Oh, gee. Here’s Philip Zimbardo’s “power of the situation” again. Complete with “a few bad apples” and a ‘culture’ that enables them. But you know, nothing to see, here, Brian Resnick, any more than there was with the concentration camps on the U.S.-Mexico border. Even the case of the ever so self-righteous Eddie Gallagher and his narcissist-in-chief enabler points to Zimbardo’s claim—which I’ve been skeptical of—that people can resist, as Gallagher’s platoon testified against him.
Andrew Dyer, “Retired Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher Strikes Back at SEALs Who Testified Against Him,” Military.com, January 28, 2020, https://www.military.com/daily-news/2020/01/28/retired-navy-seal-eddie-gallagher-strikes-back-seals-who-testified-against-him.html
Gina Harkins, “Spec Ops Culture Sets Conditions ‘Favorable for Inappropriate Behavior,’ 4-Star Says,” Military.com, January 28, 2020, https://www.military.com/daily-news/2020/01/28/spec-ops-culture-sets-conditions-favorable-inappropriate-behavior-4-star-says.html
But rather than working to bridge the profound gap between Israelis and Palestinians that bedeviled U.S. policymakers for decades, the Trump administration has spent the past three years doling out concessions to the former, while placing its boot on the latter.
I think what worries me about Donald Trump’s so-called “Deal of the Century” for Palestine is that it says just enough of the right words that casual onlookers may be deceived or that folks who should be supporting the Palestinians have an excuse not to. Writing for Mondoweiss yesterday, Raoul Wootliff noted resemblances between the proposal and South African apartheid. Today, though also written yesterday, I find Ishaan Tharoor echoing Wootliff’s argument, albeit from other sources, and labeling the plan “a declaration of terms for Palestinian surrender” in the Washington Post.
But the 181-page proposal published shortly after [Donald Trump] spoke showed that the details of these pledges effectively made them meaningless. Any Palestinian “state” would not look much like a sovereign country. It would be completely encircled, would have no army or air force, and Israel would continue to control its skies, borders and seas.Crucially, Israeli forces would have the right to make incursions into Palestine at any time. The document also indicates that the US and Israel could veto Palestinian moves for independence.
Possibly even more misleading was Trump’s assertion that Palestinians would finally realise their decades-old wish to have a capital in East Jerusalem.
This point raised eyebrows from residents of Abu Dis, who described their home as an outlying “village” or a “suburb” at best, and certainly not a central part of Jerusalem they envisioned for their governmental headquarters. Not even Israel considers Abu Dis part of its “undivided capital” – a term Trump used in his speech – and Israel purposefully excludes it from its municipal boundaries.
Even somewhat friendlier Wall Street Journal coverage notes that “[t]he Trump proposal requires many more concessions from the Palestinians than from the Israelis” and that “[i]mportant elements of the plan have now been set in motion in a way that ensures substantial Israeli territorial gains regardless of what the Palestinians say or whether the plan is approved by other world powers or the United Nations.”
Tamara Cofman Wittes, a Middle East expert at the Brookings Institution, said the proposals fail to provide a foundation for lasting peace. “They are structured as a diktat,” she said. “The administration has made it clear that it plans to recognize Israeli sovereignty over all the land indicated for the Israelis in Trump’s map, whether the Palestinians accept it or not.”
We can also note that a number of U.S.-Middle East allies fell into line, yet again betraying the Palestinians, and supporting negotiations under obviously biased U.S. auspices.
I saw a remark on Twitter that a lot of the usual folks are silent on this ‘surrender.’ I suspect that is because really, this is what was expected of the Trump administration: “powerful sops to key political constituencies for both leaders — Christian evangelical voters for Trump and the nationalist Israeli right for Netanyahu.” It’s sickening but there’s really not much new to say.
Felicia Schwartz and Michael R. Gordon, “Trump’s Mideast Peace Plan Charts Two-State Course for Israelis, Palestinians,” Wall Street Journal, January 28, 2020, https://www.wsj.com/articles/trump-set-to-release-middle-east-peace-plan-11580221616
Ishaan Tharoor, “Trump’s ‘deal of the century’ is no deal at all,” Washington Post, January 28, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2020/01/28/trumps-deal-century-is-no-deal-all/
Oliver Holmes, Sufian Taha, and Hazem Balousha, “‘We will never be Jerusalem’: Abu Dis pours scorn on Trump plan,” Guardian, January 29, 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/jan/29/we-will-never-be-jerusalem-abu-dis-pours-scorn-on-trump-plan
Kobe Bryant was not a person I cared about. He was a sports star. I don’t care about sports.
I do care about rape and while I’m not particularly interested into digging into yet another sexual assault by yet another sports star, I can’t say I’m happy with how the Washington Post reacted to Felicia Sonmez’ tweets. Here’s an excerpt from the Columbia Journalism Review‘s “Media Today” newsletter today:
Felicia Sonmez and the tyranny of the social-media policy
By Jon Allsop
On Sunday—amid the wave of public eulogizing that followed the death of Kobe Bryant—many people on Twitter stressed that we should also remember the time he was credibly accused of raping a hotel worker in Colorado. (Bryant denied the claim, but later settled with the woman, and said he understood “how she feels that she did not consent to this encounter.”) One such tweeter was Felicia Sonmez, a politics reporter at the Washington Post. Sonmez has consistently been vocal on issues of sexual assault; in 2018, she alleged that she had been abused by Jon Kaiman, who then worked for the LA Times. (Another woman made a similar claim; Kaiman, who subsequently lost his job, has strongly denied wrongdoing.) On Sunday, Sonmez first linked to a Daily Beast story (which she didn’t write) about the Bryant rape case without adding commentary of her own. She elaborated, but only after receiving a rash of abusive messages—including, she said, death threats. “Any public figure is worth remembering in their totality,” she wrote. “That folks are responding with rage & threats toward me… speaks volumes about the pressure people come under to stay silent in these cases.” She also shared a screenshot of one nasty message she had received, without masking the sender’s name.
Managers at the Post were not happy with Sonmez. According to Rachel Abrams, of the New York Times, Marty Baron, the paper’s top editor, emailed Sonmez a screenshot of her first Bryant tweet, along with the message: “Felicia, a real lack of judgment to tweet this. Please stop. You’re hurting this institution by doing this.” Tracy Grant, managing editor at the Post, then told Sonmez to delete the tweets, before suspending her on the grounds that she had strayed beyond her “coverage area,” and “undermined” her colleagues’ work. Responding to the threats Sonmez had faced, Grant added that she “might want to consider a hotel or a friend’s place for this evening.” (At least one of the threats referenced Sonmez’s home address; Sonmez had contacted Grant to flag the threats, as mandated by the Post’s security protocols.) This, many critics noted, felt like a dereliction of the paper’s duty to ensure the safety of its staff.
Many such critics could be found inside the Post’s newsroom. The paper’s guild wrote an open letter to Baron and Grant, accusing them of failing to protect Sonmez and noting that this isn’t the first time management “has sought to control how Felicia speaks on matters of sexual violence.” As of last night, nearly 350 staffers had signed the letter. Opinion writers at the paper used their platforms to come to Sonmez’s defense, too. On Monday, Erik Wemple wrote that the backlash against her was rooted in “the ancient wisdom that urges folks not to speak ill of the dead,” which is “a fine rule for everyone except for historians and journalists.” Yesterday, David Von Drehle concurred with Wemple. Sonmez, he wrote, had been punished for keeping “both eyes on the truth—or more precisely, on one particular truth, namely that somewhere a woman was experiencing this outpouring of adulation for a man who choked and lacerated her during an encounter that she called a rape, and which he acknowledged was very much like one.”
Late yesterday, the Post retreated. In a statement, it said that following a “review,” it had concluded that Sonmez’s tweets were “ill-timed,” but “not in clear and direct violation of our social media policy.” Sonmez was reinstated, though the statement was notably missing an apology. In a statement of her own, Sonmez hit back, insisting that she and her colleagues deserve to hear directly from Baron, and noting that the episode had “sown confusion” about the Post’s values.
As some observers (including Charlie Warzel, of the Times) noted, the Sonmez fiasco is a fresh reminder that newsrooms still struggle when coordinated mobs of online culture warriors target their staff. (Baron and Grant clearly feared institutional blowback, though it’s possible they found Sonmez’s tweets distasteful on their own terms.) The Post isn’t alone here. Last year, the Times caused a mini media panic when it reported that “a loose network of conservative operatives” had compiled dossiers incriminating “hundreds” of reporters at leading outlets. (The “loose network” has since been mysteriously quiet.) For some reason, A.G. Sulzberger, the Times’s publisher, deemed this development worthy of public comment; he called it a clear attempt to harass his reporters (which was correct), but added that the paper would nonetheless be diligent in responding to “legitimate problems” raised by “anyone—even those acting in bad faith.” This handed the harassers a victory, at least to some small extent.
Sonmezgate also exposes a more routine problem: the tyranny of the newsroom social media policy. Ostensibly, such policies are meant to safeguard journalists and their bosses against the pitfalls of the internet; in practice, they often read like hamfisted attempts to reconcile competing impulses. That of the Post, for instance, says, in part, that reporters should communicate in “more personal and informal ways” to better connect with readers, but should also prioritize preserving the paper’s reputation “for journalistic excellence, fairness, and independence.” Such wording invites flawed—not to mention inconsistent—application. “We have repeatedly seen colleagues—including members of management—share contentious opinions on social media platforms without sanction,” the Post Guild wrote in its letter supporting Sonmez. “But here a valued colleague is being censured for making a statement of fact.”
Again, the Post isn’t alone; tensions like these exist across the media industry. We warn aspiring journalists that they won’t be hired unless they have thousands of Twitter followers they can mine for clicks, while also warning them that they won’t be hired if they ever expressed an opinion online. (Regrettably, Twitter followers tend to like opinions.) The Trump era has made things worse. Newsrooms have moved to monetize their reporters’ humanity (Ring, ring. Ring, ring. “Hi, it’s Michael.”) without really letting them show any preconceptions, or mistakes, or life experiences—the things that actual humans are made of. (Life is not lived in “coverage areas.”) All of which is very ironic: in many cases, trust in the press has declined not because reporters have manifest flaws, but because news organizations insist on pretending that they do not.
Yes, there are things reporters shouldn’t do: campaign for candidates, lie, display prejudice, etc. But these are so obvious—and so intrinsic to what it means to be a journalist—that they hardly need to be codified in an inflexible policy. Which raises the question: what are such policies for, really? It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that they’re a tool of management control.
Below, more on Sonmez and the Post:
- Correcting the record: Last year, Emily Yoffe wrote an article for Reason Magazine arguing that Kaiman had wrongly suffered professional and personal damage. Sonmez felt the piece contained a string of inaccuracies, and wrote to Reason requesting corrections; she also posted her letter and supporting evidence to Twitter. The magazine made only three changes. “It’s been a process of having to keep reasserting myself and making sure my own voice was heard,” Sonmez told CJR’s Lauren Harris in November. “When people have tried to put their own spin on my story, I’ve had to push back.”
- Women and the Post: Critics of the Sonmez decision shared other instances in which the Post was criticized on issues pertaining to gender. Last year, Irin Carmon alleged that the Post killed a story she’d been working on about sexual-harassment allegations against Jeff Fager, of CBS. (The allegations later surfaced in the New Yorker; the Post said five editors agreed that the Fager story didn’t meet its standards.) Also last year, the Post Guild assessed pay structures at the paper, and found that women and staffers of color were being paid less than white male employees.
- Bryant’s death: Sonmez’s Post colleague Margaret Sullivan writes that media coverage of Bryant’s death was “a chaotic mess.” Our collective handling of his rape case was just one part of the problem.
I’m having a real hard time seeing how the Washington Post protected its reputation here. And while, in claims such as these, a reporter’s competence should have little bearing, it can only help that Sonmez is one whom I have cited here and in my blog on a number of occasions.
It looks to me like a number of media organizations, but especially the Post, have a #MeToo problem. They’d do well to get on top of it.
Jim Geraghty, “The Pendulum of American Politics,” National Review, January 29, 2020, https://www.nationalreview.com/the-morning-jolt/the-pendulum-of-american-politics/