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May 31, 1991 - Image 37

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1991-05-31

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

CLOSE-UP

eter's

PRINCIPLES

In his first major
interview since the
Gulf War, ABC
anchor Peter
Jennings answers
charges that he is
biased against
Israel.

ARTHUR J. MAGIDA

Special to The Jewish News

the Gulf War was good for
Peter Jennings.
After 42 days of almost
round-the-clock coverage of
the war, ABC's anchor was the un-
disputed video victor. Throughout the
conflict, he was calm, tireless, unruffl-
ed. He was also informed, the product
of his many years in the Middle East,
an advantage shared by neither
NBC's Tom Brokaw nor CBS's Dan
Rather.
A Times-Mirror poll indicated that
viewers thought ABC had done the
best job of covering the war.
And the anchor they regarded
most highly?
Peter Jennings.
The critics also raved. Time TV
critic Richard Zoglin pointed to Mr.
Jennings' "Olympian voice of au-
thority." New York magazine media
critic Edwin Diamond was pleased
that, "night after night, Jennings
called in his field correspondents,
provided stability, remembered to
thank people for their work."
Even the Washington Post's Tom

Shales, ordinarily no fan of the ABC
anchor, respected his wartime an-
choring.
But despite this praise, Mr. Jenn-
ings is still haunted by a charge that
has trailed him for almost two
decades, a charge that he says is un-
founded and "thoroughly odious:'
The charge: an anti-Israel bias col-
ors everything he says on-camera
about the Jewish state.
This alleged bias, say detractors,
influences each story the anchor
does about Israel, Arabs and Pales-
tinians. It supposedly determines
even the merest tilt of his head or
arch of an eyebrow when talking
about the tribal intrigues that have
tethered that corner of the world to
conflict and friction and dissonance
so long.
"A quivering superiority creeps
into Jennings' voice whenever he '
discusses Israel," said one Jewish
columnist for a major national
newspaper. "It's like a courtroom
and he's the judge."
"I'm the last person to scream
`anti-Israel' about a journalist," said
Baltimore Jewish Council executive
director Art Abramson, one of the
few Jewish communal professionals
willing to go on-the-record about Mr.
Jennings.
"But," continued Mr. Abramson,
"Jennings tends to editorialize in
his comments about Israel. He
comes out of the Third World school
and the liberation movement. He
makes the same mistake that (New
York Times' Middle East veteran)
Tom Friedman made: He holds
Israel to a higher moral standard.
But Jennings should know the Mid-
dle East well enough to know that
holding Israel to that standard
would be an act of suicide."
Yet, the Post's Tom Shales be-
lieves some of these charges may be
self-fulfilling.

"I've heard all this, so now I'm
looking for it," he said. "And now,
I'm not sure if it's real or not."
This alleged slant, say Mr. Jenn-
ings' critics, pervaded his coverage
of the Gulf war, just as it supposedly
pervaded his reporting for the many
years he was based in the Middle
East.
In late January, for instance, New
York Times columnist William
Safire sniffed at the anchor's
"persistent pique at Israel." And
Wall Street Journal columnist
Dorothy Rabinowitz perceived, on
the night of Iraq's first Scud attack
on Israel, a Jennings who was
"deeply offended" by Israeli Ambas-
sador Zalman Shoval's remarks that
Israel had restrained from mounting
a preemptive strike at America's re-
quest.
Noting the anchor's comment that
the ambassador had laid "a pretty
heavy trip" on the United States,
Ms. Rabinowitz was certain that
"only (Jennings) could have found
(in the ambassador's remarks) some-
thing to excite his moral outrage, a
commodity that a beneficent nature
seems to have conferred on Mr. Jen-
nings in exceedingly large quanti-
ty."
Some critics even charge that Mr.
Jennings is anti-Semitic. This trait,
they say, surfaces in quips about
Jews he allegedly makes at social
events. But the one specific accusa-
tion made regarding Mr. Jennings'
attitude toward Jews was tracked to
its original source, a frequenter of
"A-list" parties in New York and
the Hamptons. He denied that he
had ever heard the anchor "make a
remark that was — or could be —
construed as anti-Semitic, a false
charge which defeats having a seri-
ous dialogy.e with him and, indeed,
ends the pd§sibility for any good dia-
logue with anybody."

THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS

37

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