Good or Bad for America?

Washington, DC - March 18, 2016 at the National Press Club

"America is a thing that you can move very easily..." Binyamin Netanyahu, 2001

Panel 4 Questions and Answers

Delinda Hanley: Thank you. So here is a question for you: how can we get that movie into all the TV networks, to theaters; how can we get that out there?

Catherine Jordan: We’ve been turned down by HBO, Showtime and PBS. We’ve been trying to get the film distributed by all the big networks. A one-hour version of the film was run on 30 or 40 PBS stations, but—it’s a boring distinction but an important one—it wasn’t an official PBS film. It was provided by a third party as content for PBS stations to run it if they chose. The results of that was that plenty of people ran it but it had zero marketing. When there’s zero marketing you might as well not even run the film, because no one knows it’s coming and no one makes the time to see it. So that had a tiny little ripple of an effect. So we’re still seeking wide distribution in this country anyway.

Delinda Hanley: Thank you. And one more question for you before we go to the next questions. Was the Sundance Independent Film Festival contacted, and what was their reaction to the film?

Catherine Jordan: Yes. We sent the film to Sundance with their encouragement. One of our colleagues who was a consultant on the film has a big position at the Sundance Film Festival, and she said she’d talk to her friends. The reviewer who looked at it actually emailed us on the QT and said she thought it was a fantastic film and it was one of the better films that she had seen, and that it was too political for Sundance. Of course, we did not get in.

Delinda Hanley: This question is, I think, for Rula. A lot of these questions are for Rula here. I asked an L.A. Times reporter how can he participate in the distortion of the news. He said, “If I can get them to leave 10 percent of my copy uncensored, it is worthwhile to continue.” Please comment. Maybe that goes for all of you. Do you want it, Philip? Do you want to start?

Philip Weiss: So the L.A. Times reporter made that statement that if he can get his editors to leave—

Delinda Hanley: Leave 10 percent of it uncensored, it’s worthwhile to continue. Did you find censorship?

Philip Weiss: That’s a good ratio. I mean, censorship, self-censorship, it’s part of media life. If we could get away with 10 percent on this issue, we’d revolutionize America. I mean right now, it’s a 90 percent censorship ratio. So give it to me, 10 percent, I love it. I just want to reflect, when I was at The New York Times Magazine, I did a cover story on the gun lobby. I wrote a very long article sending up the NRA and talking about their sexual fetishization of guns and everything else. You’ve never seen an article in The New York Times Magazine about the Israel lobby with one-tenth of that kind of free speech involved.

Rula Jebreal: There is a cozy relationship. I mean, one of the reasons that made me actually in 2014 do what I did on MSNBC was—these Israeli officials would be [on?] like 99 percent of the time and they would never be challenged, as the documentary represented. They would never be asked about the occupation or the siege. I remember I almost choked on my coffee one morning when I was watching Schiffer interviewing Bibi Netanyahu. At the end of the interview, obviously it was softball questions. Like, oh, Mr. Prime Minister, how do you feel? Is it safe in Tel Aviv? He was bombarding and pounding Gaza. He said, well, like the former prime minister of Israel said, we will never forgive the Arabs for forcing us to kill their children. I looked at the television and I said—sorry for my language—is this a f---ing joke? I mean, I was horrified.

And then I went to my network, and that morning one of our journalists, one of the best ones we ever had, a reporter who covered the Gaza War in 2012, was Ayman Mohyeldin. He just filmed three kids killed on a beach. He just filmed it. I was in the TV station and I saw the panic. Because suddenly there is one story, and it’s a major story that was filmed on camera, where you see the missiles striking. The first one killing the first two, and then the second missile and this kid is running after—they were actually playing football on the beach. And the third kid, a 6-year-old, running, and the second missile came and strikes him. And you couldn’t explain that. There’s no justification for this. The telephones started ringing. And the justification that there was a missile there, and the producers kept calling Ayman Mohyeldin, are you sure there wasn’t another missile in the area? He said, “No. Every journalist was there. We watched it. We filmed it. It’s on film.” You had three or four cameras there.

That story was taken from him, and given to another one who wasn’t even in Gaza. He was in Tel Aviv. He just arrived. He [Mohyeldin] was actually called out of Gaza because he witnessed that moment. I went on air and I was with Ronan Farrow. I said, our coverage is not only disgustingly biased; it’s a disgrace. We are betraying the American people, because we are basically not telling them the whole story. We’re lying blindly to them. My every show was canceled, and I left the building knowing that I will never come back. Leaving the building, I remember some of the producers stopping me. They said, well, you don’t understand the bullying and harassment and attention.
Recently somebody from—I will not mention the name—from The Washington Post was telling me that every article they write, they have to answer to lobbyists and organizations like CAMERA. I said, you know, I don’t care what kind of harassment. You just stand up to it. Basically you stand up to it. So when I submit an article and they tell me [applause]—and, look, supposedly an Arab Muslim black woman telling these nice white guys in these networks, you can’t handle a little bit of bullying? You’re in the wrong job. Probably not only in the wrong job, if you can’t stand up to these thugs, then they will get away with it. They will get away over and again.

I am so grateful and thankful that independent organizations exist like Mondoweiss and Alternet [applause] and the Washington Report and this kind of documentary. What I’m asking all of you, and forgive me if I am shameless about it, we need to support these organizations. These are independent organizations that live on donations. Whatever philanthropy you are doing, this is the ultimate battleground. Whatever you’re doing—I will be like Sanders, $7 or whatever that is, give it to Mondoweiss, to Alternet, to Catherine to promote her movie, because this will change America forever. It will change the public opinion.

You know what? When Rupert Murdoch wanted to buy Reuters the first time, the legal system was clear in the U.K. The first thing he said—and he retracted what he said—he said, “I don’t buy newspapers.” That was a lie, obviously. He said that he used to buy journalists. Guess what? We can actually shift the public opinion. If they put $100 million on one end to manipulate the public opinion, you can put much less because one footage like that can really shift the public opinion. Thank you. [Applause]

Delinda Hanley: Thank you. We have time for maybe one more question, or should we close the door here? This was more about what you started out talking about. The e-mail exchange, do you want to talk more about that? That was uncovered, by the way, in a FOIA request made by Grant Smith. He found it accidentally, and that’s the kind of thing that, it appalled us when we read it. Would you like to talk a little bit more about that?

Rula Jebreal: Again, I’m really grateful that we exposed this disgusting misogyny. And again, I love when white men lecture me or lecture others about how we go in the Middle East and we invade certain countries to liberate women and women’s choices. And then CNN put against me somebody like Rabbi Shmuley, and forgive me if I’m about to throw up. He is telling me that an Arab woman like myself would never—he’s patronizing me about my rights.

Basically, they look down at the Middle East, at Arabs. When I wrote my New York [ital?] column about minority rights or minority life in Israel, the only way we are described as Arab Muslim women or brown, as either a terrorist or a Bedouin without a nationality. In American media, every question starts like, how do you feel? As if my job is to feel. My job is to analyze phenomena. Sorry, my description, whether I’m tall or short, whether I’m big or small—it does not matter. Whether I look like this or had some plastic surgery to look like this, it doesn’t matter. Ultimately, it’s about the argument.

Since I started working, everything we predicted about the trajectory of the war on terror, the Iraqi war, if you listen to whatever any Arab analyst has told you about the war on terror, about invading Iraq, how it will create mass radicalization, it will destabilize the entire region and will basically bring—we had only 200 jihadists after 9/11. Only 200. According to the FBI, there were only 200. Today, we have hundreds of thousands. If that is a success, then what is failure? So every Arab analyst has been saying the same thing.

What is their weapon to throw against people like me? Yeah, her looks. Give me a break. I mean, you know what? It didn’t hit me, but it explained, I think, to the public a mindset of these thugs and bullies. I’m used to it because I had that in Italy. I’m exorcised because I had ministers in Italy refusing to answer questions because I was a Muslim or I was brown or some kind of thing.

I remember interviewing Berlusconi in 2005 the first time. Usually, it’s hard for me to lose—I have no comment on the kind of—if you think Berlusconi was bad, imagine when Donald Trump will come up there and will start dealing with journalists. He’s already saying, oh, these disgusting people, I hate them or whatever. I mean, with the kind of attitude that I’ve seen under Berlusconi for 10 years was this kind of thing, where people, basically women and men who worked for him, would call us and threaten us. Threats, real threats. In a country that killed journalists, actually, these threats can happen. I believe that when you somehow use violent words, this can easily translate into real violence and killing. It can easily translate into that.

That’s why, again, forgive me for repeating the same thing. We need to create an ecosystem that collaborates much more with each other, and that reinforces each other. We have to create a glue, a cultural glue, that reinforces an issue, that reinforce and push back harder. Because, I’m sorry, we’re not pushing back hard enough, because these thugs are bullies and will throw everything they have—from threats to bullying to harassment to even beating of some journalist. But we live in an era where democracy, luckily still functions. So before it collapses, let’s hold it together. Thank you.

Delinda Hanley: Thank you. I’d like to remind you that Rula will be signing her book at the reception afterwards. I’m also going to have a comment from Ralph Nader, who said that he’d sure like this audience to know that Al Arabiya News was not allowed to cover AIPAC’s convention. They denied Al Arabiya access to AIPAC.

Rula Jebreal: I think they denied Philip Weiss, if I’m not wrong. And I’m sure they will deny 80 percent of the people sitting here. It’s not the dialogue. I mean, what’s happening at AIPAC on Monday will not be a dialogue. It will be a monologue. Obviously, I have a Catholic daughter, so I go to church with her sometimes and I see how—the way they pray. I feel like when all of these politicians go to pray to AIPAC, it’s just like genuflection and please kill me more or give me whatever, what you want.

It’s painful for somebody who believes in a democratic system and travels around the world and sees millions of people standing in the street, from Cairo to Algeria to Tunisia—people willing to die for the principle of democracy and equality, because they feel like they were born as free men and women. This is the kind of model they look up to.

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