The incident involving a live microphone that took place last week at the G20 summit in Cannes, France involving President Barack Obama, President Nicolas Sarkozy of France, and the prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, was an important revelation on several levels.
First, it revealed the true feelings that Obama and Sarkozy have toward Netanyahu, which is quite different from their public pronouncements and actions. No big surprise in either case. But the bigger story is how corrupt the media are to go along with the attempted deception.
What occurred is that the two presidents were speaking in what they thought was a private conversation. But what they overlooked was that the mics they were wearing were live, and a simultaneous translation of their conversation was being broadcast to the journalists outside the room. Those journalists were not to be given headphones until the session resumed, but a number of them had their own and were listening as a translator repeated the comments of the two men.
Initially, in the conversation, Obama was critical of Sarkozy for not letting him know in advance that France would be voting to allow the Palestinians membership in the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). After they were voted in to the organization, the U.S. Congress voted to cut off its portion of the funding for UNESCO, as it is required by law to do if Palestine is admitted as a member of any international organization before it reaches a peace agreement with Israel. Obama, whose spokesmen have made clear that he once again will ignore Congress and do what he can to help UNESCO, was also reported to have asked Sarkozy to try to help persuade the Palestinians to stop their bid to gain full UN recognition as a state.
Sarkozy then said of Netanyahu, “I cannot bear him, he’s a liar.” To which President Obama reportedly said, “You may be sick of him, but me, I have to deal with him every day.”
A number of journalists heard this, but did not report on it after staffers from Sarkozy’s office went to the journalists and told them the comments were meant to be private. According to reports, French media tradition requires journalists to honor that privacy, and in keeping with that tradition, they were asked to sign agreements to that effect. Apparently many of them complied, “due to the sensitivity of the issue.” But it was a French website, Arret sur images, that first reported the conversation. Reporters from Reuters and the Associated Press confirmed the account of the conversation. Sarkozy’s and Obama’s offices have refused to comment.
There are a couple of excellent articles about this, though not much in the mainstream media. One is by Arnold Ahlert in Jewish World Review, in which he writes that “it is hard to decide which part of this story is more revealing: the incident itself, or the subsequent reaction by the Fourth Estaters whose commitment to the standards of journalistic integrity—or perhaps more accurately JournO-listic integrity—seemingly never reach the bottom of an apparently bottomless barrel.” And to the issue of reporters agreeing, after the fact, to keep this quiet, Ahlert writes, “What reporter in his right mind would sign anything that prevents him from reporting on a story made available, not by subterfuge or anything else resembling illegality, but by the carelessness of two world leaders? Since when did a legitimate ‘gotcha’ moment become off limits to the press?”
In a piece on FrontPageMag.com, Joseph Klein discusses some of the history between Obama and Israel that makes Obama’s comments unsurprising: “…we all know what Obama really thinks. This is a president who has gone out of his way to visit Muslim countries in the same region as Israel, but has yet to visit Israel itself since taking office. Obama had no trouble bowing to the Saudi king, while insulting the Israeli prime minister at every turn.”
Added Klein, “Obama’s latest blast at Netanyahu recalls his snub of Netanyahu during the prime minister’s first visit to the Obama White House in March 2010. Obama presented Netanyahu with a list of demands, including a halt to all settlement construction in East Jerusalem. When Netanyahu resisted Obama’s charms, Obama picked up his marbles. He stormed out of the meeting and declared, ‘I’m going to the residential wing to have dinner with Michelle and the girls.’ Obama also refused the normal protocol of a joint photograph with the Israeli leader.”
As I detailed in a recent AIM Report, Obama has made the situation much worse through his heavy-handed demands, and an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians is more distant as a result. Obama raised the stakes enormously when he came to office in 2009 by demanding that Israel freeze all building of settlements, something they had never done before, and which had not been a pre-condition of the Palestinians. Then Obama pushed the 1967 borders issue, to make that a starting point for negotiations rather than one of many issues to be resolved through direct negotiations. And add to Obama’s missteps the so-called Arab Spring; Iran’s continuing efforts to possess nuclear weapons and to threaten Israel, both directly and through surrogates including both Hamas and Hezbollah; and the participation in the Palestinian government of Hamas, which controls Gaza. It is clear that Israel is less secure than at any time in recent years.
The timing of this incident has been bad for Obama. After barely a year in office, in April of 2009, the Republican polling firm McLaughlin & Associates released a survey that showed that only 42 percent of American Jews would vote to re-elect President Obama, after having won 78 percent of the Jewish vote in 2008. He has slowly won some of that support back by trying to convince Jewish voters that he really does support Israel. A key test in that process came in September when he reluctantly made it clear that the U.S. would veto the Palestinians’ bid for statehood.
But this recent “live mic” revelation will clearly set back the Obama PR campaign to win over more Jewish voters.
Roger Aronoff is the Editor of Accuracy in Media, and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.