Somewhere, there’s a birdcage that needs lining:
Last week, Arthur Brisbane — the public editor of the New York Times – asked: “Should the Times be a Truth Vigilante?”
I don’t pretend to be an expert in everything published in the Times, but I am pretty familiar with its coverage of the Middle East. So if Brisbane would like examples of how his employer could “set the record straight” in a way that is “objective and fair,” here are examples related to news stories that appeared in the Times is 2011.
On January 1, 2011, Isabel Kershner reported “Tear Gas Kills a Palestinian Protester”:
A Palestinian woman died Saturday after inhaling tear gas fired by Israeli forces a day earlier at a protest against Israel’s separation barrier in a West Bank village.
A hospital director, Dr. Muhammad Aideh, said the woman had arrived on Friday suffering from tear-gas asphyxiation and died despite hours of treatment.
Kershner followed up a few days later with “Israeli Military Officials Challenge Account of Palestinian Woman’s Death”:
The army routinely fires CS tear gas against the protesters to keep them away from the barrier and to disperse stone-throwing youths. The gas is toxic and can be lethal in closed environments but is considered nonlethal in the open air. Israeli military officials said the gas used on Friday was exactly the same as that used every week.
A “truth vigilante” paragraph in either article would have read:
There are no documented cases of people dying from tear gas inhalation in open spaces as alleged by the Palestinian witnesses to the death of Jawaher Abu Rahma. This casts doubt on the veracity of their testimony that was reported uncritically.
Would that have been so hard? Evidently:
In March, following the slaughter of the Fogel family, Kershner reported “Abbas Condemns Killing of Jewish Family”:
The new focus on incitement against Israel, together with Israeli dissatisfaction over the Palestinian response to the brutal attack, seemed to pose a question about the Israeli government’s readiness to deal with Mr. Abbas as a serious peace partner — even though Mr. Abbas and Mr. Fayyad are widely considered moderates who have repeatedly said they would never resort to violence.
Mr. Abbas rejected the claims about incitement in mosques, telling Israel Radio that the Palestinian Authority mosques have adopted a unified text for sermons, written by the minister of religious affairs. He called for a joint Israeli-Palestinian-American working committee to investigate claims that Palestinian Authority school textbooks incited violence.
Two paragraphs of “truth vigilantism” would have stated:
Despite his carefully cultivated image as a moderate, incitement in the official Palestinian Authority media remains prevalent under the leadership of Mahmoud Abbas. Mr. Abbas himself has been documented publicly extolling terrorists and offering aid to their families.
Contrary to the assertion of the reporter, Israel’s current focus on incitement is not new. Prime Minister Netanyahu demanded an end to it during his first term as prime minister, as well.
If Abbas is so unfamiliar with Arab incitement to violence, he could read Palestinian Media Watch, MEMRI—or even our own Egyptian cleric series. Examples are legion.
After Prime Minister Netanyahu returned home from his trip to the United States — which included an address to Congress — Ethan Bronner of the New York Times reported: “Israelis See Netanyahu Trip as Diplomatic Failure”:
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel returned from Washington on Wednesday to a nearly unanimous assessment among Israelis that despite his forceful defense of Israel’s security interests, hopes were dashed that his visit might advance peace negotiations with the Palestinians.
The real dishonesty is in the headline: “Israelis” should have been modified with “some.” But a headline that read “Netanyahu blasted by Critics, Rivals” wouldn’t be news.
One paragraph would have dispelled the false impression:
The Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz – a publication known for being hostile to Prime Minister Netanyahu — reported: “Netanyahu’s popularity soaring following Washington trip”. This contradicts the headline of our article and the implication of the selective quoting of our reporter that Netanyahu’s trip to the United States was unsuccessful.
You can go ahead and think the Times is stupid, but willful ignorance is more than just stupid. It’s evil.