THE FEATHERMAN FILE

Of Noteworthy Items in the Press

Spies Like Us: The privately run Israeli intelligence Web site Debka.com reports that the real arms inspection in Iraq is being carried out by special forces representing the United States, Turkey, Jordan and Israel. “This means the second [that] President Bush wants them to, those Special Forces will surround a weapons site, reveal it to the world and then the U.N. will have to agree that the U.S. can go to war with Iraq,” explains Adam Davidson, a correspondent for the Minnesota Public Radio program Marketplace, who profiled the Web site January 20.

Davidson visits the Jerusalem offices of Debka, founded by journalists Diane Shalem and Giora Shamis. “People who read Debka.com sometimes feel like they have access to this secret world that runs parallel to the one everyone else is living in,” Davidson says. As an example, he cites Debka’s take on the war in Afghanistan, which in its view was less a battle against the Taliban and al Qaeda than it was a battle between the United States, on one side, and Russia and China, on the other, over influence in oil-rich Central Asia. “A lot of this was confirmed months later, but Debka readers got it first,” Davidson says.

Shamis is convinced that Saddam Hussein is harboring “chemical, biological and even some type of nuclear devices.” And Davidson is convinced that Debka is the real thing. “There’s really no way to confirm what they’re reporting right now, but I’ve been reading the site for years and it’s common to think they’re nuts, then to wait a few weeks and see the same information in The New York Times,” he says.

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He Brought It Up…: Is the press making too big a deal out of Joe Lieberman’s religion? That was Howard Kurtz’s question on the January 19 broadcast of CNN’s “Reliable Sources.”

Ron Brownstein, chief political writer for the Los Angeles Times, said the stories focusing on Lieberman’s Jewishness are “reflecting the reality that we are opening a new door here in American life with a Jewish-American presidential candidate, the first one, and there are some questions that have to be raised, both in practical terms, about, for example, his campaigning.”

Frank Sesno, former CNN Washington bureau chief and a professor of public policy and communication at George Mason University, also considers the “Jewish” angle a legitimate one. “The question is, how frequent and in what tone is it raised. Is it pejorative? Is it finger-wagging? Is it enough already? Or is it kept out there in that broader sense?”

If anything, Brownstein said, Lieberman “does invite scrutiny of his faith by emphasizing it so much.” Sesno agrees: “ And again, if you go back to [John F.] Kennedy, Kennedy took pains to say my religion is off to the side. And to the extent that Joe Lieberman lives his religion, to include the Sabbath, where he will walk to work and not campaign, that is very much a part of his life and affects his behavior.”

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Way To Go, Ohio: Ohio Senate President Doug White is Trent Lotting up and down his state, apologizing for using the phrase “we need to jew them down” during a Cleveland fundraiser prior to last November’s election.

White apologized to Jewish leaders, saying he didn’t realize the phrase was offensive and referring to his rural upbringing in Adams County. But The Portsmouth Daily Times isn’t buying it. “His comments were bad enough, but to somehow blame them on his southern Ohio background is an insult to the people who elected him,” reads a January 14 editorial in the Adams County newspaper.

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Gray Areas:Cindy Uken, opinion editor of The Desert Sun in Palm Springs, Calif., wrote a mea culpa January 19 for publishing a reader’s letter that accused the Jews of controlling the media.

“Last week, I did great harm. It was not my intent. Nonetheless, I did it. I apologize,” Uken writes.

But Uken’s dilemma is a familiar one to any newspaper that publishes a letters page. As she puts it, “Does the paper have an obligation to let others know such anti-Semitic sentiments exist in the valley? Or does publishing it give anti-Semites a platform to advance their cause?”

A Jewish friend tells Uken he would have published the letter. “I can see why the majority of the Jewish community would be offended,” he said. “I don’t agree with [the letter’s] message, but the guy is entitled to his opinion.” A black friend says it served no purpose.

Finally, for Uken, “there is no longer a gray area. There is nothing right about intentionally hurting and offending people. I am not advocating censorship, but does the First Amendment mean we are obligated to publish someone’s racist statements? I don’t think so.”

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