Blogging for old media

News this week that eBay founder Pierre Morad Omidyar is ready to invest $250 million in a new media venture, should have come as unsettling news to staff at the Washington Post.

Jay Rosen says Omidyar “was one of the people approached by the Washington Post Company about buying the Post,” and since Amazon’s Jeffrey Bezos paid $250 million for the Post, it doesn’t sound like he outbid Omidyar. On the contrary, it sounds more like Omidyar felt like if he was going to spend that amount of money, it would be better spent creating a new organization than taking over an old institution.

Technology journalist David Kirkpatrick, describes the Post’s buyer like this: “Bezos is like a trickster. He’s like a very calculating, secretive genius.” Chances are, he views his purchase as a technologist and entrepreneur would: the acquisition of a platform and a strong brand. The bits inside that structure — traditionally known as journalists — must all be aware that they are each expendable.

So what’s a lowly blogger inside the newspaper going to do when afraid that he might seen get trimmed off like a piece of fat? Take new risks and try and stand out? Or curry favor inside the organization by flattering his superiors?

There is a social and journalistic taboo around speculating about motives. After all, since motives are inherently private, such speculation can easily be refuted — even if it happens to be accurate. Still, assessing motives is something that human beings do all the time, even if discretion usually dictates that those assessments, like the motives themselves, also remain concealed. Once in a while, though, it’s worth breaking the taboo.

On Wednesday, the Post’s associate editor and columnist, David Ignatius, revealed this:

The Turkish-Israeli relationship became so poisonous early last year that the Turkish government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is said to have disclosed to Iranian intelligence the identities of up to 10 Iranians who had been meeting inside Turkey with their Mossad case officers.

Opinion writers like Ignatius revel in their occasional ability to break news, since it underlines their privileged access to high-level sources. At the same time, they have a habit of making themselves a mouthpiece for such sources. Ignatius, for instance, has been branded as “the CIA’s spokesman at The Washington Post.”

On Thursday, Max Fisher, the Post’s foreign affairs blogger, took the opportunity to give Ignatius’s column an extra boost and suggested that it might have helped resolve an enduring mystery: why it had taken the Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, almost three years to apologize to Turkey for the deadly attack on the Mavi Marmara in 2010.

That refusal to apologize is now “much more understandable” — at least in Fisher’s mind — now that (thanks to Ignatius) we know about Turkey’s “effort to slap the Israelis” by outing their Iranian intelligence assets.

Under the headline, “Now we know why Netanyahu wouldn’t apologize for the Gaza flotilla raid,” Fisher is nevertheless forced to concede that this “explanation” explains virtually nothing: “This does not explain, of course, why Netanyahu wouldn’t have apologized between the initial 2010 raid and this reported 2012 spy outing.”

Indeed. On the other hand, Netanyahu’s unwillingness to apologize may in fact answer what Fisher regards as a remaining mystery: “Why did the Turkish government out these Israeli spies?” Urrmmm… how about because the Israelis wouldn’t apologize for killing nine Turkish citizens. (Note, Turkey now denies the outing ever occurred and says Ignatius’s story is a smear campaign.)

Now if Fisher really wanted to dig into the bad blood between Turkey and Israel, he might want to make a less complimentary reference to Ignatius and look back at the 2009 row at Davos which the columnist seriously mishandled.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan took exception to a thundering address delivered by Israeli president Shimon Peres who claimed that the IDF’s conduct, while slaughtering hundreds of Palestinians in Gaza, was above reproach. Ignatius tried to hush Erdogan by insisting that everyone would rather get to dinner, after which the Turkish prime minister famously stormed off the stage.

Fisher wants to point out that “many developments in international relations happen in secret,” as indeed they do, and that only later are some of these mysteries unraveled by sage-like columnists.

But in this case, the columnist was no sage and the most important developments were highly visible.

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