James Fallows

James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.

James Fallows: Al dura

  • Ten Years Ago: The al-Dura Case

    What happened to a 12-year-old Palestinian boy? The controversy continues to rage.

    AlDura.jpeg

    I've been running a series of "Ten Years After" items on the political, financial, strategic, and moral ramifications of the American invasion of Iraq, which was in its early stages in April, 2003.


    As for me ten years ago, when the war began I was in Israel rather than Iraq. I was there to do interviews for a story that ran in our June, 2003, issue about the controversial and inflammatory Mohammed al-Dura case. He was the 12-year-old Palestinian boy who, according to widespread international news coverage, had been shot to death in 2000 by Israeli Defense Force soldiers, even as he huddled in terror behind the father who was trying to protect him. The picture of the doomed boy and his frantic father became a notorious symbol of Israeli cruelty; the image above is from a Tunisian postage stamp issued in commemoration of the killing.

    My story ten years ago said that exactly what happened to Mohammed al-Dura might never be known -- but that the prevailing story, that IDF soldiers had shot him to death, was very likely not true, since it was so hard to square with known forensic and physical evidence. The details are too elaborate to go through now, but you can follow them in the original article. 

    The controversy over the case has continued to rage, but I'll let you explore it on your own. If you search for the names Charles Enderlin, Philippe Karsenty, or Richard Landes, you'll be on your way; I'm not getting back into this. My 2003 article has come to occupy an awkward "false equivalence" middle ground in the dispute. Many people who believe the original story say that I've been duped by Israeli propaganda to exonerate the IDF. Many people who challenge the original story scoff at me for resisting their claim that the entire episode was faked for "Pallywood" propaganda purposes and that the boy was never shot. [Update To illustrate this point, and to give you a chance for full exposure to the argument and evidence in support of the "staged" hypothesis, you can read this response by Richard Landes.]

    Often, as I've argued in the false-equivalence chronicles, taking the middle ground is a way to evade the hard work of finding the real truth. In this case, my agnosticism comes from the murkiness of the evidence and the asymmetrical burdens of proof and disproof. It is much easier to establish that one hypothesis is false -- for instance, that IDF soldiers were in the wrong place to do the reported shooting -- than to prove that some other one is true. Similarly: I find it hard to believe that Lee Harvey Oswald acted entirely on his own in killing John F. Kennedy, but I have no idea what the "real" story is.

    I mention all this because there is an interesting new update in the Times of Israel on one of the people I spent time with ten years ago in Tel Aviv. He is Nahum Shahaf, and you will learn about him from the story. For the record, this new account refers to my own article in positive rather than the now-familiar derogatory terms, but I'm mentioning the story because Shahaf was one of the genuinely engrossing figures I have met along the way. (Another, whom I should regularly thank, was professor Gabriel Weimann of the University of Haifa, who helped me in many ways with this story -- but bears no responsibility for what I concluded or didn't.) See what you think.

    Stamp image from here.
  • More al-Dura: What the Israeli PM's office is saying

    According to this new article in Haaretz, the Israeli Prime Minister's office is out-and-out saying that the death of Mohammed al-Dura was staged. Lead of the Haaretz story:



    The September 2000 death of Palestinian child Mohammed Al-Dura in the Gaza Strip was staged by a Gaza cameraman, Government Press Office (GPO) Director Daniel Seaman said yesterday.


    Seaman made the comments in an official letter, representing the Prime Minister's Office, in response to demands he strip France 2 journalists of their GPO credentials. France 2 had broadcast the original footage of Al-Dura's death on September 30, 2000, the second day of the Second Intifada.



    The story does not reveal the basis of this conclusion; nonetheless, the announcement is news. As the story says about the official position until now:



    In recent years Israel has avoided relating to the incident, mostly because of the Foreign Ministry's recommendation that renewed handling of the affair would not help Israel's image in any case. In 2005, five years after the shooting, the Prime Minister's Bureau refused Seaman's proposal to publish an official stance denying responsibility for Al-Dura's death.



    This is a story worth following, especially with the unfolding legal developments in Paris (explained in Haaretz). Thanks to Moshe Alamaro for this lead.




  • Background on al-Dura: important web sites, pro and con

    Richard Landes, of Boston University, is (to my knowledge) the leading advocate of the idea that the death of Mohammed al-Dura was an elaborately-staged hoax. His blog TheAugeanStables is full of references, updates, videos, forensic reports, and other links supporting his argument that this was in its entirety a "Pallywood" production (Hollywood + Palestine, get it???). A related blog is here, and Natan Sharansky's essay about the latest twists in the case is here.


    Charles Enderlin, the long-time Jerusalem correspondent for the TV network France 2* has his own running commentary, in French, at the France 2 blog site. He is a central figure in the story because his initial reports established the idea that the boy Mohammed had been killed by Israeli soldiers. The Landes camp believes that the scenes in his report were staged, and they have pushed relentlessly for release of the full footage France 2 shot that day. Enderlin and France 2 have refused. As any of these blogs will explain in detail, several trials in France have ensued.


    My general experience in life makes me skeptical that large-scale conspiracies can be pulled off -- and kept secret for seven years, which is how long it has been since the original event. So based on what I have personally seen (not having devoted myself to the story for the last few years), I am not ready to say: Yes, for sure, this was a huge, big-lie, blood-libel, conspiratorial hoax. But Landes et al seem more fervent about turning up all available evidence and getting to the bottom of things than their antagonists do, which tells me something.


    * Yesterday I incorrectly wrote this out "France Deux."

  • News on the al-Dura front: Israeli finding that it was staged

    Four and a half years ago -- during the first weeks of the Iraq war, in fact -- I was in Israel learning about the case of Mohammed al-Dura. He was the young Palestinian boy who, according to worldwide press acccounts, was shot dead by Israeli soldiers as his father desperately tried to shield him, near the Netzarim crossing in Gaza:


    (Mohammed al-Dura instants before his death -- as conveyed in worldwide news reports and memorialized, like a Pieta, in stamps, posters, and even statues in many Arab countries.)


    Thanks mainly to evidence I was shown by Nahum Shahaf of Tel Aviv, a scientist who has devoted years to investigating the case, I ended up arguing in my article that the "official" version of the event could not be true. Based on the known locations of the boy, his father, the Israeli Defense Force troops in the area, and various barriers, walls, and other impediments, the IDF soldiers simply could not have shot the child in the way most news accounts said they had done.

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