The great debate (about Israel’s influence)

The Washington Post reports on the withdrawal of Chas Freeman to head National Intelligence Council, Intelligence Pick Blames ‘Israel Lobby’ For Withdrawal.

Walter Pincus, the reporter, correctly writes:

Freeman’s angry rhetoric notwithstanding, the controversy surrounding the former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia was broader than just Middle East politics. Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair’s choice of Freeman prompted a storm of complaints about his recent commercial connections to China and questions about whether he was too forgiving of that nation’s leaders.

But most of the online attention focused on Freeman’s work for the Middle East Policy Council, a Washington-based nonprofit organization that is funded in part by Saudi money, and his past critical statements about Israel. The latter included a 2005 speech he gave to the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations, where he referred to Israel’s “high-handed and self-defeating policies” stemming from the “occupation and settlement of Arab lands,” which he called “inherently violent.”

Well, Freeman’s statements about Israel were not just critical, they were condemnatory. But the first paragraph is important. I also wish that Pincus had quoted some of Freeman’s more sycophantic statements about Saudi Arabia.

Throughout the article though, Pincus fails to discuss two things. The silence of the media and the silence of the administration. So when he writes:

But Block responded to reporters’ questions and provided critical material about Freeman, albeit always on background, meaning his comments could not be attributed to him, according to three journalists who spoke to him. Asked about this yesterday, Block replied: “As is the case with many, many issues every day, when there is general media interest in a subject, I often provide publicly available information to journalists on background.”

To whom did Block provide information? Did they use it? Or did he only provide information in the past couple of days?

Later on, Pincus gives a brief history of the appointment.

Rosen’s initial posting was the first of 17 he would write about Freeman over a 19-day period. Some of those added more original reporting, while some pointed to other blogs’ finds about Freeman’s record. In the process, Rosen traced increasing interest in the appointment elsewhere in the blogosphere, including coverage by Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic, Michael Goldfarb of the Weekly Standard, and Chait and Martin Peretz of the New Republic.

Interest also was growing among members of Congress.

On March 2, Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-Mich.) wrote Blair to raise concerns based on what he had read about Freeman’s positions. Two days later, he called for Blair to withdraw the appointment.

Also on March 2, the Zionist Organization of America called for support of a letter by Rep. Mark Steven Kirk (R-Ill.) that called on the DNI inspector general to investigate Freeman for possible conflicts of interest because of his financial relations with Saudi Arabia. That letter, signed by Kirk and seven other congressmen, including House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), was sent to Inspector General Edward Maguire on March 3.

Close observers of the events consider that request a turning point in the effort to stop Freeman’s candidacy, and Rosen’s blog began focusing almost exclusively on the appointment.

On Monday, the seven Republicans on the Senate intelligence committee wrote Blair to protest his choice, which was not subject to Senate confirmation, and threatened to review the NIC’s work as long as Freeman chaired that body.

The phrase I bolded, is significant. I’ve written before that I don’t see how a controversy that took place outside of the public’s view, had any effect on Freeman’s nomination. I concluded that his ties to foreign governments was probably what sunk the nomination. If the request for the IG to investigate was a turning point, it supports that speculation.

But if Freeman’s foreign ties are what sunk the nomination, why did it take a request from Congress to investigate them? Wasn’t anyone in the media the least bit curious. (Well Eli Lake was. Why didn’t Pincus mention Lake?)

The New York Times coverage is even worse. Its report Israel Stance Was Undoing of Nominee for Intelligence Post seems focused on supporting Freeman’s accusations.

Because President Obama himself has been viewed with suspicion among many pro-Israel groups, the attacks on Mr. Freeman had the potential to touch a nerve. Many of these groups applauded Mr. Obama’s appointments of Hillary Rodham Clinton as secretary of state and Dennis B. Ross as a special adviser for Iran and Persian Gulf issues, but remain suspicious of other members of his administration who will be dealing with Arab-Israeli matters.

After complaints from some pro-Israel groups during his presidential campaign, Mr. Obama distanced himself from Zbigniew Brzezinski, the national security adviser under President Jimmy Carter, who has sometimes been critical of Israel.

The Times briefly mentions the request for an investigation into Freeman’s dealings with the Chinese and Saudi Arabian governments, but doesn’t mention that his group, MEPC, is generously funded by Saudi money. The focus of the article is on the opposition to the nomination by pro-Israel groups and politicians.

At the end the Times allows Freeman’s defense of his comments about Tiananmen Square.

Critics also unearthed e-mail messages attributed to Mr. Freeman that seemed to support the Tiananmen Square crackdown in 1989, saying it was not “acceptable for any country to allow the heart of its national capital to be occupied by dissidents intent on disrupting the normal functions of government, however appealing to foreigners their propaganda may be.”

Mr. Freeman said Wednesday that the passage was taken out of context, and that he had been describing the dominant view in China in the years after the crackdown.

But as anyone who read the e-mail knows, he also expressed his own view and that concurred with that “dominant view.” As Just One Minute noted (h/t Instapundit):

Yup, that “seemed” to support the crackdown. If someone can restore the missing context to help us see how Freeman in fact opposed the crackdown that would be lovely.

That the Times didn’t even look up the e-mail and allow Freeman to make his dubious claim is inexcusable.

In these two “hard news” stories little or nothing was done to investigate Freeman’s views or qualifications, but focused instead on the opposition to his appointment. Fortunately the opinion pages of the Washington Post were a little better.

UPDATE: Please see related thoughts at My Right Word and Shiloh Musings.

Crossposted on Soccer Dad.

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I'm a government bureaucrat with delusions of literacy.
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