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Howard Rosenberg is a Pulitzer-Prize winning TV columnist for The Los Angeles Times. His critics call him out of touch. His fans admire his lyrical writing.

3/9/03

Rude Jews Rage At Rosenberg's Reporters

Cathy Seipp wrote 2/26/03: "Luke, I thought you might be interested in this remarkably agenda-driven L.A. Press Club event. My question: Why is the University of Judaism co-operating with KPFK, which was overtaken by the anti-Semitic "Free Mumia" crowd last year? As an added bonus, I see that Amy Wilentz, known for her Useful Idiot op-ed commentary, will be speaking too. As Groucho Marx said when people complained about his pen-pal friendship with the notoriously anti-Semitic T.S. Eliot, "there's a lot of Jews I don't like either." But still, this is just ridiculous. And $15? Like people should really pay to hear this crap? Crazy!"

I attended this "remarkably agenda-driven event" Sunday afternoon, 3/9/03, at the University of Judaism. The crowd was riotious with anger at the news media in general for its coverage of Israel, and in particular at The Los Angeles Times and its reporter Tracy Wilkinson.

Howard Rosenberg moderated the panel discussion sponsored by the University of Judaism and the Los Angeles Press Club. Rosenberg is the veteran left-of-center secular Pulitzer-Prize-winning TV critic for The Los Angeles Times and a longtime host at UJ of gentle cerebral liberal dialogues. Liberals love to dialogue and believe that it is the solution to most conflicts.

Rosenberg began by introducing the panel: Rebecca Trounson, Los Angeles Times reporter, Amy Wilentz (married to editorial page editor of the LA Times), author, "Martyrs' Crossing", Don Bustany (Arab activist), KPFK radio host of "Middle East in Focus", Murray Fromson, former CBS foreign correspondent, Rob Eshman, editor of the Jewish Journal, and Edina Lekovic, the Arab-Muslim managing editor of the monthly Islamic magazine Minaret and a graduate student at Pepperdine in communications.

Pro-Arab Arab panelists: Edina, Don
Lefties: Wilentz (writes for the Nation magazine), Rosenberg, Rob Eshman
No discernible ideology: Rebecca, Murray

All the women on the panel wore pants. I prefer it when women wear skirts and corsets. Women should be women and men should be men, and nether the twain should mix except as sanctioned by the Torah.

Rebecca was the best dressed and best looking of the bunch, attired in upper-class East Coast style. She had an aristocratic look that was so pleasing to my eye that it allowed my ears to better appreciate her points. Edina was covered in black. The only skin she showed was her face and her hands. I would've liked to have seen more of her. Bustany wore a suit and tie and behaved befitting his outfit. Amy and Murray dressed casually and behaved accordingly.

Amy Wilentz talked the most and had the least to say. She was an idiot. Edina spoke little. Near the end of the day, Edina said her heart was breaking, presumably because all the audience questions centered around why Israel wasn't getting a fair shake from the news media.

It felt at times like the crowd wanted to lynch the panelists and it kept my stomach in knots the whole afternoon. It was not a pleasant two hours. I was embarrassed by the way my co-religionists treated the panelists, even though I understood the crowd's rage.

I guess nobody will take us Jews seriously until we start rioting, looting and burning.

The crowd was overwhelmingly secular. Only three men wore kipot. One of them was Howard's Orthodox brother. The average age of the crowd was 50.

Howard looks just like his picture in the LA Times. He wears glasses on a cord around his neck. He's cerebral and mild with an understated sense of humor.

None of the panelists attacked each other. They occasionally disagreed without being disagreeable. Rob Eshman was a good articulator of the Jewish position. He said his paper had no problem calling terrorists terrorists (when people set out to murder innocents) while the other panelists, particularly journalists Becky, Edina, Don and Amy, said "terrorist" was a loaded term and they avoided it.

The panelists generally described each other as wonderful and they frequently rallied to each other's defense if an audience member ever questioned a panelist's wonderfulness. Professor Murray thought Traci Wilkinson and the LA Times coverage of the Middle East were just peachy.

Despite the hostile reactions from the audience, the panelists were remarkably non-defensive. They did a good job of making their points in an angry environment. The crowd was plainly not receptive to any perspective other than a pro-Israel one.

My opinion of news coverage of the Middle East: Not enough stress on the moral gulf between Israel and its enemies, just like there was not enough stress on the moral gulf between the United States and the former Soviet Union. I do not believe that the major media are anti-semitic.

I don't know why I came to this panel and shelled out $30 for the privilege because I have little interest in what any of the panelists have to say.

Howard: "I am very experienced in being criticized. The late Irv Rubin of the Jewish Defense League said a few years ago on the radio that I was such a self-loathing Jew that I didn't even deserve my circumsicion."

Subtext - those who criticize Howard are right-wing reactionary neanderthals. That's why he didn't want any of those bad people on his panel.

Howard: "I selected the panel and I didn't do it to achieve balance."

Instead, he chose his friends and friends of his friends, the type of right-thinking well-meaning people that Howard would enjoy having lunch with.

Howard: "What I didn't want was a screaming crossfire."

Which would happen if any of those nasty right-wingers were on the panel.

Howard: "I didn't want people on the panel screaming at each other because that never ever achieves anything. I chose the panel because I felt these people were very smart and very experienced and articulate, whether you agree or not.

"I want the balance to come from you and your questions. I hope we don't have any aggressive screaming.

"How many of you in this crowd (98% plus Jewish) believe there are two sides to this conflict?"

Almost all of the audience raise their hands.

Howard: "How many of you believe there is only one side?"

A handful of people raise their hands.

An aggressive man near me starts yelling: "What do you mean?"

Howard: "Two means twice as many as one.

"How many of you believe much of the media coverage has been pro-Palestinian?"

About 25% of the audience raises their hands.

Howard: "Pro-Israeli?"

A handful of people raise their hands.

Howard: "How many of you believe most of the media coverage has been down the middle and fair?"

A handful of people raise their hands. There's widespread laughter.

After introducing the panelists, Rosenberg, who recently spent 10-days in Israel, played an interminable 20-minute homoerotic video about two Israeli boys meeting, playing with, eating with and talking to Palestinians kids. The two Jewish filmmakers from the San Francisco Bay Area seemed particularly interested in showing footage of the boys taking off their shirts, and one of the boys washing up with his shirt off. The camera panned lovingly over his muscles and he in turn preened as he bathed himself, rubbed mouse into his hair and washed his face.

After Rosenberg asks his first question of the panel, the crowd erupts at the poor sound. They yell at the panelists about where they should place their microphones. One man complains that he can't hear anything because of a shutter going off on a still camera. These Jews are remarkably rude and my non-Jewish friend is appalled and uncomfortable. Several Jews around me are embarrassed.

Rosenberg asks lengthy questions that usually point toward the safe nonc-onfrontational answers he wants. Like the LA Times, Howard likes to sanitize and smooth over conflicts. He and Amy Wilentz let us know that the elites at the major news organizations know better than we do.

Amy and Rebecca, who suffers from laryngitis, covered the Middle East for years for The Los Angeles Times. Neither of them can speak Hebrew or Arabic. Amy thinks that's just peachy. Amy says that someone who speaks Arabic, by definition, is an Arab and therefore biased. Someone who speaks Hebrew is most likely an Israeli and therefore biased. Therefore, it is better to speak neither language than to speak one of them and then be biased.

Murray and Becky and Amy agree that because of the way American newspapers operate, it's highly unlikely that they will use reporters who speak the native language of the country they cover. And that's fine because their newspapers provide terrific interpreters.

Howard points out that a reporter at NPR named Linda speaks both Hebrew and Arabic and that it is likely that most of the audience despise her.

Murray and the panelists agree that the The Los Angeles Times did a superb job covering the made-up Israeli massacre in Jenin story. The audience doesn't agree. Some of them canceled their subscriptions to the paper in protest.

None of the panelists are good public speakers and none of them project well. When a UJ techie walks on stage to make an announcement, he is heard loud and clear. Unfortunately, what he says infuriates much of the elderly audience who've been kvetching about the poor sound quality.

He says, "For those of you who are hearing impaired, there are headsets available right outside that door."

He's booed.

Becky and Murray say that the voices of Palestinian moderates have been stilled since the September 2000 Palestinian uprising at the Dome of the Rock. The Palestinian moderates are afraid for their lives if they speak out of turn. The audience demands to know why this isn't mentioned in articles. Becky, Amy and Murray say it is.

Amy Wilentz tells the audience that the reason for their anger is that the panelists and the news organizations they represent do not give the audience the slanted news they want. "We're telling you stories you don't want to hear."

Howard reads aloud from the most left-wing of the Israeli newspapers - Haaretz.

Rosenberg says he asked LA Times editor Jon Carroll to come on the panel and he was out of town. Foreign Affairs editor Marjorie Miller declined, as is her custom. Why would anyone want to put up with such rude treatment as the panelists received today?

An angry man who was constantly shouting out of turn got up and asked a good question: How come when five people die in LA, like they did this weekend, they don't make the front page, but when five Palestinians die, that does make the front page of the LA Times?

There's a question about the LA Times pulling reporters from foreign countries because they've become biased. Becky says that has never happened to her knowledge.

An old man calls Traci Wilkinson a Nazi. Rosenberg responds with an audio soundbite of the Israeli Press Office head Danny Seaman who says Traci is a professional and responsible reporter. Murray says he's known Traci for 20 years and she's a wonderful journalist.

Amy Wilentz says there are reporters who are obviously biased. She names Robert Fisk and describes him as anti-Israel.

There's a question to the reporters: Have editors ever told them which way to slant a story. Becky says no. Amy says yes. In 1998, she was writing an article about the new Palestinian state for the LA Times and her editor had many problems with it. He wanted to know if she liked or disliked the proposed Palestinian state. She said she was strictly down the middle, just the facts. At the end of the discussion, as the editor was leaving the room, he told Amy, "This is a joke. But just remember to ask yourself: Is this good for the Jews?"

We simple dumb biased Jews in the audience were so lucky to have Amy Wilentz on stage to let us know how uninformed and biased we were.

.........................

I'm tickled that the prestigious bastion of good Los Angeles journalism, www.LaExaminer.com, linked to my story.

AReporter writes to LaExaminer.com: "As a reporter who covered the Middle East briefly, the thing that struck me was the idea that ideologues want to hear stories from the newspapers which don't really exist. This is true of both sides. Most papers have pretty fair coverage of the middle east, because they are so hemmed in from one side, and often pretty liberal which often 'benefits' the other side. The bottom line is that you might not get the Jewish-only position, which is what some want. But you will get a pretty down-the-center picture, which is really nothing to complain about, given that on the internet you can go and find more extreme positions for both sides."

Angry Reporter rightly notes: "that was a totally worthless rant from ford. also I'm glad he sees fit to detail what the women were wearing and complained he couldn't see enough skin on the panel's sole female Muslim. the internet's full of moronic ramblings; need they be posted on LAX just because they relate to the L.A. media?"

Matt Welch replies: "Ford's an acquired taste, to be sure, (and one that I truly enjoy), but he also wrote thousands of words about what interesting L.A. journalists were saying about an interesting journalism topic, and I didn't see anyone else covering this at all. I will err here on the side of providing information, rather than protecting people's professional sensibilities."

Angry Reporter replies: "I won't dispute the ideals of providing information etc. -- if ford's piece did that. but it seemed more interested in complaining about the sound system and the cranky crowd. I gleaned precisely five useful facts from those 1,862 words: terrorist could be a loaded term, according to some writers/papers; reporters disagree on whether they should speak the language of the region they're covering; the Jenin massacre event was well covered; palestinian moderate voices have been silenced in the past three years; and a Times editor pushed Amy Wilentz to slant a story in 1998. Maybe my opinion is the minority, and if others post to that effect, so be it, but when I followed the link from LAX I thought I was going to get something useful about what interesting L.A. journalists have to say about an interesting journalism topic and instead ended up wasting my own time. if anyone else thinks I'm wrong, by all means, share."

The Raven writes LAExaminer.com: "Angry Reporter is right And wrong. Yes, Luke Ford's account of the event is not what you'd get if a traditional journalist had covered it; on the other hand, Luke certainly shared all his feelings about it, as Angry Reporter noted, from the personal appearance of the panelists to the behavior of the crowd. I'm not sure how interesting that is to anyone besides Luke, but hey -- it's his show. Luke has to do what's right for Luke. I'm grateful to LA Examiner for introducing me to some Los Angeles writers -- Luke among them -- that I wouldn't have encountered otherwise. And I'm grateful to Luke for covering an event that I wouldn't have even known about otherwise, even though Luke covered it in his rather unusual way."

Rishawn Biddle writes: "Perhaps angry reporter should just grab some Prozac and enjoy Ford's writing instead of ranting on and on about how useless Ford's work is. I can imagine mr. burnout has written some rather crappy pieces in his day. We all have."

Luke says: My journalism instructors, both on the job and in the classroom, repeatedly told me that I should write the story as if I were relaying it to a friend. Well, most of my friends care less about the issues and more about the quality of the physical appearance of the females present. Thus, I write my news with that in mind.

Cathy Seipp writes LAExaminer.com: "I thought Luke did an excellent job of covering this event and saved everyone who read it $15 to boot. But he gives himself away as a convert when he gets so unnerved by a room full of elderly angry Jews."

Angry Reporter writes: "wow, I don't know what to think. do you people really think Luke's ramblings (limited to this one piece on the U.Judaism panel) were good? He says the panelists did well at making their points but never gets into what those points were. He explains that none of the panelists are good public speakers -- golly, thanks for sharing. He tells us Rosenberg reads something from Haaretz, but doesn't say what it was he read. He says an angry man asks why 5 dead in Palestine make the front page of the Times while 5 dead in L.A. don't, and then doesn't tell us whether anyone answered or what they said. Maybe I'm being unfair -- the panel seems to have been rather worthless and perhaps there was just nothing for poor Luke to write about. After all, his more recent post on the Alternative press panel was much better (and should have been posted on LAX, but I know how busy y'all are). and as for that most recent post, I have of course written plenty of crap, yet it never got hyped on some media blog; rather it was ignored like it (and Ford's piece) should have been."

Luke says: Because the panelists were poor public speakers, they didn't project well enough for my taperecorder to pick them up clearly, hence my report relied on my notes and memories.

The Raven writes LAExaminer.com: "I think Angry Reporter likes Luke as much as I do, but just doesn't know it ... he says Luke's University of Judaism coverage had five useful facts, and then he listed them all -- which I don't think I could've done -- then he said Luke's coverage of the alternative press event was much better, so I read that, and it looked about the same to me -- Luke mentions some PR person suggesting he meet her teen-age daughter ... Luke being Luke. And I hope neither Cathy nor Luke believe that I said anything denigrating Luke's writing. I just meant to say that it was non-traditional and unusual. I'm all for that.

"From Anne Lamott's book, Bird by Bird: "There are a lot of us, some published, some not, who think the literary life is the loveliest one possible, this life of reading and writing and corresponding. We think this life is nearly ideal. it is spiritually invigorating ... It is intellectually quickening. One can find in writing a perfect focus for life. It offers challenge and delight and agony and commitment." Here's to Luke and all like him."

Tiffany Stone writes: "I was at the panel with Luke. He did an excellent and accurate job of reporting on it. There were only a few points to be gleaned from the discussion."Angry" should stop reading Lukeford.net if he dislikes Luke's POV so much. There are plenty of boring writers to read."