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August 01, 2006

Nudnik journalism on Washington Post "Style" pages

Readers go to The Washington Post “Style�? section for entertainment. Nothing wrong with that — entertainment long has been a purpose of journalism, not far behind reporting news and providing information. But does “Style�? uphold even minimum journalistic standards of accuracy, objectivity, context, comprehensiveness and balance?

It’s hard to tell, judging by the July 31 “Style,�? which includes a front-of-section report from Tehran, “Acting With A Clear Conscience; For This Assassin, a Film Cameo and a Notable Hit,�? by Post Foreign Service correspondent Karl Vick, and a book review, Mossad’s Man of the Hour,�?by Patrick Anderson.

Vick — The Post’s regular, and overly credulous Iran correspondent — offers a long and sympathetic feature on Daoud Salahuddin, originally David Theodore Belfield before he converted to Islam, assassinated an Iranian dissident in Silver Spring Md., in 1980, and fled to Ayatollah Khomeini’s Iran. Salahuddin “stopped working for the [Iranian] government in the early 1990s,�? Vick reports. But he does not tell us how the fugitive supports himself, his Iranian wife, pays for their one-bedroom apartment with its “pristine�? living room, or ends up teaching English to the North Korean ambassador. Hmmm.

Vick does refer, obscenely, to Salahuddin’s “wet work�? for the Islamic Republic. He quotes without qualification his subject’s reference to Mecca, Medina and “Jerusalem, the other city mentioned in the Koran�? — Jerusalem is not mentioned in the Koran, although it is referred to by name in the Torah, hundreds of times. And Vick tells readers Salahuddin “admired Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini for standing up to a U.S. government that had waged a covert war against black activists and was clearly hostile to political Islam.�?

The U.S. government waged a “covert war�? against “black activists?�? When, and who were these “activists�? — civil rights leaders or Black Panthers? Vick doesn’t say. America “hostile to political Islam?�? Whatever for? Iran through its Hezbollah proxy bombed the U.S. Marine barracks and U.S. embassy in Lebanon, kidnapped, tortured and murdered Westerners, including a CIA station chief and U.S. officer serving with U.N. peace keepers in Lebanon. Salahuddin’s Iran tried then and tries now to expel the United States from the Middle East. Washington shouldn’t be hostile? Vick doesn’t say.

Then there’s Anderson’s review of The Messenger, by Daniel Silva, the latest thriller featuring Silva’s protagonist “Allon, an art restorer, patriot and Israeli assassin.�? The review, generally favorable, is just a review — until the last paragraph.

After a few quibbles about Silva’s writing style, Anderson allows that “these are small matters, of course. But there are larger, more basic questions that might be asked about the Allon novels. Silva seems to believe unquestioningly in Israel and its policies. By pitting Allon against fiendish terrorists and arrogant billionaires, he keeps his fictional Israeli superhero firmly on the side of the angels. But in the real world, Israel has of late been presenting a more complex, if less angelic face. Readers who continue to believe in Israel’s unalloyed virtue will perhaps take heart from The Messenger. Those with doubts might look elsewhere for a beach read.�?

If The Messenger is too simplistic even for beach reading, say so. But if the book deserves a review at all, and that review mentions current events (it should), then be clear: Israel doesn’t presents a “less angelic face,�? it’s the face of a small Jewish democracy fighting Islamic terrorists sworn to destroy it and acting on behalf of a more powerful, similarly inclined enemy. Israel’s face in this battle is similar to America’s in its struggle against Islamic fundamentalists in Afghanistan, against jihadists, Ba’athists, Shi’ite militiamen and assorted thugs in Iraq. In the real world, “complex�? is not a synonym for incomprehensible, let alone wrong. One can question Israeli policies without questioning the justice of Israel’s fight against terrorists who are indeed “fiendish,�? as are those who send them. Anderson’s digression leaves his judgment, as well as the worth of The Messenger, in doubt.

Posted by ER at August 1, 2006 06:38 PM


Just a quibble, but this is a place to be punctilious with facts. Jerusalem is mentioned in Tanakh (the Jewish Bible) hundreds of times, but is not mentioned in the Torah. It was a Jebusite city until David made it his capital. Of course, this does not affect the thrust of your statement, that Jerusalem is of great importance in Jewish history but only peripheral for Islam. Thanks and keep up the good work!

Posted by: Kevin at August 1, 2006 10:35 PM

The term "Torah" can refer either to the Chumash (Pentateuch) itself or to the entire body of Jewish religious law and writings, including but not limited to the Chumash. This latter use of the term "Torah" would encompass the entire Tanakh.

Posted by: Sara at August 2, 2006 01:41 PM

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