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Truthout, an online newsletter and website boasting 250,000 subscribers, wants to outflank the distortions of mainstream media by disseminating news of interest to left-liberals. But its commitment to truth-telling seemingly stops short when it comes to Palestine. On May 7, the Truthout newsletter linked to an Associated Press story about the Rishon Letzion suicide bombing. […]

Leaving the Truth Out?

by Jacob Levich

Truthout, an online newsletter and website boasting 250,000 subscribers, wants to outflank the distortions of mainstream media by disseminating news of interest to left-liberals. But its commitment to truth-telling seemingly stops short when it comes to Palestine.

On May 7, the Truthout newsletter linked to an Associated Press story about the Rishon Letzion suicide bombing. The AP report correctly refrained from identifying a perpetrator. (The party responsible is still unknown, although Hamas looks like the most likely culprit and the PA has since arrested 15 Hamas members in response.)

But Truthout flagged the story with a headline spun out of thin air: "Palestinian Authority Strikes Killing 15 Israelis."

Worse was soon to come.

Truthout (http://www.truthout.org) is, or at any rate purports to be, one of the hip new breed of independent news sources providing alternatives to the biases of corporate media. (Of these, the Indymedia operation is probably the most celebrated; the libertarian Antiwar.com is possibly the most useful.)

Truthout’s editor, Marc Ash, claims the publication has no organizational affiliations and is entirely reader-supported — though five staffers, and the server power necessary to support a quarter-million users, don’t come cheap. Given its incessant showcasing of Beltway Democrats — even career hacks like Daschle and Gephardt get flattering headlines whenever they say anything remotely progressive — I’ve sometimes wondered whether it’s actually a James Carville-style undercover operation, aimed at cajoling Naderites back into the Democratic fold.

(Suggestively, of all the questions I asked Ash about Truthout’s history, purpose, and funding, the only one he was willing to answer was whether the publication is connected in some way with the Democratic Party. It is not, he said, and I’ll take him at his word — though I suspect a list of contributors might make interesting reading.)

At any rate, Truthout has frequently attacked the Bush administration for lying about its aggressive global agenda, and has criticized mainstream media for reporting those lies uncritically. Typically, however, an exception is made where Palestine is concerned.

After reading the May 7 number, I was one of many readers who emailed Ash asking for a correction. None was forthcoming. Instead, on the following day all 250,000 readers received an apologia via mass email — one containing a lie so easily detectable that not even the wildest pro-Sharon propagandists would touch it.

"Yes, Hamas has claimed direct responsibility for this latest act of insanity," Ash wrote. "But do any of you honestly believe this could have happened while the IDF had Arafat under detention? It could not. Did you not notice that while Arafat was ‘besieged’ and exile was on the table the bombings stopped? Now he is once again a free man and the bombings have resumed."

This, of course, is a very serious charge — if true, it would lend considerable moral weight to Sharon’s claim that the IDF’s recent invasion of the West Bank was a defensive operation. But it’s wholly false. In fact, at least six suicide bombings took place between March 29, when Israel confined Arafat to his Ramallah compound, and May 1, when he was granted partial liberty.

The truth was easy to check — it took me about 45 seconds on Yahoo. And it’s pretty hard to believe that the editor of a daily newsletter covering international affairs could have been ignorant of the bombings, all of which received banner headlines in the newspapers.

What we have here, in other words, is a prime specimen of The Big Lie. Does it matter? Hell, yes. A lie that remains unchallenged quickly acquires the status of a "fact" which can be cited in service of further slaughter. Moreover, this kind of open contempt for journalistic standards and ethics plays neatly into the hands of traditional media types, who are always looking for reasons to dismiss alternative news sources as rumormongers and conspiracy theorists.

To date, despite repeated requests, Truthout has declined to run a clarification, explanation, or retraction. Says Ash: "I spoke the truth and I am glad."

After all, quoth jesting Pilate, what is truth?

Jacob Levich is an online editor living in Queens, NY. He can be reached at: jlevich@earthlink.net