Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Anders Breivik's Victims-Also Guilty?

At his trial in Oslo, Norway, Anders Behring Breivik shocked onlookers yesterday when he announced he would “like to offer a large apology” to those innocent bystanders injured or killed in his bombing of an Oslo government building last July.
As for the other 69 people—mainly teenagers—who he gunned down in cold on the nearby island of Utoya—well, that was something else: They bore some of the fault themselves.    Shockingly, similar views are echoed by Islamophobes in Europe and the U.S., some of whom, these days, are even  considered a respectable part of the political right.
Those kids on the island, according to Breivik were “legitimate targets.” Their crime, as it were: attending a summer camp hosted by the youth wing of the ruling Labour party. Indeed, they were political activists, working for the “deconstruction of Norwegian society: Their insidious weapon: “multiculturalism, which is leading to a “Muslim invasion” of Norway.”
Sound like the unhinged ravings of a madman. Where could Breivik have got the idea that he was part of a much larger worldwide organization?
In fact, he was--and is. And I thought I thought I’d written enough on this issue, but this is no time to forget that despicable as his views are, they are grounded in the spewings of a network of Islamophobes in Europe and the United States.

One of the most prominent and respectable, being Pamela Geller, who runs a blog called Atlas Shrugs, is rabidly pro Israel, plays a prominent role in right wing Republican circles, and is a regular on Fox News.
Last August, a few weeks after Breivik’s shooting spree, Geller lashed out at critics who highlighted the role of her site as a cheering circle for the kind of racist garbage that Breivik spewed.  (Think Progress wrote an excellent piece on this last August)
First, Geller made perfectly clear that she was ”not condoning the slaughter in Norway or anywhere” and violently disapproved of the killings.
That said, Geller than performed a neat 180 degree turn, and delivered a political dissection of Breivik’s young victims—remarkably similar to Breivik’s mind-boggling justification yesterday in the Oslo Courthouse.
Geller—who has labeled Obama “President Jihad--was aghast, she explained, because  “the jihad loving media never told us what anti-Semitic war games they were playing on that island.”

Yes, the slaughter was horrific, she said “On the other hand..what those kids were being taught to do was a different kind of grotesque.”
Indeed, the youngsters Breivik was targeting were far from innocent: they were the future leaders of the party responsible for flooding Norway with Muslims who refuse to assimilate , who commit major violence against Norwegian natives including violent gang rapes, with impunity, and who live on the dole”
Turns out however, as Geller views the world, that even worse than the crime of promoting multi-culturalism, those kids were also listening to speakers who actually criticized Israel. Norway’s Foreign Minister, for example, had told them “That the Palestinians must have their own state.the occupation must end and the wall must be demolished and it must happen now.”  
Further, wrote the outraged Geller, some of the games played at the camp dealt with breaking the Israel blockade of Gaza.
Knowing all that, said Geller, “Glen Beck was not far off when he compared it to the Hitlerjugend of Young Pioneers.”
She also posted a picture taken of the young campers on a sunny hillside just a few days before the massacre.
Under the picture was the caption: “Note the faces which are more Middle Eastern or mixed than pure Norwegian.”
Later, that caption was deleted. As Think Progress pointed out, it can still be found on an earlier screen shot.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Norway's Andres Breivik: Our standard bearer?

As the trial of Norwegian mass murdered Andres Breivik opens in Oslo, we look on in horror at his arrogant posturing, his clenched fist salute, his regret that he didn’t kill more that seventy-seven. But the fact is that this outrageous young Norwegian, is in no way the crazed psychotic we would like him to be—an unrecognizable monster who by his ghastly acts has exiled himself from civilized society.
Deranged he may be, but his beliefs and bloody actions are very much a natural product of the mounting fear and hatred of Muslims throughout much of Europe these past few years, as well as the United States.
Indeed, going about their daily lives there are probably tens of millions of Europeans (and Americans), shocked at Breivik’s actions, who would, just the same, probably agree with the premise that drove him to action: Muslims are a threat to the Western world.
In France where I live, for instance, five to six million Muslims represent about ten percent of the population, the highest concentration in Europe. We are constantly receiving emails forwarded by friends--middle-class, well-educated, professionals mind you--who are convinced that, with their growing numbers, and higher birthrate, the Muslims will soon predominate in France.
The next step, the argument goes, is that they will insist that their own fundamentalist teachings, the Sharia, become the rule of law in France—for all the French.
For instance, an email that arrived just yesterday was from a blogger outraged by a Socialist Party proposal to give the vote to all residents of France--including immigrants who are not yet citizens.  “France is for sale!” reads the message. ‘When they will have the right to vote, they will make pro Sharia candidates, as is already being done, and they will then hold in their hands the future of YOUR children!”
Which brings us to an interesting question the court in Norway will probably never address: would Breivik ever have launched his murderous attacks if he had not viewed himself as part of a global crusade, cheered on by his fellow besieged Europeans, and even more by rabid Islamophobes on Internet sites around the world.
In fact, as I wrote at the time, most of the rambling manifesto posted by Breivik before he launched his attacks last July was not spun out of his own unhinged mind, but was drawn from the writings of notorious Islamophobes, such as Robert Spencer and Pamela Geller, the latter a regular on Fox News. 
Tellingly, Pamela Geller attempted to wash her hands of any pre knowledge of Breivik’s plans by excising a paragraph from one of his long rants which she posted in 2007. The portion cut out:  “We are stockpiling and caching weapons, ammunition and equipment. This is going to happen fast.”   
In fact, so many Internet sites now speak of Islam as a deadly menace, so many of them issue a call to arms before it’s too late, is it any wonder that a few deranged individuals take that threat seriously, decide to give their lives, as valiant champions if you will, of “our Christian way of life”.
Bottom line:  Either there is a mortal threat to our civilization, or there isn’t. If there is, then how can you possibly condemn a heroic young fellow like Andres Breivik who decided to heed a clarion call to selfless action?


Thursday, April 12, 2012

Mike Wallace-Attacked as Self-Hating Jew

The most controversial reports Mike Wallace and I did at 60 Minutes involved Israel--and provoked --from some-- the charge that Mike (and I ) were self-hating Jews...There's an in-depth look at the most controversial of all those reports in the current edition of The Jewish Daily Forward in New York. If  you're interested, check it out:

Monday, April 9, 2012

My Quarter Century with Mike Wallace

I worked on 60 Minutes for more than 26 years, most of the time as a producer with Mike Wallace. Each report on the show has “produced by” written on the art work introducing it, but most viewers have no clue what “produced by” really entails.
Indeed, the great irony of 60 Minutes was a question of truth in packaging. That is 60 Minutes, which prided itself on ruthless truth telling, exposing cant and fraud, was, in itself, something of a charade.
The fact is that, although the viewers tuned in to watch the on-going exploits of Mike, Morley, Harry, Leslie etc. etc., most of the intrepid reporting, writing, and even many of the most probing questions posed in the interviews, were not the handiwork of the stars, but much more the effort of some thirty or more very talented—producers --and associate producers--who researched and reported the stories that the stars presented --as their own exploits--each Sunday night.
I was willing to go along with that system because it allowed me to help shape what was the most powerful news show on television. I was also willing to rein in my ego because Mike Wallace brought so much to the team himself: a sharp, penetrating mind, an uncanny ability to seize the essence of a story, to sense an opening in a tense interview, then thrust with a rapier-like question for the journalistic kill.
To Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, who had once been a radical underground leader, Mike asked,  “What is the difference between the Yasser Arafat of today and the Menachem Begin of 1946?” 
Seated crosslegged on the floor in front of the Imam Khomeini in 1979 during the hostage crisis, Mike asked, “President Anwar el-Sadat of Egypt calls you, Imam — forgive me, his words, not mine — a lunatic.” Khomeini’s shocked interpreters refused even to translate until Khomeini insisted.He predicted, correctly, that Sadat would soon be overthrown.
Or to Yassir Arafat, in a backstreet building in war-torn Beirut. After Arafat excoriated the U.S. for ignoring the human rights of the Palestinians, Mike leapt at the opening to ask the PLO Chairman about a small article Mike had found in the back pages of the Times, in which Arafat had praised former Ugandan dictator Idi Amin.  
Mike asked a startled Arafat, “In other words, Mr. Chairman, Idi Amin, the butcher, you admire?”
Afterwards, Arafat’s aide, Mahmoud Labadi, said to Mike as we were wrapping our equipment and PLO armed toughs roamed the room,  “Mike, you’re not going to use that part about Idi Amin, are you?” Mike smiled and said ever so quietly, 
“Mahmoud, do I tell you how to do your job?
No,” said Labadi.
“Then please don’t tell me how to do mine.”
On another occasion in Western Iran, we were with a group of journalists being escorted by a particularly crazed  Iranian colonel to cover the war with Iraq.  After the colonel had delivered a long diatribe against the U.S. government, Mike turned to him and said, “You know, colonel, “I don’t think much of your government either.”  
Later that evening, in a room off the hotel lobby, with other journalists watching the evening news, the colonel entered, unholstered his 45, strode up to Mike a wild look in his eyes, and moved forward until the muzzle of his revolver almost touched Mike’s forehead. Everyone in the room froze. Mike looked up at the colonel, and with his hand pushed the revolver so it pointed towards the ceiling. The officer grinned, pulled the trigger. The pistol was empty.
He was part reporter, part actor playing reporter. He had a flare for the dramatic, the ability to achieve almost instant rapport with interviewees, no matter their wealth, achievement, or background. He made them forget the camera, the lights; he was totally with them in the moment, fascinated by whatever they happened to be saying, from a famine-stricken mother in Ethiopia, a child dying in her arms, to the crooks of all shapes and sizes who attempted –almost always unsuccessfully with Mike--to lie their way to respectability,  
Mike’s political agenda never seemed to get in the way. There was no story that he wouldn’t agree to go after, from detailing the enormous power of AIPAC, the pro-Israel lobby in Washington to the peccadilloes of Walter Cronkite, who we accused of accepting airline tickets for a piece we were doing on the widespread practice of press junkets.  Mike’s targets were often livid, but their rage only heightened Mike’s pleasure. He loved controversy, being the center of a story, seeing the sparks fly.
Though he greatly admired the Shah of Iran, was charmed by his wife and Iran’s ambassador in Washington--when I suggested a report on the Shah’s brutal secret police, the Savak, Mike immediately concurred.
Later, we did a report during the hostage crisis explaining why the Iranians had such hatred for the United States. President Jimmy Carter called to asked CBS News President Bill Leonard, not to broadcast the report. Leonard refused to comply. The shameful facts we were revealing about U.S. complicity with the Shah were not unknown to the Iranians—but to most Americans
The only time I saw Mike flinch was when he backed away from the excellent report produced by Lowell Bergman, claiming that U.S. cigarette company executives lied under oath before Congress when they claimed they didn’t know that nicotine was addictive .  
 CBS management was refusing to broadcast the report. It was a very tense time, and later became the subject of a movie, “The Insider.”
Mike, of course, was seriously concerned that his reputation—as well as the reputation of 60 Minutes--would forever be tarnished if he didn’t fight back. I agreed and over a bottle of wine at an Italian restaurant, I suggested he could end the face-off by threatening to resign if CBS refused to go ahead with the broadcast. There was no way, I argued, that CBS could take the public relations bashing that would ensue if Mike Wallace quit over that issue.
Mike finally agreed. He was going to talk to the powers-that-be the next morning, he said.  
He didn’t.
When I asked why, he said he just couldn’t go through with it. He couldn’t use such tactics.
The bottom line was that Mike could not bear the thought of not being on the air, on 60 Minutes. That, for him was what life was all about. During the countless times the subject of retirement came up, he would invariably shrug,  “I couldn’t. I wouldn’t know what to do.”
He relished the adulation, the eyes following him as he made his way through a crowded restaurant, the people coming up to him in increasingly distant airports telling him how much they liked his latest show. It validated his existence. But more than anything he enjoyed the flash and spark of controversy, confronting miscreants, catching an interviewee out, breaking through emotional barriers, to reveal some carefully-hidden weakness. And it could all be done with a simple gesture, a raised eyebrow and a single word, like “and?” or “but?”
And yet, and yet, despite having worked with him for more than a quarter century, I never really knew who he was; what was really going on deep inside, in the soul, if you will. I would be sitting with him over dinner after a long day of work and he would be asking me questions about my domestic life, or whatever, with that same sincere look in his eyes that same intense concern--that I had seen him use just a few hours earlier in an interview.
But I loved that man. My wife and I will miss him.
He had said he wanted to keep on working till his toes turned up. Mike, you almost made it.