I just stumbeld over a strange argument by the New York Time’s Public Editor Margaret Sullivan. In her new article she tries to lay out why she thinks New York Times columnist David Brooks should have disclosed in one of his columns that his son serves in the Israeli army.
She writes: “I don’t think readers usually need to know what the spouses of columnists think or what brothers do for a living, or whether a daughter has joined the U.S. Army. But this situation strikes me as a more extreme case. Mr. Brooks’s son is serving as a member of a foreign military force that has been involved in a serious international conflict – one that the columnist sometimes writes about and which has been very much in the news.”
Let’s leave aside that this smells like and old argument about uncertain loyality of Jews in the countries they live in as a minority and whose citizenship they enjoy. Let’s also put aside the very fact that Brooks regularly writes about his Jewish upbringing, his worldview and how it formed so that every regular reader of his columns knows exactly where Brooks is coming from when he writes about Israel. Let’s only take the argument Sullivan presents as her central one and apply this reasoning about Israel to the United States for a moment.
Let’s take a German foreign policy commentator like myself and let’s assume I had a son or a daughter serving in the US army. According to Sullivan’s argument I would have to disclose that fact to my German readers to make them understand that I might be biased when I write about the US or world affairs for that matter. Because, you know, also America is an “extreme case” that has been constantly “involved” in “a serious international conflict” and “which has been very much in the news”, and not only one conflict, but many. Almost all of which tended to be controversial outside the US. The same by the way holds true for other Western democracies like France or Britain and to a lesser extent other European nations which have been involved in serious conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, parts of Africa and the Middle East in recent years.
So does having relatives in the American, British or French armies make you “an extreme case” as a columnist who also writes about foreign policy? Something in me tells me I shouldn’t hold my breath to await a series of disclosures about columnist’s relatives serving in the armies of all those democracies that are not Israel. And I find it hard to believe that Sullivan would make that same case also for these other countries.
So what Sullivan’s argument boils down to is that any connection to Israel taints a columnist morally because Sullivan evidently believes that Israel itself is a morally stained country. With a little bit of imagination and research she might have found out that this is exactly how many anti-American Europeans and others view the US.
Every now and than you’ll find media outlets who try to smear politicians and publicists by pointing out e.g. their membership in transatlantic institutions or fellowships they enjoyed in American think tanks to depict them as being part of an American propaganda effort. This smear by association in case of the US is just as morally appalling as the argument Sullivan makes about Israel and her colleague David Brooks.
The article was first published on the author’s blog Flatworld.