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Letters for March 24

Readers sound off on our profile of Dr. Assad, Berkeley Daily Planet reporter Richard Brenneman, and Burmese refugees.

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If you read Brenneman's blog, it may become clear why he was never employed long term by any major publication. His biases consistently contradict his ability to do honest reportage. To cite just one instance, in the Express he wrote that I am a member of the IACEB. While I respect that organization and have contributed to it from time to time, I do not belong to it. The actions I took were unilateral, stemming from a decision to do something about a toxic Ministry of Hate promulgated weekly in our community by the Planet.Finally, there is the facile moral banner in which the O'Malleys draped themselves: free speech. If that were the case, why were so many would-be contributions of those critical of the paper and supportive of Israel rejected, to say nothing of the banishment of any rejoinders from Gertz, Sinkinson, and yours truly? Free speech indeed!In sum, while a viciously anti-Semitic newspaper has bitten the dust, we still have the generally excellent East Bay Express to provide reportage on the Bay Area. One caveat: Associate Editor Robert Gammon called those spearheading the anti-Planet movement "ultraconservative Zionists." Yes, Mr. Gammon, we are indeed proud Zionists. But Gertz, Sinkinson, and I all happen to be liberal Dems. To avoid your facile and fallacious stereotyping of the Planet's critics, all you had to do was call us and ask, something I taught in the very first day of my college journalism 101 course which I doubt you would pass. And while fact-checking is basic to any measure of journalistic integrity, Becky O'Malley acknowledged to The New York Times that the Planet did not fact-check what it printed. This conspicuous omission from the journalist canon was crystalline in much of what the Planet published.As for the Daily Planet, few will miss it. Not only did the paper engage in overt journalist malfeasance, printing a book review by the author of the book he himself had written (he just happened to be a major advertiser of the Planet), publishing letters to the editor written by a staff volunteer who praised the paper, and, as noted, egregiously failing to fact-check. It boggles the mind to think that this, along with the decision to print repulsive anti-Jewish op-eds and letters, is what Brenneman calls a "platform for good journalism." But the real crux of the paper's demise may be seen in the following: Just as KPFA's listenership fell by a third during the eight years of the Bush administration, ultimately only those simpletons who still see the US and Israel as evil incarnate took the Planet seriously. Most people know that the world is an infinitely more complex place and that PC ideologues in Berkeley represent far fewer individuals in our community than Becky O'Malley, who couldn't transcend her own biases, was remotely capable of comprehending.

Dan Spitzer, Berkeley

Richard Brenneman Responds

Where to begin. I was not born to Mennonites. My family was Presbyterian (the last Mennonites came four generations earlier). He lies when he says my "sole claim to being Jewish stems from the fact (if the man is to be believed at all) that one of his several wives was Jewish." Two exes are Jewish, in fact, and I converted to Conservative Judaism for my first marriage, and though I have been an atheist for the last three decades, the head of Union Theological Seminary back in the 1970s informed me that changing religion didn't mean I wasn't Jewish. I had been baptized into the tribe, as it were.

And Gertz knew I'd converted, because he had posted an entry at his web site criticizing an op-ed I'd written, which included this: "Sinkinson also implies that I'm an anti-Semite, an allegation that drew laughter from my two daughters, who are descendants of both that Goldman and that Sachs as well as Edwin Vogel, one of the founders of CIT. They're also step-great-grand-nieces of Sir Rudolph Peierls. I converted for my first marriage, and unlike some of my critics, I can remember my bris. I would also add that four of the five great loves of my life have been Jewish by birth."

And yes, I did live in a Hindu household (not an ashram) — in Oakland — and I was a Christian Scientist. But so what; a lot of young people were exploring other religions and philosophies in the '60s and '70s (remember JewBus, Jews who had become Buddhists?). And "practicing atheist"? What the hell is that? If by that he means I don't believe in a deity, true. But there's no practice involved, no dues, no services, no collection plate, not even any friendly get-togethers.

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