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Sunday, November 23, 2014

'NYT' Mainly Gets a Pass (Again) on Israel-Palestinian Coverage

Since I've praised her a hundred times on other aspects of her work as a fine NYT public editor, it pains me to observe that Margaret Sullivan has a very late, and very weak, column today on the paper's generally biased coverage of Israel-Palestine issues and conflicts--which she calls "solid and often excellent." 

Since our relationship with Israel is such a key part of our foreign policy--which in turns plays a key role in how we are viewed by so many a broad, in and out of the Middle East and other war zones--and the Times'  coverage therefore so important, I can't imagine why Sullivan would open with, "This is the column I never wanted to write."  Instead of, say, "This is a column that is way overdue" or even "This is one of the most important columns I may ever write."   

As she admits, it took her many, many months to even write this--despite the vast criticism of the Jerusalem bureau's awful (sometimes laughable, if one could laugh about this subject) coverage of the latest Gaza war this year.   She took so long to write anything she allowed so many excellent specific and timely examples of contested coverage during that war to pass.  So we are left with nearly worthless general replies by a Times editor along the lines of (to paraphrase) "we're not partisans, of course" and "we can't tell the whole history in a single article."

Her brushing off the clear bias of reporters in bureau--one was practically embedded with the IDF on many days during the recent war--is especially disappointing.   (See my links below.)  Then she wastes space on the paper responding to invalid complaints that it offers too much coverage of the conflict.

And while she denies she is embracing the view that "since we're criticized by both sides we must be doing something right" the column actually perfectly reflects that, as each complaint by a critic of Israel is always and equally balanced by a defender (the Times is just "a propaganda outlet for Hamas"). Yet she calls on the Times in its coverage to reject "symmetry."   

She does in the end offer a couple of useful suggestions on improvements--such as hiring an Arabic speaker for the bureau (yes, it has none!) and opening a Ramallah bureau (which the paper promptly rejects).

After all this, Times reporter/editor Dave Leonhardt tweets:  "When you think about it, this column is a celebration of 's great talent as a journalist." 

I don't have time today to critique fully so I'll simply link to some of my past posts and as the day goes on I will link to the response by others.

Some of my posts from a few months ago  here and here and here and here and here and here.

M.J. Rosenberg tweets:  "Hey, New York Times, why not cover Israel the way Ha'aretz does?"

Here's a comment at the Times on the Sullivan column:
You avoided hard facts here. I am a supporter of Israel, an ardent Zionist, but it is reckless to write about this conflict without stating up front in any article covering it, that the settlements in the West Bank are illegal, and that the increasing expansion of them is itself a war crime. The Times avoids that almost consistently and it contributes to a gross misunderstanding of the dynamics. You needn't be an anti Semite to acknowledge that Israel has become it's own worst enemy. It is difficult to demand justice when you are committing war crimes daily through this occupation.

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