Independent News as Vehicle for Character Assassination

Common decency demands that when someone slanders you in a public forum that you should have the right to respond in that same forum.

TRNN is an independent news network that provides thought-provoking news, analysis, and commentary. TRNN is much more than news headlines. For the greatest part, news events are reported in context and with relevant background information. This distinguishes TRNN very much from state and corporate media news. In addition, TRNN senior editor Paul Jay is very adept at playing devil’s advocate, laying out the corporate media/government line whereby guest analysts can probe and expose propaganda and disinformation.

Since criticizing the corporate media is very much like flogging a dead horse and because getting the real news out there is so important, I tend to focus my media criticism on TRNN. For instance, I criticized TRNN for parroting a corporate-state media message about North Korea (without providing relevant background information).1 Its US electoral coverage in 2008 and 2012 was fundamentally anti-democratic because of its inordinate focus on the evilist parties rather than alloting equal coverage to all parties (albeit third party coverage did increase from 2008 to 2012).

Recently TRNN has been presenting a series called “Reality Asserts Itself.” Some fine insight has been provided by Chris Hedges, Vijay Prashad, and Max Blumenthal. However, in a recent installment of the show, Blumenthal engaged in, what can best be described as, character assassination. Blumenthal’s target was the jazz musician/author Gilad Atzmon.2

At the beginning of the segment, Jay stated “some criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic.” Jay provided no examples of this. I am failing to see how criticism of a state can be construed as anti-the people. If someone criticizes the Canadian state, should he also be construed as anti-Canadian? I have heard of people who criticized the United States subsequently being denounced as anti-American, but outside of the examples of criticizing Israel or the US, have I seldom, if ever, encountered charges of being anti-the people because of criticizing the people’s state. Maybe what Jay claims could be true, but as its stands, what he has said is just an assertion.3

Blumenthal responded “some who criticize Israel are anti-Semites.” This is likeliest true. And Jay agreed.

Blumenthal continued, charging that some of Israel’s critics are neo-fascists, racists, Islomophobic, and fearful of the Other.

Then Blumenthal launched into his character assassination of Gilad Atzmon “who,” claims Blumenthal, “pretends to be an anti-Zionist but is actually just pure anti-Semitic.” Without specific examples, Blumenthal’s charge amounts to pure ad hominem. Ad hominem, as Israel critic Noam Chomsky argued, is a despicable tactic:

If someone calls you an anti-Semite, what can you say? I’m not an anti-Semite? If someone says you’re a racist, you’re a Nazi or something, you always lose. The person who throws the mud always wins because there is no way of responding to such charges.4

There’s something unsettling and peculiar in denouncing racism (holding derogatory opinions or beliefs about the entirety of a particular group – ethnic, religious, gender, national, etc.) and then engaging in, what can be labeled as, personism (holding derogatory opinions about a person based on who one believes – as opposed to knows — that person is).

Jay appeared caught-off-guard by Blumenthal’s calumny; he left the character assassination unchallenged, and he quickly moved on to the next topic.

Atzmon says Blumentahl has not read his book,5 The Wandering Who.6 ‎ Since Blumenthal did not provide evidence for his ad hominem other than hearsay, his acerbic position is mired in epistemological quicksand.

Jay also allowed his guest to denigrate historical revisionists — Holocaust deniers Blumenthal calls them. That might also be more ad hominem. The right to challenge the historical record and narrative must be inalienable, otherwise history risks becoming mere propaganda.7 Nonetheless, Blumenthal did proffer an explanation for his attack noting that historical revisionists told him they dislike Jews because they are liberals.

I have read Atzmon’s book. Unless it is racist to explore the relations among Jews and how they integrate or separate from others, view the Other, accept or oppose occupation, then the book is not anti-Semitic. There is a certain tribalism among Jews. This is true among many groups except the tribalism takes the form of allegiance to a nation state (referred to as patriotism) rather than to a pseudo ethnic/religious affiliation.

I do not need to defend Atzmon; he can do that quite well himself. What I will call for is Atzmon’s right to defend himself in the same forum.

Does TRNN want a free thinking viewership who consider the facts, analysis, and conclusions presented and arrive at their own reason-based conclusions after examining, discussing with others, cogitating over the facts, and testing the cogency of the logic? Or does TRNN want viewers who uncritically accept what is said on their reports as gospel? It must not be the latter as this would thoroughly undermine the raison d’être of the Real News.

Consequently, since TRNN has allowed its program to be used as a vehicle for character assassination, it is incumbent on an ethical, professional, self-respecting, viewer-respecting news organization to allow the maligned Gilad Atzmon a chance at an on-air rebuttal.

  1. See Kim Petersen, “Independent Media as Mouthpiece for Centers of Power,” Dissident Voice, 28 May 2010. []
  2. See “Israel, Anti-Semitism, and Negotiations Without End,” TRNN, 22 August 2013. []
  3. During this episode of “Reality Asserts Itself,” Jay and Blumental both disdained, and rightfully so, anti-Semitism, anti-Arabism, Islamophobia, Zionism, and racism in general. []
  4. From Mark Achbar and Peter Wintonick’s documentary Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media NFB, 1992. Cited in Kim Petersen, “Anti,” Dissident Voice, 6 April 2004. []
  5. Gilad Atzmon, “Max Blumenthal on Anti Semitism, Neo Fascists and Gilad Atzmon (Amusing As Well As Tragic),” 22 August 2013. []
  6. See review. []
  7. See Kim Petersen, “Progressivism, Skepticism, and Historical Revisionism: The Inalienable Right to Question History,” Dissident Voice, 19 December 2005. []

Kim Petersen is co-editor of Dissident Voice. He can be reached at: kim@dissidentvoice.org. Read other articles by Kim.