Saturday 6 September 2014


Forgive me father for I have sinned and I’m not even a Catholic. I feel guilty all the same because I’ve been a voyeur. I’m sorry to say I’ve been looking at Jon Donnison’s Twitter feed with a mixture of morbid fascination and ordinary fascination, and I haven’t even got a Twitter account nor do I intend signing up for one no matter how many times they urge me to do so whenever I log on. Looking in on it feels just so wrong. I think they should stop people like me from spying on other people’s Tweets. Something should be done.

Anyway, it led to something loosely relating to Craig’s observations about ‘both sides’ and ‘getting it about right’.

The other day, along with many others, I linked to (and quoted from) an impressive article by Matti Friedman formerly of AP, in which he set out a raft of substantive points about the media’s anti-Israelism. It  did wonders for my confirmation bias.

However, the guilt-inducing spying expedition I confessed to earlier produced a reTweet, which linked to this  rebuttal, written by another exAP reporter, Steven Gutkin (whose name evokes a distressed baby animal.) Gutkin thinks that some of Friedman’s criticisms were aimed at him, and defends himself by saying he does not think the reporting that was put out during his tenure was anything less than balanced.

The interesting thing is that I’m not alone in thinking that he hasn’t actually made a convincing case. He calls Matti Friedman’s article ‘well-written hogwash’, which just isn’t enough of an argument.

I haven’t read the book by Daniel Kahneman “Thinking Fast and Slow” but it sounds promising, because according to Gutkin it confirms my thoughts about bias, namely that it’s part of the human condition.  But I’m not sure what point he’s trying to make in citing it, as he goes on to say that at AP they deliberately covered the conflict purely as witnesses rather than ‘framing’ it through any partisan prism. 
Perhaps he bore that in mind when he acknowledged that a scrupulously even-handed approach (between “good and evil”) does itself boil down to bias,
not every story had to be 50-50 (if you were reporting in 1930s Germany, I asked, would you be compelled to give half the space to the Jewish side and the other half to the Nazis?”
but I somehow doubt it, because he also says:  
Matti provided valuable, fair-minded input during those years, a voice that often helped ensure the Israeli viewpoint got a fair shake without belittling the other side. I was grateful for that, and for the other voices in the bureau who did the same for the Palestinians.”
In other words, he has already decided that the case for the Palestinians is equal to that of  the Israelis, which shows a badly misplaced moral equivalence, and that’s where historical accuracy becomes essential.  He’s not making any value judgments in a situation that demands value judgments.

He does a little bit of self examination and comes out the other end as muddled as he went in. He believes in humanity, giving heart-warming examples of noble, Jew-friendly Palestinians, while at protesting that he doesn’t think Israel is ‘bad’. 
Exaggerating your opponent’s claims always signals uncertainty, and when he says:
"Of course I do question Matti’s belief that the international media is teeming with anti-Semitism.”
 he weakens his argument, and convinces you that if not ‘teeming’,  then at least ‘rife’.
 “And I do wonder how a person with his intelligence and compassion can fail so completely to see the other side.” 
Which one is tempted to put right back at him to see how he deals with that.

Strikingly, a large proportion of the below the line comments are on Matti’s side, though generous with their praise for the literary merit of Gutkin’s piece. Don’t you find that the below the line comments can be very perceptive?

Back to Twitter. I still feel uncomfortable about it. Anyone know how to do Hail Marys? 


  1. I bought Daniel Kahneman's 'Thinking Fast and Slow'. So far I've taken the 'Slow' approach to it. I'm on page 5.

  2. Ave Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum. Benedicta tu in mulieribus, et benedictus fructus ventris tui, Iesus. Sancta Maria, Mater Dei, ora pro nobis peccatoribus, nunc et in hora mortis.

    Well, you did ask!

    The priest will generally give a Pater and a Gloria as well, of course:-)

    1. She did indeed!

      And for a lovely musical setting of it by Anton Bruckner:

    2. So I did!
      I am a cantor’s granddaughter!


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