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An Exhibition of Conservative Paranoia

Exhibit 61: It Ain't Over Until The MRC Demagogues

The Media Research Center is determined to brand the controversial opera "The Death of Klinghoffer" as anti-Semitic, despite no MRC employee apparently having ever viewed it before issuing that judgment.

By Terry Krepel
Posted 11/6/2014

Media Research Center intern Tianna DiMartino devoted a Sept. 22 item to ranting about the Metropolitan Opera's then-upcoming production of the John Adams opera "The Death of Klinghoffer," which she denounced as "disgusting, vulgar, and anti-Semitic." DiMartino sneered at the composer's defense of his opera:

Adams argued that he didn’t write The Death of Klinghoffer to be controversial or provocative and was “appalled at how hot some of the response was” to the opera. He felt he was trying to show the humanity in the civilians and Jewish family on board as well as the terrorists and wasn’t picking sides.

“For all the brutality and moral wrong they,” the terrorists, “perpetrated in killing this man they’re still human beings and have to have had reasons for doing so,” Adams claimed. Seriously? What next? An opera about the 9/11 terrorist attacks and an effort to humanize those terrorists? A tacit justification of their motives?

DiMartino offers no evidence that she has ever seen the opera (or any opera, really) or examined its libretto beyond cherry-picking the most controversial segments out of context by regurgitating the claims of her fellow critics.

As such, DiMartino's attack on Adams botches the truth by ignoring the fact that he didn't write the libretto; Adams wrote music to Alice Goodman's libretto.

In fact, "The Death of Klinghoffer" is a much more emotionally complex production that DiMartino would have you think. Writer Robert Fink examined the issue of whether the opera was anti-Semitic in a 2005 monograph in the Cambridge Opera Journal. He states:

In summary: to call The Death of Klinghoffer anti-Semitic is to claim that it offends because it is an ideologically driven distortion of American Jewish identity, a caricature, ‘agit-prop’, as Rothstein would have it. But looking closely at the opera (and the controversial Rumor scene) in historical context, it becomes clear that the portrayal of American Jews was offensive and upsetting to New York Jewish audiences because it reflected perfectly their worst nightmares about their own conflicted identity as Jews back to them. Beset by Jewish-Gentile hyper-assimilation, the collapse of American–Israeli Jewish dialogue, and the incineration of Black–Jewish multicultural solidarity, American secular Judaism simply did not function anymore. With Klinghoffer, we are dealing not with an anti-Semitic caricature from outside, but a devastatingly accurate insider’s reflection of what Irving Howe sensed in 1989 as an unprecedented ‘deepening crisis in Jewish identity’. Two difficult years later, watching Klinghoffer laid the crisis bare for its New York audience; it was, evidently, akin to standing culturally naked in front of an unflattering music-dramatic mirror.

American Jews did not like what they saw.

Fink added: "This opera does not romanticise terror. It tries for something much more difficult, so difficult that its failure has been splattered for decades over the pages of the American press. The Death of Klinghoffer attempts to counterpoise to terror’s deadly glamour the life-affirming virtues of the ordinary, of the decent man, of small things."

Such examinations of the opera have been around for years -- the opera was first staged in 1991, after all -- bit DiMartino showed no interest in doing even the most cursory research about it, choosing instead to transcribe what critics were feeding her and adding her own uninformed outrage on top of it. Apparently, that's all it takes to write for the MRC these days.

Indeed, DiMartino's uninformed ranting was so inspiring to her MRC higher-ups that they did the exact same thing. Brent Bozell and Tim Graham devoted their Oct. 24 column to the "Klinghoffer" controversy:

So why would the most prestigious opera company in America promote this terrorist-sympathizing production? As always is the case in instances such as this, the left pleads artistic license. In The New York Times, drama critic Anthony Tommasini proclaimed: "Of all the arts, opera can use the subliminal power of music to explore motivations, including seething hatreds. This opera tries to explore what drove these Palestinians to take that ship and murder its most vulnerable passenger."

Tommasini declared further, "To try to understand why someone does something or to appreciate the fact that evildoers do not see themselves as evildoers is not the same as glorification or promotion of that evil." He called it "a searching, spiritual and humane work."

After this artistic monstrosity, could a searching, spiritual, and humane exploration of the "seething hatreds" of Adolf Hitler be not too far behind?

No, because when it comes to the performing arts in America's cultural capital, there's a remarkable bias and selectivity among the tastemakers.

Surely there were people who despised Kennedy with every fiber in their beings in 1962 but no one's going to finance an opera sympathetically exploring the motivations of Lee Harvey Oswald. Let's face it: There were those who wanted Martin Luther King dead.

Would anyone ever countenance a performance at the Met — or anywhere else — that might be described as a "searching, spiritual and humane work" studying the motives of James Earl Ray? So why do we need a tasteless work of "art" that allows a Palestinian terrorist project the murder of an innocent American Jew as anything other than what it is — evil?

Like DiMartino, Bozell and Graham provide no evidence that they've ever seen the work they're attacking. And like her, they ignore any expert analysis by anyone who has actually seen it. Thus, all they can be counted on for is mindless, ignorant bashing.

Speaking of which, DiMartino served up more of the same in an Oct. 23 follow-up MRC article. While devoting the vast majority of her article to critics of the opera, DiMartino acknowledged the critique of a Jewish rabbi who, unlike her, saw the opera and noted that it “certainly reflects the horror and criminality of the terrorists. It also reveals, through the terrorists' anti-Jewish canards, that anti-Zionism is equivalent to anti-Semitism.”

But then she complained that the opera does not explicitly condemn the Palestinians' violence: "And yet the writer John Adams, the Librettist, Peter Gelb and Liberal critics alike all praise the show for it’s [sic] non-bias. For the human element of both sides and the rationale for all involved."

Again, DiMartino showed she's so ignorant about her subject that she still can't get the names of the opera's creators straight. John Adams wrote the music, while Alice Goodman is the librettist. Gelb is the Metropolitan Opera's general manager and was not involved in the creation of the opera.

Her ignorance notwithstanding, DiMartino concluded by whining: "Moral cowardice dressed up as sophistication is a luxury afforded by the left’s grip on entertainment and the arts. In the real world, in which real terrorists murder wheelchair-bound seniors and fly passenger jets into sky scrapers, we don’t have that luxury."

It seems that DiMartino has decided she doesn't have the luxury to know anything about the opera she's bashing.

The deliberate ignorance spread to other MRC outlets as well. An Oct. 29 article by Lauretta Brown is devoted to recounting an interview CNS editor in chief Terry Jeffrey conducted with actor Tony Lo Bianco about "The Death of Klinghoffer."

Lo Bianco has no demonstrated expertise about opera, let alone Middle Eastern issues, so it's unclear why Jeffrey chose to interview him at length about this. Jeffrey never explained why Lo Bianco's opinion is so important.

Lo Bianco also gave no indication that he has ever viewed the opera in question, so he probably doesn't know what he's talking about.

Jeffrey, unlike his MRC colleagues, did admit he has never seen the opera -- which, of course, didn't keep him from misrepresenting its contents, asserting that the opera is "glorifying" the Palestinian terrorists' killing of Klinghoffer. Nor did his ignorance keep him from complaining that he can't comprehend how a work of art can allow a bad guy to justify his motives.

Jeffrey has apparently not seen any stage play or movie or TV show, or even read a work of fiction. Otherwise, he would know that motivation is a driving force of literature and theatrical works, including opera, and that villains can have motives just as protagonists do.

Experts who, unlike Jeffrey and Lo Bianco, have actually seen "The Death of Klinghoffer" agree that it does not romanticize terror. To claim that giving voice to a villain's motives equals a creator's approval of those motives is just another form of the Depiction-Equals-Approval Fallacy.

But, hey, who needs facts when you can demagogue?

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