Oliver Stone recently implied the proportion of Jews working in Euro-American news media sufficiently exceeds their incidence in the general population as to require professional journalistic disclosure.
Is there any professional context within which this question can properly be asked?
When Mel Gibson rants about Jews in Hollywood, we know what to expect.
When Oliver Stone draws distinctions among Hitler’s victims, albeit "clumsily" (his words), I’m tempted to beg leave from the Jewish community to ask for a more nuanced explanation.
His record of films about other biases in American media warrants more diligence on our part before we cast stones for blatant anti-Semitism.
In fact, Stone’s remarks come amidst increasing diligence among political pundits in the northern hemisphere to examine the concentration of influence and ownership in the media, both European and American.
Sixty-five years after the Holocaust, our awkwardness about this topic actually worsens the risk of anti-Semitism rather than guarding against it. To borrow from Ashis Nandy, the average consumer of Euro-American news media has a civic duty to question whether "the idiom of dissent is increasingly being defined at the centers of conformity".
Would any of us deny each other the right to ask similar questions concerning the Cuban trade embargo, the public Health Insurance option, or Banking reform?
Of course not.
Among professional journalists and academics outside North America, Stone might even derive increased credibility for admitting his empire's most influential news outlets are managed by a discernable minority: CBS by Tish. ABC by Iger. NBC by Zucker. Fox by Rupert Murdoch. US News by Mort Zuckerman. The New York Times by Sulzberger. The Los Angeles Times by Sam Zell. The Washington Post by the Katherine Meyer / Graham family. Facebook by Mark Zuckerberg.
Even the rest of us, the plebian unwashed, might be forgiven for wondering about the cumulative impact of personal preferences among Wolf Blitzer, Howard Kurtz, Larry King, Candy Crowley, Aaron Brown, Andrea Mitchell, Jessica Yellin, Mary Snow, Barbara Starr, Ben Wideman, Jim Bitterman, Alan Chernoff, Elizabeth Cohen, William Cohen, Robert Rubin, Madeleine Albright, Sandy Berger, James Rubin, Jeff Greenfield, Andrea Koppel, Gary Tuchman, Bob Franken, or Alan Derschowitz, when reporting on Arab-Israeli politics.
And that’s just CNN.
The equivalent observation was finally heralded in Hollywood years ago when A&E produced "Hollywoodism: An Empire of Their Own - Jews, Movies, and The American Dream" (1998), which chronicled the amazing success of the half-dozen Jewish families who created the movie industry and the studio system that spawned the moguls of Hollywood during its Golden Age.
In a previous Nunaview post, even I explored the general phenomenon of diasporic minorities such as the Chinese in Polynesia, Indians in Africa and Jews in Euro-America, and suggested they should justifiably boast about their accomplishments rather than disguising the celebrity and influence they have garnered.
But Oliver Stone’s remarks are different. Very different. So are Michael Moore’s. So are Noam Chomsky’s.
Each in his colourful non-conformist way suggests there is a journalistic ethic at play here that goes far, far beyond artistic license, or business acuity. It concerns a potentially egregious violation of journalism’s core claim to truth in transparency. It reaches to the very foundations of representative democracy, public dialogue, and electoral politics.
We send UN observers all over the world to determine whether corrupt dictatorships manipulate electoral results after the votes are cast. Stone, Moore and Chomsky are warning us that our opinions are being manipulated before the votes are cast.
Ordinary viewers will have noticed how frequently CNN anchors, most notably Wolf Blitzer, make a fuss about CNN being owned by Time Warner when reporting on a Time Warner related story. They are also downright rude at times in their manner of interrupting a guest to point out that guest's personal connection to stakeholders in the issue being discussed.
That notice is itself entirely proper, but the strident manner of its delivery is designed solely to profer CNN’s claim to neutral reporting. It is part of a self-serving campaign to dub themselves "The Most Trusted Name in News" and we are supposed to conclude that CNN discloses all background relationships that might constitute a risk of bias.
It is therefore CNN's very own insistence on this principle that opens them up to analysis and accountability for their own performance in this regard.
Every sophomore journalism student learns the rationale for this professional code of conduct. They are taught that the viewing public must be cautioned, explicitly, to raise their pre-suppositional antennae against even the appearance of bias. Not just gross prejudice, but for the more subtle, inadvertent and even innocent bias that reporters might miss in themselves, so ingrained is it in their personal history or basic human preferences.
Are allegations that CNN distorts staff biographies accurate? Did Wolf Blitzer really work for radically pro-Jewish and activist pro-Israel publications and lobbies for much of his career prior to joining CNN? If that allegation is accurate, then CNN is egregiously derelict in its duty to the American democracy when omitting those facts from their online backgrounders and biographies of Wolf Blitzer.
In the context of its coverage of stories that involve stakeholders in the Middle East, in Palestinian activism, or in reports of anti-Semitism in American society, Mr. Blitzer’s personal history is itself a factor that should be addressed with sufficient frequency and transparency as to discharge that journalistic stricture and obligation to the global audience. Oliver Stone has only had the nerve to suggest the same applies to the alleged disproportion of Jews and converts among CNN's editors, anchors, pundits, reporters and invited guests compared to their numbers in American society in general.
CNN claims not to be Fox. The standard, if they aspire to that level of trust, is higher.
If you have any doubt about the legitimacy of this tenet of professional journalism, I dare you to spend a week, just one single week, watching America's mass media as if you were Chinese, Venezuelan, Muslim, Cuban, Pakistani, Arab-Israeli, Palestinian, or just a truly independent American elector.
How ironic that so reserved a professional as US Defence Secretary Robert Gates regularly feels the need to refer to the "people in between" when speaking of those skilled at manufacturing conformity of opinion by way of deception..