On June 4, 2009 the Berkeley Daily Planet went ballistic, if not nuclear, publishing no less than nine separate pieces attacking this website and other people in Berkeley who have attempted to stand up to the paper’s malfeasance. Ensuing issues piled on with letters to the editors plus two DeFreitas cartoons. The paper refused to publish responses from myself or others who were attacked, and even refused to meaningfully retract statements that were clearly false.
I will respond to some of what was directed at me, personally, and at DPWatchDog.com.
Becky O’Malley’s June 4 editorial
Accusation: “[Gertz is] an unpleasant twerp [out] to destroy the paper.”
Response: I am actually a very pleasant person. In the Berkeley Daily Planet, schoolyard name calling often replaces serious analysis. O’Malley must also know that I am not out to destroy her paper. I have repeatedly said, including to her reporter, that a good local newspaper is a community asset. I have therefore called for the reform of the newspaper, and not for its destruction. More about this later.
Accusation: “[Gertz’s] website is stocked with lunatic lies worthy of Goebbels, and then copies its dishonest content onto Indymedia web sites in several cities and into the content section of a respected Jewish weekly, they’ve gone too far.”
Response: This is very much in keeping with the tenor of the Berkeley Daily Planet, where Jews in general, and Israelis in particular, have been painted as the new Nazis. If this website is filled with lunatic (again, that incessant name calling) lies worthy of Goebelles, what exactly are they? Find Waldo. I stand ready to go over every word of this website with the Berkeley Daily Planet in a quest to correct any errors. To assure that DPWatchDog would be as free from error as possible, I sent the entire contents of the website to O’Malley for her review before it was posted. She has refused to respond to anything other than a terse response calling me “screwy.” I have made the same offer to Hallinan. He has refused with his silence. Of course, we can make mistakes. You will see shortly that the Berkeley Daily Planet has made innumerable mistakes in just their June 4 issue alone. Where we err, we will immediately make the necessary correction, and apologize if we feel it is warranted. With regard to having copied the contents of our website onto Indymedia and Jewish weekly websites, we have done no such thing, and have absolutely no knowledge of what O’Malley is talking about. If our contents have been cut and pasted elsewhere, it was not done by us, with our knowledge, or with our permission. In case O’Malley does not know, the Internet is the kind of place where things get linked together willy-nilly by all comers.
Richard Brenneman’s Eight Articles
Richard Brenneman wrote eight separate articles in this edition denouncing local Jews who are allegedly out to get the Berkeley Daily Planet. Brenneman’s first fallacy is to write about us collectively, painting a conspiracy, when all we appear to have in common is despair at what we read in the Berkeley Daily Planet.
Accusation: I (actually, the group, which must mean me too) am “threatening to bankrupt the Berkeley Daily Planet.”
Response: Where is that written on this website? It certainly does not come from the hour plus interview Brenneman conducted in my office, where I repeatedly stated that my goal is the reform of the Berkeley Daily Planet, not its destruction. Fortunately, that interview was recorded. Here is an exact transcript from that recording
Brenneman: What ultimately do you want to do with the Planet? What would you like to see, the Planet to shut down or reform.
Gertz: A good community newspaper is a terrific asset. It is good for the community, it’s good for business because it gives local advertisers a place to advertise. It’s a positive thing. All I am asking is that the newspaper reform. I am not trying to put it out of business or anything like that.
Accusation: I am identified with Likud Party, I am “one of the East Bay’s most militant Zionists”, and “what links them all is support for the hard-line policies of conservative Israeli politicians towards Palestinians and other Islamic peoples. They might be termed Zio-Cons, since they connect militant ultra-Zionism with the neo-conservatives who drove foreign policy during the George W. Bush administration.”
Response: How can this be? As Brenneman concedes elsewhere, “[Gertz] describes himself as a left-wing Zionist.” So why is Brenneman calling me a right wing militant Zionist? I have no idea. For the record, were I living in Israel during the last election I would have voted either Labor or Kadima (i.e., the left of center parties); I have favored a two-state solution since about 1970; I was thrilled when Israel abandoned Gaza; and I favor the dismantlement of most settlements. These thoughts are expressed elsewhere on this website and in the many letters and commentaries I have written for the Berkeley Daily Planet over the years, so Brenneman should have known that he is fabricating his accusation. As far as connecting me with George Bush and neo-cons, this is just mindless drivel. Brenneman might have asked me and found that I am a life long liberal Democrat. You will remember that the “neo-cons” (the moniker was applied to a disparate bunch of thinkers, hence the quotes) were all Republicans, including Jews and non-Jews like Cheney, Rumsfeld, Bolton and Woolsey, who shared a view that democracy could be forced upon the outside world. I do not share that view, nor, again, am I a Republican; ergo, I am not a neo-con. Most or all neo-cons were pro-Israel, but then most Americans, Democrats and Republicans, are also pro-Israel, so this distinction means little. Elsewhere in the same issue, anti-Israel propagandist, Conn Halliann, is called “pro-Israel.” Normally, we would dismiss this as just harmless silly talk, but there may be something more ominous going on. In the Berkeley Daily Planet’s Orwellian newspeak, center right Israeli Prime Minister, Benyamin Netanyahu, is called “odious” by Becky O’Malley; left wing Zionists like me are called “Zio-cons;” and anti-Israel propagandist, Conn Hallinan, is called “pro-Israel.”
Statement: “The [Daily Planet] avoids printing so-called Astroturf submissions, a name given by journalists to form-letters designed by organized campaigns…”
Response: This is not true. I refer you to the February 18, 2009 edition of the Berkeley Daily Planet. There you will find 19 eerily similar letters from all over the state and country in support of Annette Herskovits’ anti-Israel piece that had appeared in the previous issue. The fact that they came from far and wide, and from people who obviously are not regular readers, should immediately have been the tip-off. Herskovits is not just any old Berkeley anti-Zionist. The one time I met O’Malley for an arranged lunch, she had Herskovits in tow, who she introduced as her “Middle East advisor.” Heskovits screamed so loudly during the entire lunch, (it was all from the Hamas propaganda play sheet) that even O’Malley apologized for her advisor’s poor behavior.
Accusation: Dan Spitzer and I work together on DPWatchDog.com.
Response: This website was the creation of my own, without the slightest assistance from Dan Spitzer, nor any of the other people named by the Daily Planet. As I was correctly quoted by Brenneman, Spitzer is “my go to guy” when it comes to understanding the characters of Berkeley’s radical left who people the pages of the Daily Planet. That does not mean that we work together. It only means that if I want to know who’s who on Berkeley’s radical left, I call Spitzer, who usually knows the score. Spitzer used to swim in that swamp, and knows many of its leading figures well. He is a journalistic source—nothing more. I did describe Spitzer as angry, as the Berkeley Daily Planet says, but I did so within the context of saying that he shares that trait with other members of the hard left, like Becky O’Malley, and with the hard right, like Rush Limbaugh. I told Brenneman that although I had only met O’Malley once, people who know her well often use the words “angry” or “bitter” to describe her, but Brenneman neglected to report that. Though Spitzer should speak for himself, from what he has told me, he is still a member of the far left, just not the anti-Israel far left, so that he too should no be called a “Zio-con.”
Statement: “O’Malley, in her signed editorials, has rarely mentioned the subject [Israel/Palestine].”
Response: This is just untrue, as documented elsewhere on this site.
Statement: “[Gertz] offers three reasons for canceling their [the advertiser’s] ads.”
Response: Nowhere on this website have I ever called upon advertisers to cancel their ads. I merely list some reasons why I believe there is so little advertising in the Daily Planet (about one-tenth of what appears in the competing East Bay Express). The section of this website devoted to advertising had been marked for removal, since the Berkeley Daily Planet has indicated that it will abandon its ad supported model this summer, and replace it with a love offering model. I will leave it up, though, for a little while longer so that readers can check the veracity of this statement.
Accusation: I have called Hallinan a Communist, whereas Hallinan claims that he is a former Communist, not a current Communist.
Response: The evidence that we have examined indicates that Hallinan is a current Communist, and identifies with the Stalinist branch of that worldview. However, he is no longer a member of the Communist Party (CPUSA). The reason for this is simply that the CPUSA disbanded in the early 90’s, so obviously he can longer be a member. It is now known that the CPUSA received most of its funding from the KGB. When that dried up after the fall of the Soviet Union, the party folded. I do not know Hallinan’s exact age, but he was certainly middle-aged when the party dissolved, not a starry-eyed college student. I have attempted to contact Hallinan to probe him on this and other issues, but he has refused to speak with me. I have found no recantation of his Stalinist views anywhere in his Berkeley Daily Planet writings, but I would be pleased if he or anyone else could direct me somewhere else.
Accusation: “[Gertz] contends that only religiously observant Jews should have any say about Israel.”
Response: What the hell is this? I am a thoroughly secular Jew, who rarely attends synagogue. In Israeli terms, I oppose almost everything for which the Orthodox stand politically. I only say “almost everything” because someone might otherwise point out that the Orthodox are against murder, rape, and incest, to which I would have to say, me too. Here is the exact transcript of that part of the interview from which Brenneman drew the above accusation (in an email exchange, Brenneman admits that this is an accurate transcript and it is the source for his statement above). As you can see, Brenneman’s conclusion is a complete fabrication. I said the complete opposite of what was attributed to me:
Brenneman: Aren’t the Orthodox having great influence?
Gertz: They have influence that they shouldn’t have. I wish the secular parties would combine, who have more in common than with the ultra-religious parties.
Although I knew that the slant of the Berkeley Daily Planet’s articles about me would be negative, I thought that Brenneman would at least be honest. What happened on his way to the Pulitzers? Despite the irrefutable transcript, the Berkeley Daily Planet has refused to publish a retraction, only a statement that I deny their charge, and, worse, that I in fact said that I expressed myself poorly, meaning that the problem was mine not theirs:
Editor’s note in the Berkeley Daily Planet, June 25, 2009: John Gertz has provided the paper only one substantive fact to correct [really, only one?], namely, that he didn’t accurately express himself on laws governing Israeli citizenship.
This is cynical in the extreme. Indeed, the Berkeley Daily Planet entirely misinterpreted my view of Israeli citizenship and then goes on to state that I believe that “only religiously observant Jews should have any say about Israel,” which is clearly the exact opposite of what I did say and believe. If there was any doubt Brenneman could have asked me further rather concocting his story.
Statement: “[Gertz] is a frequent caller to local newspapers.”
Response: Again, what is this guy talking about? I have placed just three phone calls in my life to the Berkeley Daily Planet. All were recent, and all were to Brenneman. The first was to return his call requesting the interview. The second and third were after the interview. During that interview, Brenneman had promised to get an answer to a question I had posed to him regarding George Beier. When he did not get back to me, I called him twice for the Berkeley Daily Planet’s response, which he finally gave me (“neither confirm nor deny”) and which I duly posted on this website. About five years ago I had a few discussions with the Chronicle in advance of a piece of mine they published in Open Forum. I cannot remember ever speaking to anyone at other local papers, apart from fielding routine requests for interviews, and only when called.
Statement: “[Gertz said that] there is a wealthy member of Berkeley’s Jewish community [who is] talking about starting an online-only news source.”
Response: The recorded interview shows that I said no such thing. When asked, I declined to give any information whatsoever about the individual in question. The reason for this is that the individual in question had not given permission to release his name. The only statement I have made is elsewhere on this website, where I wrote that “there is at least one serious Berkeley businessman we know who is so outraged by the Berkeley Daily Planet that he is planning to start his own online Berkeley newspaper.” In fact, to the best of my knowledge, the individual is not Jewish. Brenneman’s statement, made out of whole cloth, is in line with the Berkeley Daily Planet’s conspiracy theory that the Jews are out to get the paper. In fact, the Berkeley Daily Planet has alienated vast swaths of Berkeley’s population, Jewish and non-Jewish. Elected officials rarely speak to the Berkeley Daily Planet, presumably because they know that their words, like mine, will be distorted beyond all recognition. The Oakland police department best expressed the common sentiment. When asked to comment on the Anderson piece about the good karma accruing to cop killers, they responded that they would have no comment about “that piece of crap newspaper.” Actually, that is comment enough.
Accusations: Brenneman makes the case that the local Jewish conspiracy against the Berkeley Daily Planet uses tactics of intimidation.
Response: I explicitly and at length told Brenneman that I condemn all forms of intimidation, and that the only battlefield on which I will engage the Berkeley Daily Planet is the battlefield of ideas. Brenneman declined to use that portion of the interview. Neither I, nor any employee of mine, has ever visited, called, or written to a Berkeley Daily Planet advertiser. O’Malley and her minions use hyper-aggressive tactics themselves. O’Malley has threatened to sue me and DPWatchDog on multiple occasions, and in an email written four years ago, she actually threatened to slap my face. I responded to her at that time that this was the first time since junior high school that I had been threatened with physical violence. I turned the other cheek. The other people named in the article will have to speak for themselves. However, Spitzer is a slight man in his mid-60’s, so I doubt he has threatened anyone physically. DeWitt is a small elderly woman.
Accusation: Gertz falsely claimed in a letter to the Weekly “J” that about 75% of Hallinan’s pieces in the Berkeley Daily Planet concern Israel, and although this is a lie, Gertz still posts the letter on his website.
Response: Here, at last, the Berkeley Daily Planet is completely correct. Facing a deadline, I made a sloppy misstatement of fact about Hallinan in a longer letter that was otherwise correct. My letter was in response to an article run in the “J” about anti-Semitism in the Berkeley Daily Planet. As soon as I realized my error, I posted a retraction and apology to Hallinan on this website, and sent the same to the “J” (though they declined to publish it). The letter is still on this website because it forms part of my apology. When I get it wrong, I will admit it. Would the Berkeley Daily Planet? Similarly, I made an error when I said that Hallinan continues to write for the Communist periodical Peoples World Weekly. Hallinan formerly edited this periodical when it was the official news magazine of the CPUSA. In truth, Hallinan now merely allows them to reprint his articles that have first appeared elsewhere. The problem arose because I never read to the bottom of the articles, where it is stated that the articles are reprints by permission of Hallinan. I read enough of Hallinan in the Berkeley Daily Planet to last a lifetime. I saw that the articles were there, and assumed he had written them for the magazine. We have changed “he continues to write for this magazine” to “his articles continue to appear in this magazine.”
Question: Is cop killing advocate, Joseph Anderson, also an anti-Semite.
Response: Anderson wrote the now infamous article for the Berkeley Daily Planet praising the killing of the four Oakland police officers. Our information is that Anderson is well known in Berkeley for spewing anti-Semitic tirades at pro-Palestinian meetings. The Berkeley Daily Planet quotes Anderson as acknowledging that he is an anti-Zionist activist, so at the very least, we are in the ballpark, by suggesting that Anderson not only hates cops, he also hates Jews, or at least Jewish Zionists, which amounts to most Jews. The Berkeley Daily Planet condemns me because my main source was Dan Spitzer, and since he is “angry” he cannot possibly be correct. When I first called Spitzer to ask about what he knew about Anderson, he immediately went to his files and read me the anti-Semitic piece that the Berkeley Daily Planet quotes. Spitzer called me back a few hours later to say that he had just checked and found that the piece in question had been taken down from the website from which he had printed it, but that he still had the printout. Nevertheless, I am impressed with the Berkeley Daily Planet’s speculation that someone else might have made the posting, using Anderson’s name, and the Berkeley Daily Planet claims that Anderson denies having written it. We have therefore taken that web posting off our website, pending further investigation. My guess is that we will return to the Berkeley Daily Planet with a big “told you so” later.
Accusation: DPWatchDog should not state that Judith Scherr is a hero for blowing the whistle on Becky O’Malley.
Response: Judith Scherr belongs to the radical left, she is believed to be pro-Palestinian, and she now works for KPFA, many of whose programs disseminate hatred of Jews and Israelis (an ADL study came to that conclusion). Nevertheless, Scherr herself is an honest journalist, and we respect her. We would highly recommend that Becky O’Malley consider resigning, and that she bring Scherr back to edit the paper in her stead. The Berkeley Daily Planet would still be hard left, but at least it would be honest. As readers of this website know well, our core complaint is not that the Berkeley Daily Planet panders to the hard left. It is that the Berkeley Daily Planet and some of its journalists and contributors are dishonest to their core.
Accusation: Becky O’Malley offered to meet with members of the organized Jewish Community to discuss concerns about anti-Semitism in the Berkeley Daily Planet, but they refused.
Response: Brenneman is completely correct. I should know. At O’Malley’s request, I tried to broker the meeting. To a person, the rabbis and leaders of the Jewish community with whom I spoke refused the meeting. There were two main reasons. First, O’Malley insisted that the meeting be open to the public. The Jewish leaders felt that O’Malley would simply bring in her coterie of anti-Zionists who would turn the meeting into a circus. The next issue of the Berkeley Daily Planet would then lead with a headline reading something like “Jews Attempt to Take Over the Planet” (double entendre intended). Second, they all regarded Becky O’Malley to be beyond the pale. They would no sooner debate her than David Duke. Contrary to O’Malley and Brenneman’s assertions, as far as we can see, most of Berkeley’s Jews loathe the Berkeley Daily Planet, and if they read it all, they are doing so either to monitor it, like we do, or to read the funnies in the back.
Accusation: In several places, I am accused of threatening to bankrupt the Berkeley Daily Planet when I wrote “it is reform, or close, or bleed money until you are forced out of business.”
Response: I am quoted wildly and willfully out of context, and in complete contradiction to what I told Brenneman during our interview. In the interest of space, I will quote here the semi-full passage, and then embed by hypertext the whole email and two related emails: “My plea again is that Plan B be reform. As near as I can tell, it is reform, or close, or bleed money until you are forced out of business or die broke (I am to wishing you an early death, but acknowledging that you probably have enough cash to wing it for many years to come). You really could morph into a first class local paper if you tried. Open yourself up to the possibilities.”
John Gertz - Editor