‘NYT’ often cites thinktank on Iran without saying it was founded to promote Israel’s image

The New York Times and other media frequently quote experts from the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, and identify FDD as a hawkish thinktank. But they fail to say what the FDD told the IRS: it was founded to promote Israel’s image in the United States, the investigative journalist Eli Clifton says. He characterized the omission as bordering on “journalistic malpractice.”

The influential thinktank routinely calls for U.S. military action to bring down the Iranian government. It came up on Robert Wright’s podcast, bloggingheads.tv, on November 9, in a discussion of political funding.

Wright noted that he called out the media’s reliance upon FDD as “almost an anti-Iran thinktank” in an article for the Intercept in 2018, titled, “How The New York Times is making war with Iran more likely.” He said, “I just took one big frontpage piece with several authors, in the New York Times about Iran and Israel and– look at the experts they are quoting and where they are coming from and who gives the money to these.”

Clifton, the investigative journalist at Responsible Statecraft, said that FDD’s funders included pro-Israel hawks Bernard Marcus and the late Sheldon Adelson, who also were lavish funders of Donald Trump’s presidential campaigns.

I have looked at them very closely over the years. I have managed to get donor rolls that are more comprehensive. Long story short… I believe currently their biggest funder is Bernie Marcus, the co-founder of Home Depot… He is on their board, he has some pretty radical views… He actually talks about how the Jews that died in the Holocaust were weak Jews, and that the Israeli Jews… wouldn’t have marched off to their own deaths. So it’s a very bleak stark view of the world…. Clearly it’s rooted in his own experiences.

Wright noted that Marcus is Jewish. “If people… consider that relevant.”

Clifton went on that the media’s failure to disclose FDD’s Israel interest borders on malpractice.

FDD has actively been pushing against efforts for there to be diplomacy with Iran that could constrain its nuclear policy. Going back two decades, they have been very consistent in that. And they are very close to the Israeli Likud party and Benjamin Netanyahu.

One of the qualities that drives me crazy about FDD and how it’s talked about in the media, is that FDD lies or chooses to be only partially truthful about what they are. Because what they tell the IRS is different than what they say on their website and how journalists typically refer to them. They are referred to very often .. as a hawkish or militarist foreign policy thinktank.

The thing they never get called out as is the thing that they have told the IRS they are, which is that they exist for among other purposes to promote and advance Israel’s image in North America. They actually exist to promote a foreign country’s interest. Again nothing inherently illegal, nothing inherently unethical. But to not disclose that, to say that these people are speaking from a point of just wanting to advance U.S. interests when they have told the IRS their purpose and existence is actually to do other things as well borders to me on journalistic malpractice.

Wright pointed out the usefulness of FDD to the New York Times and other mainstream reporters.

They are quoted in the New York Times all the time as just these experts. They know what reporters want. They have interesting information. Like if I were a reporter, it would be an efficient phone call to go to FDD. They sometimes have actual data, they have provocative ways of saying things.

FDD’s pro-Israel statement to the IRS was reported years ago– here by John Judis in 2015:

FDD’s website says simply that it was founded “to promote pluralism, defend democratic values, and fight the ideologies that drive terrorism,” but, as the journalist Ali Gharib has noted, it arose out of an organization committed to burnishing Israel’s reputation in the United States. On April 24, 2001, [former NYT journalist Clifford] May incorporated an organization called EMET (Hebrew for “truth”). In an application to the Internal Revenue Service for tax-exempt status, May explained that the group “was to provide education to enhance Israel’s image in North America and the public’s understanding of issues affecting Israeli-Arab relations.” But in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, May broadened the group’s mission and changed its name to the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. As he explained in a supplement to the IRS, the group’s board of directors decided to focus on “develop[ing] educational materials on the eradication of terrorism everywhere in the world.”

FDD is quoted frequently in the New York Times. Lately an FDD expert derided Turkey, an Israeli rival, in an article on Middle East geopolitics. Another expert warned against the Iran deal in May. A few days earlier in the Times, the same expert, Jonathan Schanzer, sought to foster political pressure on Biden against the deal.

Many Democrats want Mr. Biden “to take a tougher line and this was his opportunity to demonstrate that he is doing so,” said Jonathan Schanzer, senior vice president for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a Washington group that supports Mr. Netanyahu’s policies.

Clifton went on that it is “considered uncouth” in Washington to call out a thinktank for its leanings. “It’s not what you’re supposed to do.”

Clifton exposed that same uncouth pattern on November 8 when he pointed out that a Politico article saying that Sheldon Adelson’s widow Miriam is gearing up to take a major role in American politics buried the fact that Miriam Adelson has an overriding interest, promoting Israel in the U.S.

The only mention of the Adelsons’ overriding interest in influencing U.S.-foreign policy was in the 13th paragraph when the author, Alex Isenstadt, noted “Miriam Adelson shared her husband’s hawkish foreign policy views and his staunch support of Israel.”

This is hardly an idle matter. Miriam Adelson is already conducting the famous “Adelson primary” for potential Republican candidates for president in 2024.

Speakers at last week’s Republican Jewish Coalition conference at one of Adelson’s Las Vegas properties, The Venetian, included former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, former Vice President Mike Pence, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Unlike Politico, the speakers were clear about what issues their audience, and their host Miriam Adelson, cared most about.

And you wonder why so many Republicans are posturing about the Democratic Party’s supposed abandonment of Israel. They are trying to raise money. Though it’s uncouth to say so.

h/t Peter Voskamp.

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