In a May 8 article titled “Israel’s Aggressive Spying in the U.S. Mostly Hushed Up”, Jeff Stein alleged that Israel spied on Al Gore during his visit to Jerusalem 16 years ago
How does Mr. Stein know this? Believe it or not, his story which would have been appropriate for April fool’s day claims that an anonymous Secret Service agent decided to take a long, slow time on the toilet in Al Gore’s bathroom. And I quote from the article
“So the room was all quiet, he was just meditating on his toes, and he hears a noise in the vent. And he sees the vent clips being moved from the inside. And then he sees a guy starting to exit the vent into the room.” Did the agent scramble for his gun? No, the former operative said with a chuckle. “He kind of coughed and the guy went back into the vents.”
It is hard to believe that Stein tells this fanciful story in all seriousness. Did the agent leave the bathroom door open while he did his business enabling him to see “the vent clips being moved from the inside” in another room? Vent clips that can be controlled from the inside. What does that mean?
Moreover, who would place a human in an air vent for an indefinite period without food or water or toilet facilities to try and overhear conversations that could be in distant parts of the room or in a different room? And if a man did stand in an air vent in a hotel, obviously it would block the flow of air into the room resulting in a maintenance call that would uncover his presence. And has Mr. Stein not heard of far more effective listening devices that have been in use since WW2?
And to clinch the absurdity of this story, the manager of the King David Hotel where Gore stayed during his 1998 trip, told Die Algemeiner that the air duct in the room is so small that even a cat cannot walk in it.
Why would Newsweek publish such silliness? Perhaps because Newsweek of today is not the leading news magazine that once competed with Time. According to Wikipedia, between 2008 and 2012 Newsweek suffered large drops in revenue prompting a sale to Sidney Harman for a purchase price of $1.00 and an assumption of the magazine’s liabilities. In November 2010 Newsweek merged with the Daily Beast web site and ceased print publication with the December 31, 2012 issue, changing to an all-digital format called Newsweek Global. In 2013, IBT Media acquired Newsweek and re-launched a print edition on March 7, 2014.
The credibility of this story is further degraded by the absence of any effort to substantiate the serious claims made by Stein. He liberally quotes only anonymous sources to support his warnings of Israeli spying on the US including
• A senior former U.S. intelligence operative,
• A Secret Service agent
• U.S. intelligence officials and congressional sources
• American counter-intelligence officials
• A former top U.S. security official
• A former U.S. intelligence operative intimately familiar with Israeli espionage
• Two former top counterintelligence officials
• Another former top intelligence official
• A former counterintelligence specialist
• A former U.S. intelligence official who has been a familiar face in the executive suites of several U.S. security agencies over the decades and
• A former congressional aide
This indiscriminate reliance only on unnamed sources not only destroys credibility completely, it violates journalistic ethics.
In an October 12, 2013 article, Public Editor of New York Times, Margaret Sullivan, referred to a committee on reporting practices and quotes Eric Schmitt, a longtime and well-respected national security reporter as saying what bothered readers of The Times most. It wasn’t political bias, or factual errors, or delivery problems. The No. 1 complaint, far and away, was anonymous sources. “It goes to the heart of our credibility”.
The committee’s 2004 report followed two damaging episodes at The Times: the flawed reporting in the run-up to the Iraq war and the dishonesty of the rogue reporter Jayson Blair. It reminded journalists to use anonymous sources sparingly. The current stylebook puts it this way: “Anonymity is a last resort.”
This Newsweek article was only the first of a series in which Stein, ignoring all other spy stories, paints Israel as the most serious spy threat to the US and claims that this is condoned by the US. As a self declared maven on spying, his narrow focus on Israel is marked by the fact that he has no comment to offer on the recent dramatic disclosure of massive industrial spying by China.
Moreover Stein’s leanings are demonstrated by his choice of medium in which to defend his accusations against Israel – the far from objective state-funded Press TV of the “Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting” with an annual budget of more than US$8.3 million.
Incredibly, in the Press TV story headlined “Israeli spying report based on facts: Newsweek reporter” Press TV treats the ridiculous spy in the air duct story seriously. In the entire Press TV article all sources are quoted anonymously. For example,
Citing US intelligence officials who were briefing members of the House udiciary and Foreign Affairs committees behind closed doors on legislation that would lower visa restrictions on Israelis, Stein wrote last Tuesday that Israel’s espionage activities in the US have crossed red lines.
As in his Newsweek article Stein repeated allegations with no attempt at substantiation as in the following quotes
“..Stein revealed that Zionists obtained key components for their nuclear bombs in the United States and their spies had been sent to the US “before there even was an Israel.”
“Zionists were dispatching spies to America before there even was an Israel, to gather money and materials… Key components for Israel’s nuclear bombs were clandestinely obtained here,” he wrote.
Allen H. Neuharth, founder of USA Today and chairman of the Freedom Forum is quoted as saying
“There’s not a place for anonymous sources, I think there are a few major historical developments that happened in journalism – the Pentagon Papers, maybe Watergate – where anonymous sources had a more positive influence than a negative impact. But on balance, the negative impact is so great that we can’t overcome the lack of trust until or unless we ban them.”
And it is indeed a frightening world in which some media create a false sense of credibility by quoting anonymous sources to support indiscriminate dissemination of damaging misinformation
In its report on Principles of Journalism the PEW Research Journalism Project said that journalism’s first obligation is to the truth and that “journalistic truth” is a process that begins with the professional discipline of assembling and verifying facts.