Maybe all the criticism of the New York Times’s coverage of Israel’s massacres in Gaza is having an impact. Today’s news analysis, by David Halbfinger, is strikingly more balanced than the paper’s previous reports. The article gives four paragraphs to Yousef Munayyer, who directs the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights, who points out, accurately, that:
This is not a battle that protesters are coming to with guns. They’re coming to it with their bodies and they’re confronting very real policies of violent repression. The protesters paid with their lives to get people to question whether these policies are justifiable.
In this article, the Times also stopped being the stenographer for the Israeli army. It notes that of the 20 Gazans killed by Israeli soldiers on March 30, the first day of the protests, “Videos showed that some were shot as they had their backs turned to the fence.”
Halbfinger also counters the Israeli contention that the Gazan demonstrators plan to invade en masse. He noted that this past Friday, April 6, although “. . . many protesters threw stones or rolled burning tires toward the fence, far more could be seen doing little more than standing around — chanting, singing and shouting.”
The analysis does quote a retired Israeli general warning darkly that the barrier fence is “not as strong and robust as people might think.” But then Halbfinger immediately adds his own rejoinder: Israel’s soldiers are still “aiming rifles at unarmed people.”
The article also adds credibility by quoting a genuine expert: Nathan Thrall of the International Crisis Group. It is an open secret in mainstream journalism that you can slant an article by picking whom to quote, and the Times has a proven record of digging up pro-Israel ideologues and stooges. Not Thrall.
Today’s news analysis is far from perfect. Here are a couple of suggestions for further improvement:
* The article does mention that Israel shot 7 journalists. The Times could follow the lead of the Washington Post and profile at least one of them: the 30-year-old who was killed, Yaser Murtaja, a remarkable young man whose courage and kindness touched both Gazans and outsiders who visited the occupied territory to report.
* The Times describes Hamas as “the Islamic militant group that rules Gaza and seeks Israel’s destruction.” Halbfinger is surely aware that Hamas has issued many statements strongly suggesting it is willing to compromise, including establishing “a truce.” Professor Jerome Slater is just one of the genuine scholars who have analyzed Hamas’s increasing flexibility. Halbfinger does not have to believe Hamas; he just has to report this side of the story alongside the bone-chilling warnings about Israel’s “destruction.”
Finally, regular readers of the Times’s coverage will gasp in astonishment at this long quote from the excellent Yousef Munayyer:
Frankly, I think [the protest inside the Gaza border] is Israel’s Achilles’ heel. And it’s very important in this moment for the international community to be supportive of the protesters. They’ve always said, ‘Abandon militancy, abandon violence.’ If the international community allows the violent repression of these protests without any real condemnation or intervention to stop the killing, it’s going to send a message that the world doesn’t want any Palestinian resistance — not violent, not nonviolent, not anything in between.
Hasbara Central is certainly in shock over the Times’s change in tone today. We will be watching the newspaper’s letters to the editor and elsewhere to see how Israel tries to counteract these signs of glasnost.