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Glenn Greenwald v. Journalism

At Salon, Glenn Greenwald derides a silly water pistol get-together over the weekend, hosted by Joe Biden and featuring numerous journalistic luminaries, as typical of the incestuous cesspool DC has become, yadda yadda. 

I won’t add anything to (or detract anything from) his overall theory of how Supersoakers corrupt the national fabric, except to say that it seems a monumental waste of time — both the get-together, and Greenwald’s shock, shock that it goes on.

This leapt out though:

Today, The Atlantic’s Marc Ambinder, who often passes along White House thinking under the cover of anonymity, confesses that he, too, attended the water party, and also posted a short video he took of Rahm Emanuel frolicking with a squirt gun along with party participants Wolf Blitzer (the former AIPAC official and current CNN anchor) and The New York Times’ David Sanger (who faithfully regurgitates every administration fear-mongering claim regarding the Iranian nuclear program).

Good Lord. 

A number of years ago — more than seven — when I was at AP’s Washington bureau, a good friend who was working then for a pro-Arab outfit called me and asked about openings. The advocacy outfit (for reasons having nothing to do with ideology) was driving my friend, a former journalist, nuts. My friend had asked other AP insiders for references, and they had declined — because of my friend’s employment at an advocacy group. I said, go ahead, say I recommended you.

My boss at the time gave my friend the short shrift, saying AP needed at least three years distance from an advocacy group before hiring someone.

I knew of the policy, and I knew this would earn me a black mark with the boss, but I didn’t care. First, it irked me that this was a Washington rule, not one that was AP-wide — I can’t even remember how many staffers came to the Jerusalem bureau from groups that were implanted firmly on both sides of the conflict.

More to the point, it was self defeating. My friend had Arabic,  a depth of knowledge about the conflict and a Rolodex to die for — never mind a proven record of objectivity in the previous incarnation as a journalist. My friend would have been an asset.

I’ve blathered elsewhere about the utility of hiring people on both sides of an issue — people who are connected have a deeper understanding about what drives a conflict. And once they become journalists, they answer to their employers only, or they eventually get fired.

Blitzer’s a good example. He worked at AIPAC, yes, and then at the Jerusalem Post — and he knows what questions to ask. I googled his name and Israeli ambassador Michael Oren’s, and this was the first full transcript to hit. I’ve been watching Blitzer for years, and it’s typical.

He presses Oren on differences between the Obama and Netanyahu administrations — believe me, a narrative that AIPAC does not like to see peddled —  on Iran and on the peace process. And he expresses skepticism about the utility of a military strike, or even sanctions, on Iran — again, not a popular speculative among the pro-Israel lot here:

BLITZER: I guess the question is, is the government of Israel and the Obama administration on the same page as far as Iran is concerned?

OREN: We agree with a great number of things with the Obama administration. We agree…

BLITZER: What don’t you — what don’t you agree with? 

OREN: Well, let me talk about what we agree on first. 

What we agree on, that the goal is the end and complete cessation of uranium enrichment on Iranian soil. We agree that, if the Iranians do not accept a compromise package, that then the United States will join with the international community, with like-minded states, in developing, devising and imposing these crippling sanctions on the Iranian economy. 

We are very much on the same page on all of those issues. 

BLITZER: Where aren’t you on the same page? 

OREN: I don’t think there are major differences between us on this. I think we’re now reexamining how we’re going to proceed to imposing these sanctions, and we’re closely communicating with and cooperating with the Obama administration. 

BLITZER: Because, in recent years, there have been differences as far as the intelligence assessment of the U.S. government and the Israeli government as to how close Iran is to actually possessing a nuclear bomb. 

OREN: I think we’re very closely communicating and cooperating on all of these issues. And our assessments are very, very similar. 

(CROSSTALK) 

BLITZER: Is your intelligence the same as the U.S. assessment?

OREN: Our assessments are very similar. 

BLITZER: There’s another story in "The New York Times" today — you probably saw it on the front page — about these secret tunnels. 

And take a look behind you. You see that picture there, Ahmadinejad wearing the hardhat in the front there.

OREN: Right. 

BLITZER: He visited a tunnel. This is not necessarily a tunnel where they’re having some nuclear facilities. But it would be deep underground. 

Does Israel have the capability to destroy Iranian nuclear facilities in these deep underground tunnels? 

OREN: Wolf, we’re nowhere near that point now. We’re focused now on sanctions, not on destroying tunnels. We’re focused on getting these sanctions up and running and to assessing their impact.

BLITZER: And you really believe these sanctions can change the government of Iran? 

OREN: We believe that the sanctions can be effective. We are interested in seeing the degree to which the other important factors and actors in the international community will cooperate. 

I think there’s a growing awareness on the part of all international actors — the Russians, the Chinese — that Iran poses a threat, not just to Israel and the Middle East, but poses a threat to world peace. There are greater indications that the Russians are willing to come aboard. The working assumption is, if the Russians come aboard, the Chinese will not want to remain ashore. And we’re hopeful that the sanctions can prove effective.

Blitzer, as a young man, was interested enough in the Middle East to join a pro-Israel advocacy group. He soon decided he liked it better covering the issue as a journalist.

And thirty-five years later, he has accrued enough experience to question whether an Iran strike would work, whether sanctions would be effective.

And yet, thirty-five years later, Greenwald is still making an issue of his past. 

Were this to become the prevailing culture ("Are you now or have you ever been an advocate?"), we would have know-nothings running this business. Folks familiar with the Arab story would stand the same chance of getting into journalism (and who wants to get in anyway? but that’s another lament) as folks with experience of the Jewish/Israeli side of the story: zilch.

Whom, exactly, does this serve?

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