The real Mideast deal

By Christopher Harper

Donald Trump has built the most effective strategy in the Middle East EVER.

Having covered the Middle East for many years as a reporter, I’ve never seen such successes. The administration has convinced the first Arab state in decades, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, to recognize Israel. Another predominantly Muslim country, Kosovo, has established diplomatic relations with Israel.

Although Barack Obama received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009 for opening a dialogue with Muslim countries, he and Joe Biden frittered away eight years of watching the Middle East devolve into a region dominated by Sunni and Shia extremists.

Civil war raged in Libya and Syria. The Islamic State reared its ugly head in Iraq and Syria. Then the 2015 Iran nuclear deal compounded the problems.

Known officially as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the agreement was intended to delay Iran’s development of an atomic bomb. Instead, the lifting of economic sanctions emboldened Iran to expand its reach to solidify a Shia alliance that stretched through Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

Terrorists launched operations across Europe, leaving hundreds dead.

That’s the landscape that Trump and his administration inherited.

Trump scuttled the nuclear deal with Iran. After that, a military coalition cut the Islamic State down to size. Although remnants of ISIS continue to exist, its leadership was left either dead or in disarray, with little income and land from which to launch terrorist attacks.

After that success, Trump and his team turned their attention toward the peace process that resulted in the agreements between Arabs and Israelis.

That process continues this week in Qatar as U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross are meeting with officials from Qatar to sign agreements on cultural and economic cooperation.

Qatar has had ongoing disputes with its Arab neighbors, particularly Saudi Arabia. This week’s agreements are seen as a way toward settling those arguments and perhaps bringing both countries toward official recognition of Israel. Simultaneously, the first face-to-face talks between the government of Afghanistan and the Taliban began in Doha, the capital of Qatar.

The naysayers point to the lack of any new agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. The Israel-Palestinian-first strategy has left the Middle East without any significant movement on peace and a spate of violence since the Oslo accords of 1993.

Trump’s new approach to the Middle East has created an environment in which the Palestinian leadership, who almost always miss an opportunity to gain more recognition of their rights, may start negotiating as they see their Arab backers make peace with Israel.

Absence of malice?

By Christopher Harper

After repeated examples of lousy journalism under cover of anonymous sources, it’s time to remove them from the reporter’s toolbox.

Here are some examples of false stories that came to you, the reader or viewer, as a result of anonymous sources:

The New York Times and Judith Miller’s allegations that Saddam Hussein had vast caches of weapons of mass destruction

–The Rolling Stone “investigation” of rape on college campuses

–A New York Times story claiming that federal prosecutors were seeking a criminal investigation against Hillary Clinton for her private email accounts

–A CNN story that Congress was investigating a Russian investment fund with ties to Trump officials

–A Washington Post story that Russian hackers had penetrated the U.S. electrical grid

–An MSNBC report that Russian billionaires with ties to Vladimir Putin had co-signed a bank loan for President Trump

In these and many other cases, the prime motivation to use anonymous sources is because the reporter wanted the allegations to be true.

I worked in Washington, where I found the default is usually to promise anonymity because it usually serves the reporter and the source. At the end of the daily news cycle, it doesn’t matter whether the story was true. What counted was the number of eyeballs attracted to the story!

In a discussion on the recent Atlantic claims about Trump and the military, some of my former colleagues in journalism offered Watergate as the underlying justification for anonymous sources.

That was almost 50 years ago! For every good example of what has happened because of anonymous sources, how many bad examples have happened? It took me only a few minutes to recall the fake stories I listed at the top. Give me a few hours, and I’d come up with a basketful.

Oh, how about Dan Rather and Memogate? Maybe Little Jimmy and Janet Cook?

Moreover, news organizations rarely follow their guidelines on the use of anonymous sources. In most ethical codes, a reporter should ONLY use an unnamed source as a last resort. A senior editor usually has to approve the use, and a second source must corroborate the information.

I’ve served as an expert witness in half a dozen lawsuits where reporters and editors didn’t come close to following these guidelines and libeled innocent people.

I recommend that journalists watch Absence of Malice, the 1981 film that analyzes how the use of anonymous sources results in the death of one woman, the disgrace of local and federal prosecutors, and the end of a journalist’s career.

And I didn’t even have to mention the growing disbelief of the public toward journalists as a result of anonymous sources and other miscues.

The presidents and the press

By Christopher Harper

President Trump probably wouldn’t rank in the top five opponents of the media among U.S. presidents.

That’s the verdict of The New York Times in a review of a recent book, “The Presidents vs. the Press: The Endless Battle Between the White House and the Media — From the Founding Fathers to Fake News” by Harold Holzer. 

Yes, that assessment appeared in DaTimes, albeit from Jack Shafer, the media analyst of Politico.

The book’s author is no fan of President Trump. Holzer worked for U.S. Rep. Bella Abzug and New York Gov. Mario Cuomo. 

John Adams signed sedition acts into law and used them against his critics in the media. George Washington even supported Adams’ anti-media tendencies. In his post-presidential years, Adams lamented that people read only Federalist or Republican newspapers—not both—leaving them with a one-sided view of the government in power. Sounds like a prelude to Fox and MSNBC.

Abraham Lincoln, arguably the best president in the nation’s history, imprisoned editors during the Civil War, banned newspapers from using the mail, and even confiscated printing presses. “Altogether, nearly 200 papers would face federally initiated subjugation during the Civil War,” Holzer writes. 

The Roosevelts enjoyed some of the best press among the presidents. But even they took aim at recalcitrant reporters. Theodore Roosevelt rebuked investigative journalists as “muckrakers,” or those who could only look down into the muck. He also filed a libel suit against Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World, which finally was dismissed by the U.S. Supreme Court. 

During World War II, Franklin Roosevelt ordered massive censorship of news organizations, including a government Office of the Censor. His administration also penalized any news organization that reported about his paralysis or his ill health in his final years.

President Woodrow Wilson imposed censorship during World War I in a heavy-handed manner, and his Espionage Act still stands as a repressive law against whistleblowers. 

The battle between President Richard Nixon and his press critics is well documented here—as it has been elsewhere. 

Although Holzer batters Trump for his attacks on the press, the author doesn’t hold back on Barack Obama. Holzer recalls the analysis of former Washington Post managing editor Leonard Downie Jr. that Obama’s “war on leaks and other efforts to control information” were the worst Washington had seen since Nixon.

All told, the book analyzes the 18 of the 45 presidents, with many nuggets about the various administrations.

For example, one journalist confides that the press was as much responsible for the New Deal as was FDR because of the glowing media coverage. That sounds about right!

Moreover, the press ignored JFK’s extra-marital affairs because journalists didn’t think the private doings affected public business. That, of course, ignored at least one affair that straddled a mistress and the Mob. One reporter referred to the president as the “swashbuckler in chief.”

Despite JFK’s tryst with the media, he targeted some enemies, including Henry Luce of Time and David Halberstam of DaTimes.

Although I’ve never been a fan of Lyndon Johnson, the saddest tales come from his administration. LBJ had a massive mandate from the voters in 1964–more than 61 percent–and an excellent rapport with the press. He managed to lose both public and the media’s support by misleading them about the war in Vietnam in what became known as the government’s credibility gap.

DaTruth and DaTimes

By Christopher Harper

Against the backdrop of the investigations into Russia and Ukraine, the New York Times failed to mention one of the most egregious failures about the region propagated by the news organization itself.

Fortunately, a recently released motion picture, Mr. Jones, provides the details of how DaTimes manipulated the American public about the Soviet Union and the Ukraine famine, which resulted in the deaths of millions of people.

The film, directed by Agnieszka Holland, recounts the story of Moscow bureau chief Walter Duranty, a chief propagandist for Josef Stalin, and how Welsh journalist Gareth Jones tried to unmask the gross falsehoods created by the then-venerated Times scribe.

Duranty, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his coverage of the Soviet Union in 1931, dismissed Jones’ first-hand accounts of the famine, known as the Holomodor.

Here are some excerpts from Duranty’s reports:

–New York Times, November 15, 1931: “There is no famine or actual starvation, nor is there likely to be.”

–New York Times, August 23, 1933: “Any report of a famine in Russia is today an exaggeration or malignant propaganda.”

–New York Times, December 9, 1932: “Enemies and foreign critics can say what they please. Weaklings and despondents at home may groan under the burden, but the youth and strength of the Russian people is essentially at one with the Kremlin’s program, believes it worthwhile and supports it, however hard be the sledding.”

–New York Times, May 14, 1933: “You can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs.”

At the time, Duranty was so influential that his reporting is credited for convincing FDR to establish diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union.

Although Jones and others provided extensive evidence to refute Duranty’s reporting, it wasn’t until 2003 that the Pulitzer Board and DaTimes itself finally sought outside analysis of the work.

The Pulitzer “Board determined that Mr. Duranty’s 1931 work, measured by today’s standards for foreign reporting, falls seriously short…. However, the Board concluded that there was not clear and convincing evidence of deliberate deception, the relevant standard in this case….The famine of 1932-1933 was horrific and has not received the international attention it deserves. By its decision, the Board in no way wishes to diminish the gravity of that loss. The Board extends its sympathy to Ukrainians and others in the United States and throughout the world who still mourn the suffering and deaths brought on by Josef Stalin.”

Ironically, DaTimes’ review of Mr. Jones only references Duranty in passing. At least that’s more than what DaTimes said during the recent debate over Russia and Ukraine. 

H/T to my wife Elizabeth for suggesting we watch the film! See the trailer at https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=15&v=wtWSyFNT9qY&feature=emb_logo

Woke, Woker, and Wokest

By Christopher Harper

Philadelphia has managed this past week to create a “woke trifecta” at a country club, a university, and a park.

Just up the street from where I live, two city institutions are battling over the use of a Native American emblem.

For more than 150 years, the Philadelphia Cricket Club and St. Martin’s in the Fields Episcopal Church have been neighbors. Only recently, the church’s rector, the Rev. Jarrett Kerbel, asked the club to retire a logo it uses that is similar to the one used by the Chicago Black Hawks hockey team. 

The use of the figure on the club sign that borders church property “represents the white supremacist legacy of our neighborhood.

“For a club founded for white Protestant elites during the height of the genocide against Native peoples to continue with this logo is to deny our horrific past,” Kerbel wrote Cricket Club president F. John White. “We ask you to retire the offensive logo and replace it with something more benign.”

So far, the club has not responded to the condemnation. 

It’s unclear to me if the church wants the neighborhood to change the names of many of the streets I can’t leave my house without driving or walking upon, including Huron, Pocono, Seminole, and others. I guess that’s a battle for another day!

As I prepare for this semester’s classes, I received an email from my employer, Temple University, where it announced a plan to make us “anti-racist.” Since Temple is known as Diversity U in many circles because of its diversity in students and faculty, I was a bit nonplussed when I received the email from the Office of Institutional Diversity, Equity, Advocacy, and Leadership, or IDEAL.

I was informed that the university is creating a required assessment to “actively evaluate” my role in creating a more diverse and inclusive Temple as well as look for opportunities to develop my skills and literacy related to diversity.

Moreover, it was strongly suggested that I read Ibram Kendi’s “How to be An Anti-Racist” with IDEAL-trained facilitators.

The author, a graduate of Temple’s doctoral program in African-American studies, said: “Racist ideas have defined our society since its beginning and can feel so natural and obvious as to be banal… To be an antiracist is a radical choice in the face of this history, requiring radical reorientation of our consciousness.”

I have no idea what that means and no desire or the time to unpack it.

Meanwhile, the City of Philadelphia wants to remove a 150-year-old marble statue of Christopher Columbus, a gift from Italy.

Fortunately, a sane judge has stopped the city’s actions until a court hearing on the matter.

The critics failed to realize that the statue sits in a park named for Guglielmo Marconi, a pioneer of radio. That would be the same Marconi who was a good friend of Benito Mussolini, the fascist dictator of Italy during World War II.

I guess fascism against Jews, Poles, and other “inferior” white races doesn’t get much traction in the woke culture.

Hope or Hezbollah?

By Christopher Harper

For nearly a decade, I lived and traveled into Beirut—a time that molded me into a journalist.

In Beirut, you worked hard and played hard. Almost every day, journalists went into a dangerous city, where many thousands of people died, and almost every night, they retired to the bar at the Commodore Hotel.

My wife Elizabeth and I arrived in Beirut in 1979, where we lived for two years. After that, we spent many days back in Lebanon during a variety of news stories, including the Israeli invasion of Lebanon. We returned in 2011 during the Arab uprising to see Beirut had risen from the ashes, with restaurants and businesses booming from an economic resurgence.

Although we both loved the city and made friends with whom we remained close for many years, recent events did not surprise us.

Lebanon has existed for decades without a government. When it had a good leader like Rafic Harari, a businessman and prime minister, he ended up dead in 2005 as the victim of assassination. Ironically, last week’s explosion occurred just as a United Nations tribunal was set to determine the guilt or innocence of those suspected of killing Harari. See https://www.reuters.com/article/us-lebanon-tribunal-hariri-idUSKCN2512IC

For the past year, Lebanese have been protesting the current government for its corruption and inability to deal with day-to-day issues, such as garbage collection. As an example, my former colleague can only received $500 a month from his ABC News and government pensions because the government has placed severe restrictions on the country’s banking system.

Although the Lebanese president, Michel Aoun, is a Christian—as delineated in the country’s constitution–he is beholden to Hezbollah, the Shia militia, for his power. He remains in power despite the resignation of the prime minister and the cabinet.

Hezbollah has links to Iran and Hamas and is considered a terrorist organization by the U.S. government. Hezbollah was behind the 1983 attack against the U.S. Marines that left more than 200 dead and the hijacking of TWA 847 in 1985 that left a U.S. sailor dead. The group has a vast militia, which rivals the country’s army, and has engaged in a variety of battles with Israel.

More important for Lebanon, Hezbollah helped create a corrupt and negligent political system that created the lack of enforcement at the port and allowed the storage of 2,700 tons of ammonium nitrate.

Moreover, a new report by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies asserts that Hezbollah siphons off billions of dollars from around the world. Money is laundered through Lebanon, allowing Hezbollah to function as a kind of parallel state, one with its financial and social services. See https://www.fdd.org/analysis/2020/08/04/crisis-in-lebanon/

When my wife and I lived in Lebanon, the country embraced the song “I’ll Will Survive” as it national anthem. The resignation of the government may be a step toward survival, but Hezbollah still has a choke hold on the country. No survival will occur until the organization no longer holds significant power in Lebanon.

The left and free speech

By Christopher Harper

Many Americans say they do not talk about politics for fear it might cost them their jobs.

A Cato Institute poll found that 62% of those surveyed believe the current political climate prevents them from making their views public.

These fears cross partisan lines, but Republicans at 77% are by far the most likely to stay quiet.

Leftists stand out, however, as the only political group who feel they can say whatever they want to.

The survey also found that many people, particularly those on the left, think political contributions should affect someone’s employment. Nearly a third, or 31%, support firing a business executive who donates to Donald Trump’s reelection campaign. Support increases to 50% of leftist who support firing executives who personally donate to Trump.

Young Americans are also more likely than older Americans to support punishing people at work for personal donations to Trump. Forty-four percent of Americans under 30 support firing executives if they donate to Trump. That belief falls significantly, or 20%, among those over 55.

The analysts summed it up: “If people feel they cannot discuss these important policy matters, such views will not have an opportunity to be scrutinized, understood, or reformed.”

A recent email from Pearson Higher Ed, a major publisher of academic journals and books, underlined how leftists shout the loudest.

The publisher was pushing a variety of seminars on racism. “Systemic racism has created an unprecedented level of outrage across America and around the globe. People are looking for answers and information about how we got to this point and how to create a more equitable world,” the publisher postulated.

I’m almost certain many of my colleagues will pass along the seminars to their students. If I even questioned the foundation of these beliefs, I would be even more castigated by my colleagues. I just shut up and vote for Trump. Now I know I’m not alone.

The survey was designed and conducted by the Cato Institute in collaboration with YouGov. YouGov collected responses online July 1–6 from a national sample of 2,000 Americans 18 years of age and older. The margin of error for the survey is +/- 2.36 percentage points at a 95% level of confidence. See the full report at https://www.cato.org/publications/survey-reports/poll-62-americans-say-they-have-political-views-theyre-afraid-share

Three strikes, and I’m out

By Christopher Harper

Like most of my friends in the Boomer generation, I loved baseball as a kid.

My friends and I traded baseball cards. We’d oil our gloves during the winter months in anticipation of the spring.

If we weren’t practicing with a team, we’d hustle to the makeshift diamond our parents built in a nearby vacant lot.

I played second base. I didn’t quite have the arm of a shortstop. I usually batted second or third in the lineup because I was a good hitter.

When I was eight, I wrote a letter to the New York Yankees and got a bundle full of photos, autographs, and information about the team. When I visited San Francisco a few years later, my father bought me a baseball with all of the team’s autographs, including future Hall of Famers Juan Marichal, Willie Mays, and Willie McCovey.

My love affair with baseball was sealed in Yankee pinstripes and Giant orange and black!

As a journalist, I covered a wide range of sporting events, including afternoon games at Wrigley Field in Chicago and Harry Caray’s seventh-inning songfest. I wrote a profile of Rod Carew, who won six batting titles.

Later in life, I flew into Chicago from Beirut to see the White Sox in the 1983 playoffs. I enjoyed the Yankees of the 1990s when I lived there, and even took my 9-year-old daughter to a game. I relished the Phillies of 2008, where I now live, and their World Series win.

But those memories have become tainted by the politically correct version of baseball today. Baseball used to be a game I could attend with my friends and talk baseball, not politics.

Today I have two heroes left in the game. One is San Francisco Giants pitcher Sam Coonrod, the only player to stand rather than take a knee, telling reporters after the game that as a Christian he “can’t kneel before anything besides God.”

The other is Bryce Harper, who revealed a sports coat honoring the Phanatic and a pair of cleats that included feathers emblematic of the Phillies mascot. That was fun!

Whatever the case, I’ve watched my last baseball game until it becomes a game again rather than a political statement. I hope others feel the same way! Maybe Major League Baseball will get the message.

Covid, the campaign, and a conspiracy

By Christopher Harper

Philadelphia is a tough, in-your-face city that doesn’t have much time for nannies.

But Mayor Jim Kenney has become the city’s chief nanny who has determined that he’ll lock the place down until the end of February.

No fans at Phillies or Eagles games. No Thanksgiving Day parade. No Mummers’ Parade, a Philadelphia institution, on New Years Day. No conventions. No music concerts.

The edict comes as the number of Covid-19 cases has fallen dramatically.

He’s banned visitors from other states like California, Texas, and even Idaho, resulting in a huge financial blow to bars, hotels, and restaurants. So far, the city is expected to lose more than $700 million in tax dollars.

Of course, political demonstrations for “social justice” are exempt from the ban!

I’m not much for conspiracy theories, but the mayor’s unnecessary clampdown raises the specter that Philadelphia may be a test case to suppress voter turnout for Donald Trump.

If Philly succeeds in its lockdown, other locales may use the edict as a model for the 2020 presidential election.

That would mean no Trump rallies. A push for an expansion of mail-in ballots. A likelihood that Trump, who carried the key electoral votes in Pennsylvania in 2016, will be hard pressed to do it again.

Trump won Pennsylvania by 44,292 votes out of more than 6,000,000 cast, the narrowest margin in a presidential election for the state in 176 years and the first Republican since George H. W. Bush won the state in 1988.

In Philadelphia, Hillary Clinton won more than 80 percent of the heavily Democrat city. But Trump got more than 100,000 votes here.

Just think about how the mayor and the other Democrat nanny, Gov. Tom Wolf, can suppress Trump voters. Wolf has limited outdoor gatherings to less than 250 people, making political rallies almost impossible. 

It’s disgusting how the Democrats are using the pandemic as a means to tip the balance in the 2020 presidential election.

Don’t know much about history

By Christopher Harper

After I assigned two readings about the end of World War II, I received a question from one student: Why did the United States want to invade Japan?

The readings included John Hersey’s Hiroshima and Paul Fussell’s Thank God for the Atom Bomb!

The latter recounts how Fussell was part of the army ready to invade Japan. Estimates of allied casualties stood at roughly one million before the atomic bombs were used.

I explained to the student the history of Japanese involvement in the war and how Japan refused to surrender in the closing days of World War II.

I couldn’t really fault the student because his public school teachers have turned courses on American history into a social justice warrior screed about the nation’s misdeeds.

Now these failures in public education have created massive misunderstanding of the history of this country and some of its key leaders.

Take, for example, the recent desecration of the statues of Frederick Douglass and Ulysses S. Grant.

If anyone represented the values of Black Americans, Douglass did.

Douglass, who was born into slavery in Maryland in 1818, escaped and became the leading abolitionist in his day. In 1847, Douglass started The North Star, an abolitionist newspaper in Rochester, New York.

In Rochester, in 1852, Douglass delivered an address that eventually became known as “What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?” One biographer called it “perhaps the greatest antislavery oration ever given.”

It was on the anniversary of this speech that protesters toppled his statue in Rochester, a gross lack of understanding of Douglass’s role in Black Americans’ struggle.

A few days later, rioters in San Francisco defaced and damaged a statue of Grant, a committed abolitionist. 

Author Ron Chernow has recently written an excellent account of Grant’s role in fighting for abolitionist causes. The History Channel recently turned Chernow’s book into a three-part series for television.

As a general, Grant defeated the Confederacy and insisted that the opposing army treat Black soldiers the same as whites. As president, Grant fought the Ku Klux Klan and endorsed Black voting rights.

His sin, according to the protestors? He kept one of his wife’s family slaves as an aide for a year before giving him freedom. 

All of the recent acts to cancel the culture of the United States reminded of Spanish philosopher George Santayana’s famous warning: “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

I would add that those who do not know history—as well as those who failed to teach history properly—should also be condemned.