By Jeff Cohen and Norman Solomon
Published by Seattle Times, Aug. 1, 1992
Anti-Arab Bigotry Rampant In U.S. News
If a former U.S. secretary of state flatly declared that "you can't really believe anything an Arab says," would that be big news?
Or are we so accustomed to anti-Arab prejudices that this statement by Henry Kissinger - first publicized in the article you're now reading - won't be considered newsworthy?
Time will tell.
We have obtained a tape recording of Kissinger's comment, made two months ago at a fund-raising event which the New York Times termed an "Israel benefit."
Kissinger, who sits on the CBS board of directors, was joined in the panel discussion by two prominent CBS News employees - anchor Dan Rather and Middle East analyst Fouad Ajami, described by Rather that evening as "a very longtime CBS News consultant, one of our in-house wise men."
But neither the anchor nor the "in-house wise man" uttered a word of objection when - during the $250-a-plate dinner in New York City for the Jerusalem Foundation on June 3 - Kissinger rendered his verdict against an entire ethnic group.
Imagine if a former secretary of state had publicly declared, "You can't really believe anything a Jew says." Or, "You can't really believe anything a black says." It's hard to believe the CBS News anchor would have let such a statement pass without challenge.
But among the many U.S. news outlets with a routinely anti-Arab tone, one of the most flagrant is the CBS Evening News - where the task of denigrating Palestinians and other Arabs often falls to a man considered by many Arab-Americans to be the equivalent of an Uncle Tom, the Lebanese-born academic Fouad
At the Jerusalem Foundation event, Ajami drew laughs by making fun of Bedouin Arabs. He belittled the Palestinian cause, and repeatedly proclaimed that Arabs were incapable of practicing democracy.
Ajami explained his participation in the Israel benefit with these words: "I was simply drafted for this assignment by two people I can never say `no' to, and that's Marty Peretz and Mort Zuckerman." Ajami was expressing an affinity with two of the most fervent Israel-can-do-no-wrong magnates in the media: Peretz of The New Republic and Zuckerman of U.S. News and World Report.
Kissinger's ethnic slur that night was in sync with the tenor of the entire evening.
After Peretz introduced Rather - "the moderator, the chairman, really, of this evening" - as "my favorite newsman," the CBS anchor took turns with Kissinger and Ajami in playing to the prejudices of the audience. The result was more than 10,000 words of unmitigated praise for Israel, along with recurring mockery of Arabs.
Rather said that "many of us celebrate" 25 years of Jerusalem "united under Israeli rule." He didn't mention the numerous U.N. Security Council resolutions declaring Israel's annexation of Palestinian East Jerusalem illegal.
Why didn't Rather object to Kissinger's assertion that "you can't really believe anything an Arab says"? Perhaps the explanation has to do with the attitudes that prevail at his workplace. To watch the CBS Evening News is to see the Middle East through the eyes of Israel. And in that world view, Palestinian people look very small and far away.
But they don't look that way to our associate at the media watch group FAIR, Sam Husseini, who discovered the Kissinger comments on a tape of the Jerusalem Foundation event. Husseini, a Palestinian -American, was deeply offended: "I thought we'd progressed beyond the point where it was acceptable to declare an entire people untrustworthy."
Along with asking why Rather remained silent about Kissinger's anti-Arab defamation, the public should also ask what he was doing on the dais in the first place - at an event where some of the money raised will help settle immigrants on Israeli-occupied territory.
As Rather has demonstrated in the past, a journalist claiming to be objective will lose credibility when he or she becomes a cheerleader in a foreign conflict. That's what happened when Rather became an enthusiastic advocate for the Afghan rebels in the 1980s. CBS Evening News, where Rather is managing editor, was shown to have aired false reports, phony battle footage and accounts of non-existent victories by anti-government guerrillas.
If Dan Rather is so eager to line up with chronic Arab-bashers, that's his prerogative. But perhaps in the future his reports on the Middle East should be labeled "commentary."
And perhaps the news media of this country will tell Henry Kissinger that he owes Arab people an apology.