Salon: Author Details Controversy at LA Times Over Article on The Israeli Lobby and Denial of the Armenian Genocide

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 left the newspaper after a controversy over an article that he wrote on the connection between Israel and Turkey in fighting recognition of the genocide.

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.

“My byline?”

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.

Source: Salon.

42 thoughts on “Salon: Author Details Controversy at LA Times Over Article on The Israeli Lobby and Denial of the Armenian Genocide”

  1. Isabel. Can you provide any internet sources which show Fein supported the Iraq invasion? All I can find is that he declared the invasion unconstitutional.

    Stan.
    There just isn’t the alleged genocide of 1915. There was also the Turkish slaughter of Armenians in during the years 1894 to 1895 when approx. 100k to 300k Armenians (unarmed civilians) were murdered by Turkish government officials. (Rummel pg 210)

    This behavior of the Turks (Muslims) as alleged by the Armenians is in general in keeping with typical Muslim behavior since the time of Mohammad. Though, I realize that that is not sole proof of an Armenian genocide.

  2. I have talked with many Turks about the Armenian genocide. Almost all of them deny such a thing happened. The worst that they will admit to is an expulsion of Armenians, since they fought alongside the Russians when Russia was trying to seize parts of NE Turkey both under the Czars, and after the Revolution. The fact that many thousands of Armenians were driven into the desert and left to die is of no interest to the Turks. They claim these people died of exposure, or were killed by Syrian Arab bandits, since “Turks would never do such a thing.” I did meet one Turk who accepted that such a genocide occurred, but he had been educated in the US, spoke perfect English, and had an American wife. He was an officer in the Turkish army, which he hated, and was an anomaly. Even Turkish Maoist/Marxist students deny the genocide, it’s a point of honor with Turks, and I doubt they’ll ever admit to it. Something like the Japanese attitude towards to murder of millions of Koreans, Filipinos, Chinese, etc. Brazilians are rarely eager to admit the extermination of their indigenous population, etc.
    bk

  3. LK,

    Oddly enough lime green was involved. As was canary yellow, turquoise and dark chocolate.

    I wasn’t totally blind though.

    I saw dead decorators.

    (Actually, I’m a bit of a mutant (in more ways than the obvious). I have excellent color vision for a guy.)

  4. I for one do not think Prof. Turley is anti-Israel. I think Israel is acting against its own self interest and most of the press is too afraid of AIPAC to say anything negative or even point out this self-evident fact.

    As for Armenia, my mother grew up in Arlington, MA. For some reason, a lot of Armenians settled in the Boston area after the massacre. She has told me stories of her Armenian-American school friends and their families. Believe me, there was a massacre by the Turks and it’s as unbelievable to me that people would deny this fact as it is that people would deny the holocaust.

    As for Bruce Fein. How can anyone take him seriously after his encouragement of the Iraq invasion. Just look at him and listen to him. He always gave me the creeps with his corpse like face and squeaky high pitched voice. Seriously, if your mass murder is politically motivated it’s not genocide even though your victims are all of the same ethnicity. Come on.

  5. I have traveled widely in the Armenian part of Turkey, and have several Armenian friends with very tragic similar stories. The Turks have their stories also, feared the Armenians would ally themselves with the Christian Russians against them. There is a famous battle where a Turkish column marching through Armenia to a lay siege to a Russian fort was ambushed by Armenians in the area and totally wiped out. There was also a very stiff Armenian guerrilla resistance to the Turks in some areas, all of which convinced the Young Turks that they’d better do something to “neutralize” the Armenian threat. There remain a few Armenian towns in N.E. Turkey, which I had the opportunity to visit some yrs ago; they live in abject poverty, and in constant fear of a repeat of the genocide of 1915. But there are also many Armenians living in large cities all over Turkey, well integrated into Turkish life, especially in Istanbul.
    The stories related above about Mohammed are ancient history, and have very little to do with life in modern Turkey, any more than modern Catholics are influenced by the Crusades and Inquisition.
    bk

  6. My grandfather was a full-blooded Armenian who came to this country with a sad tale to tell. My mother told me his mother was raped by a Muslim Turk and all male boys were at risk for being murdered, so they escaped from their land.

    Anyway, there is a good deal of discrepancy about the facts of the Armenian “genocide” and a full investigation is warranted (though I doubt the truth can ever be gotten to at this point in history).

    I do find it strange that Bruce Fein takes the position that as long as large scale crimes against people are the result of political persecution, it then is not genocide. I understand he is sticking to the letter of the law.

    But the only reason it cannot be (legally) genocide is because Joseph Stalin refused to sign on to International Law opposing genocide ONLY if it did not include destroying people because of the political groups they belonged to. In other words, Fein winds up agreeing with Stalin that widespred murder, torture, and cleansing isn’t genocide if it is done for political reasons. Yet, even according to international law, widespread murder, torture and cleansing for religious reasons IS genocide by defintion. This is very strange and twisted moral reasoning.

    And wrong, in my opinion.

    I am, nevertheless, fond of some of Bruce Fein’s work. He points out, for example, that Japanese authorities were punished for waterboarding American soldiers in WW2. He and Ron Paul have worked together for years (Fein was the legal counsel for Paul’s campaign). He also has done a lot of work to show that Armenians have muddled the facts about the so-called genocide. This is still very essential work to be done.

    That said, it is insane to have Turkey or any Muslim nation in NATO. At this point it is even insane to have NATO.

    The Turks will likely always be Muslims unless freedom of speech has its way and if a shred of humanity exists somewhere in their world. Muslims are a people who love and adore an old dead guy who married a six year old and started having sex with her when she was 9. Muslims are people who believe this is still acceptable behavior.

    It isn’t. It is sick behavior. And you cannot rely morally depraved people to help you build a sane world or to tell the truth.

    Mohammad sold and traded women for sex. This is still considered virtuous conduct, even according to the Koran, up to this very day.

    If you faced this sort of enemy (and the man handling your daughters, sisters, and mothers that it permits), you might want to lie about them too.

    Though, I’m not saying anyone is lying.

  7. Israel is feeling very isolated these days, a siege mentality has set in. Unfortunately, this has led Israel to sometimes side with Turkey on the Armenian Genocide issue, in order to maintain some relations with Turkey, the only Muslim nation to support it.
    BTW, the US also has refused to label the murder of Armenians as “genocide,” voting against such a resolution by Sen. Tom Lantos (a Zionist Jew), in order not to drive Turkey out of NATO.
    Unfortunately, international politics usually operates on the well-established principle of “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.”
    bk

  8. BIL, you would have loved my living-room during our ‘vivid’ period: it was florescent lime green. It started giving us headaches after about 3 weeks so we repainted it. I’ll bite, how did you go blind for a week?

  9. Gyges,

    Truthiness didn’t take very long but then Colbert is pushy …

  10. “Do you visit your neighbor’s and bitch about the color they have painted their living room”

    No, LK. Speaking for myself, I don’t.

    But I did go blind for a week once.

    True story.

  11. Gingerbaker, alleging that or debating why the Professor chooses to write frequently about any country and weather or not that coverage is favorable or not misses the fundamental point that he can write about anything he chooses, in any light he chooses, as often as he choses or not al all; it’s his house. Israel is to many, myself included, no more or less than any other country and if the Professor chooses to write about it or not, in whatever light, is not a matter for my criticism. I may debate the actual issue but the proclivity of the Professor to post about the issue is his decision alone. Do you visit your neighbor’s and bitch about the color they have painted their living room or the meal they feed you? Same thing.

  12. Elaine M.,

    I agree wholeheartedly. However, I did say “a big deal politically“, which I stand by. If Turkey had never denied what happened, other countries voting to recognize the genocide as such wouldn’t be a political issue now.

  13. Gyges,

    anglophobe – a person who is averse to or dislikes England and all things English (Merriam-Webster)

    Misangloist isn’t a recognized word in the english language.

  14. James M.–

    “It’s only a big deal politically today because Turkey refuses to acknowledge it happened.”

    **********

    I believe genocide is ALWAYS a big deal. It matters not when or where it happens/happened. It’s best to investigate/study occurrences of genocide in the present day/in the past in hopes of preventing further occurrences of it in the future.

  15. Gyges,

    I think you’re probably right about confirmation bias (or more likely some type of anti-confirmation bias where one is more sensitive to contrary opinions to what one believes).

    I think part of the difference in perception for me might also be that I view criticism of Canada and England as criticism of specific aspects of our joint culture, e.g. the nanny state, photographing police, etc.. I see criticism of Iran and China as properly criticizing totalitarian aspects of an Other. Israel is some weird middle ground for me, where I don’t chalk up criticism of them as criticism of a specific aspect of American/Canadian/British culture, but I don’t see them as remotely like Iran or China either.

  16. Gyges,

    I’m not sure this would fall under the category of recent. It happened during WWI and concerned actions by the Ottoman Empire, not Turkey. I don’t think that the Holocaust has an automatic impact on our foreign relations with modern Germany, and the Armenian genocide predates the Holocaust by thirty years. It’s only a big deal politically today because Turkey refuses to acknowledge it happened.

  17. James,

    If I remember right, the U.S. is legally obligated to treat governments with a recent history of genocide in a different manner than it currently treats Turkey. So the decision as to ‘recognizing’ the Armenian genocide has real concrete implications.

    That’s not to say that language doesn’t have any major implications on it’s own. I’ll refer you to Orwell for that (because I can’t seem to resist posting the link)

    http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks03/0300011h.html#part42

  18. Ginger,

    Even if I had thought they were directed at me, I’ve got thicker skin than that.

    I suggest this is a case of confirmation bias. I challenge you to find a government that is portrayed in a mainly positive light. The fact is that a large part of the professor’s job is to be critical of government actions.

    Since Israel’s an important ally, and a large part of our of our foreign policy revolves around our support of Israel, I’d say it’s fair game for criticism. On par with say, England, or Canada… which coincidentally receive around the same amount of negative attention (England having 30 less hits according to James’s search). Considering how little attention those two countries receive from the mainstream media in this country, I’d say that’s pretty telling. On the other hand, The U.S. and China both receive WAY more attention from the Prof. one being his native land, the other being a major trade partner with an abysmal human rights record.

    So tell me, what is inappropriate about the amount of negative attention Israel receives on this blog? Keep in mind that every government receives almost exclusively negative attention.

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