Don Wylciff has been a member of the Tribune’s editorial staff since 1990 and its public editor since 2000, positions that have given the former New York Times journalist lots of clout.
Seeking to analyze the recent Hamas victory in the Palestinian elections, and the terrorism case against Bridgeview resident Mohammed Salah, Wycliff pulled no punches. He candidly acknowledged something that is rarely admitted in public journalism circles about the reality of the American media and the Palestine-Israel conflict.
“Part of the reason we felt blindsided by Hamas' victory is that we don't see or hear things from the Palestinian perspective very often,” Wycliff wrote.
“On Sunday (Jan. 29,) for example, the Tribune's Commentary page carried two articles on Hamas' victory. One was by "an American-Israeli peace activist" from Oak Park, the other by the executive director of the publication of the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago.
“Our Commentary page features no columnist who can be depended upon to routinely explain and defend Palestinian actions and attitudes as, say, Charles Krauthammer defends Israel's. So on probably the most enduring and insistent foreign policy issue of our time, we routinely do not hear from one side.”
Wow. I have never heard an editor at any of the nation’s powerful dailies admit what most observers of the Middle East conflict have known for years. The Op-Ed pages of most major American newspapers are biased, not so much because they are pro-Israel, but because they lack a Palestinian voice.
Palestinians view Krauthammer as probably one of the most anti-Arab columnists in America, a difficult distinction to draw when so many American columnists are just as bigoted.
I wish the Chicago Tribune had a Palestinian columnist. Not like Krauthammer, but rather, one who could offer the other side, as I have done for 30 years. I wouldn’t expect the Tribune to ever hire me. I was a veteran City Hall reporter at the rival Chicago Sun-Times in the 1980s and later a critic of Tribune policies, specifically on their lack of a balance on the Middle East.
Still, I’ve never asked an editor at a major American newspaper to be pro-Arab or anti-Israel. I’ve only asked that they be fair.
Wycliff’s column, published on Feb. 2, 2006, finally comes close to offering a neutral perspective and a vindication of claims of bias that have been made against most American newspapers like the Chicago Tribune.
As usual, though, reasoned voices don’t surface on such touchy issues as the Palestinian-Israeli conflict without a reason.
In this case, it might be that Wycliff is free to clear his conscience. One week after publishing the column, the Tribune announced that Wycliff was leaving the Tribune to become spokesman for the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, the school where he graduated in 1969.
I doubt Wycliff was being punished for his views, as some in my community are quick to assert.
The position Wycliff is taking became open when Matt Storin (who happened to be my former editor at the Sun-Times) left the post a few weeks earlier to take a teaching post at the same university.
I suspect Wycliff had already decided on his departure before writing the column.
Clearly, writing the column gave Wycliff a sense of personal relief. In the final paragraph, Wycliff wrote, “I'm not sure what this has to do with Muhammad Salah and my conscience. Maybe what I feel is the anxiety that comes from knowing that, in this case anyway, ignorance isn't bliss.”
You are and always will be my hero, Don. But I wish you had the courage to say that five years ago, instead of seven days before announcing your departure. Although I understand why.
The fact is the Tribune is not the only newspaper that lacks balance on the issue of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Most newspapers are even worse. But the Tribune has been viciously attacked in the past.
While the Chicago Tribune has built a reputation as a thought-leader on international issues, its rival newspaper, the Sun-Times (sister publication of the Jerusalem Post) has been an unabashed, shameless shill for pro-Israel voices and often viciously and stridently anti-Arab.
So the Tribune has always looked better because it was more balanced. But “more balanced” is a relative term. For that reason, the Tribune has been the target of a boycott and pressures from the American Jewish community.
Some Jewish American leaders have even called the Tribune “anti-Semitic,” an often exploited but powerful bludgeon used to silence those who exercise their so-called rights of free speech when criticizing Israel, or challenging Israeli policies.
Still, if Wycliff really wanted to clear his conscience, he could have done something about the imbalance and hired a Palestinian. Still, why should he put his career in jeopardy for the Palestinians when the Palestinian community itself hasn’t stood up effectively on the same issue?
There are only a few of us Palestinian columnists. But clearly, you can’t comprehend the complexity of the Palestinian-Israel conflict unless you have a chance to hear both sides.