January 23, 2006
The Campaign Against Oprah and ElieBy Ed Lasky
Major newspapers do not usually attack prominent, respected and even beloved figures in either popular culture or literature on their culture or editorial pages without solid evidence of some serious misdeeds, or at minimum hypocrisy. In recent days an unusual attack from two antique media leaders has been directed at two icons: one a literary giant, and the other the American cultural giant who moved a vast audience to read the giant's work.
A few days ago, Oprah Winfrey chose Elie Wiesel's Night for her book club. The book is a chronicle of Mr. Wiesel's life in the Nazi death camps of Auschwitz and Buchenwald — a horrific experience during which his mother, father, sister and millions of others were murdered.
Wiesel has used his considerable literary gifts (he has written over 40 books) and his moral stature to selflessly and quixotically campaign to end prejudice in the world, or at least prevent future genocides. He has won numerous awards, culminating in the 1986 Nobel Peace Prize.
Ms. Winfrey has been widely praised for her book choice — significantly made on Martin Luther King Day. We live in an era when Holocaust denial runs rampant in the Arab world, and where threats to destroy Israel and 50% of the world's Jews are proudly broadcast by the rulers of Iran.
Strangely enough, since the book club selection by Oprah, Wiesel has been attacked by both the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times. The strange bases of their vilification raise some serious qualms about the leadership or intentions of both newspapers.
Richard Baehr has suggested that the elitists at newspapers and elsewhere have a condescending attitude towards Oprah Winfrey, apparently in the belief that her book selections are populist in nature and have not passed the test of literary merit.
They may be ignorant of the broader purposes behind Oprah Winfrey's book selections. She intends to use them to bring comfort to people's lives, to educate them, and to leave them with a stronger sense of morality than they may have had before reading the book. The books Oprah recommends to her millions of viewers may not always be candidates for membership in the canon of great literature The elitists at the prestige papers may resent her success as a driver of sales, since they consider themselves the only true and reputable arbiters of taste in America.
Yet, because Oprah Winfrey is such a popular figure, black and a woman, and a billionaire to boot, they may feel constrained in criticizing her and have to rely on oblique attacks against her book selections, rather than her take on directly.
This repressed envy may have influenced their approaches towards Wiesel's Night. But the nature of the attacks might also indicate something murkier has been transpiring
Petty translation variations
The New York Times takes Wiesel to task for niggling discrepancies between the newly translated (by Weisel's wife) edition of the book and previous editions. One of the discrepancies noted concerned Wiesel's age. In the previous translation, the narrator (Weisel) tells a fellow prisoner that he is 'not quite 15'. But the scene takes place in 1944 which would have made Weisel 15 'going on 16' (in the words of the Times). In the new edition, when asked, he replies '15'. Woah...hold the presses on that whopper! His age went from almost 15 to 15! I will spare you the Times' comment about his almost being 16 because the absurdity making an issue about this detail is self—evident.
The Times criticism continued on to other minor details. The earlier translation, describing furtive sexual activity, used the word 'copulate.' This was changed in later printings to 'flirt.' In the new translation which Oprah recommended, the youths 'caressed one another.' I think some leeway can be granted to the author and translator on how to describe these activities in English. The book almost exclusively is concerned with life and death in the camps, and the Times loses its focus by concentrating on relatively unimportant matters regarding teenagers being teenagers.
If one is going to quibble about such words, the author of the piece should look at his own prose. The flirting/caressing/copulation took place among teenagers whom Edward Wyatt described as having 'traveled' to Auschwitz. Mr Wyatt, they were being 'shipped.' This was no tourist excursion, and they had one—way tickets. It was no day at the beach.
The Times takes note of a few other minor changes in the new version. Among them, is a more elaborate description of the death of Wiesel's father in the new edition and a less harsh criticism of Germany and Holocaust deniers than existed in the first version.
This Times article was above the fold, front—page material in the Arts section of the paper. Some kind of statement is being made by the Times. Elie Wiesel is more than just a writer, he is both a survivor of the Holocaust and a symbol of the Holocaust. His whole life has been dedicated to ensuring that people know the truth about the Holocaust and his books are testaments to the terror that was unleashed by the Nazis against the Jews and others.
By casting aspersions on the reliability of Weisel is the Times also slipping into the periphery of Holocaust denial? No, of course not. However, an amazing amount of indifference and insensitivity is on display. The world is awash with Holocaust deniers, those who portray the Holocaust as a myth — a story —conjured up by nefarious Jews for their own purposes. In attacking Wiesel, the Times may be giving aid and comfort to them.
An absurd defamation
An even more nauseating attack on Wiesel took place in the Los Angeles Times. Here Adam Shatz, literary editor of the left—wing magazine The Nation defames Wiesel by calling him a hypocrite. (He also takes aim at Oprah by noting that she intends to film her and Wiesel's upcoming visit to Auschwitz and satirically refers to it as 'Oprah in Auschwitz').
Shatz disparages Wiesel by characterizing him as having one from being a victim of war crimes to being an apologist for those who commit them. He condemns Wiesel for being insensitive to the Palestinians. He criticizes Wiesel for maintaining that the 1948 Palestinians left voluntarily, 'incited by their leaders.'
Mr. Shatz seems to doubt the veracity of this account. Yet most other experts agree that Arab military leaders advocated the Arabs leave the region to make way for the conquering armies . Shatz also claims that Wiesel abdicates his role as victim by not supporting the Palestinians' (baseless) charges of human rights violations by Israel in the territories.
Leaving aside the issue of double standards and bias that have corrupted so many NGOs, does Shatz actually expect Wiesel to become an advocate for Palestinians (as if they need any more advocates)? Wiesel's family was killed in the Holocaust; he suffered unendurable pain during those years and in all the years afterwards. Should he be expected to campaign for the Palestinians, a group whose advocates often not not only deny the Holocaust ever occurred but who also kill innocent Jews (just as the Nazis did) and openly call for the destruction of the Jews of Israel (just as the Nazis did)?
Wiesel is a moral exemplar, but to expect him to side with the forces of evil reveals an obtuseness and moral blindess that is regrettably common among many extreme liberals in America. Would Wiesel have campaigned for the Nazis? Would he have worked for them? Would Mr. Shatz?
Oprah: a global force
Oprah's selection may have ramifications upon which few if any have commented during the past week. Oprah enjoys huge viewership in the Arab world — which is now the world center of Holocaust denial and an area awash with anti—Semitism. Her show has the highest ratings of any English—language show on the pan—Arab satellite station MBC. The station has learned that a large group of women, commonly thought of as sheltered, were identifying with the same issues Oprah treated on her show. More than 9 out of 10 Saudi families receive satellite TV and among women, conversations reportedly often start with the query whether people had seen Oprah last night.
One hopes that MBC will not censor the episode of Oprah that will feature Mr. Wiesel and Oprah and their visit to Auschwitz. If so, Oprah and Elie Wiesel will have done more to advance the cause of peace and the prevention of genocide than all the journalists at The Nation, The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times will ever do in their lives.
Moral inversions have corrupted many in the West. The New York Times uses some minor revisions in a new translation of Night to cast aspersions on Wiesel's reliability during a period of time when Holocaust denial is rife and when Iran promises to rain destruction upon the Jews of Israel. The Los Angeles Times gives valuable journalistic space to someone who would engage in character assassination of a Holocaust survivor and a Nobel Peace Prize winner (when winning such a prize actually conferred some measure of legitimacy).
These are truly the Times that try men's souls.
Ed Lasky is news editor of The American Thinker.