Shop Talk: The Sacramento Bee

Alison Weir is the President of the Council for the National Interest (CNI) and Executive Director of If Americans Knew; a more detailed discussion of this incident is available on both organizations’ websites. Her phone calls to Bee editors requesting interviews were not returned.

Alison Weir
Editor & Publisher Print Edition
April 2011

Editors at McClatchy’s Sacramento Bee recently made a series of questionable decisions in their coverage of a local event.

They ran news stories about opposition to an upcoming event beforehand and accusations against it afterward, but didn’t cover the event itself.

They reported on claims that a flier distributed at the event was a “disgusting lie,” but didn’t interview the flier’s authors.

They then refused to publish letters or op-eds giving evidence that the flier’s statements were factual.

Finally, their headline about the allegedly offensive flier indicated a Muslim connection, even though the flier’s authors were Jewish and the Muslim connection tangential. A similar headline disseminated on McClatchy’s national wire generated anti-Muslim comments.

The event in question was a forum featuring an Auschwitz survivor speaking about Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. Called “Never Again For Anyone,” it was sponsored by 17 national and local organizations – secular, Jewish and Muslim.

When the Board of Rabbis of Greater Sacramento opposed this upcoming talk, the Bee reported on their claim that it was “anti-Semitic” and would “defile the sacred memory of millions who perished during the Holocaust” (“Holocaust survivor's planned talk at mosque angers Sacramento Jewish leaders,” Feb. 16, 2011). It also included responses from the Auschwitz survivor and others denying these accusations.

Bee editors did not, however, cover the event itself, nor report on its actual content.

Four days later, the Bee published a story (“Steinberg condemns fliers at Holocaust’s survivor's speech at mosque,” Feb. 20, 2011) reporting accusations that a flier distributed at the event was “an outrageous rewrite of history” – but failed to interview the flier’s authors at the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network for their response (though it included quotes defending the forum itself). The main accuser was California Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, one of California’s most powerful politicians.

At least two people then contacted the Bee to remedy its critical omission in reporting on the flier, to no avail. I was one of them.

I had not attended the forum, but read the story about the flier’s allegedly fallacious statements: that members of Israel’s founding movement had colluded with Nazis and had undermined an international anti-Hitler boycott. Having studied Israeli history extensively, I knew that the flier’s content was actually supported by numerous books, had caused considerable scandal when the facts first emerged in the 1950s, and was even the subject of a 1996 Israeli docudrama.

I majored in journalism, have worked as an editor, and remember when the op-ed column was created as a place for outside writers to share facts and perspectives not contained in the newspaper. I went to the Bee and phoned opinion page editor Stuart Leavenworth from the lobby to propose an op-ed.

Leavenworth asked what I wished to address. When I told him, he said he would not print an op-ed saying that Zionists had collaborated with Nazis. Somewhat taken aback, I told him I had books on the subject with me that I could show him. He replied that normally someone would schedule such a meeting ahead of time. I asked when we could schedule a meeting. He said he would not schedule one. He told me to submit an op-ed – with citations.

I submitted an article, cited seven books, and received a canned rejection. (I have since learned that another person’s letter to the editor, also citing strong sources, was similarly rejected.)

Fundamental journalistic principles required the Bee to remedy its one-sided reporting, particularly since this had given readers an erroneous impression of literature disseminated at a local event, of Muslims at a time of escalating violence against them, and of Israel, with which the U.S. has a unique “special relationship.”

Therefore, I contacted Bee editors (it has no ombudsman), but without result. Apparently, they were unconcerned that they gave readers half a report – and that it wasn’t even the accurate half.

Related story with more details: Denying Nazi-Zionist collusion:The Sacramento Bee, Darrell Steinberg, and Islamophobia

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