Saturday, May 31, 2014

Vanessa Redgrave: Slash and burn book review in Washington Post

The Washington Post has sunk to a new journalistic low by publishing Lloyd Rose's book review of Vanessa: The Life of Vanessa Redgrave. These days newspapers frequently insert editorial comment into news stories. Fox News consists of nothing but editorial comment, usually from three different commentators all competing to be the most biased and insulting.

Book reviews, however, are supposed to be immune from this sort of sniping. After all, the main purpose of the review is to present the book and help the reader decide whether to read it. In Vanessa, Rose makes no pretense of reviewing the content of the book or checking it for accuracy, probably because fact-checking takes time that Rose would prefer to use attacking foreigners and socialists.

In the first line of the review, Rose calls Redgrave "maddening". Certainly this has more to do with the contents of Rose's head rather than the contents of the book. Vanessa's political views are "offensive...trivial and silly." Her politics were "clodhopping".

Rose reserves special opprobrium for Redgrave's speech on the Academy Awards broadcast in 1978. He says she called the Jewish Defense League "Zionist hoodlums", a "remark taken by many as a sweeping anti-Semitic statement." While this statement of Rose is probably true, it is also true that many others took Redgrave's criticism of JDL's bullying tactics as a courageous stand in defense of the Palestinian people. JDL had burned her in effigy while picketing her appearance outside the Academy awards theater. Such demonstrations have been known to irritate their targets.

Among those who agree with Redgrave's estimation of JDL is the Southern Poverty Law Center which describes JDL as a violent anti-Arab group, saying that
[JDL] has orchestrated countless terrorist attacks in the U.S. and abroad, and has engaged in intense harassment of foreign diplomats, Muslims, Jewish scholars and community leaders, and officials.
Furthermore, Rose takes Redgrave's Academy Award comment out of context, in a tactic much abused by right-wing propagandists. Redgrave's remarks also included statements describing the movie for which she won the award as depicting two of the millions who gave their lives in  the fight against fascism and racism in Nazi Germany, and a vow to continue to fight against anti-semitism and fascism.

That vow was not enough for JDL founder, Rabbi Meir Kahane, who wrote a book, Vanessa, I am a Zionist, attacking Redgrave. Rose attributes her remarks to "political dopiness". Redgrave gave offense to the powerful by speaking her mind directly. She called Guantanamo a concentration camp, which it is and remains to this day.

Redgrave was outspoken in her criticism of the War on Terror at a time when few dared raise their voices against the unconstitutional excesses of the Bush administration. She said the Bush administration betrayed the memory of those who fought against Nazi Germany in the name of democracy. Specifically, she said,
democracy meant: no torture, no camps, no detention forever or without trial...[Such] techniques are not just alleged [against the governments of the U.S. and Britain], they have actually been written about by the FBI. I don't think it's being 'far left' uphold the rule of law.
I did not read the book, only the review. I do not know how much of the anti-democratic rhetoric in the review was actually present in the book. But Rose makes it clear, by his choice of material and parenthetical remarks, that he considers Redgrave a dope and a dupe. It is clear from her actual words that she is a remarkably brave, thoughtful, and outspoken person. To imply otherwise is simply biased journalism.

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