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Why Did The Guardian Hire Josh Trevino?

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Posted on Aug 21, 2012
michael.bruntonspall (CC BY 2.0)

Readers of The Guardian are up in arms over the addition of former George W. Bush speechwriter Joshua Trevino to the historically liberal newspaper’s American staff.

“We are pleased to have Josh join The Guardian,” Janine Gibson, editor-in-chief of The Guardian U.S., said in a press release published on the paper’s website Aug. 15. “He brings an important perspective our readers look for on issues concerning U.S. politics.”

But not every member of The Guardian’s audience believes so. A letter to the editor written by a group that included international human rights activists, artists and lawmakers appeared on the site’s “Guardian” section. The authors expressed “shock and dismay” at the addition of a man “who has openly called for the killing of people on humanitarian missions to Palestine.”

That claim refers to a tweet Trevino sent out in June 2011, when he condoned the killing of U.S. citizens and anyone else aboard the second Gaza flotilla dispatched to provide relief to inhabitants of the Gaza Strip. The trip was made in defiance of Israeli sanctions forbidding the movement of goods in and out of the roughly 40 square miles of territory that sit at the southwest border of Israel. Nine activists were killed and many more were wounded in a similar attempt in 2010.

Trevino’s tweet read: “Dear IDF: If you end up shooting any Americans on the new Gaza flotilla—well, most Americans are cool with that. Including me.” The flotilla’s passengers included poet and author Alice Walker, elderly Holocaust survivor Hedy Epstein and several journalists, including Joseph Dana of The Nation, reported Ali Abunimah of Al-Jazeera.

Trevino later claimed that he didn’t “urge” the Israel Defense Forces to kill Americans aboard the fleet, but would merely approve of the killings if they took place, saying that any goods allowed to enter into Gaza would amount to material support for Hamas, the region’s ruling party. The United States and Israel recognize Hamas as a terrorist organization.

“It is a sad day for responsible and impartial journalism when the opinions of such a man are sought as an ‘important perspective’ (the words of Janine Gibson, editor-in-chief of the Guardian U.S.) by a supposedly progressive publication,” the letter appearing on The Guardian’s site concluded.

A few days after the paper announced Trevino’s hire, Abunimah, writing at the Qatar-based Al-Jazeera, blew the horn on the paper’s pick, highlighting Trevino’s flotilla tweet and his subsequent likening of the relief action to that of a “Nazi convoy.”

“Trevino is a Republican party operative, paid political consultant and ideologue for hire,” Abunimah wrote. “But while some may not like those attributes, they would not make him unique among columnists. What does distinguish Trevino is his propensity to call for violence.”

In response to Abunimah’s piece, which deserves to be read in full, The Guardian demanded a correction of Abunimah’s assertion that Trevino would serve as a “correspondent.”

“Josh Trevino is not a correspondent for The Guardian,” the paper wrote in a letter to Abunimah. “He is a freelance writer on contract to write opinion pieces. His articles will appear on The Guardian’s Comment is Free section of the site along with articles from many other freelance writers.”

But as Helen Lewis at the New Stateman pointed out, The Guardian did announce the addition of Trevino as a correspondent—in the first version of its press release. A second, unannounced, revised version said nothing about Trevino’s recruitment to the “editorial team,” as the first version had done explicitly. The Guardian pointed to that version to make the odd claim that it merely kept Trevino—formerly an occasional contributor to the site—on its writing staff.

As Lewis wrote, “Now, there’s chutzpah: silently editing your own press release, then asking for a ‘correction’ to reflect the new information.”

Lewis contacted The Guardian to get an explanation for the revision. A representative meekly responded that the description of Trevino as a correspondent was “a simple mistake” and that there is “no change to Josh’s position.” But that makes no sense, given the paper’s announcement of Trevino’s hire just days before.

Ali Abunimah at Al-Jazeera:

A colleague suggested that, by hiring Treviño, The Guardian was returning to its Zionist roots - indeed it had long championed the cause of Israel and Zionist settlement in Palestine. That might be true incidentally, however the motive appears to be something more mundane, but just as worrying for public discourse.

The Guardian has been losing tens of millions of dollars annually as its print circulation - like that of other newspapers - collapses. While it has an enormous and growing online audience, it has yet to find a way to sustainably generate revenue from it.

… To stop the losses that threaten to bankrupt parent company Guardian News and Media within a few years, its business plan calls for income from online advertising to double to $140 million by 2016.

… The solution, it seems, is to move rightwards in search of new audiences. “If, for example, the website’s American traffic reached 40 million, it would make it on to the schedules of major advertising agencies,” [New Statesman writer Peter] Wilby explains.

Read more

—Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.

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