Was Jamie Kirchick's purpose simply to get a vicious, and baseless, slur of the Ron Paul campaign onto the public record? For, it turns out, that is just what he has accomplished. by George J. Dance
Thursday, February 7, 2008
Anti-Semitism in the Newsletters?
One oft-repeated theme, in both mainstream media and internet coverage of the early-90s Ron Paul newsletters, was their "anti-Semitic" nature. For example, NPR reported the story this way:
In the 80s and 90s, Paul was involved with newsletters (Ron Paul's Freedom Report, Ron Paul Political Report, The Ron Paul Survival Report) that regularly made racist, anti-Semitic and homophobic remarks. (13)
Yet there's little if any anti-Semitism to be found there. As Jacob Sullum concludes: "Although various media outlets have described parts of the newsletters as 'anti-Semitic,' there's little evidence to back up that description in the passages [New Republic author Jamie] Kirchick cites." (18)
Indeed; the "Selections from Ron Paul's Newsletters" that accompanied Kirchick's original exposé featured only two strained examples. One was a 1987 reference to Israel as "an aggressive, national socialist state." The second, from 1989, took The New Republic itself to task for its free speech double standard: In the 80s, TNR had vociferously championed free speech in the case of Salman Rushdie, while also defending Canada's jailing of Holocaust denier Ernst Zundel for 'hate' speech. (14)
The first quote is inflammatory, given the connotations of "national socialist," but not outside the bounds of fair comment. (Some Israelis criticize their own government in stronger terms.) The second cannot be interpreted as endorsing Zundel or Holocaust denial in any way. By any honest standard, both fail the "anti-Semitic" test.
Why, then, did so many leap to such a conclusion about the newsletters? Why, because they already 'knew' about the Paul campaign's alleged anti-Semitism. How did they 'know'? It was being widely reported that the campaign was refusing to accept telephone calls from Jews!
Who was reporting it? One guess:
The New Republic The Plank Ron Paul's Nazi Supporters Daniel Siederaski of the Jewish Telegraph Agency has a story that should rile all those liberals oddly attracted to the presidential candidacy of Ron Paul: not only have neo-Nazis vocally expressed support for his campaign and form a crucial part of his online spam brigades, but one of their leaders has donated money and the Texas Republican hasn't decided yet whether to return it. Siederaski has been trying to get in touch with the Paul campaign for an explanation, but thus far, his many phone calls have gone unreturned, leading him to conclude that "Ron Paul will take money from Nazis. But he won't take telephone calls from Jews." --James Kirchick Posted: Monday, November 12, 2007 11:25 (8)
Kirchick apparently read the story on a Jewish-American entertainment and media blog, Jewcy (15). Daniel Sieradski, the JTA reporter, first posted it to the Orthodox Anarchist blog under an alias (10), and then syndicated the story to Jewcy, who published it under his name on Nov. 9 and made it their lead story on Nov. 12 (2). From there it made its way, via TNR, to American Thinker magazine's blog - not once but twice -
American Thinker, Nov. 13: "Evidently, according to Daniel Siederaski of the Jewish Telegraph Agency who has been trying to get an interview with Paul, calling him repeatedly but not receiving any return calls, the Texas Congressman "...will take money from Nazis. But he won't take telephone calls from Jews:" (11)
American Thinker, Nov. 14: "Daniel Siederaski of the Jewish Telegraph Agency tried to get an interview with Paul, calling him repeatedly but not receiving any return calls. Wrote Siederaski November 9: "Ron Paul will take money from Nazis. But he won't take telephone calls from Jews." (19)
- and from there it went viral throughout the blogosphere; these being a few examples:
Israel Matzav, Nov. 13: Siederaski has been trying to get in touch with the Paul campaign for an explanation, but thus far, his many phone calls have gone unreturned, leading him to conclude that "Ron Paul will take money from Nazis. But he won't take telephone calls from Jews." (1)
SqlSpace, Nov. 16: Wrote Siederaski November 9: "Ron Paul will take money from Nazis. But he won't take telephone calls from Jews." (12)
The Autonomist, Nov.20: Wrote Siederaski November 9: "Ron Paul will take money from Nazis. But he won't take telephone calls from Jews." (2)
Deborah Lipstadt's Blog, Jan. 02: Wrote Siederaski November 9: "Ron Paul will take money from Nazis. But he won't take telephone calls from Jews." (5)
The Drudge Report, Jan. 21: Wrote Siederaski November 9: "Ron Paul will take money from Nazis. But he won't take telephone calls from Jews." (4)
In this way, the world came to learn the story, and discover how the Paul campaign had been caught, red-handed, discriminating against Jews.
The Claim Debunked
What is not so widely repeated, and seems to have escaped the notice of many, is that the claim has been thoroughly debunked. The day after Kirchick's article appeared, TNR alumnus Andrew Sullivan posted a brief piece, "Kirchick, Sieradski Factually Incorrect," which quoted an email from JTA Washington Bureau chief Ron Kampeas:
"This is kind of sensitive for me. My colleague, Daniel Sieradski, posted the "takes money from Nazis, won't take calls from Jews" comment on his personal blog. On the other hand, he describes his exchanges with the Paul campaign in his capacity as a JTA staffer. "The problem with all this, is that the Paul campaign WAS responsive, giving my intern here, Beth Young, an exclusive statement on where Paul stands on Israel for a story we posted yesterday (the day Dan posted his blog item.) (I have no idea why Dan was pursuing his own story when he should have known DC was pursuing a story, but that's a boring internal JTA matter.) "I pointed this out to my boss, asking her the best way to address the anomaly; she suggested (and I think this is wisest), that I simply point out that Dan's blog posting is wrong, Paul does talk to the JTA - and point out Beth's story. "Which is what I'm doing." (17)
The same day, Sieradski "posted an update to my original blog post, contacted Jewcy's editors, and dashed off quick emails to every blogger who I saw had picked up the story.[...] I didn't think it was that pressing to mention Paul's statement to JTA immediately. This was an oversight on my part and I apologize for not mentioning it sooner." (9)
That in turn prompted Kampeas to dash off a second email defending his reporter, which was carried by Sullivan's fellow Atlantic Online columnist Matthew Yglesias:
"I wrongly faulted Dan Sieradski in this. He posted his original comment a couple of weeks ago on his personal blog, before Paul had replied to our request. Jewcy reposted it Nov. 9, the day after I first reported Ron Paul's statement in a short article unbylined article [sic] for JTA. Dan updated his post and alerted bloggers who had picked up the original item as soon as he was aware of Paul's statement." (20)
Well, not quite; Kampeas has the details right, but not the dates. Based on what Sieradski says, what Jewcy tells us, and what the JTA published, a different timeline emerges:
Nov. 1: Sieradski posts the "won't take calls from Jews" story on his personal blog. (10) Nov. 2: Sieradski drops the story for JTA; the JTA reassigns it. (9) Nov. 7: The Paul campaign responds to the JTA by giving reporter Beth Young a statement. (6) Nov. 8: The JTA prints the Paul campaign's statement. (6) Nov. 9: Sieradski becomes "aware" of the Paul campaign's response. (9) Nov. 9: Jewcy posts the "won't take calls from Jews" story. (3) Nov. 12: Jewcy makes the story its lead. (3) Nov. 12: Jamie Kirchick's "won't take calls from Jews" story appears in TNR. Nov. 12: The JTA publishes Beth Young's interviews with the Paul campaign. (21) Nov. 13: Sieradski and Jewcy both update' their stories. (10 , 3) Nov. 13: American Thinker posts its first "won't take calls from Jews" story. (11) Nov. 13: Sullivan posts "Kirchick, Sieradski Factually Incorrect." (17) Nov. 14: American Thinker posts its second "won't take calls from Jews" story. (19) ... and so on (see above).
While Sieradski was aware of Paul's statement on Nov. 9, he did not correct his own blog entry to show that, or contact anyone, until four days later; because he was busy, and did not consider the matter "that pressing." Yglesias concluded from all this, astonishingly, that "Sieradski's item, in short, was accurate at the time he wrote it" (20); i.e., that the Paul campaign really was refusing to "take calls from Jews" back on Nov. 1. Sullivan, however, strongly disagreed: "The assertion that Ron Paul 'doesn't take phone calls from Jews' was designed to be, and remains, a slur." (16)
To his credit, in his follow-up Sieradski also expressed grudging regrets to the Paul campaign: "I did not intend to willfully misrepresent Congressman Paul, nor his campaign, but ..." (9)
Jamie Kirchick also responded to Sullivan's original post by printing a correction, of sorts:
Andrew is attacking the messengers. He writes that both the Jewish Telegraphic Agency's Daniel Sieradski and I are "factually wrong on Ron Paul" because a Paul staffer has spoken with another JTA reporter, making one-half of Sieradski's remark (published here at Jewcy) that "Ron Paul will take money from Nazis. But he won't take telephone calls from Jews" inaccurate. Okay. (7)
Okay? As Dr. Frank N. Furter put it in the Rocky Horror Picture Show: "Okay? I THINK we can do better than that!" As Jamie notes, the press is a messenger; it cannot be blamed for passing on factual information. It does, though, have some responsibility to verify whether that information is factual, as opposed to unfounded racially-charged slander. Jamie and TNR shirked their responsibility completely.
Jamie offers two defenses for his conduct. First, "I don't work in the JTA office." (7) Indeed he does not. However, presumably, he does have a telephone and a computer in his own office; he could have used either one to verify his story. Perhaps he could not have been expected to call the Paul campaign for comment - after all, everyone knows that they don't take calls from Jews. But he could have spent a day confirming his story with the JTA (who knew the slur was untrue by Nov. 7) or Sieradski (who knew the same by Nov. 9). Why publish such a thing without checking to see whether or not it was true?
Jamie's second defense is more puzzling: "But the pertinent part of this story has never been whether or not the Paul campaign is returning Sieradski's phone calls." (7) Let's see: Jamie got a fact wrong, because he didn't bother to check it; but that's "okay," because that fact wasn't "pertinent" to the story. But if it wasn't "pertinent," then why include it in the first place?
Jamie hasn't dealt with that question, so I'd like to ask him here publicly: Why did you include that obvious slur in your article, when you did not even consider it pertinent to the story, and without bothering to fact-check it? Was it only to launch this slur, whether true or not, on its merry way around the Paul-bashing part of the blogosphere?
Why accuse Jamie of launching the story? Check the above quotes. Note one additional error in Jamie's TNR article: he misspells Sieradski's name as "Siederaski." Note that Jewcy spells Sieradski's name correctly. Finally, note that the American Thinker articles, and their spawn, all repeat Jamie's error - proof positive that they were all based on Jamie's article, not on Jewcy's.
So the questions stand. Was Jamie's purpose here simply to get a vicious, and baseless, slur of the Ron Paul campaign onto the public record? For, as it turns out, that was just what he accomplished.
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After I had completed this article, my attention was directed to Ryan Sager’s May, 2007, article, “Ron Paul and Anti-Semitism,” on the New York Sun blog, Latest Politics. Mr. Sager focusses on a different subject – Ron Paul’s voting record wrt Israel – but this conclusion of his is worth noting here:
“I don't agree with Mr. Paul's approach to foreign policy, but it is consistent and betrays no animosity toward Israel or Jews. Again, I might call it moral blindness to fail to distinguish between — or even to equate — terrorists and their victims. But it is not, in itself, anti-Semitism.
“4) So, at the end of the day, do I still believe Ron Paul is "an anti-Semite" as I said in my initial post? I think that was an overly harsh assessment, and I apologize for it. “