Following Up on the New York Times Story About the Daily Planet

Tuesday December 01, 2009 - 09:43:00 AM
<b>The Campaign Against the Daily Planet</b> A few East Bay individuals are attempting to bankrupt the Berkeley Daily Planet unless it stops publishing reader opinions on the Israel–Palestine conflict.
Illustration by Justin DeFreitas
The Campaign Against the Daily Planet A few East Bay individuals are attempting to bankrupt the Berkeley Daily Planet unless it stops publishing reader opinions on the Israel–Palestine conflict.

The Nov. 28 New York Times article about the efforts of a few pro-Israel activists to shut down the Daily Planet for its publication of reader contributions critical of that nation's policies provided a fair introduction to the story but failed to fully elucidate the nature of the campaign. 

Though the first stirrings of this censorship campaign began several years ago, it did not begin in earnest until this year, when PR professional Jim Sinkinson began a more organized and deliberate campaign to intimidate advertisers. The Planet first alerted its readership to Sinkinson's efforts in a March 19 editorial.  

The paper followed up with a June 4 story by Richard Brenneman that looked at the three principal players and documented the intimidation felt by advertisers—most of them local business owners, many with little or no knowledge of the Israel-Palestine conflict.  

The story was accompanied by multiple sidebars, looking at the amount of commentary on the subject (just 5 percent of the paper's opinion submissions over a two-year period focused on Israel-Palestine, roughly two thirds of which could be considered critical of Israel, and most submissions on both sides were written by Jews); Sinkinson's ties to FLAME (Facts and Logic About the Middle East), an organization run by Daniel Pipes and Gerardo Joffe, with a long history of intimidation and smear tactics in the defense of right-wing Israeli policies; John Gertz's red-baiting of Planet columnist Conn Hallinan; Dan Spitzer's elusiveness; the involvement of Sanne DeWitt and her Israel Action Committee of the East Bay; Gertz and Spitzer's effort to libel opinion-page contributor Joseph Anderson by falsely attributing anti-Semitic hate speech to him with fabricated quotes published online; and the fact that Sinkinson's company hosts an annual conference that coaches PR people on how to influence the media, and that this year's high-profile participants included Dan Rather and three New York Times staffers—health reporter Tara Parker Pope, Assistant Business Finance Editor Andrew Ross Sorkin and Blog and Technology Editor Saul Hansell—as well as editors from many other media outlets, including Newsweek, the Wall Street Journal, and the Associated Press.  

Blogger Hamilton Nolan commented on the irony of a media relations guru's opposition to free speech in a recent post on Gawker.  

Former Daily Planet reporter Richard Brenneman also penned a response to the Times story.  

Sinkinson's campaign persisted after the June 4 Planet story. One of his missives to advertisers selectively quoted from a letter to the Planet from the East Bay Council of Rabbis. Sinkinson excised a few lines from the letter where the council made plain their opposition to his campaign, leaving advertisers to believe that the East Bay's greater Jewish community supported his efforts. The council of rabbis, which includes Sinkinson's own rabbi, responded with indignation, characterizing Sinkinson's misuse of the letter as "deeply disturbing." 

The New York Times article failed to mention this or the fact that Sinkinson is a director of FLAME, as documented in our June 4 story. Thus the statement in the Times story that the organized Jewish community is not involved in his campaign is only partially correct, as the organized right-wing Zionist Jewish community clearly is.  

It also failed to mention that many Jews have condemned the actions of these men, and that more than 100 local Jews signed their names to an advertisement in support of the paper and in opposition to any effort to censor its opinion pages.  

Nor did the story mention that Gertz himself was a frequent contributor to the Planet's opinion pages for years. The paper gave much space to his views, including his criticisms of those—Jews and gentiles alike—who would criticize Israel, and only banned him from its pages once he began to threaten lawsuits and vowed to shut down the paper.  

The bottom line, stated nowhere in the Times article, is that this is a political dispute, not a moral one. Gertz, Sinkinson and Spitzer and other like-minded Israel supporters may couch their arguments in terms of Judaism, claiming that Israel's critics are anti-Semitic, but what they are really defending is a political ideology, and the efforts of these three men to shut down or "reform" the paper are, purely and simply, a form of McCarthyism—an attempt to stifle the flow of information and opinion which does not line up with their own political beliefs. Substitute the name of any other nation for Israel and the nature of this censorship campaign—a small band of ideologues attempting to shut down open discussion of a foreign power's policies—is made frightfully clear.  

And as for morality, hiding behind notions of Jewish identity and the long, tragic history of anti-Semitism to further a political agenda is the height of cynicism.