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Jewish Media Stranglehold? | The Nation

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Jewish Media Stranglehold?

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Len Garment says that when he became the first Jew to be hired by the all-gentile law firm of Mudge, Stern, Williams & Tucker in 1949, he "felt like the Jewish Jackie Robinson. Anti-Semitism at that level existed then, and it exists now." He struck an almost poetic chord as he reflected on Graham's anti-Semitic comments in a New York Times Op-Ed last spring. "The stain of anti-Semitism in private language was nearly universal," he wrote.

About the Author

Cliff Rothman
Cliff Rothman is a cultural reporter at large for the New York Times, Harpers Bazaar, GQ, Vanity Fair and The Nation.

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Garment does think that the shape of anti-Semitism has shifted in the past hundred years. "The anti-Semitic worldview of the Billy Grahams and Richard Nixons was formed at the beginning of the last century, before a kind of benevolent political correctness took hold, and was permanently altered by the Holocaust. Anti-Semitism is institutionalized in different ways, as in Middle East politics. And it is very much like a historic virus, a genetic vulnerability that flares up when exposed to events like the current Middle East violence, which stimulates anti-Semitism."

Marvin Kalb, now executive director of the Washington office of the Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, says he was "honored" when he learned he had been on Nixon's enemies list. "My phone was tapped. Some of Nixon's people broke into my office at the State Department. Nixon's people set me up to be audited every year, though they didn't find me a nickel off. That was harassment. And I felt then as I do now that one of the reasons they targeted me so ambitiously was that I was Jewish."

In 1972 Jewish newspaper ownership was rare, but it was apparent at two of the three most powerful papers in the country: the New York Times, owned by the Sulzberger family; and the Washington Post, owned by Kay Graham, who was half Jewish but "considered herself Christian," according to Bernstein. "Jews have always been involved in media in this country," he points out, "but at the same time Hearst was not Jewish, Scripps was not Jewish, and 99 percent of America's newspapers, back then, pre-chains, were owned by gentiles."

At one important newspaper, I was told off the record, the number of Jews in the editorial room then hovered at around 25 percent, more than ten times their proportion of the general population. The abundance of Jewish writers and editors, along with Jewish ownership of two powerful newspapers, contributed to a public perception of far greater Jewish presence than there actually was, says Kalb. "I don't believe that Jews control the media. But there is enough truth to it at the edges that gives it enough legitimacy that a rabid anti-Semite thinks he's muttering truths."

Otis Chandler, the publishing family renegade who was as likely to hang out with Harley bikers as with pinstriped suits, reports: "I'd be out riding my motorcycle, today and in 1972, and when they found out who I was, they'd say, 'Why don't you publicize the fact that Jews have a stranglehold on the industrial media complex of our country?' I couldn't convince them and they couldn't convince me."

Bernstein challenges the subtext that the Washington Post was liberal in 1972. "Even during the Nixon years, it was moving toward the center, toward some more traditionally neoconservative positions than the classically liberal ones that it had held in the 1960s. They came very late to understanding the depth of the antiwar movement. They often felt that we who were covering demonstrations were exaggerating."

As Stephen Hess sums up: "Everyone reads into the press what they wish, and finds examples to support their own point of view. Billy Graham was finding the press liberal, hence Jewish. But at the same time Adlai Stevenson thought the press was conservative. So it really depends where you're coming from."

But Walter Shapiro offers a caveat about Graham's anti-Jewish diatribe: "This is in no way a defense of Billy Graham, but people in the Oval Office have a historic inability to say what they think, and agree with whatever the President of the United States is saying. That is something to bear in mind always in dealing with the Nixon tapes."

Then there's cultural historian Renata Adler, who dismisses the tapes entirely. "I think it's silly to take this private conversation and draw any conclusions--about the situation that year, about the anti-Semitism. Sometimes they mean it for ten seconds, sometimes they mean it for their whole life. The only significance is that Nixon and Graham didn't conduct their public life anti-Semitically."

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