Aletho News

ΑΛΗΘΩΣ

Study finds 50-year history of anti-Palestinian bias in mainstream news reporting

CONTEXT matters, and CONTEXT is often missing in news reports about Israel-Palestine
CONTEXT matters, and CONTEXT is often missing in news reports about Israel-Palestine
By Kathryn Shihadah – If Americans Knew – January 19, 2019

A recent media study based on analysis of 50 years of data found that major U.S. newspapers have provided consistently skewed, pro-Israel reporting on Israel-Palestine.

The study, conducted by 416Labs, a Toronto-based consulting and research firm, is the largest of its kind.

Using computer analysis, researchers evaluated the headlines of five influential U.S. newspapers: the Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal from 1967 to 2017.

The study period begins in June 1967, the date when Israel began its military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip – now officially termed the Occupied Palestinian Territories – following its Six Day War against Jordan, Egypt and Syria.

Methodology involved the use of Natural Language Processing (NLP), a type of computer analysis that sifts through large amounts of natural language data and investigates the vocabulary. NLP tabulated the most commonly used words and word pairs, as well as the positive or negative sentiment associated with the headlines.

Using NLP to analyze 100,000 headlines, the study revealed that the coverage favored Israel in the “sheer quantity of stories covered,” by presenting Palestinian-centric stories from a more negative point of view, as well as by grossly under-representing the Palestinian narrative, and by omitting or downplaying “key topics that help to identify the conflict in all its significance.”

Four times more headlines mentioned Israel than Palestine

The Fifty Years of Occupation study reveals a clear media bias first in the quantity of headlines: over the half-century period in question, headlines mentioned Israel 4 times more frequently than Palestine.

The study revealed other discrepancies in coverage of Israel and Palestine/Palestinians as well.

Sentiment

For all 5 newspapers studied, Israel-centric headlines were on average more positive than the Palestinian-centric headlines.

Sentiment analysis measures “the degree to which ideological loyalty colors analysis.”

In order to measure sentiment, the study employed a “dictionary” of words classified as either positive or negative; each headline was scored based on its use of these words.

The report explains that journalistic standards require news stories to be “neutral, objective, and derived from facts,” but the reports on Israel-Palestine “exhibit some form of institutionalized ideological posturing and reflect a slant.” [See graphs below post]

Under-representation of the Palestinian voice

The study also found Palestinians marginalized as sources of news and information.

A simple case in point: The fact-checking organization Pundit Fact examined CNN guests during a segment of the 2014 Israeli incursion into Gaza, Operation Protective Edge. Pundit Fact reported that during this time, 20 Israeli officials were interviewed, compared to only 4 Palestinians, although Palestinians were overwhelmingly victims of the incursion with 2,251 deaths vs. 73 Israeli deaths.

The study’s data reveal what it calls “the privileging of Israeli voices and, invariably, Israeli narratives”: the phrases “Israel Says” and “Says Israel” occurred at a higher frequency than any other bigram (2-word phrase) throughout the 50 years of headlines – in fact, at a rate 250% higher than “Palestinian Says” and similar phrases. This indicates that not only are Israeli perspectives covered more often, but Palestinians rarely have an opportunity to defend or explain their actions.

The report explains the significance of such asymmetry:

This imbalance matters, as official Israeli government policy is effectively made an intrinsic part of the discussion of the conflict, while the views of Palestinians living under occupation are subordinated to the margins.

Sins of omission and de-emphasis

The analysis turned up yet another significant problem with the newspapers’ coverage: failure to report, or to report adequately, on important aspects of the Palestine-Israel conflict.

The study found several critical topics that the 5 newspapers failed to cover adequately, resulting in reader misperceptions.

Peace process?

One misperception revolves around the alleged existence of an ongoing “peace process.”

The study points out the consistent use of bigrams such as “peace talks,” in spite of the fact that since 1993, peace talks have been essentially nonexistent. And,

A hallmark of the conflict has been the perception that there is an ongoing peace process which, from time to time, breaks down, thereby delaying resolution of the conflict…the dispute is effectively portrayed as being one between two equal warring sides, not one where one group is an occupier and the other the occupied.

Occupation

The researchers emphasize the fact that as the occupation of the West Bank (and de facto occupation of Gaza) drags on past 50 years, the brutality of the Israeli occupation is becoming normalized and its illegality forgotten.

They draw this conclusion from their analysis of the unigram “occupation,” which has appeared in headlines less and less frequently, dropping by 85% in Israel-centric headlines, and by 65% in Palestinian-centric headlines over the 50-year period.

Gaza

The blockade of Gaza, and the economic hardships of Gazans under the blockade, were mentioned in Palestine-centric headlines just 30 and 63 times respectively, in the 11 years since the blockade began.

In Covering Gaza: is the mainstream media discourse changing on Palestine-Israel?, Tamara Kharroub of the Arab Center in Washington DC censures mainstream media coverage of the Great Return March – a nonviolent demonstration by Palestinian Gazans for justice and the end of the blockade – for failing to report the names of Gazan civilians killed by Israeli snipers, “in stark contrast to the usual reporting on Israeli victims, in which their pictures, lives, and grieving families are repeatedly shown and discussed.”

… and more

As another example, Palestinian refugees – still waiting to be repatriated according to UN Resolution 242 of 1949 – have been forgotten as a group: the words “Palestine Refugee(s)” in headlines has declined by 93% over the last 50 years, reflecting a decline in concern from media.

The study reveals similar underreporting on topics including the illegality of Israeli settlements and Palestinians’ designation of East Jerusalem as the future capital of the future Palestinian state.

According to Siham Rashid, formerly of the Palestinian Counseling Center, these accumulated flaws characterize the Israel-Palestine issue as

a conflict revolving around security and terrorism, with Israel being the victim…So, for many people, the conflict is understood as a conflict of land and borders between two peoples who have equal claims, not as a conflict between an oppressed and oppressor and colonized and colonizer.

International consensus

As cited by the researchers, Marda Dunsky’s  2008 book, Pens and Swords: How the American Mainstream Media Report the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, analyzed US media over a 4-year period. One of her most significant findings was the lack of coverage of the international consensus on important issues, for example the almost-universal conclusions that Israeli settlements are illegal, and that Palestinian refugees should be allowed to return to their homes.

Greg Shupak’s The Wrong Story: Palestine, Israel, and the Media offers an example from Operation Protective Edge, the Israeli aggression of 2014 into Gaza. He points out that the blockade of Gaza, a key antecedent to the violence, was mentioned only once in the many New York Times editorials on the conflict published just before and during the war.

Shupak’s work shows how NYT “frequently omits important details that would better contextualize the conflict.”

In More Bad News From IsraelGlasgow University researchers Greg Philo and Mike Berry examined British mainstream media coverage of Israel-Palestine. In a study of BBC coverage, the lack of adequate context resulted in

the failure to convey adequately the disparity in the Israeli and Palestinian experience, reflecting the fact that one side is in control and the other lives under occupation…BBC output does not consistently give a full and fair account of the conflict. In some ways the picture is incomplete and, in that sense, misleading.

Alison Weir of If Americans Knew has published extensive studies of American media coverage of Israel-Palestine which reveal “daily reporting [that is] profoundly skewed” and a “pervasive pattern of distortion” in which “[t]he favored population was the Israeli one.”

If Americans Knew has conducted six major studies and one shorter study on coverage of Israel-Palestine news and found that media had reported on Israeli deaths at far greater rates than they reported on Palestinian deaths. The studies also revealed the palpable pro-Israel bias, under-representation of the Palestinian voice and the omission or downplaying of critical topics.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) is a lobbying group that advocates pro-Israel policies to the Congress and Executive Branch of the United States.

Causation?

The Canadian researchers found a “systemic problem in coverage,” but did not study the causation. Nevertheless, they excluded the possibility of “deliberate planned bias,” attributing the biased coverage to “the U.S. media’s affinity to broadly align and support their government’s foreign policy objectives.”

Some other researchers, however, report a wider range of factors, many connected to the pro-Israel lobby in the United States. For example, Alison Weir discovered deep links between US media and Israel (e.g. hereherehere, and here). Mearsheimer and Walt reported on the power of pro-Israel pressure in their book The Israel Lobby; Paul Findley in his book They Dare to Speak Out, and others report a wider range of factors, many connected to the pro-Israel lobby in the United States. In many cases, pressure from pro-Israel groups in the Israel lobby, contributed significantly to the consistent slant in mainstream media.

Conclusion

As the authors point out:

Whether online, television, or print, the mainstream media serves to provide most Americans with their daily news. How the media frames the news and presents it to viewers can profoundly shape their perception of current events.

Yet numerous analysts, across time and region, have established that this media consistently skews the news when it comes to Israel-Palestine. This results in nations and their governments upholding Israeli priorities rather than those of their own people, and perpetuating injustice toward Palestinians.


1-19 chart.png

July 29, 2019 Posted by | Deception, Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Mainstream Media, Warmongering | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Wisconsin Library Wars

The village of Grafton, Wisconsin, chose to honor the USS Liberty by naming its new library after the ship. The complaints that followed filled the local newspapers and airwaves for months. This is the story of the USS Liberty Memorial Public Library and the controversy that followed.

By James M. Ennes, Jr. | USS Liberty Memorial

After a long pause to stop the flow of blood, 1988 marked the tenth year of the great Wisconsin library wars.

The first blows were struck in 1979 when supporters of Israel in Milwaukee decided to flex their political muscle. In a test of power (some would say to flaunt it), spokesmen for Israel renamed the library at the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee after an Israeli political leader.

“Let this place be known forever as the Golda Meir Library,” they proclaimed.

To no surprise, a great hue and cry developed almost overnight as students, faculty, and local citizens recorded their outrage.

Golda Meir

Golda Meir, born Goldie Mabovitch in Poland in 1898, had lived in Milwaukee between her 8th and 21st year. She studied at the Milwaukee Teachers Seminary of Milwaukee, later taught school briefly in Milwaukee, and then moved to Palestine in 1919 to join the growing Jewish community there.

Golda Meir was respected by her fans, not for charm, tact, or diplomatic skill, but for her stubborn Israeli intransigence.

When she became prime minister in 1969, Time magazine said of her: “The essence of the woman is conviction, without compromise, and expressed with all the subtlety of a Centurion tank. She seldom loses an argument….”

Austrian Chancellor Bruno Kreisky, himself a Jew, described her as “a tough, obstinate, unintelligent woman, without discernment, wisdom or poise.”

Yet, among Arabs and many Americans, Golda Meir is best remembered and often despised for her hard line against the Palestinian population, and for her insistence that Israel had no “Palestinian problem” because, she said, “It was not as though there was a Palestinian people and we came and threw them out and took their country away from them. They did not exist.”

The First Great Library War

Opponents of the Golda Meir name argued that this was a public institution created with public money and should not be named by special interests or for a foreign leader. The existing name, “The University of Wisconsin Library,” was more suitable, they said, and should be kept. Otherwise it should be named for an American.

“The Golda Meir name should not be used because it is controversial and offensive to a large segment of the population,” they argued to deaf ears. “Golda Meir is a symbol of hate in the Arab-American community and to many Americans,” they said.

Others said privately that they were opposed to the name but were afraid to speak out because the Israeli partisans were “powerful in the community.”

Arab students complained that the partisans lack sensitivity, ignore Arab feelings, and regard Arabs as less than human.

Students picketed in protest. A meeting of Regents held to formalize the name was disrupted by student protesters, and at one point a Jewish professor attacked the pickets, beating them with a cane.

The pro-Israel faction, however, withered their opponents with their ultimate weapon. “All opposition to the name comes from anti-Semites,” they said. “Arabs and anti-Semites object to the name,” they said, “because of their hatred for Jews and Israel. We can never yield to anti-Semites.”

The argument was picked up and echoed everywhere. Soon everyone opposed to the name became increasingly seen as zealots, racists, Nazis, and unthinking radical extremists. The argument, though apparently without substance, was effective. It won the war. The name sticks.

Arab students report that they wince whenever they enter the building.

The Second War

Just 18 miles due north of the Milwaukee campus on the shore of Lake Michigan the town of Grafton, population 8,500, decided recently to replace the aging and overcrowded town library. Jim Grant was elected president of the town council on his pledge to work toward creating the new library.

Unlike the Golda Meir library, the Grafton library was to be built almost entirely with private donations. Soon the new library committee had pledges for well over half the $1-million cost, including an $83,000 federal contribution and a $250,000 pledge from the brothers Ted and Ben Grob, who own a Grafton machine tool business.

Since the Grob’s contribution was the largest single gift, the library board offered the Grob brothers the opportunity to name the new library–expecting them to name it “Grob.” But that didn’t happen.

The Grobs, who had recently read a book about the Liberty and a transcript of a speech by a survivor, surprised everyone.

“Name it The USS Liberty Memorial Library,” they said, “in honor of the 34 Americans who died when Israel attacked the USS Liberty in 1967.”

Surprised, the town council and the town library board considered the name. Members who hesitated were asked to read the book that the Grobs had read. And soon both the council and the board gave their unanimous approval to the new name.

Enter Israel

A few days later an angry letter arrived from one Gideon Goldenholz, rabbi of the Beth El Ner Tamid Synagogue in nearby Mequon.

Sharpening a weapon that had served well in the Golda Meir library skirmishes, Goldenholz called the proposal “a cynical act” which carries “a hint of anti-Semitism” and is therefore “insulting to Jews.”

“The USS Liberty incident has become a rallying point for anti- Israel and anti-Semetic (sic) people and groups,” wrote James Fromstein for the Milwaukee Jewish Council, an umbrella group that represents Goldenholz’s synagogue and 21 other Milwaukee Jewish organizations. “As such, it is… considered offensive… to Jewish people everywhere,” he said, raising a trusted bludgeon from previous wars.

A few days later Fromstein appeared at Grant’s door with two television trucks, three newsmen from Milwaukee, and an aide. Grant, however, would not be intimidated. “We are very comfortable with the name,” he said.

“The name caters to Arabs and anti-Semites,” Fromstein insisted. After all, his aide added, Arabs are “only nomads,” while anti-Semites must be opposed on principal. After an hour of fruitless argument, Fromstein departed amid promises of “further action” and some lightly veiled threats of economic and other sanctions. “We can never yield to anti-Semites,” he insisted.

“The name sticks,” Grant said.

A Combined Media Blitz

Soon Jim Grant discovered that someone was checking into his background, verifying his military record, and otherwise searching for some fodder for a scandal. Librarian Kathy Kafka learned that persons unknown were attempting to verify her academic record.

Almost immediately Grant learned that the $83,000 federal commitment had been “postponed” because of complaints about the “anti-Semitic” name.

Phone calls and letters from Israeli spokesmen in Milwaukee urged local donors to withdraw their contributions because of the “anti-Semitic” influence.

Next, a solid barrage of stories about the library appeared in five area newspapers and the Chicago Tribune, along with frequent and highly caustic mention on area television news and talk shows.

The Milwaukee Jewish Chronicle set the tone early with a headline that proclaimed, “Jews battle extremists on library name.” “Rename the library,” demanded a Chronicle editorial. “New Library divides Wisconsin town,” wrote the Tribune. Milwaukee Magazine complained editorially about “The Gift of Grob.”

“Library name rightly condemned,” editorialized the Milwaukee Journal. “Where is the outrage in Grafton? Why is there no outcry?” complained the Journal when the first editorial failed to spark an outcry. “The Grafton library has aligned itself with the bigots and hate-mongers,” the Journal complained, recycling another battered tool from the Golda Meir trenches.

“Why,” survivors asked, “is it OK to have memorials for USS Stark, Maine, Arizona, and a hundred other ships without protest from the countries that attacked them, while any mention of the USS Liberty brings an avalanche of organized protest from Israel?” No one could answer the question, but the protests continued without pause.

Journal reporter Michael Krenn, asked by town officials to interview a survivor of the attack, declined. “That is not my story,” Krenn insisted. Krenn was interested only in bashing devils.

Rarely did anything favoring the library become part of “Krenn’s story.” Supporting statements came in from Rabbi Elmer Berger, Reverend Humphrey Walz and Admiral Thomas Moorer, among others, but none of this ever made it into “Krenn’s story.” Articles about the Liberty by experts on the subject including Admiral Moorer were submitted for publication, but none were printed or acknowledged.

When survivors Joe Meadors and John Hrankowski visited Grafton with former congressman Pete McCloskey to answer townspeople’s questions, the Journal did not find the event worthy of coverage until forced to do so days later when readers complained. The well-attended event displayed nearly total support for the new library name, and it was covered by reporter Krenn, but this was “not his story” so he chose not to write about it.

And the reports that did appear typically failed to mention the most noteworthy details, such as public support for the library name by Grafton’s State Assemblywoman Susan Vergeront and McCloskey’s spirited denunciation of the “anti-Semite” charge.

“How can a memorial for American sailors who died in the service of their country possibly be anti-Semitic?” McCloskey demanded to know as the crowd roared its approval.

Even an account by the Journal’s ombudsman, while acknowledging that their coverage was badly done, continued to ignore Grafton’s viewpoint and reasserted the “anti-Semite” influence.

At last count the Journal was on record with nineteen heavily slanted “news” stories, five angry editorials and one incomplete ombudsman’s report, all suggesting that the library, the ship, the town council, and everyone involved is somehow allied with or unwitting stooges of anti-Semites and other loonies.

“This is the most outrageous, egregious, biased, and unprofessional reporting I have seen in 20 years in the business,” remarked a California editor of a major newspaper who was sufficiently moved to call Krenn and tell him so. But still the smears and innuendo continue.

When two spokesmen from Grafton responded to a request for a television interview in Milwaukee, they were unexpectedly confronted on camera by two spokesmen for Israel, prepared to debate. Although Grafton emerged victorious, it was a tense hour.

“You were set up,” whispered a sympathetic station employee, clearly pleased with the unexpected outcome. “This was to have been an ambush.”

When library board chairman Carol Schneider agreed to a television interview, she found herself confronted by a hostile interviewer who did his professional best to humiliate her on camera.

Complaints Come From Outside

Most of the blitz, however, comes from outside the town. For instance, one of the first shots fired was a paid advertisement in the Ozaukee County Guide signed by 17 clergymen, all from outside of Grafton, which appealed to the fair minded citizens to rise up against their leaders and demand a new name. The clergymen were concerned, they wrote, about “harassment of minorities, hate letters and phone calls to rabbis and desecration of synagogues” which, they said, “have once again raised their ugly heads.” “Neo Nazis and other hate groups use the symbol of the USS Liberty to promote their cause,” the clergymen wrote.

No matter that no harassment, hate letters, phone calls or desecration had occurred. No matter that no sign of anti-Semitism or “extremist” influence had been uncovered. No matter that none of the clergymen knew anything about the case except what they had been told by spokesmen for Israel who persuaded them to lend their names.

In another attack from the hinterlands, two churches in nearby Mequon circulated petitions in Grafton seeking opposition to the library name. After several days work, they collected 79 signatures, including only seven from Grafton. Library supporters easily collected 616 signatures in an afternoon, all from Grafton.

In a rare protest from within the town, the pastor of the Grafton Catholic Church issued a statement. A new name must be found, he said, because “the incident is used by extremists to further anti-Semitism. The USS Liberty has become a symbol of hate.”

Asked later for his source of information, the good father confessed that he knew only what he had read in the Journal and been told in a phone call from an out-of-town Rabbi. Without checking further, he urged his parish to oppose the library because he felt he should respond to the influence of “anti-Semites.”

“I may have been hasty,” he confessed later.

To the dismay of most Grafton schoolteachers, two teachers living outside Grafton attempted on their own to cancel a teachers’ commitment to raise money for the library. Two teachers then circulated questionnaires to their classes asking, “Should Nazis be allowed to name our new library?” No matter that no Nazis could be found.

“No, no, no,” chirped the cherubs.

Soon, prompted by guidance unknown, the Grafton High School Valedictorian publicly articulated the reasons Nazis and other weirdos should not be allowed to name the town’s temple of knowledge.

Phony Radicals, Phony Issues

These things are reported in all the area newspapers, usually in a way that suggests that a small band of extremists controls city hall in defiance of a majority who would, if they could, unseat the radicals. Despite their spirited search, however, no radical has ever been identified.

That does not deter the opponents, however. Anti-Semitism is the most effective weapon in their arsenal, and it must be continually dragged out and fired whether any proper targets can be seen or not.

In a frantic search for anti-Semites, one reporter learned that a magazine that the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith considers anti- Semitic sometimes writes about the USS Liberty. Worse, he learned that one of the Grob brothers has seen the magazine.

Proof at last! To the Milwaukee Jewish Council, the magazine’s interest in the Liberty is enough to justify their entire campaign. No matter that dozens of esteemed journalists, at least five Pulitzer prizewinners, scores of leading newspapers, and at least 30 book authors have also written sympathetically about the Liberty. No matter that Liberty survivors have no connection with the suspect magazine and actively shun its attentions. To spokesmen for Israel, the USS Liberty has become a “symbol of hate” and “must be opposed” because people they consider “anti-Semites” have written about it.

Suddenly what looked like a “genuine” anti-Semite appeared. A man driving a car with Illinois license plates spent a day marching at Grafton’s main intersection with a large sign reading, “Support the USS Liberty – Israel is America’s enemy.” That evening the man went from door to door spouting offensive anti-Jewish rhetoric and appealing to Grafton residents to support the name because they shouldn’t take any more guff “from the Jews.”

When Grafton citizens investigated, they found that the man was actually opposed to the library. The entire performance was a carefully orchestrated charade designed to make library supporters appear to be anti- Semitic radicals.

“They will never give up!”

The library now looks certain to go ahead on schedule.

“But they will never give up,” warns a war-weary veteran of the Golda Meir conflict. “A year or five years or ten years from now they will be back to try to change the name. Sooner or later they will win. And if Grafton is not careful they will probably change it to something like ‘Menachem Begin’ or ‘Ariel Sharon.'”

“They persist in throwing stones from their glass house,” he said, “so the best defense is a counter-attack. Start a drive to change the Golda Meir Library back to its original name.”


James M. Ennes was a lieutenant on the bridge of the USS Liberty when the ship was attacked. His book about the attack, Assault on the Liberty (Random House, 1980; Ballantine, 1987) has been called the most important book of the year by two leading reviewers, and was named “editor’s choice” when reviewed in the Washington Post. It is routinely removed from bookshelves, however, when area spokesmen for Israel complain to booksellers that they have stocked a book that is “anti-Israel” and “offensive to Jewish people everywhere.”

August 13, 2017 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Timeless or most popular | , , , , , | 4 Comments

The Guardian’s Homan Square story was huge on the internet—but not in Chicago media

By Jackie Spinner | Columbia Journalism Review | March 4, 2015

CHICAGO, IL — On Election Day just over a week ago, as this city’s reporters and editors focused on whether the incumbent mayor with ties to the White House would win big or be forced into a historic run-off, an out-of-town newspaper produced a startling account of alleged abuse at a police facility called Homan Square.

The blockbuster story, published in The Guardian and written by Brooklyn-based journalist Spencer Ackerman, described the warehouse as the “domestic equivalent of a CIA black site,” where secretive police units operate and detainees are “disappeared,” with no access to lawyers or relatives and no immediate record of their whereabouts.

With its comparisons to war-on-terror practices and allegations of police brutality, the story landed big on the internet, with well more than 100,000 social shares and write-ups across the Web. The one place it didn’t get much traction: Chicago media.

The city’s two main dailies, the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times, quickly reported that city police denied any wrongdoing in pieces that offered little original reporting. The CBS affiliate in Chicago also reported the police denial. The local papers and TV stations have since covered protests from groups demanding that the facility be shuttered.

But more than a week after the initial story, local enterprise reporting remains scant. The most notable examples are a few oddly framed stories, from the Tribune and public radio station WBEZ, suggesting that the focus on Homan Square is misplaced and that, according to local defense attorneys, abusive detentions and interrogations may actually be routine and widespread. If true, that would seem to be worth digging into—but the local coverage, especially in the Tribune, put as much emphasis on possible overreach by The Guardian as it did on police abuse. … Full article

March 10, 2015 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Deception, Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Subjugation - Torture | , , , , | Leave a comment

Columnist Clarence Page Spoke at Rally for Iranian Militant Group

By Justin Elliott | ProPublica | July 2, 2012

Late last month,  syndicated columnist Clarence Page appeared at a rally in Paris in support of the Mujahadin-e Khalq (MEK), an Iranian group that has been lobbying Washington to be removed from the U.S. government’s list of designated foreign terrorist organizations.

Before a huge crowd waving portraits of MEK leaders Maryam and Massoud Rajavi as well as Iranian flags, Page called for the MEK to be removed from the official terrorist organization list.

Contacted about the appearance by ProPublica, Page said he has decided to give back his speaking fee for the event, as well as reimburse the cost of travel to and from France, which was paid for by a group called the Organizing Committee for Convention for Democracy in Iran.

“I thought they were simply a group of Iranian exiles who were opposed to the regime in Tehran,” Page said. “I later found out they can be construed as a MEK front group, and I don’t think it’s worth it to my reputation to be perceived as a paid spokesman for any political cause.”

Page said he was paid a fee of $20,000 and travel expenses and that he attended the June 23 event during vacation time. He said he just arrived back at work from vacation and has not yet given back the money. He did not have the text of the speech he delivered, but he told ProPublica he spoke in favor of the MEK being removed from the list of  terrorist organizations, a move he expects to occur shortly.

The MEK, which fiercely opposes the current regime in Iran, has  mounted a high-priced lobbying and legal battle to get off the terrorist list in recent years. The group was placed on the list in 1997 by the Clinton Administration, which cited its record of attacks against Iranian targets.  The group also “assassinated several U.S. military personnel and U.S. civilians working on defense projects in Tehran” in the 1970s when the U.S. was allied with the Shah, according to the State Department. The MEK says it has renounced violence. A federal appeals court last month ordered the State Department to decide within four months whether the MEK should remain on the list.

Groups supporting the MEK have paid millions of dollars to attract former officials and retired military officers to appear at events supporting the group in recent years. But because the MEK is an officially designated terrorist organization, it is illegal for Americans to accept money from the MEK itself. NBC reported in March that former officials had received subpoenas as part of a federal probe “focused on whether the former officials may have received funding, directly or indirectly, from the [MEK].”

Besides Page’s role as a columnist whose work is distributed by Tribune Media Services, he is also a member of the Chicago Tribune’s editorial board. Page has not written about Iran in his  column recently, but the Tribune editorial board regularly weighs in on foreign policy. Last month, the paper called on the Obama administration to “ratchet up the economic pressure” on Iran in the dispute over the country’s nuclear program. A spokeswoman for the Tribune did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment.

Organizers assert  that 100,000 people attended the Paris event last month, but that figure has not been independently verified. In a speech, Maryam Rajavi hailed the “unparalleled bipartisan coalition which has challenged the official policy” that labels the MEK a terrorist group.

Others attending the event last month include Newt Gingrich, former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, former State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley, former Bush administration official John Bolton, and several former high-ranking military officers.

“When I got involved with it, I saw the stellar list of VIPs who were also on the program, and I saw this to be another conference with another speech,” Page said.

Page said the invitation to the event last month came through his agent Janet LeBrun Cosby and Bethesda-based Speakers Worldwide.

~

Video of Newt Gingrich speech at the event:

July 3, 2012 Posted by | Corruption, Video | , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Columnist Clarence Page Spoke at Rally for Iranian Militant Group