Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, February/March 1994, Page 28

Media Watch

Media Coverage of Bobby Ray Inman: Pro-lsrael McCarthyism in Action

By Richard H. Curtiss

“. . . The [Israeli] defense minister, General Sharon, was so furious he came to the U. S. to protest to Mr. Weinberger. The secretary of defense supported my decision. . . When [CIA director Casey came back, his favorite journalist and former campaign manager, Mr. Safire, complained to him about the decision...I recommended that Mr. Casey talk to Mr. Weinberger, who had supported me, and he [Casey] elected not to override the decision. But from that point on, if you will trace the coverage, it's been hostile."

—Excerpt from Admiral Bobby Ray Inman's Jan. 18, 1994 press conference

Americans who didn't personally watch Admiral Bobby Ray Inman's televised press conference on Jan. 18, 1994 would never have been able to figure out the role of Israel's self-appointed American guardians in the admiral's decision to withdraw his nomination as President Bill Clinton's secretary of defense. Based upon, a column written by one of those guardians, New York Times syndicated columnist William Safire, Inman, the Carter-era director of the super-secret National Security Agency, who later retired as deputy director of the Central Intelligence Agency after policy differences with Reagan-era CIA Director William Casey, concluded that Israel's pit bulls in the mainstream media would give him no peace either before or after his confirmation. However, those who didn't see or hear the press conference live, or learn about it from someone who did, wouldn't have a clue.

The fact that this key aspect of the press conference was not covered at all in the first day or two of print media coverage, and was almost blacked out of electronic media coverage except for one or two isolated remarks on talk shows, is significant. It drops a curtain of silence around this crucial aspect of the admiral's decision. In doing so, however, it lifts the curtain on a textbook example of the media's fear of relaying even second-hand references to those in the U. S. government and media who put the pro-Israel spin on U. S. policies and U.S. media coverage of them.

Rather than run afoul of the feared and hated Israel lobby, established U.S. journalists simply left their readers, viewers or listeners in the dark about the underlying cause of the Safire-Inman feud, the admiral's resulting concerns, and even his actual words on the subject. Instead, pack journalists dismissed the press conference as "weird," "goofy" or "paranoid."

It was none of those things, as the transcript excerpts on the following page confirm. (They were not carried, so far as we can ascertain, in a single daily newspaper in the United States.) Admiral Inman's principal mistake was in devoting so little time in his original Austin, Texas press conference to the Israeli catalyst for his problems with Safire, and not picking up on it at all in his subsequent television interviews.

He did mention when he got to the Israel part of the press conference that "wise old friends tell me this is the part of this press conference I should avoid, that I'm opening up a hornet's nest." He also noted ruefully that although "old friends in Washington said 'you shouldn't respond; let us' . . . it turned out no one wanted to be the new target" of what he called "the new McCarthyism."

In three subsequent television interviews that day, with Judy Woodruff on CNN's "International Hour," with Margaret Warner on the "MacNeil/Lehrer Newshour," and a brutal savaging by Ted Koppel on ABC's "Nightline," the interviewers didn't allude to Safire's Israel connection, and the admiral didn't bring it up again.

His "old friends," therefore, were half right. He should either have made his point clearly on every talk show, or left it alone from the beginning. His mistake was raising it once, and then expecting fair-minded media interviewers to bring it up and let him explain it. On this issue, there is no mainstream media fair-mindedness.

It's the same mistake George Bush made on Sept. 12, 1991, when he went right around the media curtain of silence and said directly to the American public in a televised press conference that "there are a thousand lobbyists up on the Hill today lobbying Congress for loan guarantees for Israel and I'm one lonely little guy down here asking Congress to delay its consideration of loan guarantees for Israel for 120 days." A poll afterward found 86 percent of the American people supported him.

George Bush never renewed his public challenge to the Israel lobby, and the public soon forgot about it. But apologists for Israel didn't. From that moment, if not before, there was a media crusade to discredit Bush, his administration, and even the reviving U.S. economy in a single-minded and unrelenting campaign to defeat him in the 1992 election. Bill Safire led the pack, writing in his column that although he had served in the White House as a Republican speech writer, and that George Bush was a long-time personal friend, he was voting for Bill Clinton.

Neither pro-Israel journalists or voters had to ask why. They cast their votes accordingly. After the election, the head of one pro-Israel national organization had T-shirts made up that said "85 percent." They reminded all who saw them that, although 86 percent of the American public as a whole may ever-so-briefly have supported George Bush on the loan guarantees, 85 percent of American Jews voted for Bill Clinton, according to exit polls published in Jewish weekly newspapers, and may vote for or against him in 1996 primarily according to his relationship with Israel.

SAFIRE'S COLUMN

Bill Safire wrote in a column published in The New York Times on Dec. 23 that Bobby Ray Inman had restricted information available to Israel from U.S. intelligence agencies, had fingered Israel as the source of the false "Libyan Hit Squad" story that turned the White House and key government agencies into fortified bunkers, and had supplied the information for then-Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger's stern assessment for the sentencing judge of the extent of damage caused U.S. intelligence facilities and agents by convicted spy Jonathan Jay Pollard. From the moment they read Safire's column, Israel's apologists in the U.S. media knew what to do, and Admiral Inman's "wise friends" knew what he would be up against, both prior to and after his confirmation.

None of this was touched on in the coverage of his withdrawal. Eleanor Clift remarked that evening on a talk show that although Admiral Inman seemed to be blaming Israel's friends and the media for his problems, she didn't think anyone had that much power. If she really believed that, she might repeat the line that "Congress is an Israeli-occupied territory," which she once offered as a humorous answer to a televised "McLaughlin Group" question about something Congress had done. She got away with it once, but twice more and she might learn the true meaning of "three strikes and you're out," as the president said in another context.

Tim Russert of "Meet the Press" alluded to Inman's charge that Safire's hostility was based upon solicitousness for Israel in an on-camera question to Safire. "Disinformation," was Safire's response. That's a suspiciously sparse answer to a very serious and richly detailed charge.

"Newspapers of record" didn't record that any of this had happened in first- and second-day coverage. On Jan. 20, The New York Times ran a 30-column-inch report by Elaine Sciolino, a 28-columninch report by Maureen Dowd, and a 31-inch report by Tim Weiner. Together, their 89 column inches were longer than the transcript of the press conference would have been, if the Times had chosen to run it, but far less enlightening. None mentioned Inrnan's references to Israel.

Nor did The Washington Post's Jan. 20 31-inch report by Ann Devroy and Barton Gellman. The Wall Street Journal's Jan. 21 49-inch report by Thomas Ricks and Michael Frisby did mention Inman's reference to criticism by "Safire and his clique of supporters" and his conclusion that he would face "a daily diet of this," but nowhere did it mention Inman's explanation of why.

Commentary was just as deceitful. In a Jan. 19 editorial, the Christian Science Monitor said "the media are always easy scapegoats," but didn't mention either Safire or Israel. The Washington Post's Mary McGrory was daring enough to paint word portraits of Israel's Menachem Begin in acid ink at the time of Ariel Sharon's 1982 invasion of Lebanon. However, she, too, apparently knows about three-time losers. Her Jan. 20 column on Inman's press conference compared him to the "off-the-wall naval officer lashing out at the world" depicted in The Caine Mutiny and suggested he was a "career egomaniac." She didn't even hint at what Inman had to say about Safire and Israel.

Syndicated columnist Suzanne Fields said in her Jan. 24 column in the Washington Times that "psychiatrists might label him 'aggressively passive"' and used much of the rest of her column to speculate on what Inman might be afraid of. It's clear what she's afraid of, since she found no space at all to mention the Israeli connection, his reference to the new McCarthyism, or name the practitioner of it named by Inman.

Columnist Richard Grenier, in a Jan. 24 Washington Times piece headlined "The Real 'New McCarthyism,"' wrote he'd "pretty much figured out Bobby Ray Inman . . . but what in heaven's name is McCarthyism?" Obviously he knows the answer, since his non-mention of the admiral's remarks about Safire and Israel will protect him from it. Ellen Goodman, one of Inman's previous critics, asked in her Boston Globe column, "Are we talking thin-skinned or are we talking weird?" She didn't talk about Safire or Israel.

Suzanne Garment, who might fit easily into that Wall Street Journal word picture of "Safire and his clique of supporters," did cite in a Jan. 24 guest column in The Wall Street Journal what she described as Inman's "anti-Israel bias" in terms that implicitly equated it with anti-Semitism. Her words illustrate the kind of ruthless attack the admiral knew he would be facing if he didn't withdraw. She wrote:

"During his press session Inman named five journalists who had treated him badly: Safire, Tony Lewis, Ellen Goodman, the cartoonist Herblock and Rita Braver. All five are Jewish. He referred to Braver as 'Braverman.' This pattern did nothing to dispel any public impressions of Inman's anti-Israel bias. In fact, it is the sort of speech for which the phrase 'lack of sensitivity' seems eminently suitable."

Even syndicated columnist Mona Charen, a monomaniacal fountainhead of media misinformation on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, couldn't match such a vicious smear. Instead, she informed her readers in a Jan. 24 Washington Times column that instead of being motivated by "duty, honor and country" Inman was "moved more by comfort, ego and arrogance." There was no mention in her column of William Safire or the Israel connection. Nor did any journalist anywhere point out that Admiral Inman did not attack the media as a whole. He made it clear that he was questioning columns only in the New York Times and Boston Globe, which are jointly owned.

AN OCCASIONAL DIAMOND OF FACT

The careful reader, however, could find an occasional diamond of fact gleaming through the media sludge poured over Inman. The New York Times juxtaposed two opposing articles on its Jan. 21 editorial page. In one, historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. glibly assured readers that the three critical columns, whose authors he didn't name, "were not McCarthyite at all." In the other column, however, former Assistant Secretary of Defense and Secretary of the Navy James Webb explained:

"Admiral Inman served many years in Washington. When he read William Safire's now infamous column he would have known beyond cavil that he was facing more than 'a good pop' as Mr. Safire later put it. He was being targeted. "Mr. Safire mocked him for continuing to use 'Bobby,' the name his parents gave him; he outlined secondhand allegations from years ago and excoriated Admiral Inman as 'anti-Israel,' possessing an 'animus' that 'contributed to the excessive sentencing of Jonathan Pollard.' Then, through highly selected analysis of his long career, he labeled the admiral a 'flop,' a 'naif' and a 'cheat.' The remainder of his political life probably rolled in fast-forward before the admiral's eyes. He no doubt understood that for a few journalists every decision he would take as secretary of defense would be scrutinized, and even hyperbolized, not on its immediate merits but because of innuendo surrounding decisions he had made more than a decade ago."

Webb says it all. But in terms so guarded that they would inform only those who already understood.

The Washington Post's media critic, Howard Kurtz, who isn't always so scrupulous, recorded some of the substance of the Inman dispute in the third part of his Jan. 24 media column (after an examination of recurring invention of quotes by the New Yorker and a particularly unsavory aspect of the Bobbitt trial media coverage).

Kurtz wrote: "Safire wasn't returning calls earlier this week when Inman . . . accused the columnist of a McCarthyite effort to destroy his reputation. Inman has backed off some of his charges, but alleged again in an interview this week that when he, as deputy CIA director, moved in 1981 to limit Israel's access to U.S. intelligence, Safire privately asked Casey to overrule Inman. 'He was actively trying to get the policy overturned,' Inman told the Post. 'Casey instantly came in upset about it."'

Kurtz continued: "Newsday columnist Lars-Erik Nelson quickly picked up the issue. 'If Inman is correct,' he wrote, 'Safire, supposedly a working journalist, lobbied Casey on behalf of Israel. And when he was defeated, he took his revenge on Inman in his newspaper columns and TV commentaries."'

In his Jan. 20 column for the Los Angeles Times, Alexander Cockburn quoted Inman's statement about General Sharon and picked up where Inman had left off:

"Safire's admiring relationship with Sharon is a matter of record in his own columns. There is a sequel that Inman did not explore. The Tuwaitha [Baghdad nuclear installation] raid was led by Col. Avi Sella, who was later dispatched to the United States as controller of Jonathan Pollard, the spy who worked at the Naval Intelligence Service and provided Israel with precisely the satellite intelligence being withheld under Inman's order. In his Dec. 23 column in The New York Times, about which Inman made complaint and which seems to have contributed powerfully to his decision to stand down, Safire specifically accused Inman of contributing to the 'excessive sentencing' of Pollard. In other words, the tensions between Inman and Safire speak to a larger enduring tension nourished by U.S. Navy men against Israeli governments and their claque here for such episodes as the bombing of the USS Liberty and Pollard's espionage."

Cockburn's column notwithstanding, the media blackout on the real reason for New York Times columnist William Safire's feud with Bobbie Ray Inman demonstrates that Inman probably was prudent to drop out. With pack journalists going after him day after day (with some of them, perhaps, not even knowing why it was open season on Inman), the White House would have become convinced well before the 1996 elections that he was a "political liability" to a president seeking re-election. Such media attacks might also have jeopardized the Pentagon budget, causing Inman to lose the support of the military rank and file.

Of greater significance on the national panorama, however, is this graphic demonstration of the reluctance of the mainstream media to deal honestly with the American public when U.S. Middle East policy is concerned.

Virtually no one in America who reads these words will have read Admiral Inman's original words accompanying this article. Perhaps it's not a total media blackout so long as articles by Cockburn, WeW, Kurtz, and a few others reach some readers. But it's certainly a brownout in a situation where the media instead should be turning a bright spotlight on the question of why no American who really does place "honor, duty and country" above all other considerations, including Israel, can aspire to unchallenged service in America's first, second, third or fourth estates.

 

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