Founded as the Manchester Guardian in 1821, the Guardian – along with the BBC – has long been the flagship of the British left, its very name synonymous with socialist politics. It has also, like many newspapers on both sides of the pond, been losing money for years because of competition from the Internet. How to solve this problem? The publishers of another major British paper, the Daily Mail, have addressed it by creating a website that's lively, colorful, and packed with news stories (many of them sensational human-interest-type stuff) not just from Britain, but from around the world, especially the U.S. As a result the Mail's site has acquired a substantial international audience – the readers who post comments are as likely to be in Birmingham, Alabama, as in Birmingham, England – and has become the most heavily trafficked newspaper site in the U.K.
In 2007, the Guardian tried to increase its visibility in the U.S. by means of a special Guardian America subsite, but the project was deemed unsuccessful and was abandoned in 2009. Last year, however, the paper tried again. Unveiling Guardian US, Janine Gibson, editor of the new section, announced that “we're hiring a new US team of writers, technologists and editors to work with journalists from the UK, to combine the Guardian's internationalist, digital journalism with American voices and expertise.” Since then, the Guardian has hired a raft of American news commentators. From Naomi Wolf to Glenn Greenwald, they've all been leftists. This, of course, is bad business – a newspaper whose readership is sliding rapidly downhill can't afford to alienate half of its potential audience. Even the New York Times has long made it a policy to have a couple of regular columnists on board whose politics are contrary to those of the editors (though not that contrary – and, in any event, op-ed pages, Book Review and other sections of the Times tend to be more reliably in line with the editors' worldview).
Such considerations, it must be presumed, explain why the publishers of the Guardian decided to engage the services of Josh Treviño. Treviño is a founder of the Red State blog, which describes itself as “the most widely read right of center blog on Capitol Hill,” “the most often cited right of center blog in the media,” and “one of the most influential voices of the grassroots on the right.” He is also well known as a staunch defender of Israel. The Guardian press release, issued on August 15, read as follows:
Today the Guardian announced the addition of Josh Treviño to their editorial team. Formerly of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, Treviño will be the newest Correspondent for the Guardian’s growing US politics team through his column “On Politics & Persuasion” which launches on Monday, August 20.
The response to this announcement was instantaneous – and outraged. Out of nowhere, an anti-Treviño movement emerged, spearheaded by Al Jazeera journalist Ali Abunimah, who on August 15, having apparently combed through Treviño's oeuvre in search of something that could profitably be highlighted for maximum damage, drew attention, in a posting at his charmingly named Electronic Intifada website, to a 2011 tweet by Treviño that read as follows: “Dear IDF: If you end up shooting any Americans on the new Gaza flotilla – well, most Americans are cool with that. Including me.”
Abunimah, of course, read this flippant tweet as a cold-blooded call for murder.
Dozens of Abunimah's readers at Electronic Intifada posted livid comments. A sampling: “As an American, the reason why I read the Guardian is because I know I will be reading a guaranteed, left wing newspaper....I'm not reading it anymore.” “It's sickening to see people like this gracing the pages of a well-known publication. N[o] sane and civilised person should condone this.” “This is a sad day for the Guardian's readership.” “Joshua Treviño is a fascist right winger, and the Guardian is mainstreaming his ideology.” “[The Guardian's] job is to protect Neoliberal capitalism and the status quo by providing a relief valve for centrist liberals- not hardly left.” “The Guardian is done, finished.”
Abunimah wasn't finished. Identifying Treviño, in an August 18 follow-up piece for Al-Jazeera, as “a Republican party operative” and an “ideologue for hire,” he raged that among the passengers on that flotilla “whose killing by Israel Treviño endorsed” were “poet and author Alice Walker, elderly Holocaust survivor Hedy Epstein and several journalists, including Joseph Dana on assignment for The Nation.” Asking “What's gone wrong at The Guardian?” Abunimah charged that “the venerable left-leaning liberal newspaper has effectively given its stamp of approval to speech that goes beyond mere hate, speech that clearly crosses the line into incitement to murder unarmed civilians and journalists.” As if the point hadn't already been made, Abunimah underscored Treviño's “propensity to call for violence.” And just to add to the absurdity of it all, this Al-Jazeera hack raised the dark specter of the Guardian headed down – gasp! – the same path as the dreaded Fox News.
The press people at the Guardian were quick to respond to Abunimah's Al-Jazeera piece, assuring him on August 18 that Trevino would not be a “correspondent” for the paper – even though the press release had used that very word – but was merely “a freelance writer” who was “on contract to write opinion pieces.” Meanwhile, the Guardian silently revised its press release about Treviño to reflect this new job description, so that instead of calling him a new member of the “editorial team” it described him as joining the paper's “commentary team,” and rather than “Correspondent” (capitalized!) he was now “commentator.” Rumors spread that Treviño had been demoted, but, when contacted by the New Statesman's Helen Lewis, a Guardian spokesperson insisted that his “terms of employment” had “not been altered.” Noting that Treviño had actually contributed to the Guardian on a freelance basis three times in the last couple of years, Lewis, writing on August 19, pointed out the oddness of issuing a press release for the purpose of announcing, as she put it, “'Person Who Has Written For Us Before is Still Writing.'”
It was also on August 19 that the Guardian website ran a letter from twenty-odd left-wing, pro-Palestine heavy hitters who expressed their “shock and dismay at the addition to the Guardian's US commentary team” of a man with such “extreme views.” Among these opponents of “extreme views” were the director of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, the vice-president of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, representatives of Stop the War, Middle East Monitor, the Palestinian Forum of Britain, Jews for Justice for Palestine, Architects and Planners for Justice, Baroness Jenny Tonge (who has expressed sympathy for Palestinian suicide bombers and encouraged the belief that Israelis who were providing emergency medical care to earthquake victims in Haiti were in fact harvesting their organs), and several professors, including Steven and Hilary Rose, the Marxist instigators of the movement for an academic boycott of Israel. Taking their cue from Abunimah, these luminaries also focused on Treviño's Gaza tweet, describing him as “a man who has openly called for the killing of people on humanitarian missions to Palestine, people who have included the Pulitzer-prize-winning author Alice Walker.” Treviño, they maintained, was “a man who clearly has no regard for the rule of law,” who “advocates the killing of his fellow citizens by a foreign army,” and who has “no hesitation in wishing death upon those who disagree with them.” His writings, they added, “can be found on countless sensationalist, racist and hate-speech websites.”
These signatories' real beef with Treviño became clear in the sentences that followed. Treviño, they thundered, has “vested interests” (unlike them). He has “served on the board of the pro-Israel group Act for Israel, and was listed on its website as being 'a staunch digital advocate of Israel.'” (Obviously, support for Israel was the most objectionable of the “extreme views” to which Treviño's opponents objected.) Then there was this sentence: “This former speechwriter for George W Bush will no doubt be bringing his one-sided political views to the Guardian and using it as a platform for his propaganda. It is a sad day for responsible and impartial journalism when the opinions of such a man are sought...by a supposedly progressive publication.” In the judgment of Baroness Tonge, the Roses, and their compadres, in short, a pro-Israel writer who had written speeches for George W. Bush has no place at the Guardian. His views – though not, of course, theirs – are “one-sided,” are “propaganda,” are by definition not “responsible” or “impartial.”
All this international hysteria over the hiring by an aging British newspaper of a young American blogger to write occasionally for its website has served a rather useful purpose: it has powerfully underscored the fact that many of those who consider themselves good Guardian liberals are not liberals at all – in the classical or European sense of the word – but out-and-out authoritarians, intellectual tyrants, fiercely fundamentalist guardians of the temple of orthodoxy. They don't believe in open debate, in honest dissent, in respectful disagreement; they're not interested in hearing what anyone who differs from them has to say, because, in their view, they already possess the truth, are the truth, are living the truth. (Ils sont dans le vrai, as Flaubert put it.) All other views are not just wrong or misguided – they're unclean, evil, dangerous heresies that must be squelched, lest they pollute the pure minds of initiates.
In short, they don't want a public square. They want Pravda.
It's to the Guardian's credit – whatever its motives, and whatever the facts may be about those curious changes in its press release about Treviño – that Treviño's first column under the new dispensation appeared on schedule. It turned out to be a brief, low-key, not particularly partisan look at the first days of the Romney-Ryan campaign. Nothing earthshaking – far from it. But its very appearance, after all the fanatical frenzy, felt like a small, quiet victory for the civilized exchange of opinions by free people. Hello, New York Times?
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