By Ricki Hollander
New York Times journalists are extremely protective of their newspaper’s reputation as the “paper of record.” So when faced with criticism of their reporting or accusations of journalistic bias, they tend to reject it, discrediting their critics as insignificant right-wingers.
Last year, for example, former New York Times correspondent Neil Lewis wrote a lengthy piece for the Columbia Journalism Review on “The Times and the Jews,” discounting criticism of the newspaper’s Palestinian-Israeli coverage as “ill-founded,” “toxic” and “based on misunderstandings of journalism.” He marginalized the critics as likely to come from a small group of Orthodox Jews who support Israeli right-wing policies condemned by the majority of American supporters of Israel. Such critics, he insisted, “can easily find what seem to them errors in emphasis or tone on any individual article.” But any fair analysis should view coverage “as part of a larger thematic narrative.”
Well, the results of just that sort of fair analysis were recently released by the Committee for Accuracy in Middle Eastern Reporting in America (CAMERA). And they provide detailed evidence that exposes the newspaper’s biased coverage and disproves Lewis’ dismissive arguments.
CAMERA is a media-monitoring organization whose 65,000 members represent a wide cross-section of the American public — Jews and non-Jews, secular and orthodox, liberal and conservative — motivated by the desire to see accurate and balanced coverage of Israel and the Middle East. The study, “Indicting Israel: New York Times Coverage of the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict,” empirically examines coverage over an extended period of time, July 1-Dec. 31, 2011, and finds a “larger thematic narrative” of continued, embedded indictment of Israel that pervades both the news and commentary sections of the newspaper.
On the news pages, where readers expect objective and balanced reporting, criticism of Israel was cited more than twice as often as criticism of the Palestinians. The Palestinian perspective on the peace process was laid out nearly twice as often as the Israeli perspective. Vandalism by a fringe Israeli group and IDF military defensive strikes were emphasized in numerous articles, often with headlines highlighting Israeli actions, while Palestinian aggression and incitement was downplayed or ignored. Israel’s blockade of Gaza was usually mentioned without context. And Israel’s resort to force aboard a Turkish ship attempting to break the blockade was frequently discussed and faulted without referencing the precipitating attacks on Israeli soldiers by pro- Palestinian activists.
The theme of faulting Israel was amplified on the editorial and op-ed pages to one of Israel as a malignant force in the region. Despite the newspaper’s purported commitment to expose a diversity of opinions, three quarters of all opinion pieces on the conflict were devoted to denouncing Israel’s leaders or policies, while none were devoted to condemning Palestinians. Even Israel’s tolerance toward gays was condemned as a ploy to support human rights abuses against Palestinians.
Consider the following: When a group of Israeli teenagers were arrested in August 2012 for beating an Arab youth unconscious, The New York Times ran two separate front-page, above-fold articles about it. Both articles focused on the negative features of Israeli society that the incident was said to reveal.
Contrast that with the Times’ coverage, 17 months earlier, of an assault by Palestinian teenagers on an Israeli family. The victims, including three young children, were brutally slaughtered in a bloody attack that included slitting the throat of a 3-month old as she lay asleep in her crib. The New York Times chose not to cover that gruesome event on the front page, nor to comment on what the incident reveals about Palestinian society and the pernicious effects of incitement to kill Israelis by the Palestinian leadership.
The above incidents occurred outside CAMERA’s study period but provide a cogent example of how the Times adjusts its focus to reflect a concept of newsworthiness that is shaped by its institutionalized worldview.
It follows a long history of similar distortions, dating back to the1930′s when The New York Times downplayed the Nazi persecution, and later, genocide of European Jews in order to avoid being seen as a “Jewish” newspaper.
While the guard and motives at the Times may have changed, the framing of news events has not. According to the former ombudsman, Arthur Brisbane, the current worldview at The New York Times is one of “political and cultural progressivism” that causes some topics to be treated “more like causes than news subjects.”
CAMERA’s study provides objective documentation that demonstrates exactly how The New York Times’ abandoned journalistic standards to turn coverage of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict into the supposedly “progressive” cause of indicting Israel.