Sidsel Wold, Manfred Gerstenfeld and the ghost of Arthur Koestler

Arthur Koestler: author of "Darkness at noon"

The picture above is of deceased author Arthur Koestler, whose ghost we had to conjure in order to do justice by NRK journalist Sidsel Wold. Intrigued? Read on.

Sidsel Wold and the McCarthyist spin

Sidsel Wold, NRK’s Middle East correspondent since 2007, emphasizes criticism of Israel in accordance with the general slant of Norwegian media as identified by several studies (Observer Norge 2004, 2006, Retriever 2009). But to what extent is Wold content to report on news as it unfolds, and to what extent does she actively strive to persuade her listeners to adopt her own perception of events and view these in a specific political context even when this context is unrelated to the matter at hand? A recent incident suggests the latter to hold true, and that to an extent which ought to exceed her employer’s willingness to allow it to continue.

An interview with a twist

On Thursday, March 25th NRK broadcast Sidsel Wold’s interview with Manfred Gerstenfeld. The interview was made on the occasion of Gerstenfeld’s recent publication of the Norwegian translation of his 2008 book “Behind the Humanitarian Mask” on anti-Semitism in the Nordic countries. The interview is problematic for several reasons.

Firstly, Gerstenfeld himself is hardly in it. While the interview lasts for 3 minutes, Gerstenfeld gets to speak for only 20 seconds, during which he gets in two sentences. The remainder of the interview consists of Sidsel Wold elaborating on what she believes are the views of Manfred Gerstenfeld. Instead of Gerstenfeld answering Wold’s questions, Wold answers them herself. What sort of interview is this?

Secondly, it is often highly unclear whether Wold is quoting Gerstenfeld on something he has said or written, or if she is simply voicing her own opinion on what Gerstenfeld might believe, if she had asked him. We find one example 28 seconds into the interview, where Wolds says: “He believes that those who criticize Israel today are anti-Semites and that Norwegian elites are the worst of them all. Yes, Norway is the spearhead of the world when it comes to disseminating of Jew hatred, illegitimate anti-Israeli criticism, he believes.” Now if these are Gerstenfeld’s statements, why is it that he does not make them himself? And if these are quotes from Gerstenfeld’s books, why does not Sidsel Wold specify that this is the case? It goes on like this for the rest of the broadcast, with Sidsel Wold telling the listeners what she thinks Gerstenfeld believes, rather than letting him say so himself. The listener is not given access to the original source, only Sidsel Wold’s interpretation of him. This is the method of a medium, not a journalist.

Thirdly, at the end of the broadcast Sidsel Wold concludes – but not on anything related to Gerstenfeld’s book. Instead, with all the flair of a magician pulling a rabbit out of a top hat, Wold provides the surprised listener with the following – completely new and unrelated – piece of information: “Under the Netanyahu government, a wind of McCarthyism is blowing over Israel. All Jews or Israelis who do not agree with Netanyahus government are branded “self-hating Jews”. If the critic is not Jewish, yes, then they are branded as antisemites. A simple tactic to stop all undesired political debate”. Interesting as this theory of McCarthyism in Israel may be, it is decidedly unrelated to the topic of the broadcast – Gerstenfeld’s book on anti-Semitism in Norway.

Or is it?

A politically motivated practice

Mc Carthyism, to which NRK journalist Sidsel Wold refers in the completely unrelated context of her interview with Gerstenfeld regarding anti-Semitism in Norway , has been defined as the politically motivated practice of making accusations of disloyalty, subversion, or treason without proper regard for evidence. On the basis of what investigations does Sidsel Wold find it legitimate to identify McCarthyism as being especially prevalent under the current government in Israel? Has she also investigated other Middle Eastern countries, or has she concentrated her efforts solely on Israel? If the latter is the case, how can she defend such a practice? How is Wold’s hithero unsubstantiated allegation of McCarthyism relevant to Manfred Gerstenfeld’s book on anti-Semitism in Norway?

If Wold had answered the questions above, and done so well, she might arguably have had a case. But she didn’t, so she hasn’t. What we have instead is the case of an experienced and highly paid NRK journalist who mixes one subject – that of the alleged spirit of McCarthyism under Netanyahu’s government, with another subject – that of Manfred Gerstenfeld’s book on anti-Semitism in Norway. The two subjects have absolutely nothing to do with each other.

Or do they?

“Accusation is not proof”

When Senator Joseph Mc.Carthy was finally brought down in 1954, it was at the hands – or voice – of CBS analyst Edward R. Murrow, who used footage of Mc.Carthy to reveal the illegitimacy of his methods. In his conclusion Murrow stated:

We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty. We must remember always that accusation is not proof and that conviction depends upon evidence and due process of law. We will not walk in fear, one of another. We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason… we are not descended from fearful men

These are words that Norwegians must take to heart. We must object to the shameless lack of journalistic integrity which Sidsel Wold so blatantly has displayed, yet remember that such a dissent with NRK in no way makes us guilty of disloyalty to the cause of humanitarianism. We must remember that the accusations of McCarthyism which Sidsel Wold direct at Israel are only allegations – they do not constitute proof – and that she by flinging out this allegation in the context of a completely different case – that of Gerstenfeld’s book on anti-Semtism in Norway – has revealed her primary motivation as being not the newshound’s instinct for fact, but the politician’s hunger for impact. This is accentuated by the fact that Sidsel Wold does not allow Gerstenfeld to speak for more than 20 seconds in the entire broadcast, but hogs the main part of it for herself.

A one-woman theatre show

In Wold’s interview with Gerstenfeld we see one woman act out the three main parts of a large drama which captures the Norwegian zeitgeist to the full. Her first role is that of a humanitarian journalist. In this guise journalist Sidsel Wold welds Gerstenfeld’s book on anti-Semitism in Norway to the completely unrelated context of  allegations of “McCarthyism”. Moreover she effectively denies what she clearly regards as her adversary the right to present his case – even though he is being interviewed, he hardly gets to speak. In this manner Wold effectively plays the role which she attempts to attribute to Netanyahu – that of Senator Josepth Mc.Carthy. However Sidsel Wold overplays her role, trips into the grave she has dug for intended victim, looses her humanitarian mask and reveals herself. In this manner Sidsel Wold preforms the actions, albeit unintentionally, of Edward R. Murrow. With no outside help whatsoever, Sidsel Wold has effectively unmasked herself.

Foreigners might well marvel at how, from such a dazzling display of inadvertent stagecraft, the truth of the matter does unfold. Why, word of mouth might even bring it to the attention of Woody Allen himself, who in the audaciously politicized hacks of Norway is sure to find material for the mother of all comedy shows. Yet for us Norwegians this is no laughing matter. We perceive debate, vote, act and believe in the light of “news on the rialto”. Yet when this is brought to us every day, it is by the likes of Sidsel Wold. Did anyone say “Darkness at noon?”

What Norway needs right now is Arthur Koestler to explain to us how the concept of McCarthyism indeed touches upon the contents of Gerstenfeld’s book, only not in the manner that Sidsel Wold would have us believe. As Koestler saved France from communism, so he must save Norway from our own elites. Sadly, Arthur Koestler is dead. Fortunately, seeing as how Wold’s interview with Gerstenfeld belongs to the fairly-tale world of do-as-you-please, we are in our full rights to call upon the ghost of Arthur Koestler to advise us on what to do. His words? Give to Sidsel Wold the justice she would deny to others.

Let Sidsel Wold present her case to the PFU.

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