On October 20th the BBC News website’s Entertainment & Arts page published an article by Jason Caffrey titled “Klinghoffer opera ‘must be performed’, says Met“. The article opens by informing readers that:
“The New York Metropolitan Opera is presenting controversial work The Death of Klinghoffer this week. Its general manager tells the BBC why he is determined to press ahead despite protests at its staging.”
And indeed, that is precisely what happens in this article: it is not an interview but an unchallenged monologue by the Met’s Peter Gelb with some stage setting in the form of background information provided by Caffrey.
Whilst Gelb is given a platform for the promotion of his claims that “it’s not anti-Semitic” and “[i]t does not glorify terrorism in any way”, Caffrey makes no attempt to challenge him with the rather obvious fact that many people disagree with his evaluation or to investigate Gelb’s basis for his claims. Moreover, readers are unable to judge the veracity of Gelb’s claims for themselves because at no point in the article does Caffrey make any attempt to explain what aspects of the production have prompted the allegations which Gelb denies.
Caffrey rightly informs readers that:
“The Met had originally planned to relay the revival – a co-production with the English National Opera (ENO) first seen in London in 2012 – live to cinemas around the world.
But after Jewish groups argued the screenings would stoke anti-Semitism outside the US, the relays were cancelled.”
However, he passes up on the opportunity to ask Gelb why he considers the live performance of the opera to be any less inflammatory than the proposed screened version which he did agree to cancel.
Caffrey also correctly states that:
“It is a piece that has attracted controversy ever since it was first staged in 1991, with some accusing it of glorifying terrorism and being anti-Semitic.”
Readers are not given any real insight into the Met’s reasons for choosing to revive that controversial mix of politics, art and entertainment at this particular juncture beyond Gelb’s assertion that “[i]t is a brilliant work of art that must be performed”.
The objections of the Klinghoffer family to the production are paraphrased by Caffrey in several short paragraphs.
“The piece has also prompted sharp criticism from Mr Klinghoffer’s family for the “exploitation” of his “cold-blooded murder”.” […]
“The Klinghoffers’ daughters, Ilsa and Lisa, issued a statement after seeing its first production.
In it they expressed their outrage “at the exploitation of our parents and the cold-blooded murder of our father as the centrepiece of a production that appears to us to be anti-Semitic”.” […]
“Gelb says he agreed to print a statement from Klinghoffer’s daughters in the opera programme, in which they lay out their objections to the piece.”
Readers are not told whether any attempt was made by the BBC to obtain a first-hand response from the family. Neither are they informed of the op-ed written by Lisa and Ilsa Klinghoffer the day before the publication of Caffrey’s piece in which their objections – details of which are ignored in this article – are clearly expressed. No attempt is made to bring the voices of those organizing the protests to BBC audiences.
The article closes with five paragraphs presenting Gelb’s view of the issue.
“Gelb, though, is adamant that the show will go on. “We will not bow to this pressure,” he says. “We can’t.”
The protests, he believes, are “a kind of knee-jerk reaction… fuelled by the very, very difficult times in which we’re living right now.”
The world, he says, is “more polarised than ever before” with “horrible events taking place on a daily basis”.
All the more reason, he insists, for “great art to be presented”.
“Just because a piece of art deals with a thorny subject should not mean that it should be suppressed.” “
The message which BBC audiences are intended to take away from this one-sided article is very clear. Whilst they remain none the wiser with regard to the actual substance of the objections to the opera, they have been informed in over 700 words that all those unexplained issues (including the ones raised by Mr Klinghoffer’s family) are dwarfed by “art”.