Open letter response to The Washington Post by Matthew Tyrmand

Open letter response to The Washington Post by Matthew Tyrmand

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October 5, 2016

To the Editorial Board of the Washington Post:

This past Friday evening you posted an editorial under "The Post's View" entitled "Donald Trump is normalizing bigotry." In this post you utilized my Breitbart column ("WaPo’s Anne Applebaum Embarks on Kremlin-Style Disinformation Offensive Vs. The Anti-Globalist Right") to give credence to the thesis in your post's title. The column I posted earlier in the week at Breitbart.com exposed some of the lesser known cross currents (for non-Poles) of recent Polish political history and your columnist's (Anne Applebaum) connection to the previous government.

As I know the editorial board is aware, Mrs. Applebaum is married to the former Foreign Minister, Radoslaw Sikorski, whose party was ejected from power in a clean democratic election in 2015. This election resulted in a diametric changing of the Polish political guard and delivered an unprecedented unilateral mandate to govern without coalition to the Law & Justice party for the first time in modern Polish history (I highlight this since your columnist has not). But well before the rotation of parties in government, Mr. Sikorski was dismissed from his ministerial position after it became apparent to all that he too was embroiled in the "Aferatosmowa" hidden tapes scandal that decimated many Civic Platform, Sikorski’s ruling party, careers and reputations and paved the way for the dramatic turnover in government. This is not something Mrs. Applebaum has ever disclosed despite the distinct pertinence this has with regard to covering Poland and especially in writing about the new government whose leading figures' enmity with Mr. Sikorski's turfed-out party is well known in political circles. This is in clear violation of this paper’s “Standards and Ethics” as defined in the described “Conflict of Interest,” Section A, opening lines: “This newspaper is pledged to avoid conflict of interest or the appearance of conflict of interest, wherever and whenever possible.” as well as by the final lines of Section A: “We avoid active involvement in any partisan causes- politics, community affairs, social action, demonstrations- that could compromise or seem to compromise our ability to report and edit fairly.” Any columns referencing Poland would need to have Mrs. Applebaum’s detailed marital disclosure to avoid a violation of these statutes. I have not seen any disclosures.

In utilizing my column as proof of bigotry you failed to link to the column but rather chose to link to a Mediate analysis of it (“Breitbart Attacks WaPo Columnist For Being A ‘Jewish, American Elitist’”), reducing the opportunity for your readership to ascertain for themselves if this highly charged allegation was accurate. You used the words "repeatedly" and "gratuitously" to describe the frequency of my reference to her "Jewish origin." In a 1400 word essay the word "Jewish" appeared exactly twice and with no over or under tone attached (most who read would have to agree). Any such perceived “dog whistle” is resultant from a reader’s prejudices, NOT from the author’s intent. This supposedly "gratuitous" bigotry was a descriptor applied in one small section (two consecutive sentences) that was relevant to the debate for the primary reason that in her September 19th Washington Post column ("In Poland, a preview of what Trump could do to America") she suggests the sitting defense minister, Antoni Macierewicz (a bitter rival of her husband's, also glaringly undisclosed) is an anti-Semite by stating that he has "given credence to the Protocols of the Elders of Zion."

As a person of Jewish religion and ethnicity, something the editorial board "gratuitously" failed to mention, along with my name (introducing me as an "obscure Polish American writer"), I am well aware, as is Mrs. Applebaum, that the charge of anti-Semitism leveled by a Jew obtains significantly higher gravitas than when leveled by a non-Jew. This certainly makes an accurate description of the alleger’s background journalistically relevant. Like me, Mrs. Applebaum has never hid from her Jewishness and one must wonder why it would be such a problem to describe her as a “Polish Jewish American,” which is also a fitting description of my own heritage AND ethno-nationalist affiliations, well demonstrated by both of our dual Polish and American citizenships. There was no outrage about the "Polish" wording in the description, which was similarly accurate and relevant given her commentary on Polish affairs despite much anti-Polonism present these days (evidenced by the recent spate of UK hate crimes directed at Poles). Nor was there any outrage with regard to being labeled "American" either, similarly relevant given her column topics, despite much anti-Americanism (as seen every day in the Middle East).

By not referring to my own Jewish background in your curating of important facts you might have been trying to mislead your readers into believing the Breitbart column was penned by some sort of neo-Nazi or career anti-Semite instead of a "Polish Jewish American" populist (to draw a clear contrast with my description of Mrs. Applebaum as an “elitist”) who is closely connected to Jewish affairs, concerns, history, and issues. The decision to not use my name in the editorial created a clear and brazen violation of the fundamental journalistic precept of addressing the "Five 'W's'" (Who? What? When? Where? Why?). Labeling me as you did ("an obscure Polish American writer”) flagrantly ignored the generally accepted journalistic convention of disclosing higher acuity facts when they are verifiable rather than applying nebulous descriptions. This again reduced the opportunity for your readers to draw ANY independent conclusions. It can only be assumed that the board would prefer that the reader not be exposed to my allegations against one of "The Post's most distinguished opinion columnists" (your words, not mine) which is disingenuous if you are committed to open discourse.

The Washington Post “Standards and Ethics” claims: (second, third, and fourth sentences): “Washington Post reporters and editors are pledged to approach every assignment with the fairness of open minds and without prior judgment. The search for opposing views must be routine. Comment from persons accused or challenged in stories must be included.”  I must also highlight the first “practice” delineated in this same credo’s section on “Fairness” (Section F): “No story is fair if it omits facts of major importance or significance. Fairness includes completeness.” It seems there are distinct violations of both these ethics in this editorial.

Had you not chosen to subtract from your "fact pattern" my identity, by name and ethnicity (clearly relevant in this highly charged subject), or the link to the purportedly offensive column I penned, your readers might have seen my own character and connection to Polish politics, American politics, and Judaism. For the record, almost the entirety of my father's line was murdered during the Holocaust including his father, my grandfather, at the Majdanek concentration camp in German-occupied Lublin, Poland. My father’s mother, my grandmother, once liberated, immigrated to Israel where she lived out her days as a proud Zionist and member of the earliest Polish generation of Israeli citizens. Your readers may have also found an article I wrote in April of this year; "Poland Is Now One of the Best Nations in Which to be Jewish," also posted at the allegedly anti-Semitic website Breitbart.com. In this piece it is clear I am a person who has given careful thought to Jewish affairs in the 21st century. This is rather atypical for the anti-Semite you have attempted to paint.

Your post also editorializes that I am "the Polish foreign ministry's chosen propagandist." Here there exists insinuation of possible employment that is suggestive of directives, mandates, and even financial consideration. For the record: I have no agreement with anyone on what I write, how I write, and where I write. I have never taken money for any short form writing (I have had one book advance, for a pittance, years ago) as I believe opinions should be offered in good faith to the public discourse and not purchased. I offer the caveat that that this does not apply to full time professional writers and journalists. Armchair editorialists, as I clearly am, should opine in good faith motivated by spreading ideas. I am completely independent in what I put forward in any outlet including social media and am motivated by love for the land of my father. Since the election I have volunteered on an ad hoc basis to help those I support in the Polish government to attempt to deconstruct the falsehoods that have been peddled regarding this government. This narrative has been constructed by those who have bad faith self-interest in undermining this government to the benefit of the reputations of those turfed out. Many of these falsehoods have appeared in THIS paper penned by your resident "Pulitzer Prize-winning historian" Mrs. Applebaum (or her friend, your Deputy Editorial Page Editor, Jackson Diehl).

The suggestion that Breitbart.com is sanctioning anti-Semitism and that this is validated by the comments that appear below the articles (including mine) is a standard to which no journalistic platform is held. This includes your own online platform as well as your fellow large circulation newspapers, TV networks, and other solely digital platforms. Journalists, columnists, contributors, and editorialists do not control the reactions and expressed sentiments of their readerships. Suggesting comments under Breitbart articles prove Donald Trump is a bigot because they may be his proponents is wrong headed and unfair.

In the final section of your commentary you state that "we sought Mr. Bannon's reaction to his website's publication of the article and in particular to its identification of Mrs.(sic) Applebaum as Jewish." As you might imagine Stephen Bannon is quite busy helping steward a presidential campaign. From my experience, Mr. Bannon is not one to have others speak for him and he is not shy about his opinions. But you took his lack of response, after what was clearly NOT an extended window of time given the timeline of events and when you went to press, to be able to exclaim definitively: "In other words, Mr. Bannon has no objection. Expect more anti-Semitic rants at his website- and, if Mr. Trump is elected, in the United States at large." The incredible supposition made by such a statement is an egregious example of “guilt proven by accusation” and is unacceptable by ANY journalistic or editorial standard.

Closing your comments by terming the "gratuitously" twice used word "Jewish" an "anti-Semitic rant" while not linking to the underlying piece so readers can see the "rant" in all its stated offensiveness is dishonest and is in violation of your own proclaimed “Standards and Ethics.” I can say confidently, given many conversations over recent days, these offending words in print, where Mrs Applebaum was described as "Jewish American" and in the next sentence as a "Polish Jewish American elitist" cannot form an honest basis for this smear against me, by extension: Breitbart.com, by further extension: Stephen Bannon, and by ultimate extension: Donald Trump. The idea that this constitutes anti-Semitism is propaganda of the lowest order that would make Goebbels blush.

Sincerely stupefied,

Matthew Tyrmand

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