A New York Times article is expected to be a model of balance, clarity and precision. But who knew the same journalistic standards held true for ads on the paper’s radio station?
When it comes to Israel, at least, that is what WQXR-FM seemed to be saying to the American Jewish Committee in rejecting one of its radio ads this week.
But the group’s protest of this rejection also garnered support — if somewhat barbed — from a surprising corner: the main organizer of a group who protested the AJC’s role in getting the Polish Consulate to shut down a 2006 lecture by New York University Professor Tony Judt. The lecture topic was in favor of a one-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“Imagine you had 15 seconds to find shelter from an incoming missile,” intoned AJC Executive Director David Harris in the ad’s opening. “Fifteen seconds to locate your children, help an elderly relative, assist a disabled person to find shelter. That’s all the residents of Sderot and neighboring Israeli towns have. Day or night, the sirens go on. Fifteen seconds later, the missiles, fired from Hamas-controlled Gaza, hit … Their aim is to kill and wound and demoralize … This is what Israelis experience daily.”
Not acceptable, sniffed station manager Tom Bartunek in an e-mail to his staff the AJC obtained.
“First, the opening line … does not make clear that the potential target of the missile is not our listening area, and as a consequence, runs the risk of raising anxiety in a misleading way,” Bartunek wrote. “Second, the description of the missiles as arriving ‘day or night’ and ‘daily’ is also subject to challenge as being misleading, at least to the degree that reasonable people might be troubled by the absence of any acknowledgement of reciprocal Israeli military actions.”
“Stunning,” Harris commented in response on his AJC blog. “According to Bartunek’s logic, the only way to broadcast the plight of Sderot’s residents over the airwaves is to equate Israel’s right of self-defense with Hamas’ and Islamic Jihad’s right to strike Israel at will.”
Where, wondered Harris rhetorically, is the “small but influential chorus of American voices [that] has made a mantra out of the notion that criticism of Israel is stifled by the pro-Israel community.” He cited the intellectuals who protested when the AJC and the Anti-Defamation League encouraged the Polish consulate to cancel Judt’s lecture.
A quick e-mail to University of Chicago Professor Mark Lilla, who organized that protest, elicited a prompt statement of support.
“This time I side with the AJC,” he replied, “and for the same reason I sided with Tony Judt against the AJC.”
“It appears that what they really want is to impose their own view of balance,” said Lilla.
“The only way to ‘balance’ speech is to let everyone speak, not to edit or censor or pressure people. That’s what a free press is for. The station should simply run the ad, then run one complaining about checkpoints and the settlements if they are sent one.
“My question, though,” Lilla added pointedly, “is whether the AJC would find that acceptable, or whether they would raise hell about WQXR running such ads. I’d like to think they’ve learned their lesson, but I’ll believe that when they and the ADL issue mea culpas for their role in the Judt affair. Then we’ll all be on the same page.”