January 11, 2011
Dear Britain: Rein in Fox News
I know many Jews who, in European terminology, would be classified as “center left.” They believe that the domestic and foreign policies of the Republican Party bode poorly for America. They abhor Sarah Palin and fear the Tea Party and what they consider to be its rather simplistic worldview. Irrespective of where they live, their daily paper is The New York Times.
They depend on National Public Radio (NPR) and television’s Public Broadcasting System. Some even listen to the BBC. One news source that they rigorously avoid is Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News. These centre-left Jews find Fox shrill and, contrary to its claim, unbalanced in both its news and editorial coverage.
There is, though, one situation which causes these rules to be cast to the wind: a crisis in Israel. During the flotilla affair, one of these aforementioned Jews explained why she was watching Fox: “It’s the only place where I can hear analysts who are not already convinced that Israel is wrong.” They believe that NPR, while not as bad as the BBC, rarely seems to be able to find anything affirmative about Israel or derogatory about the Palestinians.
During the Gaza war, I heard someone who has never voted for a Republican reflect that Fox News was the only channel that did not consider Hamas or Hezbollah unbiased and trustworthy sources.
In recent months, however, Jewish sensitivities have been irritated by both Fox News’ reigning talk-show star, Glenn Beck, and Roger Ailes, president of Fox News. Beck, an “infotainer,” is a station heavyweight, averaging more than 2 million nightly viewers and bringing more than $32 million annually into the Murdoch coffers.
Beck regularly professes his deep love for Israel and has a history of using Holocaust analogies to attack those with whom he disagrees — anyone to the left of him. He accuses his opponents of laying the groundwork for a fascist state. Last summer, Jewish Funds for Justice, a progressive group, criticized Beck’s opposition to the campaign for social justice. The head of the organization, Simon Greer, argued that “to put God first is to put humankind first, and to put humankind first is to put the common good first.” Beck responded that this worldview “leads to death camps. A Jew, of all people, should know that. This is exactly the kind of talk that led to the death camps in Germany. Put humankind and the common good first.”
But this was surpassed by Beck a few months later, when he ran a three-part series on George Soros, titled “The Puppet Master.” Complete with images of demonic-looking Jewish stars, Beck attacked Soros for supposedly trying to take over the world. Soros, Beck claimed, “makes predictions, and his loyal followers make sure they come true.” Soros’ goal, Beck charged, was a “one-world government, the end of America’s status as the prevailing world power.” He excoriated Soros’ efforts to change the governmental systems in Hungary, Georgia, Czechoslovakia and Ukraine, failing to point out that, in each country, Soros was trying to help democratic government gain a foothold.
Many people found Beck’s reference to Soros’ experiences during the Holocaust particularly egregious. Soros’ parents had hidden him with a non-Jew who worked for the Hungarian ministry of agriculture.
On one occasion, the man took Soros with him when he made an inventory of the contents of a home of wealthy Jews who had been deported. Apparently, Soros spent the time riding a horse on the property. This is how Beck described it: “And George Soros used to go around with this anti-Semite and deliver papers to the Jews and confiscate their property and then ship them off. He would help confiscate the stuff. It was frightening …
“Here’s a Jewish boy,” Beck concluded, “helping send the Jews to the death camps.”
This charge echoes a classic anti-Semitic motif: Jews will oppress their own if it is to their advantage to do so. J.J. Goldberg of the Forward described it as the closest thing he had heard to fascism on mainstream television.
At the same time, Roger Ailes was interviewed by Tina Brown’s Daily Beast about NPR’s decision to fire one of its commentators, who also appears on Fox News. The commentator had said that, upon boarding a plane and seeing someone dressed in Muslim garb, he gets nervous. A silly comment but one that did not seem to warrant dismissal. Speaking of NPR officials, Ailes said: “They are, of course, Nazis. They have a kind of Nazi attitude. They are the left wing of Nazism. These guys don’t want any other point of view.” Then, when a barrage of criticism rained down upon him, he apologized, not to the people he called Nazis, but to Abe Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League.
Rupert Murdoch recently made a stirring pro-Israel speech to the ADL but, as his attempt to purchase BSkyB is being adjudicated in the UK, it is incidents like these that should carefully be kept in mind.
Deborah Lipstadt is Dorot Professor of Modern Jewish and Holocaust Studies at Emory University. This essay originally appeared in the Jan. 7 issue of The Jewish Chronicle of London, where British officials are considering permits to allow Rupert Murdoch, the president of Fox, to expand his media holdings in the United Kingdom