Censorship Interview Matt Taibbi

Meet the Censored: Katie Halper

The "Useful Idiots" co-host is dismissed from The Hill, which is a little too frank about the reason.

By Matt Taibbi / TK News

The longtime co-host of Useful IdiotsKatie Halper, made headlines last week, and not for any reasons she would have asked for. Katie was fired from a part-time hosting arrangement at The Hill’s Rising, whose editor told her an editorial critical of Israeli policies in Palestine was “not in our sweet spot of coverage.”

Rising grew a significant audience as an independent media vehicle between 2019 and 2021, when it was hosted by the left-right team of Krystal Ball and Saagar Enjeti. It has since undergone changes, piloted for a time by Intercept reporter Ryan Grim and Emily Jashinsky of The Federalist, and ultimately moving to a new incarnation featuring Briahna Joy Gray and Robby Soave. Part of the hosting job involves monologues called “radars.” Katie, who had a fill-in arrangement at the outlet for years, was let go over just such a radar. You can see it above.

The controversy began when Michigan Democrat Rashida Tliab spoke at an online seminar on September 20th and said, “It has become clear that you cannot claim to hold progressive values, yet back Israel’s apartheid government.” Tliab gave her talk in the wake of the shooting of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, who was killed in the West Bank City of Jenin in May. Abu Akleh’s family met with Secretary of State Anthony Blinken in July, and asked the International Criminal Court to open a case two weeks ago, simultaneous to Tlaib’s seminar.

Tliab’s comments inspired an immediate reaction from the Anti-Defamation League, which deemed them anti-Semitic. CEO Jonathan Greenblatt ripped Tliab for ostensibly telling “American Jews they must pass an anti-Zionist litmus test to participate in progressive spaces.” The ADL reaction got wide play on stations like CNN.

Katie’s “Radar” argues Tliab’s comments laid bare what has long been a source of tension among self-described progressives, who often tiptoe around the subject of occupied Palestine. As you’ll see above, she approached her subject with great care, leaning on statements from groups like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. Agree with her or not, her editorial certainly wasn’t fake news, or flippant, or gratuitous. It’s what the media business normally wants: a decisive, well-argued opinion.

However, the Hill thought otherwise, and what makes the situation unusual is a media company saying the proverbial quiet part out loud. When editors refused to run the “Radar,” Katie asked flat-out if the problem was the subject of Israel. Though there was some hemming and hawing (at one point she was told the problem was that the show’s focus was on domestic and not foreign policy, despite running content about Brazilian elections, Italy’s new prime minister, and multiple Ukraine pieces that week), eventually they just told her that was, in fact, the case. The next day, she was let go via a curt email ending, “We wish you all the best.”

Gary Weitman, the chief communications officer for Nexstar Media Group, which owns the Hill, declined to respond to queries from Grim, for a story in The Intercept. My own queries have so far not elicited a response.

Israel’s Palestine policies, which Human Rights Watch and others have long described as apartheid, obviously arouse very strong feelings. Still, a lot of media figures avoid the topic, as it can be a career-defining or at minimum a career-complicating decision to go there. The fact that Palestinian journalists and Palestinian news sites are often canaries in the content moderation coal mine, deleted or suppressed in creative ways by platforms like Facebook and Google, has added another layer of trepidation for editorialists. Episodes like this don’t help:

Matt Taibbi: What happened?

Katie Halper: I’ve been appearing [on Rising] for three years as a weekly guest. There are some weeks I took off when things were in disarray, but then the new iteration of the show came, and they asked me if I wanted to appear. So I started doing a weekly segment once again with them.

When you’re a host, you do these things called “Radars,” which are monologues. I came up with three ideas of radars I wanted to do. One was on Ukraine, one was on immigration, and one was on Israel. It’s funny, because had I done the other ones first, I’d still be working at the Hill. At least, until I did the Israel one.

Anyway, I did my Israel radar. I put a lot of work into it because I thought it was really important. You have to be thorough, because you get attacked, and there are so many watchdog groups that are dedicated to debunking anything or trying to debunk anything critical of Israel. So, I really wanted to make sure I dotted all of my Is and crossed my Ts. I also wanted to make sure it was good because it was my first radar. I put a lot of work into it, made sure that everything was linkable and also that I was quoting sources like the UN, the International Criminal Court, Israeli law, former Israeli prime ministers, and then Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela [who said, “Our freedom is incomplete without the Palestinians”].

I recorded it, and then as I was leaving, they had this thing where they had a pickup that they wanted to record, in which they had Robbie [Soave] repeat the Jonathan Greenblatt criticism that was in the video. Also they had him give a longer quote from Greenblatt, I think calling Amnesty International anti-Semitic.

I thought, “Okay, that’s weird but that’s fine, they can end it how they want.” I did a bunch of segments that day, because the radar is just one part of the show. As I was leaving, that’s when I got a phone call from a producer. The producers were supportive and they wanted to do the right thing, but they were saying that they weren’t going to run it.

Then for the next three days, we went back and forth trying to figure out some kind of compromise. For instance, maybe having an opposing view. I had been told that they have a new policy where op-eds on Israel were a no-no, both written op-eds, which The Hill does as newspaper, and also these video op-eds.

Matt: Just to back up, you tried to accommodate them?

Katie: I was not being inflexible. I really wanted to make it work. I like doing the show there. I like working in a professional environment, I like getting the makeup done [laughs], all that stuff. But to be totally sincere, my real concern was making sure that this story was out there, not just the Rashida Tlaib part, but in general.

Matt: And they told you no?

Katie: Right. I got a call telling me they weren’t going to run it, and that was it. There was nothing like, “We enjoy working with you, but…” Nothing like that. It was just: we’re not going to run it. Nothing about making it work in any way.

I asked the producers,  “Can I do it for my segment? “ In other words, could I do it for my regular segment, which I record every Thursday and is released over the weekend? I figured I could still talk about the story. The producers said,  “Check your email.” I checked my email and saw: we won’t need you to come in tomorrow, we won’t be needing you to do your Radar tomorrow. Please send all unpaid invoices. Best of luck.

Matt: There have been some crazy suggestions you did this intentionally, knowing you’d be fired. Do you want to address those?

Katie: Yes. That’s silly. I had been critical of Israel many times before. I thought the usual suspects would complain, or email, but I never thought I’d be fired over it.

Matt: Obviously people get fired all the time in media, and sometimes it’s because the bosses don’t like your opinions on this or that subject. However, it’s unusual, isn’t it, to have someone just tell you openly you’ve been let go over a certain subject?

Katie: Right. I mean, they liked me. My video segments did really well. They also were happy enough with my work that we had actually shot a pilot for a show idea that I had, that Briahna Joy Gray and I brought to them, which was like a leftist version of The View. We shot a whole pilot and people can see one segment of it but it was just me, Briahna Joy Gray, Rania Khalek, and Abby Martin and that did good numbers. So this was sudden.

Matt: We should just get this out of the way. Did you think you might have had a little bit of extra leeway with this issue?

Katie: Oh, yes. I also was surprised because, even though Jews have been canceled over this issue — for instance Norman Finklestein, who is not only Jewish but the son of concentration camp survivors, his academic career was ruined. Jews have a little bit more cover but not that much more. Then, of course, I get to live with the label of self-loathing Jew, as opposed to anti-Semite.

Matt: Isn’t this part of what makes this subject difficult? You don’t want to play into real stereotypes about Jewish control of media.

Katie: Yes. Not to do the, “As a Jew…” thing, but, as a Jew, it does really anger me, because I get so frustrated. It’s very hard to talk about this without playing into tropes.

Israel is still the third rail. There have been major shifts when it comes to public opinion, but that hasn’t been reflected in US policy. It is reflected in some members of Congress. You have the squad and you have [Minnesota Democrat] Betty McCollum, who has been really vocal on this issue.

Matt: Bernie Sanders.

Katie: Yes, Bernie — when it comes to the Senate, far and away, the most critical. He gets a lot of flak for that, but, again, I think that if he weren’t Jewish, it would be worse.

I think that the really important thing is that the AIPAC* position doesn’t represent all Jews. There are Jews who are very critical of what Israel does, but are still very committed to the state of Israel. There are Jews who are anti-Zionist, and want a one-state solution. There are Jews who want a two-state solution. I’ve been getting a lot of support from people who are Jewish. A lot of people have said,  “I have fought with friends and family over this.”

Matt: How would you advise that people understand this episode with Rising?

Katie: First I want to emphasize that I’m very lucky in several ways and that many people have had it so much worse than me. Obviously, if you’re a Palestinian reporter in Israel in those territories, it’s so much worse. Just look at what happened to Abu Akleh. So I don’t want people to get the wrong idea. I’ll just say anti-Semitism is a real problem, but I think that when people constantly call things anti-Semitic, or constantly conflate criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism, they’re trivializing real anti-Semitism. That’s what I hope people see.

Matt: Thanks, Katie. Sorry to hear about this.

Katie: Okay. Thanks, Matt.

*American Israel Public Affairs Committee

Matt Taibbi
Matt Taibbi

Matt Taibbi, author of the New York Times bestsellers The Divide, Griftopia, and The Great Derangement, was a contributing editor for Rolling Stone and winner of the 2007 National Magazine Award for Columns and Commentary.

17 comments

  1. Useful Idiots continues to be a better “show” than The Hill Rising… can ever be…the internal politics of Washington DC and the Hill is just another facet of settler colonialism…

    …and that is the issue… Palestine has long been a subject that is really difficult to get close to…it is too, too painful..!!..the level of violence and the abuse of Palestinian lives by Israel…the level of collusion with state actors like the UK and the USA…

    It’s settler colonialism that is the issue…and yes…when will Mexico claim back the occupied Mexico of California, Texas, Arizona and New Mexico…???
    When will indigenous people claim back the lands stolen from them by a barbaric, racist, greedy and ignorant group of European elite wanting to break the colony mould and start their own franchise without the colonial overlords??!!! Europeans have been committing piracy for 500 years….their vaunted civilisation a gift to the “savages”… so bend over and be grateful for the crumbs you receive from the Lord’s table.

  2. In the spectrum of those who speak out against the system, Katie Halper barely registers.

    Same with Matt Taibbi.

    I’m sorry for anyone who gets censored because censorship is wrong. But it’s hard for me to picture either of these two saying anything that would necessitate censorship or that challenges the system in any real way.

    1. The fact that they do raise censorship is clue of a deep level of control. Instead of taking Matt n Katie to task, best to take issue with Hill owner Nexstar Media Group,

  3. Not having owned a telly in nearly 50 years, I’m completely unfamiliar with Katie’s work. So I don’t know whether she thinks about Zionism more often than when it’s flashing a fin and beating people up as it just did to her. But if she does, I’d be interested to know what she, as a Jew, thinks about what the effect of Zionism and its supporters among Jewry will have on Judaism as a whole.

    There is an almost explicit demand that everyone knuckle under to the Zionists and their definitions of reality even when they are completely and clearly wrong by the common standards of the world’s people of good will.

    During the Middle Ages, and until quite recently, Jews were guilty by edict of the RC Church of murdering Jesus, the Christians’ Saviour. Since the RCC was the dominant religion in Europe back then, and had the secular power to execute heretics as well as the ecclesiastic power to excommunicate, it had to be taken enormously seriously. Operationally, one of the ways it was taken seriously was by trashing the Jews: stripping them of their wealth; expelling them from the country; even killing them, often horribly.

    During the ’30s, Zionists collaborated, or tried to, with the Nazis against the wellbeing of non-Zionist Jews. Several Zionist leaders, including iirc Ben Gurion, said that he would not save Jews, even children, unless to Palestine, because Jews were worthless except as they contributed to the takeover of Palestine.

    What will happen to Jews generally if the Zionists succeed in contaminating all Jews with the dislike and anger felt increasingly toward Zionists?

  4. I’m not sure how Katie gets the idea that the fraud Squad is speaking out against Israel. She must have missed AOC’s comical Sarah Palin-like word salad in which she avoided critisizing Israel and some of their toadies in New York. And Sanders? He criticized Netanyahu as right wing. Wow. Outside of that, he’s pro-Israel.

  5. This is what happens in the United States of America when one attempts to tell the truth – so much for “freedom of speech”!

    Thanks for speaking the truth Katie!

  6. Clearly there is fear of criticizing Israel in all aspects of society. Transphobic, homophobic, indicate fear of things. Anti-Semitic is being against. Many Jews in America support Israel right or wrong, believe Jews are God’s chosen people, and that all the goy of the world hate them. Half of the one percent of America’s richest are Jewish, so there is a lot of money and power backing these attitudes, enough to smear Jews like Halper and Finkelstein. Israel has had over half a century to solve the Palestine issue and has not, likely on purpose. Max Blumenthal tells stories of right wing Jewish groups offering free trips to Israel, encouraging Jews to intermarry. Larry David joked about anti-Semitism that ‘we won.’ Israel periodically ‘mows the lawn’, a euphemism for murdering Palestinians. American Jewish immigrants to Israel are stealing the homes of Palestinians. I applaud people who stand up against this barbarism. No lessons seemed to have been learned from the Holocaust.

    1. What we call the Holocaust doesn’t contain a lesson. It’s been a tool that Zionists/Jews used to defray the criticism of those who would criticize the treatment of the Palestinians.

  7. “Liberty is the possibility of doubting, the possibility of making a mistake, the possibility of searching and experimenting, the possibility of saying “No” to any authority— literary, artistic, philosophic, religious, social, and even political”. from the God that failed– Ignazio Silone.

    “Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And when you look long into the abyss, the abyss also looks into you” Nietzche

    These days it seems that governments have become shelters for the corrupt and the incompetent, including Israel. Clearly, they do not have the moral high ground. How many times will they be taught this lesson until they get it? Will they even survive the teaching?

    1. Speaking truth to power in the US and other right wing Governments is a good way to get crititized,imprisoned or executed.

  8. “Half of the one percent of America’s richest are Jewish”
    Hopefully some of the other Jews will come forward since they also know discrimination so well. Congratulations to Katie, Max, Noam, Norman etc.

  9. “I’ll just say anti-Semitism is a real problem, but I think that when people constantly call things anti-Semitic, or constantly conflate criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism, they’re trivializing real anti-Semitism. ”

    More to the point, “constantly calling things anti-semitic” is a calculated strategy to erase the very idea that Israel is or ever could be an apartheid nation, or that they are in any way treating the Palestinians abhorrently. They want to erase the very possibility that anyone could ever criticize their government, no matter how egregious the policy.

  10. Well elucidated! This top down oppression of free speech coupled with support by our own gvmnt is another mail in democracy claim.

  11. The Hill used to have a lively Disqus comment section, which was a good place to reach a wide audience.

    So they dropped it, just like the Atlantic — after it was purchased by Job’s bereaved billionairess — and Salon, another quirky place run by fading radical individuals, like this one.

    he left’s problem ios that we don’t have enough crazies — people who will scare the living shit out of Zionist/American imperialist publishers when they pull stunts like this one.

  12. ““It has become clear that you cannot claim to hold progressive values, yet back Israel’s apartheid government.””

    So, this entire story began with a 100% true statement. One that deserves to be repeated and reinforced.

    There is nothing ‘progressive’ about a far right wing government that runs a religious state that suppresses and attacks it own internal minority, is the world’s foremost rogue nuclear state, and bombs and attacks its neighbors on a regular basis. Thus, it is 100% correct that nobody who claims to have a progressive bone anywhere in their body can with any honesty support such a regime. Nor for that matter can they support a political party that supports such a regime, but Rep. Tliab apparently did not take this to the logical conclusion.

    From that people get attacked and people get fired.
    Welcome to America.

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