Sunday, July 17, 2011

The New York Times & The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Anthony Alessandrini, “Palestine in Scare Quotes: From the NYT Grammar Book,” at Jadaliyya (July 12, 2011):

When I feel the need for my blood pressure to go up, I read the New York Times’ coverage of Israel-Palestine.

The extent to which the Times’ reporting (or misreporting) is deeply slanted, selective, and misleading has been thoroughly documented in Richard Falk’s and Howard Friel’s Israel-Palestine on Record: How the New York Times Misreports Conflict in the Middle East. Meanwhile, Electronic Intifada and Mondoweiss provide excellent ongoing critiques of the Times’ day to day coverage (see, for example, this recent piece by Ali Abunimah), and both were quick to report the seemingly obvious conflict of interest in the fact that Jerusalem Bureau Chief Ethan Bronner’s son is currently serving in the Israeli Defense Forces. The Times’ editor-in-chief responded to the revelation of this fact by dismissing its effect upon Bronner’s reporting, even going so far to suggest that his “personal ties in the region” help to “supply a measure of sophistication about Israel and its adversaries that someone with no connections would lack” (‘connections’ in this case seem to stand in for, say, ‘expertise’ or ‘knowledge’ — as though critics might suggest replacing Bronner with a journalist who knew nothing about the region). As’ad AbuKhalil has noted that Bronner and the Times, in covering the Goldstone Report, have “devoted more space to Israeli and Zionist criticisms of the Goldstone report than to the report itself,” while Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) has produced a number of exemplary media critiques of the Times, for example a blistering criticism of the paper’s coverage of Operation Cast Lead and its horrifying effect in Gaza, noting that when it comes to addressing the facts on the ground in Gaza, the Times’ fetish for “balance” and “equivalence” leaves readers with “the sense that the truth is too one-sided.”

Is it worth our while to give so much time and attention to the Times’ coverage? Of course, the Gray Lady is the object of criticism from both left and right, and a glance at the comments section for any Times article on Israel-Palestine reveals that there are as many readers who consider the paper to be a seething hotbed of Hamas apologists as there are those who see a pro-Zionist bias. There’s almost a jeering reflection here of the Times’ own ideology of “balance.” So don’t we face the danger of simply falling into this endless echo chamber of criticism? Furthermore, is it perhaps absurd to expect anything better from mainstream media in the U.S. when it comes to Israel-Palestine.

If I continue to think that it’s worth engaging with the Times’ coverage of Israel-Palestine, this may have something to do with my own work teaching at a public two-year college in the CUNY system. Many of my colleagues use the New York Times as a text in their classes; I don’t, but I certainly would like my students to become readers of the Times — skeptical, disturbed, deeply critical readers, but readers nonetheless. For better or worse, the paper continues to act as a sort of cultural and political touchstone for U.S. society (whether this will still be true in five or ten years, given the evolution of electronic media, is a different question), of the sort that I would like my students to have access to — at least in part because the stories of their lives, too, can be found refracted and distorted in the pages of the Times. [….]

The remainder of the article is here.

Further Reading:

· Dunsky, Marda. Pens and Swords: How the American Media Report the Israeli Palestinian Conflict. New York: Columbia University Press, 2008.
· Falk, Richard and Howard Friel. Israel-Palestine on Record: How the New York Times Misreports Conflict in the Middle East. London: Verso, 2007.
· Hafez, Kai, ed. Islam and the West in Mass Media: Fragmented Images in a Globalizing World. Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press, 2000.
· Hafez, Kai, ed. Arab Media: Power and Weakness. New York: Continuum, 2008.
· Hafez, Kai and David L. Paletz, eds. Mass Media, Politics, and Society in the Middle East. Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press, 2001.
· Karim, Karim H. Islamic Peril: Media and Global Violence. Montreal: Black Rose Books, 2000.
· Lynch, Marc. Voices of the New Arab Public: Iraq, Al-Jazeera and Middle East Politics Today. New York: Columbia University Press, 2007.
· Said, Edward W. Covering Islam: How the Media and the Experts Determine How We See the Rest of the World. New York: Vintage Books, 1997.
· Sakr, Naomi. Satellite Realms: Transnational Television, Globalization and the Middle East. London: I.B. Tauris, 2002.
· Sakr, Naomi. Arab Television Today. London: I.B. Tauris, 2007.
· Sakr, Naomi, ed. Arab Media and Political Renewal: Community, Legitimacy and Public Life. London: I.B. Tauris & Co., 2007.
· Shaheen, Jack G. Guilty: Hollywood’s Verdict on Arabs After 9/11. Northampton, MA: Olive Branch Press/Interlink, 2008.
· Shaheen, Jack G. Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People. Northampton, MA: Olive Branch Press, 2001.

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