[Marxism] Zionist pressure on Berkeley paper
lnp3 at panix.com
Sat Nov 28 07:53:32 MST 2009
NY Times, November 28, 2009
In a Home to Free Speech, a Paper Is Accused of Anti-Semitism
By JESSE McKINLEY
BERKELEY, Calif. — For the last six years, The Berkeley Daily Planet has
published a freewheeling assortment of submissions from readers, who
offer sharp-elbowed views on everything from raucous college parties
(generally bad) to the war in Iraq (ditto).
But since March, that running commentary has been under attack by a
small but vociferous group of critics who accuse the paper’s editor,
Becky O’Malley, of publishing too many letters and other commentary
pieces critical of Israel. Those accusations are the basis of a campaign
to drive away the paper’s advertisers and a Web site that strongly
suggests The Planet and its editor are anti-Semitic.
“We think that Ms. O’Malley is addicted to anti-Israel expression just
as an alcoholic is to drinking,” Jim Sinkinson, who has led the campaign
to discourage advertisers, wrote in an e-mail message. He is the
publisher of Infocom Group, a media relations company. “If she wants to
serve and please the East Bay Jewish community, she would be safer
avoiding the subject entirely.”
Ms. O’Malley denies any personal or editorial bias, and bristles at the
suggestion that she should not publish letters about Israel in a city
like Berkeley, which has a sizable Jewish community and a populace — and
City Council — that often weigh in on Middle East and international affairs.
“Frankly, the term that crossed my mind was ‘protection racket,’ ” Ms.
O’Malley said. “I think that is unusual to say the least that anybody
would think that they could dictate a whole area of the world that is
simply off limits for discussion.”
Whether right or wrong, Mr. Sinkinson’s campaign has left The Planet — a
weekly already hammered by the recession — gasping for breath.
Advertising sales revenue is down some 60 percent from last year, Ms.
O’Malley says. In October, the paper trimmed its skeleton crew of
full-time reporters to one from three, and has begun a fund-raising
drive to keep publishing.
Still, she says she has no intention of stopping the publication of
submitted letters, citing a commitment to free speech that is a legacy
of the city where the Free Speech Movement was born in the 1960s.
“I have the old-fashioned basic liberal thing of believing that the
remedy for speech you don’t like is more speech,” said Ms. O’Malley, 69,
a veteran local journalist who bought the paper in 2002 as a retirement
project with her husband, Michael, now 72. “If somebody says something
you don’t like, say what you think. And I felt it a privilege here in my
middle age to be in a position to make that happen.”
The paper has published unpopular opinions on other subjects, including
a commentary from a local activist arguing that the murder of four
Oakland police officers — none of whom were black — by an
African-American parolee in March was “karmic justice” for past police
killings of civilians. But such pieces are in a section of the paper
that clearly states they “do not necessarily reflect the views of the
Mr. O’Malley, the paper’s publisher, said he thought The Planet’s
critics were confusing letters from unaffiliated writers — the paper
says it prints anything that is not libelous or obscene, with a
preference for local writers — with official editorial positions.
“We publish things from people that we can barely stand to be in the
same room with,” he said.
In addition to the letter-writing campaign, the paper has faced online
criticism from dpwatchdog.com, a site that contains pages of what it
calls anti-Semitic writings published in The Planet. The site’s editor,
John Gertz, says his goal is not to close the paper, but “reform” it.
“The object is not to attack the press,” said Mr. Gertz, the president
and chief executive of Zorro Productions, which owns the trademark and
copyrights on the Zorro franchise. “The object is to turn the press into
Mr. Gertz complains that The Planet does not fact-check reader
submissions, something Ms. O’Malley says is well beyond its resources.
“We make a serious effort to get most words spelled right in the
headlines, which we don’t always achieve,” Ms. O’Malley said. “And we of
course never knowingly print something that we know to be untrue. But,
frankly, there are things we don’t know.”
Mr. Sinkinson, whose company publishes The Bulldog Reporter, a media
guide, first took aim at The Planet in March, in a letter to advertisers
likening the paper to a “publication that praises the Nazis or the Ku
“In these tough economic times, is it really a good investment to
continue advertising in a paper, one of whose main purposes seems to be
the defamation of Jews and the state of Israel,” stated the letter,
which included a cancellation notice advertisers could send to the paper
as well as reader submissions published in The Planet that Mr. Sinkinson
described as “hate-speech.” Among those was a letter printed in 2006
from an Iranian student then living in India, Kurosh Arianpour, who
suggested that the Jews had brought historical persecution — including
that by the Nazis — on themselves.
Mr. Arianpour’s letter brought a sharp rebuke from local civic and
Jewish leaders, and two weeks later, a published explanation from Ms.
O’Malley, who wrote that the letter’s content was “very nasty” and
amounted “to untrue racist generalizations of the worst sort.”
But, she wrote, “I still don’t think that keeping sentiments like this
out of The Daily Planet will make him or people like him go away.”
The fight has gotten personal on occasion, with one of Mr. Gertz’s
earliest complaints centering on a 2005 letter responding to a letter he
had written to The Planet. In that response, a Planet reader said Mr.
Gertz wore the “funniest-looking” yarmulke.
On his Web site and in a written report he has assembled, Mr. Gertz has
called Ms. O’Malley “brutish,” “a second-rate intellect” and “ungifted”
and suggested she may have learned what he calls anti-Semitic views
while growing up in a largely non-Jewish community in Pasadena, Calif.
“It never occurred to me, frankly, till somebody submitted the research
to us about her background, to begin to ask the question of, well,
‘Maybe she learned this stuff on her daddy’s knee,’ ” Mr. Gertz said. He
also attacked a regular Planet contributor as a Stalinist and called The
Planet’s readership “aging radicals” who would be “of only marginal
interest to most would-be advertisers.”
Wars of words are not uncommon in Berkeley, particularly regarding the
Middle East, a contentious topic that the City Council occasionally
addresses though it has no sway over foreign policy.
Councilman Kriss Worthington, who condemned the Arianpour letter but was
still singled out by Mr. Gertz as a “gullible politician,” said he tried
about a decade ago to devise a moderate council policy toward Israel. He
“It was the only council item I ever wrote that got no support from
either side,” Mr. Worthington said.
Local Jewish leaders, meanwhile, seem wary of getting involved in the
campaign against The Planet. The Anti-Defamation League’s regional
director in San Francisco, Jonathan Bernstein, said that while the paper
had published some “divisive and hateful” material, Mr. Sinkinson’s and
Mr. Gertz’s efforts were their own.
“I don’t think anyone in the organized Jewish community is involved in
this in any way,” Mr. Bernstein said.
Both sides met recently to discuss possible resolutions to their
dispute, but it was unclear if progress had been made.
Ms. O’Malley said the paper would abide by its mission to publish
diverse opinions, trusting what she called “the self-correcting process”
of open debate.
She also offered a possible two-entity solution to the conflict, saying
of her critics, “They could start their own paper.”
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