A Tale of Two Obituaries


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Some time ago I searched out an article in The New York Times, and shortly after that a pitch for an online subscription began appearing in my inbox.  “The New York Times,” it said, “satisfies your need to know by connecting you to award-winning journalism, fresh perspectives and innovative multimedia; anytime, anywhere.” 


And those of us who watch the quiz show Jeopardy in the Washington, DC, area are regaled every weeknight with a Times advertisement that promises to deliver to your door for 50% off some of  “the world’s finest journalism.”


I count myself among those not taken in by their blandishments.  The late conservative journalist, Joseph Sobran, was another.  Here is how he begins his classic essay, “The Jewish Establishment”:


    In the early 1930s, Walter Duranty of the New York Times was in Moscow, covering Joe Stalin the way Joe Stalin wanted to be covered. To maintain favor and access, he expressly denied that there was famine in the Ukraine even while millions of Ukrainian Christians were being starved into submission. For his work Duranty won the Pulitzer Prize for journalism. To this day, the Times remains the most magisterial and respectable of American newspapers.


            Now imagine that a major newspaper had had a correspondent in Berlin during roughly the same period who hobnobbed with Hitler, portrayed him in a flattering light, and denied that Jews were being mistreated - thereby not only concealing, but materially assisting the regime's persecution. Would that paper's respectability have been unimpaired several decades later?


There you have an epitome of what is lamely called "media bias." The Western supporters of Stalin haven't just been excused; they have received the halo of victim hood for the campaign, in what liberals call the "McCarthy era," to get them out of the government, the education system, and respectable society itself.


In my article, “The New York Times and Joseph Stalin” I show further that “Duranty was hardly a rogue reporter duping his employer.”  In his covering up for Stalin and his glorification of the brutal, genocidal Communist state of the Soviet Union, he was merely carrying out his bosses’ orders.


“But that’s all in the distant past,” I can hear the objection.  With all that we’ve learned about the evils of the Soviet Union and world Communism we don’t see anything like that anymore in The Times, do we?  Well, let’s have a look at their obituary for a man who in many ways was Communist China’s Walter Duranty, and this obituary was published only nine years ago:


Israel Epstein, Prominent Chinese Communist, Dies at 90



Published: June 2, 2005


Israel Epstein, a journalist, author and propagandist for China whose passion for Communism was fueled in long interviews with Mao in the 1940's and was not dimmed by imprisonment during the Cultural Revolution, died last Thursday at a hospital in Beijing. He was 90.

His death was announced by the official New China News Agency.

Mr. Epstein edited China Today, an English-language Chinese newsmagazine, translated the sayings and writings of Mao and Deng Xiaoping and advised the Chinese government on how to polish its overseas image. He became a Chinese citizen, joined the Communist Party and served on official government and party committees.


He and perhaps a dozen other aging foreign-born residents of Beijing were sometimes seen as the last true believers in a revolution that has sometimes seemed blurred by time's passage and China's embrace of free markets and consumerism.

In 1996, The Observer, the London newspaper, said, "Perhaps the most loyal Communists in the country today are foreigners, veteran fellow travelers from a vanished era of idealism."

Mr. Epstein hung Mao's portrait on his bedroom wall; knew the American journalist Edgar Snow well enough to help edit his books; was a protégé of the widow of Sun Yat-sen, the founder of China's first republic; and was able to say the five years he spent in prison on false charges during the Cultural Revolution had helped improve him by shrinking his ego. For decades China's top leaders visited him on his birthdays.

"My basic ideas have not changed," he told The Observer. "I see no reason to change them."

Israel Epstein was born on April 20, 1915, in Warsaw, then under Russian control. His father was imprisoned by the czarist authorities for leading a labor uprising, and his mother was once exiled to Siberia.

"The earliest influence on me came from my socialist parents," Mr. Epstein said in an interview with China Daily in 2003.

After the outbreak of World War I, his father was sent by his company to Japan to develop business in the Pacific region. As the German Army approached Warsaw, his mother, with him in her arms, fled the city and traveled east to be reunited with her husband. After experiencing anti-Jewish sentiment in several places, they settled in Tianjin in north China. He was then 2.

Mr. Epstein began his career as a journalist at 15, working for the Tianjin-based Peking and Tientsin Times, an English-language newspaper. He covered China's struggle against Japanese invaders for United Press and other Western news organizations.

In 1941, a short item in The New York Times reported that he had been killed, but it later turned out that he had faked his death to divert the Japanese who were hunting him. He anonymously submerged into a Japanese internment camp for a while.

Mr. Epstein became acquainted with Mr. Snow after his editor assigned him to review one of Mr. Snow's books, and Mr. Snow showed him his classic "Red Star Over China" before it was published. Mr. Snow reciprocated by reading Mr. Epstein's unpublished works.

In Hong Kong, Mr. Epstein worked with Soong Ching Ling, Sun Yat-sen's widow, whom he had met in left-wing political activities in the 1930's. She arranged for him to visit Mao, Zhou Enlai and their revolutionary comrades at their base in China's northwest in 1944, and Mr. Epstein said his conversations in a cave with Mao had changed his life.

In 1944, Mr. Epstein visited Britain, then spent the next five years in the United States, where he published "The Unfinished Revolution in China" to good reviews. Other books he wrote were first published in Chinese and included "From Opium War to Liberation" in 1954, "Tibet Transformed" in 1983 and "Woman in World History: Soong Ching Ling" in 1993.

In 1951, Ms. Soong invited him to return to China to edit China Reconstructs, later renamed China Today. He was editor in chief until his retirement at 70, and then editor emeritus.

His five years in prison during the Cultural Revolution, on charges of plotting against Zhou, ended in 1973 with a personal apology from Zhou and a restoration of his exalted position.

His prominence in China was suggested by the annual talks Mao had with him. Deng attended Mr. Epstein's retirement reception in 1985. On April 17, the Chinese president, Hu Jintao, visited him and praised his "special contributions" to China.

Mr. Epstein first wife, Elsie Fairfax-Cholmeley, died in 1984. He is survived by his wife, Wan Bi, two children and two stepchildren.

He will be buried at the Babaoshan Cemetery for Revolutionaries.

“What a fine, idealistic, even heroic, though perhaps a trifle misguided man he was,” the reader can’t help thinking.  The obituary is mainly factual, but consider how the facts are presented and what the article leaves out.  Contrast its opening lines from those of the British Telegraph:

Israel Epstein, who has died in Beijing aged 90, was one of the last survivors of the band of foreign apologists for Mao Tse Tung, and propagated a heroic image of modern China's creation by the Great Helmsman which is only now starting to be unstitched.

One should not separate, as The Times does, Epstein the propagandist for Mao Tse Tung, from the evils of what he was selling.  The Telegraph article also shows more clearly that Epstein’s pro-Chinese Communist propaganda work, directed at Western audiences by this hardened Marxist, began during World War II. 

From the New York Times perspective, when Epstein came to the United States he turned into some sort of fine, objective scholar, producing the book The Unfinished Revolution in China “to good reviews.”  What they don’t tell us is that the most widely read and influential of the lot was turned out in the pages of their own newspaper by one Owen Lattimore.  You can read his entire glowing review in my article “McCarthy Target Touted Soviet Agent’s Book in NY Times.  As I say in that article:

Readers of this web site will recognize Lattimore.  He is the powerful adviser to the Truman administration who a couple of years later, after China had fallen to the Communists, called for surrender of Korea to the Reds in another New York newspaper, The Daily Compass His concluding lines were, “The thing to do, therefore, is to let South Korea fall—but not to let it look as though we pushed it.  Hence the recommendation of a parting grant of $150,000,000.”

And there is a good, but sinister, reason why The Times could speak of the positive reviewer reception of Epstein’s book in the plural.  This comes from page 144 of Freda Utley’s The China Story:

In America, during the 1940’s, the union of the friends of the Chinese Communists enjoyed what amounted to a closed shop in the book-reviewing field.  Theirs were almost the only views expressed in such important publications as the New York Times and New York Herald Tribune Sunday book supplements and the Saturday Review of Literature—publications which make or break books.  (The Sunday Book Review supplement of the New York Times seems in recent months to have discarded many of its old reviewers in favor of others without Communist sympathies.)  If one looks through their back numbers, one finds that it was rare that any book on China was not given to a small group of reviewers.  Week after week, and year after year, most books on China, and on the Far East, were reviewed by Owen Lattimore, John K. Fairbank, Edgar Snow, Nathaniel Peffer, Theodore White, Annallee Jacoby, Richard Lauterbach, and others with the same point of view.

As we show through the Senate testimony of Alfred Kohlberg in “The Institute of Pacific Relations and Communist China,” that Communist dominated organization had a virtual hammerlock during that period over who got books published about China and who wrote reviews of them.

Also missing from the Times obituary is the charge made by Communist defector Elizabeth Bentley before the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee in 1951 that Epstein “had been a member of the Russian secret police for many years in China.”

Selling Us out to Another Ignoble Cause

These days, the foreign interest that The NY Times and its brethren in the U.S. news media are shilling for is mainly not Communism, but Zionism.  Here we return to Sobran and “The Jewish Establishment.”

    Jewish-owned publications like The Wall Street Journal, The New Republic, The Atlantic Monthly, U.S. News & World Report, the New York Post, and New York's Daily News emit relentless pro-Israel propaganda; so do such pundits as William Safire, A.M. Rosenthal, Charles Krauthammer, Jeane Kirkpatrick, and George Will, to name a few. That Israel's journalistic partisans include so many gentiles - lapsed goyim, you might say - is one more sign of the Jewish establishment's power. So is the fact that this fact isn't mentioned in public (though it is hardly unnoticed in private.)


So is the fear of being called "anti-Semitic." Nobody worries about being called "anti-Italian" or "anti-French" or "anti-Christian"; these aren't words that launch avalanches of vituperation and make people afraid to do business with you.

    It's pointless to ask what "anti-Semitic" means. It means trouble. It's an attack signal. The practical function of the word is not to define or distinguish things, but to conflate them indiscriminately - to equate the soberest criticism of Israel or Jewish power with the murderous hatred of Jews. And it works. Oh, how it works.


               When Joe McCarthy accused people of being Communists, the charge was relatively precise. You knew what he meant. The accusation could be falsified. In fact the burden of proof was on the accuser: when McCarthy couldn't make his loose charges stick, he was ruined. (Of course, McCarthy was hated less for his "loose" charges than for his accurate ones. His real offense was stigmatizing the Left.)


               The opposite applies to charges of "anti-Semitism." The word has no precise definition. An "anti-Semite" may or may not hate Jews. But he is certainly hated by Jews. There is no penalty for making the charge loosely; the accused has no way of falsifying the charge, since it isn't defined.


Sobran’s list of blatantly Israel-first columnists is now a bit out of date.  For The Washington Post alone one can now add to Krauthammer and Will the names, at the very least, of Michael Gerson, Jackson Diehl, Fred Hiatt, and Richard Cohen.  None of their regular columnists take as critical a view of the actions of the Israeli government as one is likely to find routinely in Israel’s daily Haaretz.


For a brief period of time, the pro-Israel grip on opinion molding was not so complete as it is now, at least in the Washington, DC, area.  In the 1980s and early 1990s, the fledgling Washington Times, in a serious effort to attract readers, featured some of the very best conservative columnists in the business, and Joseph Sobran was at the top of that list.  It also featured John Lofton, Patrick Buchanan, and the late Sam Francis.  It also had the late Reed Irvine, but his reason for being eventually terminated wasn’t so much ideological as it was excessive truth seeking and the departure of Joe Goulden from his organization. During that period I ended my subscription to The Washington Post in favor of The Washington Times.


Those days are now long gone.  One by one The Times dropped its good, relatively independent, conservative columnists, and these days it can hardly be distinguished from Fox News.  Joe Sobran died much too young at age 64 in 2010, but brilliant writer that he was, he had long since been banished from the pages of National Review, where he had made his mark, and from The Times, publishing only in the Catholic magazine, The Wanderer, and in an excellent Internet blog.


Obituary #2


Considering what he had had to say about them, one should expect that The New York Times would give Sobran a somewhat less-than-complimentary obituary, and it did not disappoint.   The obituary that caught my eye, though, was the one in The Washington Post:


Joseph Sobran, 64, conservative columnist and editor


By Matt Schudel

Washington Post Staff Writer

Saturday, October 2, 2010; 7:38 PM (with my own critical links)

Joseph Sobran, 64, a fiery conservative columnist and magazine editor whose hostile views toward Israel and Jews led to his ouster as a top editor of National Review magazine in 1993, died Sept. 30 at Fairfax Nursing Center in Fairfax County. He had complications from diabetes.

In the mid-1980s, Mr. Sobran was a rising star of the intellectual right. He was a senior editor at National Review, personally recruited by the magazine's founder, William F. Buckley Jr., and had a wide following as a syndicated newspaper columnist, essayist and speaker.

Motivated by a strong Catholic faith, Mr. Sobran (pronounced SOH-brun) hardened his social views and cultivated a growing belief in U.S. isolationism in international affairs. He began to clash with Buckley on foreign policy matters during the Reagan administration and developed a deep antipathy toward Israel and Jewish lobbying interests in the United States.

Mr. Sobran later objected to what he considered executive overreaching by the administration of George H.W. Bush, writing that Bush was "the sort of politician our Founding Fathers were tying to prevent." Mr. Sobran was among the few conservatives opposed to the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

By late 1991, Buckley had had enough of his fractious protégé and published a series of articles about right-wing anti-Semitism. Without overtly calling Mr. Sobran an anti-Semite, Buckley left that clear impression. Other leading thinkers on the right, including neoconservative author and editor Norman Podhoretz, didn't mince words in condemning Mr. Sobran's views.

After Mr. Sobran retaliated with essays critical of Buckley in 1993, he was fired from National Review in 1993.

Over the years, Mr. Sobran's views veered ever more wildly to the right, beyond the ken of National Review and anything resembling the mainstream. He praised an unabashedly racist publication called Instauration, which, in Mr. Sobran's own words, was "openly and almost unremittingly hostile to blacks, Jews, and Mexican and Oriental immigrants."

With little substantiation, he wrote of centuries of Jewish persecution of Christians and denounced Israel as an untrustworthy "tiny, faraway socialist ethnocracy." He wrote that the New York Times "really ought to change its name to Holocaust Update."

He claimed the attacks of Sept. 11 were caused at least in part by U.S. policies toward the Middle East, which he said were shaped by "Jewish-Zionist powers that be in the United States." He spoke at conferences organized by British Holocaust denier. David Irving.

Increasingly isolated on the right, Mr. Sobran wrote for publications of the Catholic Church and the arch-conservative John Birch Society. He also turned his attention to his lifelong interest in the works of William Shakespeare.

In 1997, he published "Alias Shakespeare: Solving the Greatest Literary Mystery of All Time," in which he contended that Shakespeare's plays were actually written by Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford.

Mr. Sobran was hardly the first person to make the claim, which has been widely debunked by literary scholars. Even a critic for the conservative Washington Times dismissed Mr. Sobran's argument as "balderdash."

Michael Joseph Sobran Jr. was born in Ypsilanti, Mich., on Feb. 23, 1946. After graduating from Eastern Michigan University, he stayed on at the university to study English literature in graduate school.

In 1972, Mr. Sobran voiced support for a campus visit by Buckley, which was opposed by many faculty members. Buckley saw Mr. Sobran's letter to the school paper and hired him for National Review.

After leaving National Review, Mr. Sobran - who sometimes wrote under the bylines of M.J. Sobran and M. Joseph Sobran Jr. - edited a monthly newsletter, Sobran's, containing his essays. He published "Hustler: The Clinton Legacy" in 2000 and was at work on books about Shakespeare and Abraham Lincoln at the time of his death.

Mr. Sobran had lived in Northern Virginia since 1983.

His marriages to Janet Schnabel Sobran and Jeanne Walker ended in divorce.

Survivors include four children, Christina Sobran of Waterville, Maine, Vanessa Williams of Virginia Beach, Kent Sobran of Toledo and Michael Sobran of Alexandria; a brother; several half-siblings; and 10 grandchildren.

There you have it: two obituaries.  The first is of a man who during the short period he lived in the United States may be described as the archetype of a subversive.  He spent almost his entire career in the service of a genocidal maniac who presided over perhaps the greatest man-made disaster in human history.  Hong Kong-based historian, Frank Dikötter, examining recently available archives from China, has said that it was “like [the Cambodian communist dictator] Pol Pot's genocide multiplied 20 times over." (See also footnote 3 in my article, “John F. Kennedy on the Loss of China.”)  The man most responsible for putting the spin on this inconceivable savagery for Western audiences was rewarded with an obituary befitting a kindly old uncle.

The second is of an American journalist widely recognized for the elegance and clarity of his writing who tossed away an illustrious career by calling things like he saw them, as a true journalist should.  For that he gets treated almost like a criminal in his obituary.

It really is quite educational.  What, really, would you expect from a press that has covered up every major outrage of this writer’s lifetime, from the assassinations of Secretary of Defense James Forrestal, John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, and Martin Luther King, Jr., to the assault on the USS Liberty, the bombing of the Murrah Building in Oklahoma City Bombing, and 9/11 and was an early champion of the wars in Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq? 

The American press being what it is these days, Joseph Sobran’s obituary is really one to which we all should aspire.  It is a badge of honor.

David Martin

August 20, 2014





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