May 18, 2013
Truthdigger of the Week: Ali Abunimah
Posted on Sep 1, 2012
Many journalists are compelled to nurse a grudging tolerance of the fact that their work has little to no visible effect on the course of world events. For a moment last month, Ali Abunimah, co-founder of the pro-Palestinian news and opinion site The Electronic Intifada, wasn’t one of them.
Abunimah is almost singularly responsible for The Guardian newspaper’s dismissal of former George W. Bush speechwriter Joshua Trevino from the historically liberal paper’s opinion pages. He was one of the loudest and clearest voices to speak out when the hire was announced in mid-August. One year earlier, he told readers, Trevino had encouraged the Israeli military to kill American activists aboard a flotilla that was set to defy the country’s embargo against the shipment of goods into the Gaza Strip.
“Dear IDF,” Trevino tweeted in June 2011, “If you end up shooting any Americans on the new Gaza flotilla—well, most Americans are cool with that. Including me.” Poet and author Alice Walker, Holocaust survivor Hedy Epstein and Joseph Dana of The Nation magazine were among the American citizens aboard the flotilla.
“Something has gone badly wrong at The Guardian,” Abunimah wrote in his central piece criticizing the paper’s choice, published at Al-Jazeera. “In the name of ‘robust debate,’ the venerable left-leaning liberal newspaper has effectively given its stamp of approval to speech that goes beyond mere hate, speech that clearly crosses the line into incitement to murder unarmed civilians and journalists. What lies behind this worrying development, and what does it tell us about the state of media in general?”
Readers expressed their dismay with the choice soon after Trevino’s hire was announced. Days before his column was set to begin, Trevino responded to Abunimah’s charge with a wriggly clarification that he didn’t “urge” the Israel Defense Forces to kill American citizens, but merely said he would approve if the killings were to happen.
As far as the Guardian’s directors were concerned, none of this was grounds for Trevino’s termination. What felled the writer was a failure to disclose his interests in a previous article written for The Guardian shortly after the flotilla tweet. That piece included a quotation from the Malaysian prime minister that lacked a necessary disclosure of Trevino’s Malaysian business interests. Abunimah touched on this story in his initial cry against the paper’s pick.
“In July 2011, Trevino was caught in a curious controversy where a website in Malaysia accused him and another U.S. blogger of running a website named Malaysia Matters, allegedly secretly paid for by Malaysia’s prime minister and another politician in order to improve their image.
“Trevino told reporter Ben Smith, then of Politico, that the story was ‘completely false.’ But Smith stated that Trevino ‘misdirected’ him.
“While Smith was unable to get to the bottom of the murky financial arrangements behind Malaysia Matters, he revealed that, in 2008, Trevino had approached a number of prominent U.S. bloggers, offering them a free ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ Malaysian junket, paid for, he [Trevino] said in an email at the time, by business interests associated with Malaysian politics.’ ”
Trevino’s failure to disclose his interest in a source ran afoul of The Guardian’s editorial policies. It was on this technicality—not his warmongering against Americans and human rights activists—that the writer was let go. Just days after he joined the staff, the paper announced Trevino’s departure via a joint statement with the writer.
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