Thursday, February 1, 2007

Story on Lefty Jews in the New York Times: The reporter has a history in this matter

Some of you may have seen the article in yesterday's New York Times on Alvin Rosenfeld's article on left wing Jews' attacks on Israel's existence as a Jewish state. My guess is that most people who are discussing the matter have not read the article and will not do so.

After all, why bother when you can read 1000 words in the New York Times on the matter? Marty Perez, writing in The New Republic's on line edition predicts the same thing.

The problem is that the reporter for the New York Times is Patricia Cohen. When I saw her name I recalled something else quite relevant about her.

Before my trial the NY Times ran a story on the case. It was an awful article -- treated David Irving with kid gloves and ignored the fact that he had been shown to be bending history.

It was so bad that even the author, D.D. Guttenplan, apologized in an email to me.

When Guttenplan engaged in a mea culpa, he said that one of the reasons the article was so imbalanced is that his editor at the New York Times, Patricia Cohen, insisted that as two Jews, i.e. Cohen and Guttenplan, they "had to bend over backwards to be fair to David Irving."

Here is what I write about this incident in History on Trial:
Shortly after my return home, the New York Times ran an article on the case. I knew it was in the offing and awaited it with some anticipation. This would be our first high profile coverage. I turned to the Arts and Ideas section, and stared at the headline:


Irving, a Holocaust “skeptic”? Surely any reporter who did the least bit of research on Irving knew he was far more than a “skeptic.” Knowing that headlines often fail accurately to convey a story’s content, I read the article. In this instance, the headline truly reflected the substance of the article. Written by Don Guttenplan, a London-based free lance writer making his first contribution to the paper, it proposed that the case “poses disturbing questions about the practice of history.” Irving had told him that there were never any gas chambers at Auschwitz.” According to Irving, this did not make him a denier because his comments “are true.” Irving had also told Guttenplan: "It may be unfortunate for Professor Lipstadt that she is the one who finds herself dragged out of the line to be shot.”

Guttenplan seemed unperturbed by Irving’s imagery and passed over these rather startling statements. Guttenplan had also solicited comments from other historians. Raul Hilberg declared, “I am not for taboos.” Mark Mazower of Princeton insisted that historians cannot restrict themselves to those with whom they are “intellectually akin.”

These comments made me wonder how Guttenplan had presented the case to them. I certainly was neither trying to impose a taboo nor silence Irving. In fact, Irving was trying to do that to me. My critique of Irving had nothing to do with intellectual differences, as Mazower suggested. Unless, of course, from Mazower’s perspective, my critique of Irving’s Holocaust denial and antisemitism somehow rendered us intellectual opposites.

Though Guttenplan knew of instances where Irving had seriously distorted evidence about the Holocaust, he nonetheless depicted this case as two historians slugging it out over historical sources. His reflexive desire to be evenhanded or just provocative overrode and obliterated his knowledge of the evidence.

About a week later, Guttenplan called to inquire about our reaction to the article. Anthony, minced no words. “Deborah thought it was awful. So did I.” Shortly thereafter Guttenplan contacted me to acknowledge that I had “grounds” for being angry with him. He claimed historians were frightened, because of Irving’s litigious reputation, to be quoted on the record. Therefore, the article ending up favoring Irving.

His first draft, he contended, had more accurately reflected my position. However, his editor at the Times, Patricia Cohen, considered it too partisan and engaged, which he interpreted as a demand for more balance. He told me that acceding to her request, and in conjunction with his attempt, “as two Jews trying to be fair,” he could see how some readers might think he ultimately bent too far.”

I was amazed that he was willing to self-censor because he was a Jew and that he attributed the same sentiments to his editor at the paper.

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