Monday, March 21, 2016

For Asher: Ira Stoll's very bad attempt to criticize a New York Times editorial

I've often said that the people who constantly criticize newspapers and magazines for their alleged offenses against Zionism are among the least reliable people in the world. As a rule they lie, omit salient facts, and mischaracterize the articles they are criticizing.

A wonderful example of all of the above can be found in Ira Stoll's truly awful attempt to correct a New York Times editorial that appeared on March 14.
Let's join Stoll in progress...

It’s one thing for the New York Times to use an impending visit to America by Prime Minister Netanyahu as an occasion to launch an editorial attack on him. This week, though, the Times outdid itself, managing to attack Mr. Netanyahu over a visit to Washington that isn’t even happening.

Mis-characterization #1. The Times did not attack Netanyahu "over a visit to Washington that isn’t even happening." The editorial attacks Netanyahu for (1) bungling the meeting (Bibi asked for a meeting, and after the request was accepted by the White House, Bibi canceled the meeting); and (2) for disrespecting the president and the United States by canceling the meeting via the media. These two attacks on Netanyahu appear in the first two paragraphs. The balance of the editorial is not an attack at all, but a perfectly fair, perfectly ordinary opinion piece.

Begin with the criticism “that Mr. Netanyahu’s government announced this decision in the media rather than to the White House.” Isn’t there something strange about an ewspaper attacking a government for talking to the press?

Mis-characterization #2. The Times did not attack Netanyahu for talking to the press. It attacked Netanyahu for discourteously canceling a meeting, a meeting he had earlier requested, via the press.

The strong suggestion is that the editors at the Times would prefer that journalists, and the news-consuming public, would have had to wait longer before learning newsworthy information. That the Times here is editorializing in favor of keeping journalists in the dark is evidence of the contorted logic that afflicts the rest of the editorial as well.

Mis-characterization #3 Here are the exact words the Times used. "That Mr. Netanyahu’s government announced this decision in the media rather than to the White House is not a surprise, considering the disrespect the prime minister has shown Mr. Obama in the past. It’s hard to understand how that serves Israel’s interests."

I don't know how this can be honestly construed as an argument against speaking to the press, or an argument in favor of keeping journalists in the dark, but, to be fair, I never said Stoll was honest. Clearly he isn't. 

The next paragraph describes Israel as “the top recipient of American aid.” That is not factually accurate.

Lie #1. Israel is the top recipient of American foreign military aid. In fact Israel and Egypt received roughly 75% of all foreign military aid money handed out by the U.S. last year

It is 100 percent clear from the context that foreign military aid is the sort of aid the New York Times had in mind. Here is the quote (with my emphasis added) : "One involves the new 10-year defense agreement the two governments are negotiating, an anchor of their alliance. The existing agreement, which expires in 2018, provides $3.1 billion a year to Israel, making it the top recipient of American aid"

Stoll continues:

In recent years, America has poured far more money into attempts to secure and rebuild Iraq ($2 trillion) and Afghanistan ($1 trillion). Military assistance to Israel runs about $30 billion over ten years, a bargain by comparison. Adjusted for inflation, America’s post-World War II assistance to rebuild Europe, about $103 billion in today’s dollars, also is more than what America has spent on Israel over any comparable time span.

Fabulous. Only the Times was discussing a particular category of spending: foreign military aid. The $3 trillion we've spent on Afghanistan and Iraq was almost entirely money we spent on our own soldiers and our own equipment. That's not foreign military aid. That's defense spending - an entirely different category. Attacking the New York Times for telling the truth (Israel DOES receive more foreign aid then anyone else) and then using a distortion to defend that attack (the money we've spent on Afghanistan and Iraq is NOT foreign military aid) is unfortunately the sort of dirty trick you see too often from phony media critics like Stoll.

The Times says that Mr. Netanyahu “has reportedly asked for a big increase in American aid to more than $4 billion per year, which seems unreasonable.” The Times doesn’t explain or argue why it is unreasonable; it just asserts it. The real unreasonable party here is the Times editorial writer, who ignores the effect of inflation....

Mis-characterization #4 Here Stoll wants you to believe that Netanyahu wants an innocent little increase so he can keep up with inflation, and that the mean old New York Times are trying to deny him even that. But (a) Bibi is not asking for a simple COLI increase. He wants an increase of 60 percent(!) and (2) even Netanyahu isn't saying that he wants the money because of inflation. In countless press reports he's quoted saying that he wants the money to counter threats that will arise as a result of the Iran nuclear agreement! But as we've seen, Stoll has no use for the truth. Bashing the Times is more important.

Next, the Times claims that Mr. Netanyahu “has never shown a serious willingness” when it comes to “progress toward a Middle East peace deal.” “Never”? It’s as if the Times editorial writers don’t read their own newspaper

Here I am willing to cut Stoll some slack (see, unlike him, I value the truth.)

Is it true, as the Times says, that Netanyahu “has never shown a serious willingness" to make peace? Depends what we mean by "serious" I don't think Bib was ever serious, but its fair to disagree.

The editorial concludes with a call to involve “the United Nations Security Council” in a deal to determine “the future of Jerusalem, Palestinian refugees, security and land swaps

Lie #2. That is not how the editorial concludes at all. Here's the real ending (my emphasis added) "There are several options, but the best may be a resolution that puts the United Nations Security Council on record supporting the basic principles of a deal covering borders, the future of Jerusalem, Palestinian refugees, security and land swaps, but not imposing anything on the two parties."

Israel should put its security and capital city in the hands of that body?

Agreed, Stoll. Israel should not do that. And the Times does not say it should. The Times says only that the UN should go on the record supporting basic outlines, without attempting to force anyone to do anything. [Exact words: "but not imposing anything on the two parties."That's pointless, to be sure, but its also harmless, and its a far cry from saying that Israel should let the UN take care of its security.

Did I miss any of Stoll's mistakes? Let me know in the comments.

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