The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, which has been accused by many in the pro-Israel community of biased reporting against the Jewish state, was the target of sharp criticism by a leader of a media watchdog group in town to address attendees at the 2015 Zionist Organization of America-Pittsburgh District Awards Dinner on Nov. 4 at Beth Shalom.
Steve Stotsky, the senior analyst for CAMERA, the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America, singled out an associate editor of the Post-Gazette as a chief offender of fair journalistic standards.
“The worst problem has a name: Dan Simpson,” Stotsky told the audience of nearly 200. “Dan Simpson is a serial vilifier of Israel.”
Stotsky became acquainted with Stuart Pavilack, ZOA- Pittsburgh District executive director, earlier this year when Pavilack turned to CAMERA for guidance in “confronting the bias of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette,” Stotsky said.
In a March, 2015 letter addressed to Post-Gazette publisher and editor-in-chief John R. Block, executive editor David Shribman and Allan J. Block, chairman of Block Communications, which owns the paper, the ZOA-Pittsburgh District and CAMERA joined together to express “concern with a recurring pattern of factual errors and bias” in editorials addressing the Middle East conflict and the State of Israel.
Representatives from the Post-Gazette twice have declined to meet with Pavilack in person to discuss the ZOA’s concerns, Pavilack said.
In his address last week, Stotsky accused Simpson, who is a regular editorial writer for the paper, of knowingly misrepresenting or omitting facts when it comes to Israel and trafficking in anti-Israel canards, “misinformation and connivance.”
“Simpson’s hostility is unlikely to stem from ignorance,” Stotsky postulated. “He is a Yale graduate.”
Simpson’s writings follow the lead of other media outlets that have contributed to creating twisted perspectives concerning the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, according to Stotsky. The public is commonly dealt a version of events that portray Israel as solely responsibly for the conflict, while “the Palestinians are portrayed solely as victims and not held accountable for their behavior.”
Palestinians, Stotsky said, have been “re-created as an indigenous population” that has been displaced, a false proposition that is often repeated by university professors and “high government officials.”
Recently, press reports of Palestinian knife attacks on Israeli victims “are twisted so that the Israelis are the attackers, and the knifers are the victims,” Stotsky said. “It’s a reversal of the perpetrator and the victim.”
The Post-Gazette’s Simpson, a former Foreign Service officer, is unabashedly prone to promulgating these types of distortions, according to Stotsky.
An example of Simpson’s propensity to publish unsubstantiated accusations against the Jewish state, Stotsky said, include an Aug. 27, 2014 editorial in which he claimed that the “Israel lobby” was favoring war in Iraq and Syria to divert attention away from the war in Gaza.
Another example, said Stotsky, is an Oct. 14, 2015 Simpson editorial, in which he blames Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for the current wave of Palestinian terror attacks.
“The causes of Palestinian attacks are not in question,” Simpson wrote, citing purported settlement expansion as the trigger for the Palestinian knife attacks and car ramming throughout Israel.
“Israel is the guilty party [according to Simpson],” Stotsky said. “It’s Israel’s fault. Every sentence contains a falsehood or an accusation.”
Simpson’s proclivity for equating “violence on both sides,” moreover, works to “confuse the public,” Stotsky said.
The Post-Gazette’s omissions when covering the Middle East are likewise egregious, he continued. Notably missing from the pages of the paper has been any report on Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas’ Sept. 16 comments on official PA television, in which he praised the terrorists wielding knives on the streets of Israel.
“Abbas said, ‘We bless every drop of blood that has been spilled for Jerusalem,’” Stotsky recounted.
The Palestinian leader further charged in that speech that “the Al-Aqsa [Mosque on the Temple Mount] is ours, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher is ours, and they [Jews and Christians] have no right to defile them with their filthy feet. We will not allow them to, and we will do everything in our power to protect Jerusalem.”
Also absent from the pages of the Post-Gazette, Stotsky noted, was any reference to Gaza-based Sheikh Muhammad Sallah, on Oct. 9, calling on Palestinians in East Jerusalem and the West Bank to “attack in threes and fours” and “cut them into body parts.”
Instead of referencing the Palestinian leaders’ incitement of violence, said Stotsky, Simpson “blames Israel, going back 67 years.”
“He surely knows about Abbas’ rejection of peace and his refusal to meet with Netanyahu,” said Stotsky, and yet he chooses to ignore those facts in his writings.
Simpson’s perspectives, according to Stotsky, reflect the perspectives of Post-Gazette management. The anti-Israel bias has been apparent in the work of other contributors to the paper, such as cartoonist Rob Rogers, whose July 22, 2014 cartoon portrayed Israelis as intentionally targeting Gazan civilians during Operation Protective Edge.
“Dan Simpson is incorrigible,” Stotsky said, “but the animus at the Post-Gazette toward Israel is at least shared or tolerated by the upstairs office.”
Simpson did not respond to a request from The Chronicle for comment.
Stotsky suggested certain actions that Israel supporters could take to contest “a prominent media source that willfully distorts Israel.”
While the “natural impulse is to try to resolve the problem behind closed doors,” he said, that tactic should only be part of a larger approach, which should include a campaign to “continue to pester them.”
“Don’t be intimidated,” Stotsky cautioned. “It is essential that you make demands for real, corrective action. We are not without leverage. There is a price to be paid if they don’t address the complaint.”
Stotsky suggested canceling subscriptions and pulling advertising.
“But most of all,” he said, “you need to write letters, to have a public discussion and a promise of continued exposure. Enlist the help of like-minded people, including those beyond the Jewish community.”
Media bias and distortion are part of a “bigger picture,” he said. “Dan Simpson and the Post-Gazette are not an isolated problem.”
Stotsky cited a reporter for MSNBC who denied on the air last month that a Palestinian terrorist had a knife in his hand, while the image on the screen clearly showed he was holding a knife.
The media’s skewed reporting, including the editorials of Simpson, matter, Stotsky said.
“Dan Simpson and his ilk aren’t targeting any of us,” he told the audience of ZOA supporters. “But he is having an effect, especially on the young. Israel is depicted as an abuser of human rights and an apartheid state, and on college campuses, it is often accused of genocide. Supporters of Israel are intimidated.”
Parents and Jewish organizations need to “enter the fray,” he said, to support Israel advocates on campus.
“We have to do a better job of getting out the correct history,” he urged, noting that journalism students are often taught that the conflict is solely about land—with no religious component—and that Israelis are colonists.
The ZOA-Pittsburgh District honored Drs. Tova and Joel Weinberg with the ZOA’s Lifetime Achievement Award, given to those who have demonstrated outstanding commitment to the State of Israel and the Jewish people. The Ivan and Natalie Novick Community Leadership Award, given in memory of their lifetime of service and leadership, was presented to Andy “Hirsh” Dlinn, and Julie Paris was presented with ZOA’s Israel Service Award.
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.