‘Guardian’ sparks uproar by hiring writer who urged murder of flotilla participants

Israel/PalestineUS Politics
on 45 Comments
trevino pic from EI
New Guardian columnist Joshua Treviño
(from Flickr via the Electronic Intifada)

In case you’ve missed this story: The Guardian, the left-liberal U.K. news outlet that operates the third-most popular news website in the world, last week announced a surprising addition to its editorial team: Joshua Treviño, a former speechwriter for George W. Bush and co-founder of the right-wing RedState.com. Within hours, Ali Abunimah of the Electronic Intifada responded with a post reproducing tweets from last summer in which Treviño declared that it would be “cool” with him if the Israelis shot the participants in the 2011 Gaza Freedom Flotilla, then went on to observe that the flotilla was “not morally different from a Nazi convoy”

Not surprisingly, several participants in that flotilla, including me – and, no doubt, scores of other Guardian readers – immediately protested to Janine Gibson, editor in chief of the Guardian US, who was quoted in the press release about her pleasure at bringing Treviño’s “important perspective” to readers. We acknowledged the Guardian’s desire to present diverse points of view, but questioned the choice of someone whose approach to political debate is to call for gunning down those he disagrees with.

The Guardian brass, who are reportedly counting on expanding their U.S. readership online to stanch the flood of red ink they’ve suffered in recent years, apparently took the issue complaints seriously enough to ask Treviño to respond immediately, even though his column wasn’t scheduled for launch until Monday. The result was a column he called “My 2011 Gaza flotilla tweet: a clarification” – a pathetic piece of posturing in which he acknowledged a “lack of rhetorical integrity” but insisted it was all a misunderstanding: yes, his tweet did leave “the widespread impression … that I actively urged the IDF to shoot Americans, that I welcomed their death, or that I hoped for that outcome,” but “Nothing could be further from the truth.” In fact, he argued, his position was no different from those put forward by Hilary Clinton, who at the time endorsed the Israelis’ “right to defend themselves” (from peaceful, unarmed activists planning to carry only letters and drawings to Gaza, with no intention of entering Israel or its territorial waters) and Rick Perry, who demanded that we be prosecuted. (The response I sent to Gibson about Treviño’s column is at the of this post.)

In her e-mail reply to those of us who had complained about the hiring of Treviño, Gibson said she hoped that his “clarification” would persuade us that “there might be something important to be gained from hearing from him.” It actually had the opposite effect, succeeding only in making clear that he’s a weasel as well as a thug – and that his writing is as lame as his politics are reactionary. The Guardian website was immediately flooded with responses – now approaching 300 – nearly all of them expressing shock at the Guardian’s decision to hire him. Several of the commenters exposed other highlights from Treviño’s career, such as his 2007 proposal that the U.S. occupation forces in Iraq follow the example of the British in the Boer War, in which “a fractious, semi-fanatical culture was slowly ground into submission by … taking their women and children away to concentration camps, by laying waste to the countryside,” and so on. (Treviño has apparently taken this post offline, but blogger Spencer Ackerman reproduced the core of it here.)

Meanwhile, Richard Silverstein chimed in on the controversy at his Tikun Olam site, and Abunimah kept the heat on with a strong column at Al Jazeera. Then came a real stunner: a new post from Abunimah demonstrating that the Guardian had surreptitiously modified its press release about Trevino’s appointment (demoting him from member of their “editorial team” and “Correspondent” to part of their “commentary team” and “commentator”) – and then had the temerity to demand a correction from the Electronic Intifada for quoting the original wording!

The e-mail the Guardian press office sent Abunimah describes Treviño as simply “a freelance writer on contract to write opinion pieces [that] will appear on the Guardian’s Comment is Free section … along with articles from many other freelance writers.” If true, that would suggest that the Guardian has already dropped him from the more important position they originally hired him for. (He had already had several columns published in the Comment is Free section, including one on August 11 – would the Guardian have issued a press release merely to announce that one of the scores of people who freelance for that section would continue to do so?)

More likely, the Guardian is simply hoping that the modified wording will somehow placate angry readers on the left, without costing them the new right-wing readership his hiring was designed to attract. As the sharp-eyed Abunimah observes, the press release still includes a contact at the Guardian for arranging “future bookings with Treviño” – a service it isn’t likely to provide for a mere freelancer.

Whatever the Guardian bosses hoped to accomplish by doctoring their press release, it seems likely that the scheme has backfired – thanks to Abunimah’s diligent detective work, it is only bringing new attention to the controversy and compounding the embarrassment to the Guardian. (Another prominent British publication, the New Statesman, has now picked up on that issue.) And the tide of protest over the hiring of Treviño with any title continues to mount: M.J. Rosenberg add his thoughts here, and the Guardian itself on Sunday posted a letter in which several dozen prominent British academics and activists, including Ilan Pappé, Ghada Karmi, and Ahdaf Soueif express their “shock and dismay.”

If you want to let the Guardian know how you feel about the appointment of Treviño, add a comment to his “clarification” column (registration required but free), and/or write directly to Ms. Gibson at [email protected] and cc her managing editor, Nell Boase, [email protected], and editorial administrator Kylie Lacey at [email protected] Facebook users can also “like” a page entitled “No Incitement to Murder: Treviño off the Guardian.”

Here’s the note I sent Ms Gibson et al. in response to her message pointing me to Treviño’s attempt at self-justification:

Thanks for your response, Janine. I’m glad to see you say you take the issue seriously. Unfortunately, neither your note nor Mr. Treviño’s column in any way persuades me that there’s anything at all, let alone anything important, to be gained from reading his work – or that I should support an outlet that thinks he’s worthy of a position on your team. On the contrary!

A few problems with his column:

a) His claim that he intended only to convey the same position as Hilary Clinton and Rick Perry is transparent, self-serving nonsense. Obviously I disagree with Clinton’s assertion that the flotilla was not necessary or useful, or even that our sailing to Gaza would create a situation in which the Israelis have the right to defend themselves. But saying it would be “cool” if they shot us goes way beyond that position – it’s cheering them on, not just to stop us, by force if necessary, but to gun us down on the open sea. As for Rick Perry’s demand that we be prosecuted, that proposal, outrageous as it is, would at least have afforded us a chance to explain and defend ourselves before a court of law and a jury of our peers – Treviño apparently isn’t aware that the U.S. Constitution guarantees those rights, or believes that they should be stripped from people he doesn’t like.

b) Considering that this controversy is serious enough in his eyes or yours to elicit an attempt at self-justification, you’d think he would at least take care to get his facts right. Unfortunately, he doesn’t. He asserts, for example, that our “proclaimed intent was merely to facilitate movement of consumer goods by sea.” I defy him to produce any such proclamation – he can’t because none exists. Certainly our group, U.S. Boat to Gaza, never made any such statement, and I’ll wager that none of the 30-something passengers did, either, in the dozens of op-eds we wrote and media interviews we did before we tried to sail. And our boat, The Audacity of Hope, carried no consumer goods, just letters, cards, and drawings. Why? Because our intent was not “merely to facilitate movement of consumer goods by sea,” but rather to challenge the siege of Gaza in all its forms – not just by sea, but also by land and air, and just of consumer goods, but also, for example, of medical supplies, school books, construction materials to rebuild from the damage caused by Operation Cast Lead and other Israeli attacks, and so on. And not just of imports, but also of exports, so the people of Gaza  might begin to rebuild a self-sustaining economy. And above all to open the borders for the movement of people, so residents of Gaza could have the same right to travel that the rest of the world enjoys.

If Mr. Treviño had made the slightest effort to inform himself before shooting off his mouth, he could easily have discovered all this – a minute or two of Googling and looking at our websites, op-eds, or interviews would have been sufficient.

c) Most important, your message and Treviño’s column seem to suggest that the issue is about one tweet. It’s not. What about his statement that the flotillas was “not morally different from a Nazi convoy”? Or that killing unarmed civilians on a U.S.-registered ship in international waters would be “no different” from killing members of the Wehrmacht or Al Qaeda or “Communist service” (whatever that means)? Treviño conveniently avoids any effort to justify all that. I suppose he’s hoping that few readers will bother to look at the documentary evidence of his worldview. We’ll do our best to make sure plenty of people do.

Face it, Ms. Gibson: you hired a thug (and put out a press release to boast about it!). Get rid of him or live with the consequences.

                Henry

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