New York Times Exonerates Columbia Professor Joseph Massad

The Columbia University Ad Hoc Grievance Committee released a report that found Professor Joseph Massad had shouted down one of his students who expressed a point of view at odds with his own. He allegedly said: “If you’re going to deny the atrocities being committed against Palestinians, then you can get out of my classroom!” In another incident, Massad is alleged to have prevented an Israeli Columbia student from asking a question, and instead demanded to know: “How many Palestinians have you killed?”

The report further finds:

some [students] complained about what they felt was his repeated, even unremitting, use of stigmatizing characterizations and his sometimes intemperate response to dissenting views. Some reported that they were deterred from asking questions by the atmosphere this created.

New York Times Terms Massad “a fan of free speech”

Yet in the April 8th New York Times, reporter Robin Finn calls Massad “a fan of free speech.” Indeed, she goes out of her way to exonerate Massad. From beginning to end, the article, entitled “At the center of an academic storm, a lesson in calm,” whitewashes Massad’s conduct, presenting him as tolerant and “not intimidating” — a victim, even.

While glossing over the accusations against Massad, Finn instead quotes from a hateful email sent to him, then asks: “Who’s intimidating whom here?” She adds: “He seems, if anything, ingratiating, not intimidating. The perfect host…”

Anti-Semite, or “pro-Jewish”?

Massad’s assertions have been called anti-Semitic by a U.S. congressman, a member of Columbia Law School’s advisory board, and others. Indeed, his derogatory generalizations about Jews are troubling, to say the least. He speaks of a “transformation of the Jew into the anti-Semite.” He argues that European intellectuals ought to see “the status of the European Jew as a coloniser,” that American and Israeli Jews “often are” racists, and he even states that it is Arabs, and not so much Jews, who are the victims of anti-Semitism.

Despite this, Finn paints Massad as a model of tolerance. He is a “fellow who began holding Seders as an undergraduate,” Finn points out. “He insists he won’t stand for anti-Semitism or anti-Palestinianism in his classroom and packs scholarship to combat both.” Massad is also quoted saying that he is “pro-Jewish.”

Instead of addressing the controversy in any depth, or providing counterpoint to Massad’s monologues, Finn instead focuses on his immaculate grooming — she informs readers that Massad is “the perfect host.” He is “perfectly attired…down to his French cuffs,” his “demibeard is neatly sculptured” and he’s “politically pugnacious…with a metrosexual gloss.” In the wake of student allegations against Massad and the grave criticisms of him by the Ad Hoc Committee, that such a lighthearted and adulatory piece would run suggests a lapse in editorial judgement.

The article also serves as a platform for Massad’s defense at the expense of students he’s wronged, allowing him to continue to disseminate his side of the story, without rebuttal. Since Massad freely doles out inflammatory allegations about the Ad Hoc Grievance Committee, pro-Israel students and several Jewish or pro-Israel organizations, this one-sided format is journalistically indefensible.

For example, according to Finn, Massad:

maintains that he intimidated no students and is himself the target of a witch hunt with a Zionist agenda and an aversion to scholarship. He believes the Columbia administration prejudged him and the faculty panel bowed to McCarthyite accusations; the witch hunters are out there, and the committee threw them a morsel. I feel chilled by this…These are…forces of darkness and I…will not let them take over…I am simply an entry point for right-wing forces that want to destroy academic freedom.

By what professional standard can the New York Times justify including Massad’s incendiary charges and excluding the views of those Massad assails?

(This amplifying of Massad’s perspective at the expense of any counterpoint is all the more inexplicable after a similar lapse nine days ago. On April 6, the Times was compelled to run an Editor’s note in the Corrections Section apologizing for having cited in a March 31 article only Massad’s reaction to the Ad Hoc Grievance Committee Report, while leaving out a response from any of the pro-Israel students involved.)

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