BY MICHAEL S. JOHNSON
Newt Gingrich apparently let loose with some puzzling pronouncements about Palestine and Israel in a cable television interview recently and again in the Iowa debate. Before the debate, the Washington Post quoted him saying, “Remember, there was no Palestine as a state. It was part of the Ottoman Empire…We have invented the Palestinian people, who are in fact Arabs and are historically part of the Arab people…”
The Post reporters went to Ghaith al-Omari, executive director of the American Task Force on Palestine, for this response: “Besides being factually and historically wrong, this statement is unwise,” and from former national security adviser Elliott Abrams: “There was no Jordan or Syria or Iraq, either, so perhaps he would say they are all invented people as well and also have no right to statehood.”
Gingrich’s remark threw the spotlight on one of the most profound, turbulent and impactful political, religious and human conditions of the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries. The hot and cold wars of the Arab-Israeli conflict have affected the lives of millions of people throughout the world, as dramatically and injuriously as some of the greatest events of our time.
The Gingrich story, then, served as a wonderful opportunity for the Post to both inform and educate its readers on the history and the complexities of the conflict.
Instead Post reporters did what most reporters do, they devoted half of the story, 9 paragraphs out of eighteen, to the political play between Gingrich and rival Mitt Romney, pseudo drama that is the obsessive preoccupation of the media. In the scheme of things it means little or nothing to the vast majority of people who must, in a year’s time, be educated enough to elect good and capable people to public office.
Both Gingrich and his critics make legitimate points about the evolution of Palestine, particularly following the peace agreements that ended World War I and partitioned Europe and the Middle East. But the Post’s sparce treatment of their opinions created more confusion than clarity. It would be so helpful for people to know more, particularly younger Americans who have not lived through much of this intractable conflict.
News media, in this election cycle, should commit themselves to a new paradigm of political coverage, focusing on information and education rather than theater and political intrigue. They should cover less politics and more policy. They should make themselves more relevant in the lives of the readers, listeners and viewers they purport to serve.
WHERE DID THAT EXPRESSION COME FROM?
In the 16th century England, when guests would come over for dinner, the bread was divided according to status. Workers got the burnt bottom of the loaf, the family got the middle, and the guests got the top, or the upper crust. So said an email I received recently.
It is also said that to preserve space where space was in short supply, undertakers would dig up coffins so they could bury more people in them. Once in awhile they would discover scratch marks on the inside of the wooden coffins suggesting that someone wasn’t quite dead when they were laid to rest. So undertakers would tie a string on the wrist of the corpse, run it up through the ground and tie it to a bell. Someone would have to sit out in the graveyard all night (the graveyard shift) and listen for the bell. If it rang, it was said that they were “saved by the bell” or considered a “dead ringer.”
Disclaimer: Like you I get this stuff sent to me via the Internet, that veritable playground for plagiarism, propaganda, frauds and con-artistry, quackery, preposterous stories, swindles, tall yarns and a lot of other hooey. What it lacks in fact, it makes up for in light humor and entertainment. So take it with a “grain of salt,” an expression that grew out of the realization that food is more easily taken with salt.
THE DONALD WILL DOMINATE GOP DEBATE
Donald Trump is scheduled to moderate, I should say dominate, a debate among the Republican candidates for President in Iowa two days after Christmas and a week before the state’s caucuses.
There are three things wrong with this picture: (1) Donald Trump is a promoter, a self-promoter, who makes fight promoter Don King look like a Tibetan monk. That simply means the focus of the debate won’t be on the candidates or the issues. It will be on Donald Trump. (2) Repeat item one, and (3) repeat 1 and 2.
NBC’s senior statesman Tom Brokaw, not a baker of humble pie himself, called Trump “an utterly shameless self promoter” and urged the media to stop enabling him. Hear. Hear.
ANOTHER TRUMP IN TRAINING?
Speaking of self-promoters: Alec Baldwin was kicked off an American Airlines the other day for refusing to shut off his electronic device and slamming a restroom door. Newsworthy? Maybe, for Entertainment Tonight. Somebody at NBC, however, decided it was worthy of the national broadcast of the Nightly News, along with upheavals in the Mideast and deficit crises in Europe and the U.S. (I was told by a friend that the other networks carried the story, too). You have to wonder if the individual at NBC who decided Alec Baldwin’s antics were worthy of the Nightly News was Alec Baldwin, who stars in one of NBC’s most successful sitcoms, 30 Rock. The piece added nothing new to the discussion of electronic devices on airplanes and its content looked and sounded suspiciously like an excuse for Baldwin’s actions. I will tell you in full disclosure that American is a client of the firm for which I work, but NBC anchor Brian Williams made no such disclosure, although there was an off-hand comment at the end of the piece that 30 Rock was on NBC. It was shoddy journalism. Baldwin apparently wants to be Mayor of New York. If he does he ought to start acting more like his brother, Billy, a class act.
DEGREE OF WHITE HOUSE INEPTITUDE A LITTLE SCARY
The Obama White House selected a Hawaiian guitarist named Makana to perform at a dinner the President hosted during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in September.
Makana entertained the elite group of international leaders with the strains of an Occupy movement anthem, “We are the Many”. “Your thievery has left the people numb…We occupy the streets…” he chirped into the microphone. His performance was described as a diatribe of hate for Wall Street and Washington. The singer was dressed in a home-made t-shirt that read OCCUPY WITH ALOHA.
Question one: How could the staff of the leader of the free world screw up so badly and amateurishly? Second Question: Or did they humiliate our country in front of world leaders on purpose? Question three: Who booked the act? Question Four: Who approved it? Question five: Are they still working at the White House?
Editor’s Note: Mike Johnson is a former journalist, who worked on the Ford White House staff and served as press secretary and chief of staff to House Republican Leader Bob Michel, prior to entering the private sector. He is co-author of a book, Surviving Congress, a guide for congressional staff. He is currently a principal with the OB-C Group.