Author Mark Arax has written an article in Salon that details allegations against the Los Angeles Times in killing a story on how the Israeli lobby was helping efforts to deny the Armenian genocide in exchange for Turkey’s support of Israel. Despite the focus on media issues on this blog, I am embarrassed to say that I was unaware of the controversy until this column.
While writing at the LA Times, Arax was a respected journalist nominated by the newspaper for a Pultizer Prize. He is also Armenian, which he insists should not matter, but it appears to have mattered to his editors.
He is reporting in Salon how groups and leading Jewish figures have recently come out to recognize the genocide. He suggests that this change came when Turkey confronted Israel over the recent deaths on the aid ships to Gaza.
Arax recounts how he wrote an article on how the “Israel lobby in the U.S. has played a quiet but pivotal role in pressuring Congress, the State Department and successive presidents to defeat simple congressional resolutions commemorating the 1.5 million Armenian victims.”
This was in the spring of 2007 and resulted in the first story of his killed on the eve of publication in his 20-year journalistic career.
Turkey was the first Muslim country to recognize Israel and was viewed as a critical ally for Israel. Arax wrote the article on how the powerful Israeli lobby in Washington reinforced this relationship by blocking genocide recognition. He recounts an encounter with a Turkish diplomat who immediately asked if he was an Armenian. He allegedly questioned how there could have been genocide if Arax was standing in front of him, stating “So both of your grandfathers survived, huh?”
Notably, Arax was not the first to make this connection. He interviewed Yair Auron, a professor at the Open University of Israel who had authored the 2003 book “The Banality of Denial: Israel and the Armenian Genocide.”
He also interviewed Abraham Foxman, the head of the Anti-Defamation League in New York after he came from a meeting allegedly coordinating lobbying with Turkish officials. He quotes Foxman as saying “[o]ur focus is Israel. If helping Turkey helps Israel, then that’s what we’re in the business of doing. . . . Was it genocide? It was wartime. Things get messy.”
Arax says that his editors killed the story because of his Armenian background.
My editor in Washington was pleased. . . . The weekend came and went, but the story held . . .
“But why?” I asked.
“Your byline,” he said.
Then it hit me. Even as the paper was nominating one of my other stories for a Pulitzer Prize, on this story I was an Armenian.
. . . The managing editor said I was not an objective reporter because I had once signed a petition stating that the Armenian Genocide was a historical fact.
I had never signed such a petition. But if I had, how did this prove bias? Our own style book at the Times recognized the genocide as a historical fact.
“Would you tell a Jewish reporter that he couldn’t write about Holocaust denial because he believed the Holocaust was a fact?” I asked.
His answer was to reassign my story to a colleague in Washington who covered Congress. That this reporter was Jewish — and the story dealt with Jewish denial of the genocide — didn’t seem to faze the managing editor. The colleague, who may not have had a choice in the matter, proceeded to gut my story. By the time he was done, there was not a single mention of Jewish denial.
It is a disturbing account. Arax says that a later internal probe found his article to be unbiased and that the managing editor was later forced out.