Saturday, May 21, 2005

The Ithaca Journal Lays an Egg

Three weeks ago, the Ithaca (N.Y) Journal ran an anti-Semitic, Israel-bashing diatribe in the guise of a "Mother's Day column" by a local loon named Sandy Wold. Her comments became emblematic of the casual, almost knee-jerk anti-Semitism that is growing fashionable in some circles. Wold issued a non-apology apology, but one very important party to the mess remained silent: the Ithaca Journal.

What were its editors doing when Wold was ranting that "Zionist Jews in Israel have occupied Palestinian land in the name of God and victimhood"? Was it OK with them that a "guest columnist" had used Mother's Day to lash out at Jews? The Journal--a member of the mammoth Gannett chain--said nothing publicly, but Journal publisher James Fogler assured one reader in an email, a copy of which was sent to me, that he had spoken to the opinion page editor and "trust me, this will NOT happen again!"

Well, don't be so sure about that. The Journal finally broke its silence today. It published an apology from Wold, an op-ed piece in response, and a series of angry letters. OK, three weeks late--but basically a responsible reaction to this act of editorial goofiness by the Journal.

All is well and good until you come to the editorial. And it is so arrogant and infuriating in its cluelessness, so brain-dead in its stupidity, that it does a good job of detracting from all the other good stuff the Journal ran today.

The Journal, you see, sees nothing wrong with running an anti-Semitic diatribe in the form of a Mother's Day Column. Instead of acknowledging that it made a fairly big goof--as the publisher himself acknowledged--the Journal wrapped itself in the First Amendment. In a patronizing editorial that airily does not even mention the Wold embarassment, the Journal presented itself as a Zenger-like hero in a "freedom of speech" issue, and as a highly evolved example of the European Enlightenment in all its glory, facing down the forces of darkness.

I'm not making this up. Here's the beginning of this editorial, entitled, "Free Speech: Nothing Off the Table":

Wherever you are, if you're reading this, the European Enlightenment plays an important role in your life. After centuries of intellectual darkness, brutal religious repression and an even more brutal feudal society on that continent,
great minds on many fronts started to think there had to be a better way.
From Francis Bacon and Rene Descartes on through John Locke and Francois Voltaire, the ideas that changed the Western world poured forth, including this famous gem written by a biographer of Voltaire to sum up one of that great mind's tenents:
"I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."

I swear. That is how these guys defend an anti-Semitic Mother's Day column. It gets worse: "Among the core principals [sic] that fought their way from heresy to self-evident truth during the centuries of the Enlightenment was the notion that people are rational, that when presented with arguments and evidence from all sides, people are capable of finding fact. This is how the great American stepchild of the Enlightenment, Thomas Jefferson, put it: "Truth is the proper and sufficient antagonist to error, and has nothing to fear ...."

Excuse me? What has any of this got to do with your mistake? It's really simple: You guys weren't paying very close attention, so you let somebody make a casual, ignorant, anti-Semitic remark in a Mother's Day column. Any competent editor would have cut out those remarks--not because the editor was "against free speech" or "unenlightened," but because the remarks simply didn't belong there. If a competent editor had mistakenly allowed those remarks to go through, he would have issued a prompt apology.

I don't think the Journal is run by anti-Semites--simply incompetent journalists who haven't learned that when you make a mistake you admit it and move on.

One thing I will say about the editors of the Journal--they have lived up to the traditions of one of the outstanding dairy farming regions of this nation. Given half a chance, they have well and truly laid an egg.