Navigate to News section

Leave Mariano Rivera Alone

It turns out American journalism’s bias against Israel wasn’t an isolated tic. It was the first step in a decline of how everything is covered.

Liel Leibovitz
July 23, 2019
Photo illustration: Tablet Magazine; original photos: Shutterstock and Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
Photo illustration: Tablet Magazine; original photos: Shutterstock and Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
Photo illustration: Tablet Magazine; original photos: Shutterstock and Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
Photo illustration: Tablet Magazine; original photos: Shutterstock and Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

This past Sunday, as Yankees legend Mariano Rivera was being inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame—the only player in history to gain admittance into the sport’s Holy of Holies by a unanimous vote—the Daily Beast ran a piece exploring what it argued was the legendary pitcher’s “far-right politics.”

Just what ideological offenses did Rivera—who grew up in a poor Panamanian fishing village and played ball using a cardboard milk carton for a glove when he was not helping his father catch sardines—commit? The piece’s author, Robert Silverman, does not mince his words. “Over the past three years,” he thunders, Rivera “served at the pleasure of a racist president, taken part in thinly veiled propaganda on behalf of a far-right government in Israel, and gotten chummy with outright bigots and apocalyptic loons. None of this will be inscribed on his Hall of Fame plaque. It should.”

What follows is a masterful example of painting with the broadest brush possible: Rivera served on a presidential commission to fight the opioid epidemic—alongside the head of the DEA, a number of cabinet secretaries, a professor from Harvard Medical School, and a handful of bereaved parents who had lost their children to addiction; that commission was convened by the president of the United States of America; the president is Donald Trump; ergo, Rivera supports Trump. By that logic, of course, every single public servant still in office is guilty of the same sin, a preposterous proposition that is taken seriously only by zealots for whom ideological purity is not just a prerequisite for participating in public life but its sole purpose.

Silverman is hardly more honest when it comes to Israel. A few months before the pitcher’s visit to the Jewish state, Silverman notes, “Israeli soldiers killed at least 60 Palestinian protesters in Gaza and injured thousands more.” As the piece progresses, we hear more about the suffering of Palestinians at the hands of the wicked Israelis, but not a lick by way of context: nothing about Hamas, nothing about incendiary kites, nothing about rockets terrorizing children in Sderot and elsewhere.

Silverman is highly selective with his facts, presenting only the handful that fit his narrative, but in this latest he goes a step further and wraps his entire argument in the gauze of conspiracy—repeatedly referring to “conscious efforts to keep this information about [Rivera’s] private life under wraps.” So secretive, in fact, was Rivera, that only those privileged few with access to rare channels of information—like USA Today and Twitter—could learn about his visit to Israel or his service on Trump’s opioid committee.

But, unwittingly or otherwise, Silverman has given us a glance of American journalism’s new normal.

His argument, reminiscent of so many hot takes on Twitter, didn’t appear in 280 characters or less; it was delivered in 2,438 words that appeared in a respectable, mainstream publication. No editor involved in the publishing process took issue with Silverman’s failure to present a narrative that even remotely resembles the truth, nor cared to ask whether the piece’s lead art—showing Rivera standing in the center of an Israeli flag, a pawn in the Zionist game—mightn’t be considered as blatantly anti-Semitic.

Those of us who spend much of our days pointing out the noxious ways in which Israel is so often demonized by the media can hardly feign surprise by yet another bit of hate-filled howling. But Silverman’s piece is proof that others, too, better take notice: Israel, as it so often is, was only the canary in the coal mine. The same attitude that had, for decades, delivered wildly partisan and inexcusably biased reporting about a very complicated topic is now coming to America.

The symptoms of this anti-journalism are many, but if you’re new to this rodeo and are looking for a few signs of impending doom, here’s what to look out for:

It All Comes Out in the Wash: One of the more successful achievements of the pro-Palestinian movement is the introduction of the suffix “washing,” suggesting that all that Israel does is secretly a plot to cover up the occupation. Israel supports gay rights? It’s pinkwashing. Israel invents innovative new recycling technologies? It’s greenwashing. Israel invites a bunch of athletes over for a visit? It’s sportswashing. According to this conspiratorial way of seeing the world, even immensely intricate things like modern-day democracies can and should be reduced to one essentialist element, which, in turn, serves to explain everything and anything.

The Personal Is Political: And if the world, or at least some corners of it, can be explained by telling stark and simplistic stories about right and wrong, it can also be divided into good people and bad. The former are those who, in every facet of their lives and careers, signal their true and undying commitment to the cause. The latter are those who see some gray in between the white and the black. Follow this mad logic to its end, and you’ll discover that you can’t just take a trip to Jerusalem or serve on a commission that wants to help people overcome substance abuse. That’s because the aim of this sort of politics isn’t to solve a problem or even advance a cause, but rather to obliterate the enemy. For this reason, it leaves no room for human experience that lies outside the ideological realm. Every choice you make is a referendum on purity.

It’s All Narrative: Finally, having little interest in either dialogue or facts, practitioners of the sort of smear campaign Israel has been enduring for decades now are fond of building up and disseminating narratives, which are really modern-day fairy tales designed to make the smart set feel smarter. Among the moderate Israel-haters, the narrative is about a “cycle of violence,” a geometrically pleasing metaphor but one that has little explanation for Israel’s repeated offers of compromise and the Palestinian Authority’s ongoing descent into anti-Semitic incitement and murderous violence. The more radical crew prefers the narrative of colonialist conquest, in which the Jews, the land of Israel’s indigenous people, are somehow magically transformed into foreign occupiers. Narratives are catchy because they tell compelling stories and are unburdened by observable occurrence and documented history, and once they become your main vantage point for looking at the world there’s usually no going back to something as dull and difficult as reality.

It’s one thing for journalists covering a faraway conflict to partake in some or all of these assaults on the tenets of our profession; it’s another to bring the war on facts home. The Daily Beast’s piece, then, is remarkable for how unremarkable it is: just another example of the dizzyingly rapid disintegration of the American press into a choir of shouts and murmurs in the service of anything but the truth.


Like this article? Sign up for our Daily Digest to get Tablet magazine’s new content in your inbox each morning.

Liel Leibovitz is editor-at-large for Tablet Magazine and a host of its weekly culture podcast Unorthodox and daily Talmud podcast Take One. He is the editor of Zionism: The Tablet Guide.