The press people at the Guardian were quick to respond to Abunimah’s Al-Jazeera piece, assuring him on August 18 that Trevino would not be a “correspondent” for the paper – even though the press release had used that very word – but was merely “a freelance writer” who was “on contract to write opinion pieces.” Meanwhile, the Guardian silently revised its press release about Treviño to reflect this new job description, so that instead of calling him a new member of the “editorial team” it described him as joining the paper’s “commentary team,” and rather than “Correspondent” (capitalized!) he was now “commentator.” Rumors spread that Treviño had been demoted, but, when contacted by the New Statesman‘s Helen Lewis, a Guardian spokesperson insisted that his “terms of employment” had “not been altered.” Noting that Treviño had actually contributed to the Guardian on a freelance basis three times in the last couple of years, Lewis, writing on August 19, pointed out the oddness of issuing a press release for the purpose of announcing, as she put it, “’Person Who Has Written For Us Before is Still Writing.’”
It was also on August 19 that the Guardian website ran a letter from twenty-odd left-wing, pro-Palestine heavy hitters who expressed their “shock and dismay at the addition to the Guardian’s US commentary team” of a man with such “extreme views.” Among these opponents of “extreme views” were the director of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, the vice-president of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, representatives of Stop the War, Middle East Monitor, the Palestinian Forum of Britain, Jews for Justice for Palestine, Architects and Planners for Justice, Baroness Jenny Tonge (who has expressed sympathy for Palestinian suicide bombers and encouraged the belief that Israelis who were providing emergency medical care to earthquake victims in Haiti were in fact harvesting their organs), and several professors, including Steven and Hilary Rose, the Marxist instigators of the movement for an academic boycott of Israel. Taking their cue from Abunimah, these luminaries also focused on Treviño’s Gaza tweet, describing him as “a man who has openly called for the killing of people on humanitarian missions to Palestine, people who have included the Pulitzer-prize-winning author Alice Walker.” Treviño, they maintained, was “a man who clearly has no regard for the rule of law,” who “advocates the killing of his fellow citizens by a foreign army,” and who has “no hesitation in wishing death upon those who disagree with them.” His writings, they added, “can be found on countless sensationalist, racist and hate-speech websites.”
These signatories’ real beef with Treviño became clear in the sentences that followed. Treviño, they thundered, has “vested interests” (unlike them). He has “served on the board of the pro-Israel group Act for Israel, and was listed on its website as being ‘a staunch digital advocate of Israel.’” (Obviously, support for Israel was the most objectionable of the “extreme views” to which Treviño’s opponents objected.) Then there was this sentence: “This former speechwriter for George W Bush will no doubt be bringing his one-sided political views to the Guardian and using it as a platform for his propaganda. It is a sad day for responsible and impartial journalism when the opinions of such a man are sought…by a supposedly progressive publication.” In the judgment of Baroness Tonge, the Roses, and their compadres, in short, a pro-Israel writer who had written speeches for George W. Bush has no place at the Guardian. His views – though not, of course, theirs – are “one-sided,” are “propaganda,” are by definition not “responsible” or “impartial.”
All this international hysteria over the hiring by an aging British newspaper of a young American blogger to write occasionally for its website has served a rather useful purpose: it has powerfully underscored the fact that many of those who consider themselves good Guardian liberals are not liberals at all – in the classical or European sense of the word – but out-and-out authoritarians, intellectual tyrants, fiercely fundamentalist guardians of the temple of orthodoxy. They don’t believe in open debate, in honest dissent, in respectful disagreement; they’re not interested in hearing what anyone who differs from them has to say, because, in their view, they already possess the truth, are the truth, are living the truth. (Ils sont dans le vrai, as Flaubert put it.) All other views are not just wrong or misguided – they’re unclean, evil, dangerous heresies that must be squelched, lest they pollute the pure minds of initiates.
In short, they don’t want a public square. They want Pravda.
It’s to the Guardian‘s credit – whatever its motives, and whatever the facts may be about those curious changes in its press release about Treviño – that Treviño’s first column under the new dispensation appeared on schedule. It turned out to be a brief, low-key, not particularly partisan look at the first days of the Romney-Ryan campaign. Nothing earthshaking – far from it. But its very appearance, after all the fanatical frenzy, felt like a small, quiet victory for the civilized exchange of opinions by free people. Hello, New York Times?
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