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Today’s lead ‘NY Times’ article on the Gaza massacre is a model of dishonesty

Media Analysis
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Today’s main New York Times article on Israel’s massacre of Gazan demonstrators — the lead front-page story in the print edition — is a masterpiece of deceit. The article, by David Halbfinger, employs the time tested tools of distortion, including classic Orientalism, dueling narratives, one-sided use of sources, and hiding the perpetrators behind passive sentences, topped off by outright dishonesty.

The distortion starts in the first sentence. “Across the Gaza Strip on Monday morning, loudspeakers on minarets urged Palestinians to rush the fence bordering Israel. . .” An Orientalist gem, insinuating that Gazan protesters are motivated by religious primitivism, instead of Israel’s crushing blockade and regular armed attacks.

“. . where they [the Gazans] were met by army snipers.” “Met” is hardly the appropriate word here, especially after another Times correspondent, Declan Walsh, has already described how far off Israeli snipers shot a woman in the stomach right in front of him on Sunday night.

“At least 58 were killed and thousands injured. . .” Passive voice; conceal the killers.

David Halbfinger (Photo: New York Times)

In paragraph 4, Halbfinger turns explicitly to dueling narratives. “For generations, both sides of the conflict have been locked in competing mutually negating narratives. . .” The implicit question: Who knows which side is right? This is post-modernism gone lethal, a view favored by Western liberals who sense something is terribly wrong but who are too cowardly to criticize Israel. Sometimes, one side of a dueling narrative is fundamentally true, and the other is a pack of lies.

Lower in the article are 4 short paragraphs reported from the standpoint of the Gazan demonstrators themselves.

But then immediately, a reverent respect for the Israeli military’s point of view. For 7 paragraphs, Halbfinger took dictation from the army’s mouthpiece, Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, who asserted that the Gazans were: “planting or hurling explosives”; flying flaming kites into Israel; trying to slip armed fighters into Israel to “wreak havoc”; launching an armed attack on the border fence; and firing “numerous shots” at Israeli soldiers — all of which amounted to an “unprecedented level of violence” — against Israel!

Next, stenographer Halbfinger writes that “Israel responded with gunfire and tear gas, and Israeli jets struck five targets in a Hamas military training facility. . .” This is Orwellian. Lt. Col. Conricus makes up or grossly exaggerates Gazan actions, and Halbfinger then calls Israel’s vicious attacks a ‘response’ to things that never happened.

Conricus also alleges that “one Israeli soldier was wounded by shrapnel from what was believed to be an explosive device.” Halbfinger fails to report that if true, this would be the very first injury to any Israeli whatsoever, whether soldier or civilian, in nearly 7 weeks of protest during which Israel has killed 107 Palestinians and injured another 13,000.

You have to pause to see what is happening here. Israel has just committed the biggest single massacre since its 2014 invasion of Gaza. The Times has 3 correspondents in Gaza, including the aforementioned Walsh, Iyad Abuheweila and Ibrahim El-Mughrabi — all of them doubtless risking their lives to report from amid the mass killing, and their shorter secondary article in today’s Times is helpful. But the paper’s main report gives them 4 puny paragraphs and devotes twice as much space to unsubstantiated claims from the proven liars of the Israeli military. This is truly taking “dueling narratives” to ugly ends.

Halbfinger does not quote a single human rights group, not even the respected Israeli organization B’Tselem, which has implored Israel’s soldiers not to fire at the Gazan demonstrators. Palestinians are dying by the dozens and being grievously wounded by the hundreds — Medicines Sans Frontieres said sniper bullets are leaving exit wounds the size of a fist — but Halbfinger did not let the Palestinians speak.

David Halbfinger is a skilled reporter and he must know exactly how he is distorting what is really happening in Gaza. We suspect he is under tremendous pressure — from the Israeli government, from his editors, from some of his readers. Until the pressure to tell the truth increases, he (and his colleagues) will continue to whitewash.

James North

James North is a Mondoweiss Editor-at-Large, and has reported from Africa, Latin America, and Asia for four decades. He lives in New York City.

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10 Responses

  1. Boomer on May 15, 2018, 12:18 pm

    all the news that’s fit to print

    • Boomer on May 15, 2018, 3:46 pm

      PS re Halbfinger’s story. My local paper is a Hearst paper, but it used Halbfinger’s story, as I assume many papers did around the country. Having read it again in print, I have to say it’s not as bad as my initial reaction. That’s not intended as praise, not a suggestion that it is an adequate report, just acknowledging that it’s not as ugly as the reality it reports. In a way, I guess, the artfulness makes it more insidious. I’m actually more bothered by what I’ve heard from Steve Inskeep, who did, to be fair, try to be fair to a point. But to an inadequate point.

  2. John O on May 15, 2018, 12:50 pm

    Here in the UK, the Daily Mail was even worse – its reporter describing the protesters as a “mob”.

  3. Maghlawatan on May 15, 2018, 1:54 pm

    The NYT will eventually change under public pressure. Zionism is not sustainable.

    Imagine 58 Jews murdered in one day. Imagine the outrage.

  4. JWalters on May 15, 2018, 6:41 pm

    Morning Joe does a great job of covering the unavoidable story of the contrasting celebration in Jerusalem and the Palestinitians dying in Gaza. Joe’s team covers the protests while avoiding the central facts about WHY Palestinians are protesting. Lots of hints and carefully chosen words. Lots of talk about Trump’s “lack of strategy”, as if that were the problem. The obligatory expressions of undying loyalty to Israel. Their bosses at MSNBZ should be pleased at their obfuscation. Real professionals.
    “War Profiteers and the Roots of the War on Terror”

    • Boomer on May 15, 2018, 7:50 pm

      I don’t see Morning Joe (or any cable), but what you say reminds me of the days of “why do they hate us? they hate us because we are free!”

      • JWalters on May 16, 2018, 1:35 am

        I occasionally check it out on the web. You’re right about the equivalence of tactics.

    • JWalters on May 16, 2018, 1:32 am

      Update – By this evening the Gaza massacre has disappeared from the MSNBZ shows. Rachel is back to focusing on Trump’s idiocy, with two stories tonight on his “inexplicable reversal of policy on a Chinese firm”, Israeli citizen Adam Schiff as chief speculator on that. No mention of Trump’s blunder in opening the US embassy in Jerusalem on Nakba (Catastrophe) day. THAT blunder is unmentionable. That might get into the Nakba, all those other massacres, Israel’s terrorism, political bribery & intimidation, its control of America’s press, etc.

  5. John Douglas on May 15, 2018, 11:08 pm

    “We suspect he [Halbfinger] is under tremendous pressure —” What pressure could be great when compared with what he is lying about. Might he get fired? If so he might be able to get a job where he’s required to tell the truth. Otherwise, great work, James North.

  6. Citizen on May 16, 2018, 9:25 am

    I have been following Morning Joe & Mika; JWalters’s thumbnail sketch of their facile coverage is accurate. Very frustrating.

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