Media

Sullivan and Sources

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Over at The Atlantic, Andrew Sullivan has been debating the United Nations's Goldstone report on war crimes committed in Gaza (whose critics, including the State Department, say it was unfairly hostile to Israel) and the fallout from this New York Times opinion piece, in which a founder of Human Rights Watch denounces the group for having "written far more condemnations of Israel for violations of international law than of any other country in the region."

In the Times editorial, Robert L. Bernstein points out that "Col. Richard Kemp, the former commander of British forces in Afghanistan and an expert on warfare, has said that the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) in Gaza 'did more to safeguard the rights of civilians in a combat zone than any other army in the history of warfare.'" Noah Pollak also pointed to Kemp's testimony, which was made on behalf of the group UN Watch (though it wasn't first time he has defended the tactics of the IDF). In response to these two invocations of Kemp, Sullivan responds with an attack on the group that hosted him:

For a little background on this neutral observer, here's the Wikipedia entry on UN Watch, the hard neocon group Kemp is representing.

To this, UN Watch's Hillel Neuer responded:

The slur is also nothing shy of incoherent. If we are to believe Andrew Sullivan, UN Watch would become the first "hard neocon" group in history to be chaired by a former Carter Administration official who actively campaigned for Barack Obama's election to the presidency, to lobby for gay rights, featuring as a leading spokesman the father of Canada's gay marriage bill, and to actively welcome the U.S. decision to join the UN Human Rights Council.

Incidentally, a list of recent campaign donations from UN Watch chair Alfred Moses seems to confirm Neuer's point. When Volokh Conspiracy blogger David Bernstein suggested that Sullivan, Matt Yglesias, and other HRW's defenders read a critical report of the organization issued by a group called NGO Monitor, Sullivan scurried back to Wikipedia:

And who exactly is NGO Monitor, said authority on such matters? Here's Wikipedia. You guessed it. Do they really think we can't see past vague acronyms or market-tested names?

I'm not sure how closely Sullivan followed Operation Cast Lead or how familiar he is with HRW's activities in the Middle East—which perhaps explains his curious habit of attacking not the substance of the arguments presented by groups like UN Watch and NGO Monitor but the not-so-secret-fact they are representing a single side of the issue—and I'm not interested in debating the details of a subject with which I am only broadly familiar. But there is something deeply lazy and, contrary to Sullivan's neutral pose, deeply partisan about this style of argument.

Sullivan wants to brush aside the criticisms of Col. Kemp, who possesses an impressive military record after serving for three decades in the British Army, based on who invited him to speak  at the UN Human Rights Council. And he wants to suggest that because NGO Monitor is—"you guessed it"—a pro-Israel organization, that one can dismiss their criticism out of hand. If this is the standard we are using, why, just 50 minutes after criticizing Bernstein and NGO Monitor, did Sullivan link positively to a Media Matters video attacking Fox News? There is plenty of convincing material included in that 5 minute clip of Beck and Hannity hyperventilating about American communism, but isn't Media Matters a pro-Obama outfit funded by George Soros? Can't Sullivan see past the "market-tested" name to find the partisan attack dog?

Look, if the tobacco industry funds a health study, it should be received with skepticism, of course, and other scientists should look over its methodology with an extra level of suspicion (Ron Bailey has written on the issue of industry-funded research here). But does it mean that its findings, eo ipso, aren't true? I suppose when you are producing 40-50 blog posts a day, it is far easier to shout "neocon" than to engage in honest debate.