CAMERA Asks Christian Century to Correct Wall’s Errors

On January 16, 2007, CAMERA submitted a letter to John M. Buchanan, editor and publisher of Christian Century. In the letter, CAMERA requested that the columns about the Arab-Israeli conflict by the magazine’s senior contributing editor, James M. Wall, be subjected to greater editorial scrutiny, that previous errors in his columns be corrected, and that the magazine create a written corrections policy and disseminate this policy to its staffers, contributors and readers. CAMERA made these requests after discerning a troublesome double-standard: The magazine has in the recent past published corrections on relatively mundane matters, but it will not print corrections of much more substantial errors about the Arab-Israeli conflict in Rev. Wall’s columns.
In response, John M. Buchanan, who also serves as pastor of the Fourth Presbyterian Church of Chicago, stated that he had talked with David Heim, the magazine’s executive editor, about the issues raised and had decided to “support his decisions,” adding: “We do not believe corrections are necessary or appropriate.”
The text of CAMERA’s letter follows:
Jan 16, 2007

John M. Buchanan
Christian Century
104 S. Michigan Ave.
Suite 700
Chicago, IL 60603-5901

Rev. Buchanan:

I am writing on behalf of the Committee For Accuracy in Middle East Reporting In America (CAMERA) located in Boston, Massachusetts. CAMERA works to correct inaccuracies, distortions and omissions relating to the Arab-Israeli conflict that appear in the mass media. As you may or may not be aware, CAMERA has been detailing the errors in columns of Rev. James M. Wall, senior contributing editor of Christian Century.

It is CAMERA’s assessment that Rev. Wall, who served as the magazine’s editor from 1972 to 1999, cannot be trusted to live up to the basic journalistic principles of accuracy and fairness, when to do so would require him to acknowledge any serious Arab culpability for the Arab-Israeli conflict. Rev. Wall seems more committed to a narrative of Israeli intransigence and Arab reasonableness than he is to (to invoke a hackneyed phrase) “the facts on the ground.”

Most recently, CAMERA detailed Rev. Wall’s failure to disclose his relationship to Jimmy Carter’s presidential campaign in a column about the former president’s book Palestine, Peace Not Apartheid. Rev. Wall served as Jimmy Carter’s Illinois campaign chairman in both the 1976 and 1980 presidential elections. Given the close emotional bonds between Rev. Wall and the former president (as described in Christian Century‘s pages over a quarter century ago), it would seem appropriate to remind readers who may have forgotten, and inform newer readers who were never told, of the connection between the two.

The former president’s book is replete with factual errors and omissions which Rev. Wall does not address, nor does he acknowledge the substantial financial support the Carter Center has received from anti-Zionist Arab financiers. One of the constant refrains in Rev. Wall’s articles about the Arab-Israeli conflict is the allegedly undue influence exerted by Israel and its Jewish supporters in the U.S. on American foreign policy. His silence on these issues could very well be explained by his relationship to the former president.

Rev. Wall’s failure to disclose his connection to Jimmy Carter is part of a bigger problem: Christian Century has failed to provide the necessary oversight to Rev. Wall’s writing. During a recent conversation I had with the magazine’s [executive] editor, David Heim, he said that Rev. Wall had made many trips to Middle East and he’s entitled to his opinions.

Fair enough. But Rev. Wall is not entitled to his own facts. Rev. Wall has made serious errors in the pages of Christian Century in recent months and yet for some reason the magazine seems intent on allowing his errors to stand uncorrected. I came to this conclusion after speaking with Mr. Heim about Rev. Wall’s error in his column “War Plan” published in the Sept. 5, 2006 issue of the magazine. In this piece, Rev. Wall falsely reported that Hezbollah had not fired rockets into Israel until after Israel had initiated a bombing campaign in Lebanon. In fact, Hezbollah had fired rockets into northern Israel during its initial attacks on July 12. This is a serious error because it falsely lends credence to Wall’s portrayal of Israel as an intransigent aggressor nation.

When I first contacted Mr. Heim about this error, he stated that the chronology was too “murky” to warrant a correction. When I told him that in fact, on this issue the chronology was quite clear, he challenged me to provide citations, which I did.

Subsequently, I provided five articles from sources including NPR, the Associated Press, United Press International and the New York Times – all of which clearly reported that Hezbollah did indeed fire rockets into Israeli cities and towns before Israel launched its bombing campaign.

Since the chronology was not in any way “murky,” as Mr. Heim had previously stated, I expected him to provide a correction. Nevertheless, Mr. Heim once again refused, stating that the error was “technical” and not “crucial” to the issue at hand.

During a subsequent conversation, I asked Mr. Heim if there was a written policy regarding corrections at the Christian Century and he said no. During a brief follow up conversation I asked him if there was a standard corrections policy at the magazine and if there were attempts to apply it in an even-handed manner. Mr. Heim said yes to both questions.

Mr. Heim’s statements are contradicted by his unwillingness to provide a correction that would have put Israel’s actions in a more accurate light, and his willingness to print corrections on issues of much less importance. For example, the magazine has in the recent past published corrections on some quite mundane matters – the URL of a website, the true author of a gospel song, and the correct publisher of a theological text. But it will not print a correction of Rev. Wall’s much more substantial error regarding the chronology of the recent fighting.

This bespeaks a troubling double-standard at the Christian Century: Articles that contain errors that serve to portray Israel in an unfair, inaccurate light are subject to less editorial oversight than articles on other subjects in the magazine.

You should be aware that is at least the third of Rev. Wall’s errors relating to the Arab-Israeli conflict in the magazine that has gone uncorrected in recent memory.

In December 2005, Rev. Wall falsely reported that Israel’s security barrier “completely surrounds Bethlehem.” Maps from the Israeli government, B’tselem and even the Palestinian Authority’s negotiation office clearly indicate that in no way does the barrier completely surround Bethlehem, as Rev. Wall asserts. CAMERA analyst Gilead Ini’s efforts to obtain a correction of this error were unsuccessful.

Lastly, in his piece titled “Divestment” published in the Nov. 15, 2005 issue of Christian Century Rev. Wall accurately quoted a piece of mine about a Sabeel Conference that took place in Chicago in which I wrote “to these folks, the Jews are the new Nazis.” Rev. Wall went on to write: “That comment, designed to evoke the Holocaust, has no basis in fact. (I attended the Chicago conference; no such statement was made or implied.)”

On this score, I know Rev. Wall was wrong because I also attended the conference and saw with my own eyes a letter from Marc Ellis’s son to an Israeli diplomat which in fact did make such a comparison between Israel and the Nazis. The text of this letter, which was displayed on a screen during Professor Ellis’s presentation, is available in the September/October 2003 issue of Church & Society which was formerly published by the Presbyterian Church (USA). The letter, written by Ellis’s son, Aaron, reads in part, as follows:

If you are too ignorant to step out of your position for one second and see that the Israelis are using brute force to oppress the people, just as the Nazi regime once used against the Jewish people, then I don’t think you can be helped. […]

If you say that Palestinians must move out because you are more militarily developed than they are, then you are creating a totalitarian government much like that which was created by Germany in the 1930s. You are saying, in essence that those with the most powerful thugs – Gestapo, army or secret police – should rule, no matter what their political views. This is exactly what led to the extermination of many thousands of fellow Jews and others. It is what is also happening to the Palestinians, even as you read this, on a smaller scale.

I spoke with Mr. Heim about this error and he stated that no correction was necessary because the letter made a comparison between Israeli and Nazi policies and was not an attempt to portray Jews as if they were Nazis themselves.

If such a thin rhetorical reed can protect Rev. Wall’s columns from correction, there is a problem. Exempting Rev. Wall from the basic tenets of journalism, as Christian Century has done, can only damage the credibility of the magazine.

CAMERA’s request is simple: We ask that as the magazine’s editor and publisher, you ensure that Rev. Wall’s columns be subjected to more rigorous editing and fact-checking. I would also ask that you encourage the magazine to adopt and disseminate a written corrections policy to its staffers, contributors and readers. This would go a long way toward safeguarding the magazine’s reputation and credibility. Finally, we would once again ask that the material errors we have detailed be corrected.

Sincerely, Dexter Van Zile
Christian Media Analyst, CAMERA
CC: David Heim, Rev. James Wall

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