Columnists often disagree, but a difference of opinion between New York Times columnist A.M. Rosenthal and conservative Patrick Buchanan yesterday took on a new and bitter tone.
Rosenthal yesterday accused Buchanan of antisemitism and of venting a "venom about Jews" that included the "blood libel" that "Jews are not like us... .
"I understood long ago, when I reported from Poland and first saw Auschwitz, that to be silent about anti-Semitism would be a sin with which I could not live," Rosenthal wrote.
Rosenthal's column was in response to comments Buchanan made last month on "The McLaughlin Group" that the Israelis were the ones who wanted war with Iraq.
Buchanan said he would write a response to Rosenthal's blast in his own column, which is syndicated to 180 newspapers, not including the New York Times. He said Rosenthal's comments were a "personal attack" that came after President Bush "did not follow Rosenthal's advice to launch a preemptive strike on Iraq, which would have lost many young lives... .
"I think my views come out of the heart. Some of them are severely critical of Israel, and they will continue to be," Buchanan added. "But, I am not going to be intimidated by this personal venomous attack."
Rosenthal's column, which he said resulted in a flood of calls congratulating him for speaking out, also brought support for Buchanan from his colleagues on "The McLaughlin Group" in a show taped to air tonight at 7:30 on Channel 4.
"Calling somebody an antisemite is one of the worst things you can say," Morton Kondracke, a senior editor of the New Republic and one of the "McLaughlin" regulars, said in an interview yesterday. "You better prove it, and I don't think Rosenthal proved it."
In his column, Rosenthal wrote that Buchanan's "nastiness" in recent years has included "the demeaning of the Holocaust, the phony 'evidence' to question a crime of the gas chambers, the smarmy defense of war criminals and the attacks on American prosecutors who dared chase them down, the crack that Congress was 'Israeli-occupied' territory... ."
Contacted yesterday, Rosenthal said that he had been studying Buchanan's opinions for some time, but when the conservative Buchanan made his comments about Israel and Iraq, "I couldn't pretend I wasn't aware of it anymore."
On the "McLaughlin" show that Rosenthal wrote about, Buchanan said, "There are only two groups that are beating the drums for war in the Middle East -- the Israeli Defense Ministry and its amen corner in the United States."
Later in the program Buchanan added that "the Israelis want this war desperately because they want the United States to destroy the Iraqi war machine. They want us to finish them off. They don't care about our relations with the Arab world."
Rosenthal also wrote: "We are not dealing here with country-club anti-Semitism but with the blood libel that often grows out of it: Jews are not like us but are others, with alien loyalties for which they will sacrifice the lives of Americans."
Staffers at the Washington Afro-American are still upset about the sudden resignation of their city editor. Robyn-Denise Yourse quit last week in a racially tinged dispute with the paper's publishser Frances Murphy.
Yourse says she quit after Murphy refused to run a profile of David Clarke, the only white mayoral candidate, even though the paper had run pieces on Clarke's four black opponents. Murphy, whose family has owned the Afro-American for 98 years, disputes the account.
Yourse, who worked for the weekly for four years, says the first hint of trouble came after Clarke was interviewed by an Afro-American staffer and she was editing the piece for the front page, where the profiles of other mayoral contenders had run.
Yourse says Murphy "said Mr. Clarke is not going to appear on the front page of the newspaper because he's white... . I was upset. Not that I didn't know that view exists, but the candor and the forthrightness that came from her took me aback."
The former editor says a second confrontation developed shortly before the Sept. 8 issue, with a front-page headline announcing the endorsement of black candidates John Ray, Eleanor Holmes Norton and John Wilson was sent to the printers. According to Yourse, Murphy announced in the presence of other staffers that she was killing the Clarke profile altogether "because I'm not going to have any white people in this issue. I know that it's a racist decision, but ... we want to steer our readers in the direction of those we have endorsed."
Murphy insists the decision had nothing to do with race. "When you have disgruntled employees, they're liable to say anything," she says.
Clarke's profile was delayed because he repeatedly postponed an interview, Murphy says. She says she felt no profiles should run in the special election issue and that Clarke received "the same amount of space that everyone else got" on a page of candidate photos and biographical sketches.
"We're not bigots," says Murphy, noting that she teaches journalism to both black and white students at Howard University. "We were fair with Betty Ann Kane (a white candidate for D.C. delegate). We ran her profile on the front page."
The incident follows a period in which the city's black newspapers were criticized by some black journalists for being too sympathetic to D.C. Mayor Marion Barry. Murphy said during the mayor's cocaine and perjury trial that "we go out of our way to bend over backwards to give him the benefit of the doubt, because so many others are bending the other way."
Yourse sees it differently. "I believe very firmly in the credo of the black press: to uplift and be a voice for black people," she says. "Things get a little skewed when you turn around and do something you accuse others of doing."
The dangers of New York life, which have dominated the city's tabloids for weeks, became all too real for David Seifman last Friday night.
Half an hour after filing a story on a news conference at which Mayor David Dinkins was peppered with questions about rising crime, Seifman, the New York Post's City Hall bureau chief, became another statistic. The 42-year-old scribe was mugged by a pair of assailants at the Park Place subway station across the street from City Hall.
"This thing happened to me so quickly -- these guys were so efficient -- I didn't have time to be afraid," Seifman says. "I passed out. The guy who had the hammerlock on me applied enough pressure that he cut off my breathing." The muggers escaped with $235 and Seifman's watch.
Once the City Hall police learned the victim's identity, he received the VIP treatment, including a hospital visit from Dinkins. "We chatted briefly about crime, how terrible it was," Seifman says.
The Daily News scooped its tabloid rival with a story about the incident on Sunday, when the Post doesn't publish, prompting Seifman to come back with a first-person account the next day.
Seifman says he's more upset about running the daily subway gantlet of beggars and homeless people than about being mugged, which he says could have happened in any city. Still, he's swearing off the No. 2 train after dark. "I'd rather spend the 10 bucks for the cab and know I'm going to get home than ride in fear," Seifman says.
The phones at WTOP have been ringing off the hook since the all-news radio station began airing campaign ads for political extremist Lyndon LaRouche.
Despite the inconvenience of being incarcerated in Minnesota, where he is serving a 15-year prison term for mail fraud, LaRouche is running for Congress from Virginia's 10th District. His campaign has raised $288,000, some of which has paid for the 60-second radio ads.
"The world is on the verge of World War III... . The president of the United States has ordered the mass starvation of the populations of Kuwait and Iraq," LaRouche says in one ad. "This brings to mind the images of Adolf Hitler ... ordering the starvation of the Warsaw ghetto. It is time to say stop this nonsense."
If LaRouche wanted to catch people's attention, he succeeded. "Listener reaction to his commercials has been extreme," says Michael Douglass, WTOP's vice president and general manager, who has taken many of the angry calls. "I've been called everything from mercenary to unscrupulous to greedy."
In fact, as Douglass patiently tells callers, the station has "no choice" but to broadcast ads by a legally qualified candidate and to offer that candidate the lowest available rates, which are substantially less than it could charge other advertisers.
"I'm losing money, the commercials are driving away listeners, and I'm being insulted to boot," an exasperated Douglass says. "People don't realize we've been complying with the law."
After consulting with the Federal Communications Commission, the station came up with a disclaimer, warning listeners after each LaRouche spot that it was "broadcast pursuant to the requirements of federal law" and "should not be interpreted as representing the position of WTOP."
The special issue had been months in the making. Money magazine was launching the first annual Money Guide to America's Best Colleges, a $3.95 publication with a strict embargo date of Sept. 10.
Imagine the staff's surprise, therefore, when the college guide was sent out several days early to 478 entertainment writers across America, along with a press release touting stories about the likes of Ted Koppel, Peter Pan and the 2 Live Crew.
Call this one Mix-Up at the Time-Warner Mailhouse. It seems that the New York firm that sends out advance copies of several Time publications mistakenly mailed the college guide to the feature writers who regularly receive Entertainment Weekly, along with an Entertainment Weekly press release. Fervent faxes followed.
"You may have noticed that the copy of Entertainment Weekly which accompanied this week's press release bore an uncanny resemblance to the Money Guide to America's Best Colleges," Money Publisher William S. Myers wrote in a follow-up letter urging recipients to respect the embargo date.
All this created headaches for Money spokeswoman Judith Sylk-Siegel. "Here I was trying to keep everything very quiet, and colleges were finding out they were on the list and newspapers were calling and writers were confused," she says.