A war has begun for the soul of The New York Times.
People in the Palestinian solidarity movement criticize the Times all the time — we do; the glass is always half empty — but then so do supporters of Israel. The glass is also half-empty for them. And something you may not have noticed lately is that we are beginning to have victories. There are people at The New York Times who fully comprehend Israel’s crisis and want the newspaper to reflect that reality. They are digging in, and they are under attack. But they are having little victories.
— Jodi Rudoren is gone. She was the last New York Times bureau chief in Jerusalem and came out of a firmly Zionist background and could be counted on to offer a warm, fuzzy, pro-Israel slant to any story that was often embarrassing. Even the human rights atrocities of Gaza could be spun by Rudoren (“sliver of opportunity“). She has been replaced by Ian Fisher, who seems like a fair, open-minded reporter who is probably right now in shock at what he is seeing. His hunger strikers piece yesterday was very good. His piece on Banksy’s new hotel — Fisher’s emphasis was the “ugly” wall. Anyone who tells it like he sees it is going to help Palestinians.
— Yesterday the Times International edition ran Marwan Barghouti’s piece saying that Israel is a “moral and political failure.” We know we slammed the Times for burying this piece in the international edition in our dudgeon yesterday. But the amazement is that it ran at all — Barghouti’s explanation that 40 percent of the male Palestinian population has been in Israeli prisons, that his son jailed in the years that Americans go to college, and these prisons are the cradle of a global anti-colonial movement . . . Yes, the piece has come under enormous attack. Israelis including the prime minister are expressing outrage that it ran at all. To the point that the backsliders of the New York Times have appended a clarification filling in what Barghouti was convicted of. “The article . . . neglected to provide sufficient context by stating the offenses of which he was convicted. They were five counts of murder and membership in a terrorist organization . . .” Etc.
Actually, the many Nelson Mandela references were sufficient context; Mandela was also charged with terrorism, the ANC did use violence. But it is a measure of the war that the Times is in that Michael Oren became unhinged over the newspaper’s role:
Shame on NYT for printing libelous op-ed by convicted killer Barghouti, the Palestinian Dylann Roof. Americans would be horrified. So are we
Crazy, yes. But Oren’s right about one thing: the Times is now in play. And where it goes, everyone else will follow.
— Yes, you say: the New York Times hired neoconservative crank Bret Stephens as an op-ed columnist the other day, a great setback to the discourse; Stephens has a long track record of racist statements. But while editorial page editor James Bennet’s announcement was fulsome (“beautiful,” “profound,” “bravery,” “generous,” “thoughtful”), it contained this important signal:
You can expect other additions to our lineup in coming months as we continue to broaden the range of Times debate about consequential questions.
We read this as a sign that a pro-Palestinian columnist is coming, maybe even an anti-Zionist. Bennet knows exactly what Zaid Jilani is saying at the Intercept and what we have been saying here about the Times‘s conservative pro-Israel range. David Brooks’s son served in the Israeli military, for god’s sakes. The Times is getting battered by young people on the left for the fact that Roger Cohen and Tom Friedman’s weary Zionism is the best it has to offer to critics.
And bear in mind, if you’re pro-Israel, you have seen a deficit. Where is the firebreather to replace AM Rosenthal, William Safire and Bill Kristol? Well, you just got Stephens. The Times is in play.
— There is further evidence of the Times-at-war in the pushback to Stephens from within the Times ranks. (Michael Calderone reported on this at Huffpo.) Declan Walsh, the paper’s Cairo bureau chief, tweeted the following over the weekend:
Not cool: new NYT columnist
@BretStephensNYT once wrote about the “disease of the Arab mind”.
Max Fisher, the Times “interpreter,” promptly expanded the thought:
I initially assumed it was just a sloppy rhetorical flourish, but the digging in suggests the line was intended to mean exactly what it said
Bret Stephens became defensive about the criticism and slung some more anti-Arab horseshit.
There was a time when journalists at a major newspaper were careful not to criticize that paper publicly. Those days are over, thanks to the internet. Two Times reporters are peeved at the racism of a colleague. They surely speak for many more. (Some of whom read Yakov Hirsch pointing out this racism first, last year: “The Politics of Jewish Ethnocentrism.”)
There was a time when the New York Times was a reliable supporter of Israel. A.M. Rosenthal and Max Frankel begat Ethan Bronner and Jodi Rudoren. We say those days are coming to an end. The shift in American discourse on the Palestinian issue that Bernie Sanders reflected a year ago is happening deep inside the Times too. Younger writers are woke on this question. They’re not going to just shut up about it. The neocons are also digging in. But the coverage is getting better . . . the coverage is getting better. Glass half full.