How the media works: David Makovsky on the non-existent AIPAC 800-lb gorilla

On my way into work today I was listening to an NPR promo spot with the catch phrase “no rant, no slant” — the implication being that NPR is above partisan wrangling that one sees on FOX News or MSNBC.  Well, that’s certainly refreshing.

The problem is that the programming then segued into an interview of David Makovsky by Renee Montagne. Makovsky is introduced simply as someone affiliated with the Washington Institute on Near East Policy. Unless the listener knows something about the 800-lb. gorilla of U.S. Middle East policy, he or she would not know that WINEP is a pillar of the Israel Lobby which is anything but even-handed when it comes to anything even remotely relevant to Israel. To say it is slanted would be to put it mildly.

As noted in my previous comment on the Israel Lobby and the Syria crisis,  WINEP has numerous articles advocating an aggressive posture on Syria aimed basically at regime change. I also mentioned an article co-authored by Makovsky on the website of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs—another pillar of the Israel Lobby. Makovsky’s JINSA article advocates a very destructive attack aimed at “sending a credible and menacing message” to the Syrian government. Not much question where he stands.

Makovsky was invited on to address this quote that appeared in the New York Times:

One administration official, who, like others, declined to be identified discussing White House strategy, called Aipac “the 800-pound gorilla in the room,” and said its allies in Congress had to be saying, “If the White House is not capable of enforcing this red line” against the catastrophic use of chemical weapons, “we’re in trouble.”

AIPAC an 800-lb gorilla? Definitely not news that’s fit to print (so the Times soon deleted it; see below). As an AIPAC lobbyist once noted, “A lobby is like a night flower: it thrives in the dark and dies in the sun.” Best to keep AIPAC out of public consciousness.

But the quote was out there, so Makovsky was there to state in his very self-assured, authoritative manner that such a view was complete nonsense.  He says AIPAC is probably concerned that the debate will be seen as about Israel and its interests, which they obviously don’t want—implying the ludicrous proposition that Makovsky has an arm’s length relationship with AIPAC.  But he assures us that the centrality of Israel is “not the way they see it. …  Not an Israel issue per se.” He points out that other countries, such as Saudi Arabia and the other Arab countries of the Middle East want to be assured that the U.S. will honor their stated red line. These countries also want a strong U.S. response.

But of course, that’s not the issue. The issue is who has the power in Congress. The official who gave the 800-lb gorilla quote was simply talking about who has power in the U.S., and it’s certainly not countries like Saudi Arabia and Jordan. When it comes to shaping U.S. policy, in the Middle East, there’s no question that AIPAC is indeed the 800-lb. gorilla.

Makovsky also says that there is no consensus within Israel between those who emphasize Syrian’s links with Iran and those who emphasize the links to al Qaeda and other Israel haters. I rather doubt that. We at least know that the Israel Lobby would interpret a weak response as signaling lack of resolve in going after Iran which is considered far more dangerous than the Sunnis and al Qaeda.

Makovsky notes that the Israel Lobby didn’t want Congress involved at all—that Israel doesn’t like red lines that are conditional or are subject to approval by Congress. In their ideal world, once Obama drew his foolish red line on chemical weapons, he should have to act when chemical weapons are used. Democracy is not a high priority for the Israel Lobby.

Makovsky also notes the increased cooperation between U.S. and Israeli intelligence. This is actually quite ominous given that Israel is the source of the evidence for Assad’s use of chemical weapons (see previous link). Given the disastrous role of Israeli intelligence in promoting the WMD myth in the run-up to the Iraq war, a close relationship with Israeli intelligence is not what one wants to hear as we march off to yet another war. It is certainly noteworthy that Russian President Putin has no confidence in the U.S. intelligence on this matter. I don’t either. Basically Americans are expected to simply go along with administration assurances, as if John Kerry’s booming self-confidence on the matter should be enough to sway us.

Mondoweiss describes the saga of the 800-lb. gorilla quote, deleted as the online article went through a series of changes. When queried about this, the Times came up with several stories: that it’s normal to edit online articles (but why delete such a powerful quote?); that the original article can still be found (but you have to be creative or go to websites like Mondoweiss or here to find it); and that the quote did appear in the print edition so they didn’t want to repeat it (Why not? These are different audiences, and it’s a quote worth repeating). As Ali Gharib notes at Politico,

the problem is that the line about AIPAC’s activism is not an extraneous assertion; indeed, according to the Times‘s own reporting in the piece, the fact of AIPAC’s involvement on the Hill was a significant factor. That’s why the Times quoted an administration official calling the group an “800-pound gorilla,” a phrase that “usually refers to someone or something so large and powerful that it lives by its own set of rules.” That perhaps overstates it, but AIPAC is a tremendously influential Washington lobby group, so much so that one of its activists once bragged to the New Yorker that AIPAC “could have the signatures of seventy senators” on a blank napkin within 24 hours.

When the bombs start dropping, we’ll at least know that the elite media has done its part in making it happen.

Addendum (like the New York Times we sometimes edit articles after the original post): The same thing is happening in the U.K. From “Why is the BBC Banging the War Drum on Syria?“:

Raffi Berg, Editor of the BBC News Website, was outed for clenched teeth inducing behaviour in a report by Electronic Intifada.  During the 2012 eight day assault by Israeli forces on the Gaza strip, in which hundreds of Palestinians were losing their lives, Berg was emailing journalists with ‘guidance’ to maintain a pro-Israel tone in their reports.  This from the report:

In one, he asked BBC colleagues to word their stories in a way which does not blame or “put undue emphasis” on Israel for starting the prolonged attacks. Instead, he encouraged journalists to promote the Israeli government line that the “offensive” was “aimed at ending rocket fire from Gaza.”

This was despite the fact that Israel broke a ceasefire when it attacked Gaza on 14 November, a ceasefire which the Palestinians had been observing — firing no rockets into Israel.

In a second email, sent during the same period, Berg told BBC journalists: “Please remember, Israel doesn’t maintain a blockade around Gaza. Egypt controls the southern border.” He omitted to mention that the United Nations viewed Israel as the occupying power in Gaza and has called on Israel to end its siege of the Strip. Israel’s refusal to do so is a violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1860.”    …

Then there is the matter of punditry, the ‘experts’ selected to tell you who the bad guys are, who the good guys are, what the questions at hand are and what the likely outcomes of action will be.

Last night’s edition of the flagship Newsnight programme sought opinion from Paul Wolfowitz, presented as former US Defence Secretary during the Iraq war.  The show’s host Jeremy Paxman did not see fit to highlight Wolfowitz’s role as an architect of the war.  Neither did he mention Wolfowitz is a key member of the Project for the New American Century neoconservative think tank which actively promotes destabilisation of Middle Eastern countries in order to bolster US military and economic strength.

Worse, there was no opposing view to counter balance the extremities of the Wolfowitz position.  His interview was followed by Sylvie Kauffman, Editorial Director of France’s Le Monde – a paper supportive of President Francois Hollande who has committed to military action.  Both voices are pro-intervention.

Don’t get me started on Wolfowitz (see here, p. 40ff).

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