Sunday, January 9, 2011

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Slams NY Times for Championing Hizballah Apologists; Ignoring Truly Heroic Journalists

By Barry Rubin

Regarding my critique of the New York Times amazing article lionizing a Hizballah-Syrian front newspaper as independent and courageous, it is worth reading this letter to the newspaper by the current U.S. assistant secretary of state for the region:

New York Times/Letters to the Editor/January 8, 2011/Heroic Journalism in Lebanon? Ex-Envoy Disagrees

To the Editor:

As ambassador to Lebanon from 2004 to 2008, I was the person whom al Akhbar’s editorial chairman, Ibrahim al-Amine, hoped to upset every morning with his newspaper’scoverage (“A Rarity in the Region, a Lebanese Paper Dares to Provoke,” news article, Dec. 29).

Mr. Amine did get my attention, but not in the way he intended. The hilariously erroneous accounts of my activities reported as fact in his newspaper provoked morning belly laughs.

While posted to Lebanon, I met with the editorial boards of Lebanon’s lively media, even stridently anti-American ones, for off-the-record, two-way conversations. Of all the requests I made, only Al Akhbar’s editorial board refused to receive me.

Sadly, Al Akhbar is less maverick and far less heroic than your article suggests. Al Akhbar will no more criticize Hezbollah’s secretary general, Hassan Nasrallah, than Syria’s state-run Tishreen newspaper would question the president of Syria, Bashar al-Assad.

One of the curiosities I discovered as ambassador to Lebanon was the number of Western journalists, academics and nongovernmental representatives who, while enjoying the fine wines and nightlife of Beirut, romanticized Hezbollah and its associates like Al Akhbar as somehow the authentic voices of the oppressed Lebanese masses. Yet, I don’t think that many of those Western liberals would wish to live in a state dominated by an unaccountable clerical militia and with al Akhbar providing the news.

Samir Kassir and Gebran Tueni, who worked for the newspaper An Nahar and were killed by car bombs, and the grievously mutilated but courageous television journalist May Chidiac paid the price for real journalism in Lebanon — not the writers of Al Akhbar.

Jeffrey Feltman/Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs/Washington, Dec. 30, 2010

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