The weblogging community responds to Colonel Yigal Carmon’s outrageous threat to sue me over my characterization of MEMRI as a well-funded organization dedicated to cherry-picking Arab news reports to make them look bad:
Brad DeLong says “MEMRI Needs to Be Moved to “Unreliable”: Ah. Clearly it’s time to stop reading (and citing) MEMRI.”
Henry Farrell says,
“MEMRI’s threat seems to me to be more about trying to create difficulties for Cole with the University of Michigan than the nugatory possibility of an adverse judgement in court against him. There’s no remotely plausible theory under which the University of Michigan can be held responsible for Cole’s private activities or statements, even if they were libellous. However, a state-funded university would presumably prefer, all things considered, not to be embroiled in an action of this sort, however frivolous. Thus, the inclusion of University of Michigan in the complaint seems to me to be an inept class of an indirect threat to embarrass the university and thus perhaps put Cole in a tricky position. I’m glad to see that he’s treating it with the contempt that it deserves.”
[Cole says: Thanks, Henry. The University Counsel and I spoke, and he underlined that the University of Michigan would never take a position on faculty speech and I can assure readers that there isn’t the remotest possibility that the hallowed Home of the Wolverines would take such a clumsy feint seriously.]
Abu Aardvark says,
“To be blunt, Professor Cole is right. MEMRI routinely selects articles which show the worst of Arab discourse, even where this represents only a minority of actually expressed opinion, while almost never acknowledging the actual distribution of opinion. As for the Reform Project, it tends to select statements by pro-American reformers who concentrate on criticizing other Arabs, again with little regard for the real debates going on among Arabs. Your selective translations therefore offer a doubly warped perspective on the Arab debates: first, over-emphasizing the presence of radical and noxious voices; and second, over-emphasizing the importance of a small and marginal group of Arabs who share your own prejudices. What you leave out is almost the entire Arab political debate which really matters to Arabs: a lively debate on satellite stations such as al Jazeera and al Arabiya and in the elite Arab press about reform, international relations, political Islam, democracy, and Arab culture which English-speaking readers would greatly benefit from knowing about.”
Further evidence for this point of view is available in the form of Brian Whitaker’s debate with Yigal Carmon at the Guardian website. Whitaker’s points suggest that the widespread impression that MEMRI is accurate but selective may be too generous. Serious lapses in accuracy are also apparent, and so far unexplained.
Matthew Yglesias writes: “Cole seems to be in the right on the key point of factual dispute, though I’m willing to believe he’s gone too far in intimating that MEMRI is some kind of front for the Israeli government. More to the point, MEMRI is clearly seeking to use the legal system to silence people who disagree with its politics.” [Cole says: Matthew, I don’t think I actually intimated that before now, though it is beginning to occur to me and others now that the heavy-handedness has been underlined.]
Maxspeak says “MEMRI’s game is to troll for objectionable statements in Arabic-language publications — not a daunting task, to be sure — and foist them on the non-Arabic speaking publics in the West as an endless object lesson in Islamic backwardness and intolerance.”
Kurt Nimmo appears convinced that MEMRI is a black psy-ops project of Israeli military intelligence aimed at shaping Western public opinion in anti-Arab and anti-Muslim directions.
Begging to Differ points out that MEMRI is probably a “public figure” for US legal purposes. This is the standard for such actions in such instances: “If a plaintiff alleging defamation is considered a ‘public figure,’ or a person or entity whose views and actions on public issues and events are of concern to other citizens, that plaintiff must prove the alleged defamation was made with ‘actual malice’–that is, with knowledge that it was false or with reckless disregard of whether it was false or not.” [Cole says: “Actually, everything I said was true, as far as I know, and none of my points has been seriously contested with solid information.”]
American Amnesia says,
“MEMRI, the Middle East Media Research Organization, hasn’t received attention here at American Amnesia for one simple reason: it’s a compost of specious translations of worst-of-the-worst opinion pieces coming out of the Arabic press. Think of an organization dedicated to translating into Arabic the Jerry Falwells, Bob Jones, and other scraps of ideological detritus bobbing around in our local papers, and you’ve got MEMRI’s mission and net worth.”
(Cole notes: Until I see figures for all the MEMRI offices, and we have an idea of how much of their work exactly is done in those offices and perhaps elsewhere, in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, I deny that I have misstated their funding. It is silly to think that the nearly $2 mn. that underwrites their Washington office is anything but the tip of their financial iceberg.)
The blogging world has been enormously supportive, and hundreds if not thousands of emails have been sent in protest to MEMRI. I have by no means listed all the interesting reactions on the Web to this issue. I am very grateful. It seems to me that if we don’t make a stand here, freedom of speech on the internet is endangered.
P.S. The Boris and Natasha of Arab-Israeli politics, are saying that I brandished a lawsuit against them for putting up a dossier on me and encouraging people to spy on me for them, in 2002. Damn straight I did. And nor are these two incidents comparable. I did not threaten to sue them for libel, but for personal harassment. I didn’t cyberstalk Yigal Carmon. In fact, I don’t think I ever even mentioned his name until he threatened me. As a private person, he should be left alone. The rhetorical strategy of alleging that if you ever threatened to sue someone on solid grounds, you may not complain about someone else frivolously threatening you with a SLAPP, is typical of these polemicists. Move on. Nothing of interest to see here.