I’ve always told my kids to read the New York Times (NYT) but after I resolved to study the Israel Palestine conflict this summer I’ve had major misgivings. The best resource on the NYT is a website produced by Barbara Erickson called TimesWarp, What the New York Times doesn’t tell you about Palestine and Israel. If you’re not familiar with it, you should be. Herewith an introduction.
Bay Area journalist, editor and former journalism professor (UC Berkeley) Barbara Erickson initiated TimesWarp, in response to what she knew to be a particularly outrageous example of pro-Israeli bias at the NYT when its article on the 2012 Israeli Palestinian cease fire omitted the actual terms of the cease fire agreement. Other NYT articles had also omitted multiple examples of Israeli incursions prior to the Israeli November 2012 assault on Gaza. Erickson’s ire at the NYT stemmed in part from personal knowledge gained as a member of Friends of Sabeel-North America (FOSNA) and Jewish Voice for Peace, in addition to which she had travelled to the West Bank on several occasions.
With the encouragement of family and friends, including her husband, FOSNA Executive Director and Board Chairman, John Erickson, TimesWarp was up and monitoring NYT pro-Israeli bias by the end of 2013. Erickson decided to focus on the NYT because of the range of its influence, both in the halls of power and on other US media. Local Bay Area mid-East news coverage, for example. She was encouraged by the identity of some of TimesWarp’s early subscribers, among them Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, an organization that shares the goals of TimesWarp albeit it on a scale that exceeds TimesWarp’s resources, which are solely the time and expertise of one individual-Barbara Erickson, along with a few trusted experts who may read her copy in advance of a TimesWarp posting.
Erickson’s first postings in November and December (2013) challenged NYT reporting:
– that deflected blame from Israel in the suspected poisoning of Arafat by polonium; –
– that ignored or otherwise downplayed twelve Palestinian killings (and other Israeli violence against Palestinians) preceding a Palestinian sniper attack on an Israeli worker that Israel used as a pretext for an artillery attack killing a Palestinian child in front of her home;
– and that portrayed an attempted Israeli land grab from the Bedouins in the Negev as a missed opportunity for the Bedouins’ social betterment, rather than a resettlement reminiscent of US native Americans being forced into reservations, with the NYT even going so far as to label as “long-contested” the Bedouins’ centuries old (obviously pre-Israeli) land claims in an area the Bedouin are now limited to using 5% of, with Israel “developing” the rest.
Also among TimesWarp’s initial posts was a piece on the NYT blackout of bestselling author Max Blumenthal’s Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel, a much discussed (except in the NYT) account of Israel’s “racism, paranoia and the slide toward fascism in Israel,” in stark contrast to its otherwise effusive reception of another more pro-Israel book that came out around the same time whose name escapes me.
NYT coverage of the latest Israeli assault on occupied Gaza and the events leading up to it has given TimesWarp much to comment upon. Erickson is a professional who likes to deal with facts. So, a July 29 Jodi Rudoren page 1 article bemoaning Israelis’ deep psychic fear of being attacked at night in their beds by terrorists popping up out of tunnels (one of three such articles “in as many weeks”) prompted Erickson to ask just how many such attacks have been reported. Hmmm. Apparently none at the time of the TimesWarp posting, while on the same day the undisputed Israeli army shelling of ten Palestinian children on a (tunnelless) beach appears in the third paragraph of a page 6 article. The Israeli psychic fear of being murdered in their beds reminds me of a similar fear experienced by southern slave owners and actualized in Nat Turner’s deeply terrifying (to white southerners) slave rebellion. Chop, chop, slash- with axes.
Earlier in July 2014, one of Erickson’s most widely read posts, in part because it was re-tweeted by British MP George Galloway, questioned Hamas’ connection with the July kidnapping and murder of three Israeli students-a connection which Netanyahu said Israel “knew for a fact” existed and which was repeated in multiple NYT stories as Israel swept into the West Bank picking up hundreds of Palestinians. The kidnapping was a heinous crime, but the prime suspects it turned out were members of a violent clan whose ties with Hamas are unclear and that probably acted without Hamas’s knowledge. Erickson writes, “Readers should expect more. They deserve a story that takes the new developments head on and challenges the official narrative of Hamas culpability. Times reporters should be asking tough questions of Netanyahu and other officials: How long have they known that members of the Qawasmeh clan are the prime suspects and not Hamas? In the light of this latest information, what is their justification for detaining more than 300 persons affiliated with the movement?” The NYT continues to muddy the role of a single family clan’s role in the kidnapping and cling to the Israeli claim of a Hamas connection. TimesWarp continues to call them on it.
That the NYT has a pro-Israeli bias is neither up for debate nor surprising. TimesWarp’s Home Page has a section (Testing for bias) which hyperlinks to two quantitative studies of NYT under-reporting of Palestinian and over-reporting of Israeli deaths, one published by the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School of Communications and the other by If Americans Knew, two of many interesting TimesWarp hyperlinked sources for truth seekers to explore.
What is surprising, at least to me, a lifelong NYT subscriber, is the breathtaking depth of this bias (as well as how they go about it). The chief culprits are readily identifiable: Jerusalem bureau chief Jodi Rudoren (and former bureau chief Ethan Bronner); reporter Isabel Kershner; and, of course, NYT management itself.
Helpfully, TimesWarp identifies alternative media, among them this site, Electronic Intifada, the Ma’an News Agency and the International Middle East Media Center–resources that provide “daily reports from unofficial and on-the-ground perspectives.”
A non-exclusive list of other important sources that Erickson uses as a corrective to NYT reporting on Palestine/Israel are Richard Silverstein’s Tikun olam because of his well placed sources and his ability to break stories; and Vermonters for a Just Peace’s Occupation News which contains a daily summary with hyperlinks to literally hundreds of articles from a huge range of news outlets covering Palestine/Israel. See also, Democracy Now!
That these alternative media outlets exist is really good news given the NYT bias chronicled in TimesWarp. Erickson prefers to focus on hard news as opposed to opinion. And, as TimesWarp demonstrates, it’s not like the information isn’t available, it’s just that you won’t find it in the NYT. Or there is mention in the pages of the NYT (usually somewhere not in the front page) of a significant piece of news reporting, but it ends there. That was the case with the story about the Qawasmeh clan, which appeared in the NYT.
I spoke with Erickson, who credits her experience teaching journalism at Berkeley with enabling her to spot bias by omission. This is not to say that she’s unwilling to give credit when they get it right or almost right. Erickson points out that misleading headlines or early paragraphs are sometimes corrected by the NYT’s own reporting if one is willing to read the article through to the end. Erickson sees TimesWarp in part as a guide for NYT readers such as myself who know something’s going on but don’t know what it is; NYT readers who may have a general sense that what they’re reading is biased but maybe lack the expertise to know how the NYT does it or to find the real story.
She concedes that the NYT gets it from the other side: it is harshly criticized by pro-Zionist apologists for a brutal Israeli regime.
I contacted Jodi Rudoren who emailed back that she was not familiar with TimesWarp’s work so she could not comment on it. But based on links to TimesWarp posts that I sent her, she cautioned, “Those who try to apply a scorecard to individual stories will always be disappointed in our work because it is not constructed that way, and indeed because the issues are too complex to be reduced to that kind of scorekeeping. Given the hundreds of articles and thousands of words we publish about this place each year, it is also problematic to pick out a few and extrapolate some bias from them.”
I’m not convinced: I think TimesWarp reporting on the NYT illuminates the warping of reality by the Israeli government and the NYT’s contribution to it. And the issues aren’t that complex. I hope Rudoren starts reading TimesWarp regularly. Just today she has an article about unrest in occupied East Jerusalem in which she explains a Palestinian’s reference to the First and Second Intifada’s by saying, these were “the waves of violence that plagued Israel in the late 1980s and early 2000s.” That is as Israel-centered as you can get.
In response to my question of what would make the NYT better at covering Palestine/Israel, Erickson points to a totally Israel-centric mindset in the NYT Jerusalem bureau which can be fixed only through the hiring of journalists who do not share this mindset and new people in New York City responsible for editing, headlines, and picking photos, the photos being a particular source of concern to Erickson (and maybe the subject of a future TimesWarp post?). Erickson pointed me to the NYT photo of a menacing armed fighter wearing a scarf rather than a helmet which accompanied a story about the recent cease-fire as a notable contrast to other media outlets which published photos of families, very happy families, emerging from weeks and weeks of deadly bombardment. As for a little diversity hiring at the NYT, TimesWarp links to a US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation initiative to have readers contact Joe Kahn (Foreign Editor), Rick Gladstone (Foreign Desk Editor and Reporter) and Margaret Sullivan (Public Editor) at the NYT about the paper’s miserable coverage (excepting pieces by Anne Barnard and Tyler Hicks) of this most recent invasion of Gaza and demand that the NYT station a full-time reporter in the Occupied Palestinian West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and Gaza.
Or you could just cancel your NYT subscription. Other TimesWarp readers have. I’m thinking about it. If their coverage of Israel/ Palestine is so bad, what’s the point of spending all that money for the rest of it?