A Year of Biased Reporting: Why the New York Times Won

When HonestReporting readers were asked to choose the “winner” of the 2013 Dishonest Reporting Award, the prevailing displeasure was best summed up in a one-line email:

“The NY Times bludgeoned Israel all year.”

Much of the resentment focused on the paper’s op-ed section. A steady parade of commentaries disdainfully dismissing Click here for the runner up Dishonest Reporting Awards Israel’s Iranian anxieties certainly cemented the Gray Lady‘s award in the latter part of 2013. This wasn’t surprising. HonestReporting’s long-term study of the Times’s opinion section found similar problems in 2012.

But the NY Times built up a bona fide case to win this award even without the issue of op-eds.

The paper added a known anti-Israel conspiracy theorist to its editorial board, glorified stone throwers, raised questions about the way it corrects the record, and finished the year with a flourishing photo failure. None of the 2013 runners up such as the BBC, CNN, Haaretz, and others, came close to matching the tensions the Times stoked.

To be fair, there were some bright spots. Perhaps the Gray Lady’s finest moment, as one reader asserted, was when Memri brought to light a video of Mohammed Morsi making anti-Semitic comments. The story didn’t get the widespread attention it deserved until the New York Times picked it up, ultimately leading to a White House condemnation and public scrutiny that Morsi couldn’t ignore.

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The Times is America’s most influential newspaper, partly because of its reach, and partly because of its reputation for journalistic excellence. With more than 1.8 million subscribers, 4.7 million followers on Facebook, and another 10.4 million on Twitter, the New York Times is the second most-visited news site in the world.

Here are the reasons HonestReporting readers flagged the New York Times for this year’s Dishonest Reporting Award.

New York Times

 Why The New York Times Won the 2013 Dishonest Reporting Award


Glorifying Stone Throwers

Not once, but twice, the Times put stone-throwing Palestinians on a glowing pedestal. First was a March New York Times Magazine cover story about weekly protests at Nabi Saleh (accompanied by a photo slide show titled The Resisters).

The author of the piece, Ben Ehrenreich, had previously smeared Israel in a vile Los Angeles Times op-ed comparing Israel to apartheid South Africa (South Africa was judged more benign) and labeled Gaza as a “139-square-mile prison camp.” And in a Harper’s dispatch, Ehrenreich imputed that Israel was waging a “water war with Palestine.”

As for the story itself, the specific criticisms were simply too lengthy to detail here. Arnold Roth had a compelling personal connection to the article. See also Haaretz columnist Chemi Shalev and Commentary editor Jonathan Tobin.

New York Times Magazine

Asked what got him curious about Nabi Saleh, Ehrenreich said afterwards:

I wanted to understand what would motivate people to keep fighting, to keep demonstrating every week, knowing exactly what the consequences would be and how much they stood to lose.

Memo to Ehrenreich and the Times: the weekly clashes in places like Nabi Saleh and Bilin are scripted for the media‘s consumption.

In August, the Times published a second look at rock throwing — this one about boys from the village of Beit Omar. How did bureau chief Jodi Rudoren explain the violence?

Here in Beit Ommar, a village of 17,000 between Bethlehem and Hebron that is surrounded by Jewish settlements, rock throwing is a rite of passage and an honored act of defiance.The futility of stones bouncing off armored vehicles matters little: confrontation is what counts.

HonestReporting reminded the Times that Throwing Stones is An Act of Violence. Rudoren followed  in the footsteps of Amira Hass, whose stone throwing apologia earned the Haaretz columnist her own Dishonest Reporting award too.

Questioning Israel’s Right to Exist

Nobody questions, say, Japan’s right to exist. Denying Russian people their self-determination is anti-Russian. And invalidating inherent Irish national aspirations won’t score points among Irish people anywhere in world.

Yet the New York Times saw fit to publish a hefty 2,052-word commentary by Professor Joseph Levine in March arguing that it’s not anti-Semitic to question Israel’s right to exist. A Jewish state, asserts Levine, is “undemocratic,” while the trappings of statehood aren’t a big a deal anyway.

Professors Ian Lustick and Joseph Levine

Professors Ian Lustick (left) and Joseph Levine (right).

But the same rights the philosophy professor denies Jews are granted to the Palestinians. Self-determination? Jews need not apply.

A second op-ed calling for Israel’s demise was published in September. At face value, Professor Ian Lustick appeared to be calling for a one-state solution.

But a closer reading showed Lustick went beyond that to deny Jewish national aspirations. Is there any room for Jewish national expression in the one-state fantasy Lustick describes from the thin air of his ivory tower?

In such a radically new environment, secular Palestinians in Israel and the West Bank could ally with Tel Aviv’s post-Zionists, non-Jewish Russian-speaking immigrants, foreign workers and global-village Israeli entrepreneurs. Anti-nationalist ultra-Orthodox Jews might find common cause with Muslim traditionalists. Untethered to statist Zionism in a rapidly changing Middle East, Israelis whose families came from Arab countries might find new reasons to think of themselves not as “Eastern,” but as Arab.

Lustick’s response to critics was reminiscent of William Shakespeare soliloquy: A tale full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

Both Lustick and Levine are Jewish, but neither represents any mainstream Jewish views. Fancy academic titles don’t make up for the shortcomings of their arguments. But what does all this say about the Times?

On the next page:

A conspiracy theorist joins the editorial board, fumbling a photo flub, and more.

Continues on page 2

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