I knew AIPAC sent US politicians on "educational" junkets to Israel, the main purpose of which is to ingratiate and propagandize, but I did not realize they sent reporters on the same junkets.
I've never written about foreign policy, and despite Mearsheimer and Walt's book, I don't have any reason to think of AIPAC as different than any other lobbying group. Still, after a friend gave them my name and the invitation [for all expenses paid trip to Israel] came, I struggled over whether to accept such a lavish gift from an organization with something to sell. I consulted with other journalists, most of whom asked only one question: How could they get on the next AIPAC trip?
So, is there any conflict of interest created from such trips? Well, what do they involve?
Flying business class meant free cocktails in the elite-passenger lounges at Logan and in Newark, hot towels and cold drinks fetched by the flight attendant, and a seat that folded into a bed. I slept the nine-hour flight to Tel Aviv. AIPAC handlers met us at the airport to smooth our passage through customs. A luxury bus drove us through the stunning countryside to Jerusalem, where we checked into the five-star Inbal Hotel in the heart of the city.
Sounds pretty posh, I would have to say. Could this affect her judgement going forward?
I called John A. Bargh, a Yale psychology professor who studies nonconscious influences on behavior, and walked him through the details of my junket. Did he think I was swayed by the experience? "Of course you are," he said. "You'd almost have to be. And you can't know it."
A key tool in the subtle art of persuasion, he said, is reciprocity: offer someone a pleasant experience or gift and they feel an almost irresistible obligation to return the favor. The norm of reciprocity cuts across every culture, and the value of the gift is irrelevant: a cup of coffee is as effective as an extravagant trip. Another tool is to provide friendship and human connection - it's inevitable that a bond will develop when you spend substantial time with someone, especially in a foreign place, where you depend on them.
So, did it work?
At the end of a week, what had AIPAC gotten for its investment in me? Did I come back rabidly pro-Israel? No. Did I come back significantly better informed and far more interested in the Middle East? Absolutely. I am reading a daily newspaper, Haaretz, online and hope to return to the region.
Was I swayed by AIPAC? It is hard for me to say. I don't think so. Of course I don't.
Yes, and no.
We are dealing with an incredibly effective and aggressive organization, but you probably knew that.
This quote is also informative:
This summer, it hosted 40 US congressmen from both parties. And although mainstream news organizations still bar their staff reporters from taking paid junkets, others aren't shy at all. Recent tours have included staff from "The Daily Show" and reporters from Spanish and African-American media. "There's hardly a journalist left in D.C. who hasn't taken this trip," one AIPAC representative told us, with only some sense of overstatement.
Clearly, the mainstream news organizations understand the conflict. Too bad our politicians don't.Link