Whose Opinion Matters? A Look at the New York TimesFebruary 20, 2013 11:35 by Yarden Frankl
Are major media giving undue preference to anti-Israel opinions? Is there an obligation to publish pieces representing both sides of controversial issues?
HonestReporting typically focuses on how Israel is covered in the news sections of the mainstream media, but opinion pages also greatly influence perceptions of Israel.
This is the first in a series of HonestReporting reports that will examine which opinions various news organizations decide are worthy of publishing. We start with the New York Times, where we found that the overwhelming number of editorials, columns and op-eds represent perspectives that object to Israel or Israeli policies. Any reader exposed to these views, almost exclusively, over the course of twelve months will undoubtedly form a perspective skewed with a bias against Israel.
The Role of Opinion in Journalism
Publishing opinions — whether their own or from outside experts — allows the media to expose the public to different ways of looking at and understanding current events. As long as it is clear to the reader that this is opinion rather than fact, editorials, columns and op-eds have an important role to fill in news reporting.
With that in mind, we reviewed a whole year’s worth of opinion pieces from the New York Times. We analyzed almost 100 editorials, columns and op-eds. Any opinion piece where Israel or the diplomatic process was the subject was studied. While one can argue the impact of a single article critical of Israel, there is no question that a year’s worth of material from a variety of different sources will make an impact.
Our conclusion? The New York Times publishes anti-Israel opinions far more than those supporting Israel or critical of the Palestinian Authority.
Editorials, written by a news organization’s own editor, reveal the opinions of the very people responsible for overseeing news coverage. In 2012, the New York Times published 20 editorials directly addressing Israel or an Israeli policy. All but 6 of these (80%) were critical. The vast majority either attacked Israel’s position on settlements or derided any suggestion of Israeli military action against Iran.
Some of these editorials:
Mr. Netanyahu’s Strategic Mistake: Israel is making a mistake by withholding tax revenue from the Palestinian Authority and moving ahead with new settlements rather than seeking to revive peace talks.
Wrong time for New Settlements: Claims that the findings of the Levy Commission on the legality of settlements threaten the chance for a peace agreement.
Israel’s Embattled Democracy: Makes the case that the departure of the Kadima party from the governing coalition jeopardizes Israel’s democracy.
While these opinions may have an appropriate place on the Times’ editorial pages, they hardly reflect the full spectrum of perspectives. Should there not also be editorials that address Palestinian unwillingness to continue negotiations? Shouldn’t the New York Times point out that Mahmoud Abbas’s term of office expired years ago, and there is no evidence of a commitment towards democratic values within the Palestinian Authority? The Times seems unwilling to expose its readers to these viewpoints.
Columns and Op-Eds
According to editorials published in the New York Times, the editors believe that Israel’s policy on settlements is responsible for the lack of progress in the peace process. They also believe that a military attack on Iran would be counter-productive. The op-ed section, which is opinion written by others, offers no dissenting views on these issues. Of the 63 columns and op-eds that the Times published, some 43 were directly critical of Israel, either in general, with regards to the settlements, or concerning Iran.
Buttressing the Times editors’ perspective that settlements are the chief obstacle to peace were “outside experts” whose op-eds repeated the arguments of the editorials. For example, in America’s Failed Palestinian Policy, Yousef Munayyer claims:
Palestinians’ patience grew thin as the number of Israeli settlers tripled between the beginning of the “peace process” in 1991 and today. Palestinians learned that the message they initially got about a peace process leading to statehood was either made in bad faith or an outright lie.
The author is identified as being the Executive Director of the Jerusalem Fund. Readers may not know that this advocacy organization’s mission is to “give voice to the Palestinian perspective.” Munayyer is a prolific author with a well documented history of anti-Israel bias.
An example of an op-ed that also supports the editors’ perspective that a military strike against Iranian nuclear sites would be a terrible mistake is Preventing a Nuclear Iran, Peacefully. Written by academics Shibley Telhami and Steven Kull, the piece argues that:
Attacking Iran might set its nuclear program back a few years, but it will most likely encourage Iran to aggressively seek — and probably develop — nuclear weapons.
Of course this view would not come as a surprise to readers of the New York Times since it is one of the most repeated opinions to regularly appear on the opinion pages.
And it’s not as if there are regular columnists working at the Times who clarify Israel’s perspective to readers. Roger Cohen and Tom Friedman, the columnists who write most frequently about Israel, are both clearly critics of the Netanyahu government and its policies. This comes through in the combined 22 columns the two penned during 2012.
The Times did not completely prevent dissenting viewpoints from appearing on the op-ed pages. Two articles gave views supporting Israeli policy. One argued for the legality of the settlements while a second took issue with those who have said that a military strike on Iran would not be effective. Yet these two articles hardly constitute “balance.”
Overall, 68 percent of opinion pieces in the New York Times in 2012 were critical of Israel while just over 2 percent were supportive.