‘Adbusters’ seeks right of reply to ‘NYT”s smear of anti-Semitism and fails to get it

Israel/Palestine
on 31 Comments

Kalle Lasn here with a story about how the New York Times refused to give Adbusters [which Lasn edits] the right of reply. Here is the chronology of what happened:

1. October 3 letter from Adbusters Kalle Lasn to the editor of the New York Times:

In the wake of the #OCCUPYWALLSTREET movement, the New York Times has twice taken a swipe at Adbusters magazine, originators of the event. David Brooks led the charge in his October 10 column, The Milquetoast Radicals, falsely accusing us of being anti-Jewish. 

In an earlier column, Mr. Brooks said: “Jews are a famously accomplished group. They make up about 0.2 percent of the world population, but 54 percent of the world chess champions, 27 percent of the Nobel physics laureates … 37 percent of Academy Award-winning directors … 51 percent of Pulitzer Prize winners for nonfiction” and so on. And yet, in his October 10 column he found something insidious about an article Adbusters ran seven years ago pointing out that 50 percent of the prominent neocons surrounding the Bush administration were Jewish. Why the double standard, Mr. Brooks? How is this different?

Then on October 17, Joseph Berger’s Cries of Anti-Semitism, but Not at Zuccotti Park, quoted an article in a conservative magazine founded by the American Jewish Committee which alleged that “the main organizer behind the movement — Adbusters editor Kalle Lasn — has a history of anti-Jewish writing.” Mr. Berger, why are you uncritically passing on other people’s allegations? Why didn’t you do your own research and come up with your own conclusions? 

Adbusters is best known for its deconstruction of advertising, discontent with neoclassical economics and provocative takes on hot button geopolitical issues like the Israeli apartheid in Palestine. I invite readers to visit our web site, leaf through our magazine, look up what we’ve said over the past twenty years and decide for themselves if we are motivated by anti-Semitism or a sense of justice.

It seems the real story here is that I have somehow upset the pro-Israel and anti-Palestine stance that the New York Times has taken over many years in some of its editorials, columns and especially with the reporting by Isabel Kershner and Times’ Jerusalem bureau chief Ethan Bronner. Mr. Bronner is married to an Israeli citizen and has a son who served in the Israeli army. Ms. Kershner also has deep ties to Israel. Their often ahistorical, context-free reporting is partly to blame for what Adbusters has called “the United States of Amnesia.”

I think a cultural shift, a more nuanced and balanced perspective on Israel/Palestine, is in order at one of the great newspapers of the world.

Kalle Lasn Editor in Chief, Adbusters Magazine

2. November 2, New York Times letters department replies:

Mr. Lasn: Your letter as submitted is much too long for our letters column and refers to columns/articles that are now 2 and 3 weeks old. We do acknowledge that you deserve a right of reply, and we’d be willing to consider a much shorter letter that is focused on these two paragraphs: 


“Then on October 17, Joseph Berger’s Cries of Anti-Semitism, but Not at Zuccotti Park, quoted an article in a conservative magazine founded by the American Jewish Committee which alleged that “the main organizer behind the movement – Adbusters editor Kalle Lasn – has a history of anti-Jewish writing.” Mr. Berger, why are you uncritically passing on other people’s allegations? Why didn’t you do your own research and come up with your own conclusions?

Adbusters is best known for its deconstruction of advertising, discontent with neoclassical economics and provocative takes on hot button geopolitical issues like the Israeli apartheid in Palestine. I invite readers to visit our web site, leaf through our magazine, look up what we’ve said over the past twenty years and decide for themselves if we are motivated by anti-Semitism or a sense of justice.”

If you’re agreeable, we can edit your letter along those lines and send it to you for review and approval, as we do with all our letters.

Best,

Sue Mermelstein, Letters Dept.

3. November 2, Kalle Lasn letter:

Ms. Mermelstein, 

David Brooks’ and Joe Bergers references to Adbusters’ and Kalle Lasn’s anti Jewishness and anti Semitism have caused considerable harm to both our reputations in one of the most prestigious newspapers in the world and therefore I do not think your usual strict rules about length and time delay should apply in this case.

I am not prepared to cut references to David Brooks nor the paragraph that points to a pro-Israel and anti-Palestine culture of bias at the Times without which the basic argument in my letter does not make sense.

I am prepared to work with you to crisp up my letter without losing its basic thrust and argument.

I request that you pass this matter by David Brooks, Joseph Berger and your executive editor and explain to them why it is necessary for us to have a full right of reply in order to salvage the reputation of Adbusters and Kalle Lasn which you have damaged and defamed in a journalistically sloppy way.

I request that, not you in the letters department, but your executive editor make a final decision on whether to run our letter.

Please let me know.

Sincerely,

Kalle Lasn,

Editor in Chief, Adbusters magazine

4. November 2, New York Times’ letters editor responds:

Dear Mr. Lasn: 

Thank you for your note to Ms. Mermelstein.

We respect your request for a reply, but we also reserve the right to edit letters in accordance with our standards. We believe that only part of your letter meets those standards. 

It is not up to Mr. Brooks, Mr. Berger or the executive editor to decide whether to run a letter.

Sincerely,

Thomas Feyer, Letters Editor

5. November 2, Lasn letter

Mr. Feyer,

I agree that it is not up to Mr. Brooks or Mr. Berger to decide whether to run the letter — I just thought they should know that a letter has been submitted.

However, given the considerable damage done to the reputations of Adbusters and myself in this matter and the larger political implications this has about the culture of bias at the Times, I think it is appropriate for us to ask for this decision to be made, not by you in the Letters Department, but by your executive editor . . . and I again respectfully ask you to pass this matter by her.

Tell her that we think it would be grossly unfair and against all journalistic standards for the Times not to give Adbusters adequate right of reply in this particular case. 

Sincerely,

Kalle Lasn, Editor in Chief, Adbusters magazine 

6. November 2, Feyer response:

Dear Mr. Lasn: 

There is a wall separating news and opinion at The Times, so the executive editor has no say in what the opinion pages run. 

We are willing to give you a chance to respond, but you have to be willing to be edited according to our standards. Everything that appears in The Times is subject to editing. 

Sincerely,

Thomas Feyer 

7. November 2, Kalle Lasn’s final email, to which there has been no reply:

Mr. Feyer,

I suspect you are refusing to run our letter because it it would once again open up a debate about the anti-Palestine culture at the Times that you do not wish to have. 

Seems you have no problem taking swipes at the reputation of Adbusters, but are now unwilling to give Adbusters our legitimate right of reply.

The “chance to respond” you are giving us is grossly fair . . . it forces us to run a substantially watered down version which leaves out the crux of our argument against Mr. Brooks And Mr. Berger and would thus merely perpetuate the myth that there is something anti Semitic about Adbusters and Kalle Lasn.

I request a legitimate right to respond along the lines of our original letter. You have a right to edit our letter but not to neuter it. 

I hereby demand that you pass this matter by your executive editor.

sincerely, Kalle Lasn

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