jews and against the western powers for 90 minutes every day and then, without so much as five minutes for a comfort break, to listen to 90 more minutes of the speeches of Senator Joe McCarthy of Wisconsin ranting and raving about communist infiltration in government?

Three hours every day. No breaks. For the next five years. Or ten. Maybe more.

Do you think you would retain your sanity? Do you think maybe you would become inflicted with the Stockholm syndrome and start identifying with Messrs. Hitler and McCarthy, maybe accepting what they had to say as truthful and noble and examples for you to follow?

Now imagine that you discover that the guy next door is doing exactly the same thing. He’s listening to the self same three hours of ranting and raving, but he hasn’t been convicted of anything!! He’s listening voluntarily!!!

You talk to him and you find out he’s not alone. There are others like him. Maybe millions. The ranting and raving that is your punishment is music to their ears. It’s almost like a religion to them. They BELIEVE that the Jews are monsters, the cause of all our troubles. They BELIEVE that there are communists throughout all levels of our government, working daily to undermine our system and all that it stands for. Probably working in concert with those Jews. Hitler and McCarthy are their heroes.

And you wonder how you missed the news that the inmates have escaped and are running the asylum.

All of which is by way of saying that Rush Limbaugh is still spouting his daily vitriol against those he accuses of undermining our society and our way of life, and heaven help us, millions continue to listen and to endorse and believe what he says. (See my archived comments of 4/3/03). I listened to him briefly today. He was attacking Hillary Clinton with unusual vigor, maybe because he was upset that her book had broken the one day sales record for a non fiction work after he'd been predicting failure. It was painful to listen to his garbage, but I haven’t even been accused of any crime, let alone sentenced to cruel and unusual punishment, so I quickly turned him off.

Some may not worry as much as I do at what the Limbaugh phenomenon represents. After all, we’re decades past interning people because of their ancestry or denying them work because of some tenuous connection to a political philosophy, but in these days of launching a war because we can and because our leadership wants to, of holding people in custody and incommunicado for as long as we want to because we label them enemies, of laws like the RICO Act or the Patriot Act, the Limbaugh daily invective sounds to me like the kind of slowly burning fuse that could really launch the country into a nightmare of the kind of society that we are forever fond of saying "it couldn’t happen here."

Yes it could folks. It can happen anywhere.

Monday, June 09, 2003
Far be it for me to say anything disparaging about an American icon, specially one that just celebrated a 100th birthday.

So let me join with millions to say happy birthday Bob Hope.. May you live another hundred years.

Having said that, may I make a small comment about all of the accolades being heaped upon old ski nose? Of course I may., This is my blog and I can say anything I please. But I’ll try to be respectful.

I think Hope was a great comic actor. The Road movies were all classics. And the guy could sing too.

I’ve watched him on television talk shows and he comes across as a real person, warm and funny. And he could ad lib with the best of them.

And what can I say about his decades of entertaining the troops with his Christmas shows? He became beloved, a hero for the ages.

But what he wasn’t, despite everything being said now by those who worked with him and those who admire him, was a stand up comedian. He could read the one line gags that his army of writers created for him, but they were never particularly funny and neither was he reading them. Comic acting was his forte, not stand up comedy. He never made me laugh doing a stand up routine and I could never figure out why people were laughing.

But what the heck. He didn’t need the stand up routines to be the great entertainer that he was, so as I said at the beginning, happy birthday Bob. Live another hundred years and make some more Road movies. Maybe with Michael Jackson in the Bing roles? Wouldn’t THAT be a riot??

Thursday, June 05, 2003
Though it may seem otherwise - at least looking over recent entries - this blog is concerned with many matters other than the Israel/Palestinian conflict and anti-Semitism.

That said, I can’t resist making the following comment.

Once again, Israelis and Palestinians are talking to each other and once again the subject matter is peace. And once again, a key demand of the Palestinians is the removal of Jewish settlements on the west bank and Gaza strip.

There are a million or so Israeli Arabs who are citizens of the democratic state of Israel, who live in Israel under Israeli law and who practice whatever religion they wish to practice without interference from Israeli authorities.

There are 200,000 or so Jews living in settlements on the west bank and in Gaza. What is wrong with them staying there as citizens (or resident aliens) of a democratic Palestinian state, living under Palestinian laws and practicing whatever religion THEY want to practice without interference from Palestinian authorities?

How would that be an obstacle to achieving peace between the two peoples?

Wednesday, June 04, 2003
In yesterday’s comments, I said that I might be writing an extended blog depending on how the subject matter under discussion played out, and also that I would wait a day or two to see what else the Chicago Tribune would publish or announce.

I don’t think I need to wait. There has been some publishing and announcing and I have a feeling that there’ll be little more. If there is, I’ll come back to this subject. Meanwhile, here’s the promised extended blog.

Yesterday, I said that the Tribune had devoted its entire "Voice of the People" section to the subject of the controversial cartoon - a total of twelve letters, ten from people who were bowled over by the blatant anti-Semitic imagery of the cartoon - and two who thought it was O.K. - that it was fair political satire and that political cartoons are meant to offend.

One wonders what the writers of the two approving letters would think of a cartoon depicting African Americans with exaggerated protruding lips and bulging eyes pigging out on watermelon, no matter what political statement the cartoonist was trying to make. Would they not understand WHY African American readers might be outraged at such a portrayal?

Last night, Editorial page editor Bruce Dold appeared on a local television new program and said that he had been talking to community leaders about the cartoon, people with whom he regularly consults about issues of concern to them. While he professed to understand why the cartoon had upset so many Jewish and non-Jewish readers, he also said two things that seemed to contradict his alleged understanding.

The first was that the two Tribune editors who were involved in the selection of the cartoon, saw absolutely nothing anti-Semitic about I!! Think on that statement for a moment. He was speaking of two highly placed journalists, working at one of the premier newspapers of the world, presumably educated and knowledgeable about world affairs and about history and about the communities that make up the country they live in, who saw absolutely nothing anti-Semitic about the caricature of Ariel Sharon, bent over, hooked nose, the hint of horns protruding from his head, wearing the star of David in a prominent position, as Jews were compelled to do under Nazi rule and occupation before and during World War Two, his eyes glued to a path of banknotes being strewn before him by a kneeling President of the Unites State, and with a caption implying that money is what will influence him to make peace with his Palestinian adversaries. He said it with a straight face and with genuine sincerity. It boggles the mind.

If that wasn’t enough, the second thing he said served as confirmation that while he professes to understand why the cartoon provoked such outrage, he is really clueless. He said that in his view , the cartoon in the June 3, 2003 Tribune was much more biting, much more provocative - but that the paper hadn’t received a single complaint.

The June 3 cartoon was indeed biting. It depicted a caricature of a large, ugly Arab in traditional Arab garb identified as "Saudi Arabia" with a long rat like tail protruding from under his robe, and holding a small rat in a rat trap, identified as "Al Qaeda." There is no caption.

Whatever the artist meant to convey, one thing is clear. There is not a two thousand year history of Arabs being portrayed as rats or even as being particularly ugly and there is not a two thousand year history of Arabs being persecuted in virtually every country of the world just because they are Arabs.

Arabs might be insulted at the ugly portrayal, but not because it perpetuated a two thousand year old image of Arabs as ugly rats.

Dold didn’t seem to understand that.

Dold said that there would be more letters in the June 4 edition of the Tribune and indeed there were. There were five more letters. Two, very short, were from people who were offended. Two longer letters were from people who were not offended, one from a Jew who is acquainted with one of the editors who selected the cartoon and considers him a fine fellow. A fifth was from another Jew who is acquainted with the cartoonist and considers HIM fine fellow also but was "dismayed" at the anti-Semitic portrayal.

As I indicated in yesterday’s blog, I fully expected that there would be letters from people who saw the Locher cartoon as legitimate political satire. I’m sure there were also letters of approval from rabid anti-Semites and I’m grateful that the Tribune editors were sensitive enough to make sure that none of them fell through the crack and on to the editorial page.

I also expected that there would be letters from people who would identify themselves as Jews, and though I truly don’t claim to have any prescient abilities, I expected that at least one would also be part of what would be considered, for want of a better word, the "establishment." It turned out that both were. One identified himself as a former Tribune reporter and the other as a lawyer who, at least at one time, was the chief of the criminal division of the U.S. Attorney’s office.

The Tribune, like most other metropolitan newspapers, often uses "letters to the editor" as a means of offering balance to positions that they take editorially. They also seem to use it as a means of avoiding having to admit error in their reporting. They simply publish a letter telling them that they erred, to which they don’t respond.

The "letters to the editor" section of any newspaper may have the appearance of an open forum for readers to express their views and disagreements, but remember that the paper exercises TOTAL control over the letters it selects for publication and what may appear to be a balanced and ubiased reflection of reader opinion, is not necessarily the case. I would venture to guess that the ratio of letters and e-mails of dismay about the Locher cartoon, to letters and e-mails of support that could be identified as coming from Jewish readers, was in excess of one hundred to one. Probably more like a thousand to one. But the Tribune editors managed to select that ONE for publication.

Hey, it didn’t offend ALL of our Jewish readers!! How’s that for balance?

I recommend a re-reading of my Blog of May 7, 2003. As I said in my e-mail to Don Wycliff, I wrote it tongue in cheek, but maybe it holds more truth than humor.

Tuesday, June 03, 2003

This may be an extended entry of WHAT’S ALL THIS THEN, depending on how the subject matter plays out

The story so far:

On May 30, 2003, the Chicago Tribune published a cartoon on its editorial page that reeked of anti-Semitic imagery. I thereupon sent the following e-mail to the editor of the Tribune editorial page, Bruce Dold:

"Could you or your cartoonist explain what is meant to be conveyed by today's cartoon?

At first glance, one sees a caricature of a Jew that has been used in anti Semitic circles for centuries - the bent figure, hooked nose and the star of David. The only things missing are the horns and I'm not too sure that THEY aren't implied. Look at the head!!!.

He is encouraged by a path being laid before him by what??? The symbols are indistinct, but again, at first glance, it appears to be a path of banknotes, another prominent symbol used in anti-Semitic lore. Unless two dimensional bricks have been invented without me noticing.

Change the captions only slightly, and it isn't hard to conjure visions of any German newspaper of the 1930's.

Obviously, the cartoon is meant to reflect the glimmer of hope for peace between Israel and the Palestinians represented by the Road Map, but it's hard to throw off that first glance impression.

Maybe your cartoonist has no familiarity with anti-Semitic imagery, but surely you or other editors at the Tribune do and I have difficulty understanding how you approved it for publication as drawn!! "

Later in the day, Mr. Dold responded as follows:

"Dear Mr. Smith,

We're going to address this in a column by Don Wycliff on Sunday. I think Dick Locher intended to comment on the influence the U.S. can exert through the foreign aid it provides to Israel. I think that's all Locher intended. But I understand that the cartoon carried several other messages that could be seen as drawing on anti-Semitic symbols and stereotypes. It also implied that the U.S. is bribing Israel to support the road map to peace, but there is simply no evidence to support that. On those levels, the cartoon failed
Bruce Dold"

Don Wycliff is the Tribune’s "Public Editor" which I presume makes him some sort of ombudsman. I thought I would try to give him something to think about before he penned his piece, so I dashed off the following e-mail:

"While penning your comments on the Locher cartoon, perhaps you might want to consider the following. First, a letter that I wrote to the Tribune on May 2 which was not published, nor was ANY response to the letter from Mr. Solt:

I have no doubt that you will receive more than one erudite letter refuting Dennis Solt's inflammatory assertion that "Israelis were slaughtering and dispossessing Palestinians with impunity, long before there was a PLO." (Voice of the People 5/2/03).

My reason for writing is not to challenge this ridiculous assertion but to ask why it was selected for publication in the first place. If it was to provoke angry responses, I'm sure you will succeed. But that is not a reason remotely consistent with the journalistic standards one would expect to be practiced by a major American newspaper.

Even if the Voice of the People staff does not have easy access to regional and historical research, you must surely know that the substance of such a letter is 99.9 percent bigotry and one tenth of one percent distorted "fact."

I can understand the selection of letters about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict that have obvious bias. People who identify with the feuding parties through religion or ethnicity can look at the same historical facts and interpret them differently. That's fair enough.

But letters like Mr. Solt's have everything to do with bigotry and little to do with interpretation and it surprises me that you would publish it.
Jeff Smith

Also, you might want to look at my tongue in cheek Blog entry about letter selection by clicking here.

I don't think Mr. Locher is anti-Semitic. I DO think that people can hold subconscious negative images and opinions about people, learned or absorbed through societal osmosis, that sometimes will influence their thoughts and behavior without them ever knowing it., even though they have no conscious malice in their hearts.. It's something that needs to be guarded against. Lord knows, I have been guilty of it more times than I can remember."

Sure enough, Mr.Wycliff wrote a column on June 1, 2003 with the headline WHEN A CARTOON OFFENDS READERS. He described the cartoon, said he found it offensive, quoted from one complaining letter and included the statement that Bruce Dold had e-mailed to me, that the cartoon had "failed." He concluded by saying that Mr. Dold was out of town when the cartoon was selected for publication and that the selection was made by two other people at the Tribune who were "two of the most honorable people he had ever worked with" and "did not knowingly smuggle an anti-Semitic cartoon into the newspaper."

That column prompted the following e-mail from me, which I sent to the Tribune "Voice of the People"(letters) editor, with copies to Messrs. Dold and Wycliff:

"While I appreciate Don Wycliff's effort to address the problems caused by Dick Locher's 5/31/03 cartoon, I'm sorry to say that the explanations he offered didn't cut it.

I was one of the many who e-mailed the Tribune about the strong anti-Semitic tone that the cartoon conveyed and I got the response from Bruce Dold that was included in the Wycliff column.

But neither Dold nor Wycliff answered the question that I posed in my e-mail, which was HOW this obviously offensive cartoon was approved for publication by Tribune editors.

Oddly enough, Wycliff provides a hint of what may be a most disturbing answer. He tells us that the people who were responsible for selecting the cartoon for the Sunday editorial page, were Dold's deputy John McCormick and Voice of the People editor, Dodie Hofstetter and that these were honorable people who wouldn't knowingly smuggle an anti-Semitic cartoon into the Tribune.

When Bruce Dold responded to my e-mail and told me that Don Wycliff would write a piece about the cartoon in Sunday's paper, I e-mailed Wycliff and suggested that he also might like to consider the fact that a short letter appeared in the Voice of the People section on 5/2/03 asserting that "Israelis had been slaughtering and dispossessing Palestinians with impunity long before there was a PLO" and that I had written to the paper asking how such a letter, which I described, and I believe rightly so, as "99.9 percent bigotry and one tenth of one percent distorted "fact," was selected for publication.

My question wasn't answered, my letter wasn't published, and nor was any other letter refuting Mr. Solt's assertion.

In my e-mail to Don Wycliff, I went on to say the following:

"I don't think Mr. Locher is anti-Semitic. I DO think that people can hold subconscious negative images and opinions about people, learned or absorbed through societal osmosis, that sometimes will influence their thoughts and behavior without them ever knowing it, even though they have no conscious malice in their hearts."

I believe Wycliff when he says that he couldn't conceive of honorable people like John McCormick and Dodie Hofstetter knowingly placing an anti-Semitic cartoon in the paper, but the fact that they did so unknowingly, worries me almost as much.

The combination of this cartoon and the fact that a few weeks ago, someone saw merit in publishing an inflammatory anti-Israeli letter containing little more than someone's twisted version of Middle East history without bothering to publish a single response from the many you must have received, leads one to believe that there are editors on the Tribune staff who are capable of approving anti-Semitic material for publication because they agree - or do not DISagree with what it says, but who have no idea that it is indeed anti-Semitic, even when it's blatantly so!!!

I don't necessarily think there's anything sinister going on at the Tribune, but maybe some of the decision makers need some intensive sensitivity training. At the very least, they should be given a short course in anti-Semitic imagery 101 so that this sort of thing can be prevented in the future. It shouldn't be too hard. You could even do it with pictures.
Jeff Smith "

The Monday, June 3, 2003 "letters" section of the Tribune was devoted entirely to the subject of the controversial cartoon. There were twelve letters, ten of which lambasted the cartoon and the Tribune for publishing it. But, as I fully expected, there were two letters from people who were not offended, and among the thoughts expressed by the two was that political cartoons are meant to offend, that "interest groups" are the natural target of offensive expression and (by implication), that the cartoon spoke some truths.

There’s a whole lot more that I plan to say on this and related matters, but I’ll hold off for a day or two to see what else, if anything, the Tribune decides to publish on the subject.