Elie Wiesel Challenges President Obama; Washington Post Misses Story

It was a newsworthy event: Elie Wiesel, whose widely-translated books helped preserve the memory of a European Jewry destroyed by the Nazi genocide, accompanied President Barack Obama to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum on April 23. They were there for a Yom Ha’Shoah (Holocaust Memorial Day) observance. And Wiesel, a Nobel Peace Prize recipient, challenged the president, another peace prize laureate.

According to a Washington Times news article, introducing the president to a crowd at the museum, Mr. Wiesel took issue with the administration’s handling of Syrian President Bashar Assad and Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He wondered aloud why world leaders have not ‘learned anything’ from the Holocaust.”

“‘How is it that Assad is still in power?’ Mr. Wiesel asked. ‘How is it that the Holocaust’s No. 1 denier, Ahmadinejad, is still a president? He who threatens to use nuclear weapons – to use nuclear weapons – to destroy the Jewish state. We must know that when evil has power, it is almost too late.”

The daily Washington Examiner also reported on the Obama-Wiesel visit to the Holocaust Memorial Museum, though it treated the president’s appearance as campaign coverage (“Race for 2012: Obama faces tough test among Jewish voters,” April 24). It quoted the president as saying “‘Never again’ is a challenge to defend the fundamental right of free people and free nations to exist in peace and security – and that includes the state of Israel ….”

Both newspapers included photographs of Obama and Wiesel together at the museum.

Washington Post coverage took a different tack. It did not mention the president and Wiesel’s 30-minute tour of museum exhibits nor did it report the writer’s questions of the president. No mention was made of Iran’s threat to resume mass murder of the Jewish people.

Scott Wilson, Post White House correspondent and former Jerusalem bureau chief, explained that Obama’s museum visit and speech, and Wiesel’s remarks came in the context of a second-day story for The Post. The day before, a Wilson article had scooped the competition, disclosing the president’s new executive order targeting companies and individuals aiding the Syrian and Iranian government in their use of technology to suppress dissidents.

The Post also first reported Obama’s formal establishment of an “Atrocities Prevention Board” composed of senior government officials and preparation of the first National Intelligence Estimate focused on potential mass murders.
A lapse in news judgment

As a result, the reporter and Post editors focused on the president’s remarks that confirmed their April 23 scoop and excluded Wiesel’s challenge. Wilson, it should be noted, provided news media “pool” coverage for Obama and Wiesel’s 2009 visit to the site of the Buchenwald concentration camp. Wiesel had been imprisoned there as a boy and his father died in Buchenwald.

What to make of Washington Post editorial judgment in this case? No two editors see the news exactly alike. Judgment varies. The paper’s view of the president’s Yom HaShoah remarks at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum as a second day story is explicable. But, given the timeliness of Iranian threats against Israel, Wiesel’s status as both a Holocaust survivor and, in the description of the Nobel Peace Prize committee a voice of conscience, and Obama’s acknowledgment of the threat against the Jewish state, The Post’s choice is not persuasive.

The idea of an executive branch mechanism to anticipate and, if possible, pre-empt genocide, dates at least to 2009, when the U.S. Institute of Peace and the Holocaust Museum produced a report calledPreventing Genocide: A Blueprint for U.S. Policymakers. The study recalled the Nazi genocide of European Jewry, invoked the post-Holocaust assertion “never again!” and referred to mass murders in Kosovo, Rwanda, Darfur and elsewhere. Intended to help the new Obama administration recognize potential mass murders, it, like The Post’s April 24 coverage, strangely did not mention Iranian threats against the Jewish state.

Wilson’s article closed by quoting Michael Abramowitz, director of the museum’s Committee on Conscience. He said “the steps Obama outlined ‘are potentially – and I stress the word “potentially” – very important.’” But not as important now as Iran’s threat of genocide against Israel, which, among other things, directly violates the U.N. Charter. Hard to recall now, but the United Nations was established by the World War II Allies in large part to prevent future wars and attendant genocides like the Holocaust.

At the museum, the president asserted that “when faced with a regime that threatens global security and denies the Holocaust and threatens to destroy Israel, the United States will do everything in our power to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.” Even absent the well-reported tension between Washington and Jerusalem over just what the U.S. administration means by “doing everything within our power” and when, such presidential declarations certainly sound like news.

So do Wiesel’s additional comments, after reminding Obama that “We must know that evil has power. It is almost too late.” He then said, “Preventive measures are important. We must use those measures to prevent another catastrophe. And when other communities are threatened by anyone, we must not allow them to do what they intend doing.”

When it came to covering President Obama and Elie Wiesel’s Yom HaShoah visit to the Holocaust Museum and the remarks they made while there, The Post failed to provide readers the biggest news.

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