The L.A. Times, Leon Klinghoffer, and the “Lunatic Lobby”

For twenty years, the L.A. Times has been tirelessly championing the controversial opera, “The Death of Klinghoffer.” It’s news to no one why the opera, based on the hijacking of the cruise ship Achille Lauro in 1985, is controversial. By the admission of its creators, the opera seeks to humanize the Palestinian terrorists who hijacked the ship while on their way to commit acts of terrorism inside Israel. And just as the cold-blooded Palestinian murderers are humanized, Leon Klinghoffer, the 69-year-old wheelchair-bound American Jew who was shot in the head and chest, execution-style, by the terrorists and dumped overboard, is held somehow culpable for the actions of his murderers.

This controversy has been covered many times, by many other writers. But as I was reading today’s newest fawning “Klinghoffer” review in The Times, I was struck by a strange sense of déjà vu. Not because the review is glowing – that’s to be expected. No, what struck me was a theme in the review that I was damn sure I had read in each and every other review, article, and editorial The Times has published about this opera over the past two decades.

Out of curiosity, I took a few minutes and looked up twenty-years’ worth of “Klinghoffer” pieces in The Times.

The first thing I discovered would be downright hilarious if it weren’t so tragic. Each time someone, somewhere, in the world has attempted to stage “Klinghoffer,” The Times review or article almost always leads off with how this particular staging is creating “anxiety” or “concern” because of some or another recent Islamic terrorist incident. Lockerbie, the first World Trade Center attack, 9/11, the Madrid train bombings, the London subway bombings, the Glasgow airport attacks, there’s always been something that prompts the Times writer to craft a sentence like, “The so-and-so opera festival’s directors are concerned about ‘Klinghoffer’s’ reception in light of the (fill in the blank with most recent attack).”

The Times has never been willing to admit that the world has an Islamic terror problem, so I’m sure the fact that each attempted staging of “Klinghoffer,” regardless of the year or location, created “anxiety” in light of a recent Muslim terror attack would be dismissed as mere coincidence.

The second thing I noticed – and here’s the déjà vu part – is that from its very first piece on the opera, The Times has been pushing the narrative that “Klinghoffer’s” desire to humanize the terrorists is the key to ending Middle East violence.

Music critic Mark Swed, in today’s Times:

The controversy was that Goodman’s spectacularly literary libretto permitted Palestinian principles to be expressed with the eloquence of great Arab poetry. The opera’s terrorists can display unspeakable brutality yet appreciate beauty. One important function of the work is to make you wonder where they came from and how they came to be the way they are….Once hooked, an audience might be enticed more fully into the work to figure out what it all means. We know by now that not figuring it out over the past two decades has done nothing to improve the situation in the Middle East.

Now let’s flash-back to an article from October 2001, in which Swed, a living caricature of an arrogant, elitist media hack, proclaimed that while we uncultured, ignorant boors were looking for “comfort” on the day after 9/11 (how DARE we), he went looking for “answers and understanding” (What a man! Where’s his Nobel Prize?):

But however valuable the soothing of wounded psyches may be, art can accomplish more. On Sept. 12, preferring answers and understanding to comfort, I put on the CD of “The Death of Klinghoffer,” John Adams’ opera about terrorists and their victims….By presenting the terrorist act from all points of view, it becomes not just a study in suffering, a painting in the simple strokes of the banality of evil, but a wrenching panoramic expression of the complex interaction of motives and actions. Although paid little attention in the past few years, “Klinghoffer” can tell us a lot about why the world is the way it is today, and our neglect of it, it is now clear, has been to our detriment.

Yes, indeed – if only we uncouth savages could understand the message of this fine work, we could finally solve the problem of Middle East violence and terror.

But wait…I noticed something else. In between today’s “the message of ‘Klinghoffer’ can end terror and bring peace” article, and the older “the message of ‘Klinghoffer’ can end terror and bring peace” article, there was another one by Swed, in 2009, in which he boldly proclaimed that, finally, a great leader had emerged on the world stage to put into action the themes from the opera:

The profoundly probing libretto by Alice Goodman demands that everyone take responsibility for the Middle East mess. The murder of an innocent invalid is unconscionable, and even those terrorists who opposed violence and the ineffectual ship’s captain, who tried to mediate, are culpable. But Goodman does not accept that as justification for the suffering of innocent Palestinians. Much in her libretto presages President Obama’s message to the Israelis and Palestinians last spring in Cairo, when he advocated mutual understanding.

Wait…I’m confused. In 2001, Swed claimed that by understanding and acting upon the message of “Klinghoffer,” we could help solve the problems of Middle East violence and terror.

And then, in 2009, by Swed’s own admission, the United States president actually did begin acting in accord with the message of “Klinghoffer,” on an international scale.

So…things ought to be better now, right? If not “problem solved,” then at least “solution within reach.”

But no. Today, Swed again asserts that the message of “Klinghoffer” can help us “figure out and improve” the situation in the Middle East, something he claims hasn’t been tried yet.

No acknowledgment of what he wrote about Obama in 2009. Because, if he did acknowledge that piece, he’d have to admit that the “Klinghoffer solution” was indeed tried, and it failed (as many of us predicted it would).

Mark Swed

When you continue advocating something for twenty years, even though it continually fails, that falls under Einstein’s definition of insanity.

In 2005, another Times hack, Michael White, blamed the controversy surrounding “The Death of Klinghoffer” on “the Jewish lobby” (interestingly, a search of The Times’ database shows many instances of Times writers condemning the “Jewish lobby” and the “Christian lobby,” but the term “Muslim lobby” has never been used in the pages of that newspaper. Not even once). If I am part of that “Jewish lobby,” what, then, is Mark Swed, the man who believes in advocating the same failed course of action, again and again, while expecting different results? Surely, according to Einstein’s definition, he must be a member of the “lunatic lobby.”

I want to make one more point regarding the lunatic lobby’s oft-repeated assertion that only by “understanding” the mentality and motivations of Islamic terrorists can we ever hope to end the violence. The absolute proof that this claim is empty and insincere is that whenever conservatives attempt to understand Islamic terror and violence by examining the Koran, the actual thing that Muslim terrorists cite as their inspiration, we are called Islamophobes and racists.

So, we’re supposed to try to “understand” Muslim terrorists, without ever mentioning or examining the book by which they claim to live and die. That’s because the lunatic lobby doesn’t want to actually “understand” anything. What the lobby wants is to deflect responsibility from the terrorists to the victims, by pushing the narrative that the terrorists are the way they are because of something we did to them.

Imagine if, in 1944, the U.S. military had commissioned a panel to attempt to understand the motivations of Japanese kamikaze pilots. And then imagine if the panel members were told, “You may not investigate or even mention the role that Shintoism plays in the actions of the kamikazes and their emperor-worship. You may only examine the motivations of the kamikazes from the perspective of what we are doing to make them upset.”

Lunatic, right? But, in 1944, the lunatic lobby had yet to gain full control over U.S. foreign policy (it already had a foothold in domestic economic policy, to be sure).

Like a medieval doctor who blames the death of a patient on too few leeches, Swed, and his fellow lunatic lobbyists, will continue to press for the “Klinghoffer solution” for years to come…regardless of the facts, in denial of past failures, and completely ignorant of history.

2 Responses to “The L.A. Times, Leon Klinghoffer, and the “Lunatic Lobby””
  1. gary fouse says:


    I was living in Italy when the Achille Lauro hijacking happened. I never thought I would live to see the day someone here would create such a work. I will be cross-posting this on fousesquawk.


  2. gary fouse says:

    Here is my own posting on this. Thanks, David for making me aware of this play (I never knew.)

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