The Ledger - formerly known as - The Lakeland Ledger - is a newspaper that serves Lakeland, Florida and adjacent towns. On June 12, 2015, it published a 276-word letter, "The Jewish People Control America, and Americans Know It" that included false claims and a fictitious statement attributed to former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. The last paragraph of the letter states,
A few years ago, here's what Sharon told Shimon Peres, former president and prime minister of Israel: "Every time we do something you tell me America will do this and will do that . I want to tell you something very clear: Don't worry about American pressure on Israel. We, the Jewish people, control America, and the Americans know it.
It would be a provocative and irresponsible statement if it were true. But it is not. The incident never happened and former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon never uttered these words. The source of this fabricated quote is the Islamic Association for Palestine, an American-based organization that sympathizes with Hamas. The fabrication was an attempt to stir up antagonistic feelings toward Jews. The title of the letter published in The Ledger is taken verbatim from the original fabrication.
The following information provides the history of this fabrication: In an Oct. 13, 2001 press release, the pro-Hamas group claimed its source as Israeli radio Kol Yisrael:
According [to] the Israeli Hebrew radio, Kol Yisrael Wednesday, Peres warned Sharon that refusing to heed incessant American requests for a cease-fire with the Palestinians would endanger Israeli interests and turn the US against us. At this point, a furious Sharon reportedly turned toward Peres, saying " . . . I want to tell you something clear, don't worry about American pressure on Israel, we the Jewish people control America, and the Americans know it."
Elsewhere in the press release, the quote was repeated, but slightly altered to: "we control America." CAMERA received confirmation from Kol Yisrael political correspondent Yoni Ben-Menachem, who reports on cabinet meetings, that he never made such a broadcast and that Sharon never made such a statement.
The Ledger letter also claims that there is "an ongoing Israeli spy operation against the U.S." But it offers no substantiation of this spurious charge. The author of the piece was listed as C. C. "Doc" Dockery. The newspaper regularly publishes a column by syndicated columnist Paula Dockery, a former Florida state senator. A quick Internet search reveals that she is married to a C. C. Dockery. C.C. Dockery, now over 80 years old, was a prominent political fundraiser and multi-millionaire through his insurance business.
From a media perspective, the crucial issue here is accountability and responsibility. Does The Ledger have a responsibility to maintain widely accepted standards of accuracy and decency in the letters it chooses to publish? The response of the publisher of the newspaper, Kevin Drake, seems to be no. When CAMERA wrote to Mr. Drake and to the Editor, Ms. Lenore Devore, we received a reply from Mr. Drake that the information we were referring to was not an editorial they had written; it was a letter submitted by a reader. He further stated that those are the reader's and not The Ledger's opinion.
Mr. Drake's response did not address the issue of The Ledger's decision to publish the letter. CAMERA responded that a public retraction of the letter would be appropriate, citing the Society of Professional Journalist's Code of Ethics requirement for seeking the truth and correcting factual errors. Mr. Drake responded, "We are running a note on the editorial page that expresses this is one person's opinion and not reflective of ours." But that response is really a non-response, since the newspaper is still failing to address the defamatory content of the letter and its decision to publish the letter. Letters to the editor customarily are understood to be the opinion of the individual writer, not the newspaper itself.
CAMERA revisited the newspaper's website on June 30 and did not find any note appended to Dockery's letter, which remains posted.
It is important to point out that Dockery's letter is not merely controversial. Newspapers often seek out guest opinion pieces that argue controversial ideas. But Dockery's piece is a defamatory screed against an entire group of people and it contains a vicious lie in the form of a fabricated conversation. Such a deviation from the Society of Professional Journalist's Code of Ethics would seem to demand more than a disclaimer of responsibility.
There is also a moral dimension. Is it acceptable for a newspaper that serves the general public and in theory is trusted by that public, to provide a platform to advocates of virulent anti-Jewish conspiracy theories? Would The Ledger have published a letter claiming that Roman Catholics are subversives because their real loyalties are to the Pope? Or would The Ledger publish a letter expounding pseudo-scientific racial theories about African Americans and Caucasians propagated by the Ku Klux Klan?
CAMERA was interested in trying to rectify the situation with the newspaper. But Mr. Drake cut off correspondence. The Ledger is owned by the Halifax Media Group, which owns a string of local newspapers, mainly in Florida and other southern states. Halifax Media is being acquired by the New Media Investment Group