Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Richard Cohen, Barack Obama, and Louis Farrakhan

As political campaigning and campaign coverage seem to have become less and less about issues -more about haircuts, more about whether it is fair for the press to focus on the candidates haircuts, more about whether the press should be writing stories about whether they should be writing stories about haircuts- I've become increasingly hostile to anything that removes the debate further from the issues. The biases of journalists (especially when journalists are viewed as a mass) are, of course, an important topic, but you're not likely to find me debating the relative merits of any one journalist. Even though I have a particular fondness for editorials, I've come to largely ignore them. Others, it seems, pay special attention to journalists.

And so I'm late to the debate over Richard Cohen, having taken some time to read a few (just a few) of his articles. But it is - on the sorts of blogs I read, in the sorts of circles I hang round in - a debate over Richard Cohen. And I take issue with some of the ways in which Cohen has been treated.

Here's what I read, after getting introduced to the matter by Jeff Weintraub. From dnA at Too Sense:
"Mr. Obama, have you now or ever been a member of the communis--er, BLACK MUSLIM PARTY?"
Henry at Crooked Timber:
There’s something else going on here. I strongly suspect that Barack Obama is being asked to condemn Louis Farrakhan not because there’s some bogus two-degrees-of-separation thing going on, but because Barack Obama is black, and because black politicians are supposed to condemn Louis Farrakhan before they can be trusted.
At this point, I have to agree that the criticism of Cohen's article is pretty appropriate. There is a tendency to ask black candidates to denounce Farrakhan that's unreasonable and probably in most cases racist. Whether this particular instance was racist is debatable, I think, in that it isn't a game of "6 degrees of separation" as the CT headline suggests, and we could debate how close the association is or has to be before we legitimately ask questions. But anyway, I started wondering if perhaps that's why I always felt weird about Lou Reed's song "Good Evening Mr. Waldheim," which calls on Jesse Jackson to denounce Farrakhan. (Although the song is from 1989, and maybe my response was to it's dated material.) And, as a friend of mine points out regarding Farrakhan, "Yes, he is a bigot, but his place within the African-American community is more complex than you (and some of the bloggers) seem to be allowing."

Then I came across this:
I will not be suprised that if Obama gets the nomination if right wing Jews and liberal Jews that like to denounce black leaders will be making these BS implications that not only is Obama a Muslim, but a Black Muslim, a group that all right-thinking Jews despise or at least find questionable(and, because of Farrakhan, with at least some good reason).
And, following a link there, I came across this:
But I don't think any campaign is behind this round of swiftboating because it bears all the markings of the Jewish far right, the camp that cheered Rabin's assassination.
So it's Cohen's Jewishness that's responsible for his column? And, though the articles I read by him regarding Israel were not particularly pro-Israel (one, that I came across via a Wikipedia article, in which he calls Israel a "mistake") he's associated with the most rabid of right-wing bigots who cheered Rabin's death. It isn't maybe the same sorts of biases that led reporters, Jews and gentiles alike, to savage both Gore and Kerry? Not the same sorts of biases reporters constantly show as they try to prove they don't have liberal biases?

And I started reading some of the comments on the CT thread:
I used to like Richard Cohen but some time ago, I think it was right after 9/11 but cannot really pinpoint it, he started writing columns that I thought seemed completely driven by his pro-Israel views. He reminds me often of Senator Lieberman, who is quite progressive on almost all issues except those dealing with the Middle East. I would read this column in that vein.
So since Richard Cohen is a good Jewish boy, some advice from Deuteronomy:
I think Cohen is a joke, as is the Washington Post. And it’s not just the lying propagandist f#@ks on the editorial pages either, unfortunately. We need to discount almost everything they say, at least when it comes to foreign policy and the Middle East.
This is antisemitism. Racism directed at Obama does not justify racism as a defense. And in a conversation about racism, it's a shame people weren't sensitive to that. Are these people significant or is this just a rant about my personal experience? If it is just my personal experience, I still think it's worth my writing it. But, as for the ugliest thing said:
M.J. Rosenberg works in Washington supporting US efforts to advance an Israeli-Palestinian agreement. Previously, he worked on Capitol Hill for various Democratic members of the House and Senate for 15 years. He was also a Clinton political appointee at USAID. In the early 1980s, he was editor of AIPACs weekly newsletter Near East Report. After the signing of the Oslo Accords, Rosenberg broke with the AIPAC position and became a strong advocate of the "two-state solution" to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Btw, as you all knew before I wrote this, Obama did, in fact, repudiate Farrakhan. Whether it was right for anyone to demand of him that he do so, I'm appreciative that he did. And, while I was writing, I came across this article at which deals with Reed's song as well as with Bob Dylan's "Neighborbood Bully." What it says about Dylan is great -"Everybody felt it was preachy and had no subtlety, completely black and white. They said it’s a non-Dylan song. But it is a Dylan song. That’s the beauty of it. You have to deal with it as a Dylan song."- and I've been listening to the song as I wrote.

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