More One-Sided “Reporting” from the NYT

Here’s the way the New York Times describes an ongoing controversy over whether the Berkeley Daily Planet is obsessively anti-Israel and perhaps anti-Semitic:

For the last six years, The Berkeley Daily Planet has published a freewheeling assortment of submissions from readers, who offer sharp-elbowed views on everything from raucous college parties (generally bad) to the war in Iraq (ditto).

But since March, that running commentary has been under attack by a small but vociferous group of critics who accuse the paper’s editor, Becky O’Malley, of publishing too many letters and other commentary pieces critical of Israel. Those accusations are the basis of a campaign to drive away the paper’s advertisers and a Web site that strongly suggests The Planet and its editor are anti-Semitic….

Still, she says she has no intention of stopping the publication of submitted letters, citing a commitment to free speech that is a legacy of the city where the Free Speech Movement was born in the 1960s….

Ms. O’Malley denies any personal or editorial bias, and bristles at the suggestion that she should not publish letters about Israel ….

“I have the old-fashioned basic liberal thing of believing that the remedy for speech you don’t like is more speech,” said Ms. O’Malley….

The paper has published unpopular opinions on other subjects, including a commentary from a local activist arguing that the murder of four Oakland police officers — none of whom were black — by an African-American parolee in March was “karmic justice” for past police killings of civilians. But such pieces are in a section of the paper that clearly states they “do not necessarily reflect the views of the Daily Planet.”

I’ve never heard of the Daily Planet, much less the relevant controversy, but the Times’ piece seemed so one-sidedly favorable to the Planet and its editor that it prompted me to look at John Gertz’s (referenced in the article) to see what the fuss was about.  The site is somewhat rambling and unprofessional, and unfortunately does not generally link to the full text of the op-eds, editorials, and letters it quotes from.

Nevertheless, if the Times is going to cover the controversy, you would think its reporter could at least be bothered to figure out what the controversy actually revolves around.  Below are some of the allegations I learned from the site that I didn’t learn from the Times, allegations that show, specifically, that the controversy is not, as the Times has is, about the Planet publishing uncensored letters to the editor that “do not necessarily reflect the views of the Daily Planet.”

“Becky O’Malley used to claim that, being a free speech absolutist, she publishes everything she receives.  The lack of pro-Israel pieces merely reflected the fact that she received very few.  This was a flatly false statement at the time she was making it, since we have seen quite a number of pro-Israel pieces, which were sent to O’Malley but which she declined to publish.

Then she changed her story.  She called some pro-Israel pieces “Islamophobic,” and she refused to run them for that reason.  She also claimed that pro-Israel articles would “bore” her readers…. When she does publish pro-Israel letters, she has been known to edit their most important sections out.  All of this is thoroughly documented elsewhere on this website.”

“The Berkeley Daily Planet’s own employees share an obsession with Israel, starting with O’Malley herself.  Contrary to O’Malley’s assertion that she does not write about Israel, to date (September 2009) the Berkeley Daily Planet has published 24 editorials written with Becky O’Malley’s own hand and which concern the topic of Israel or the Jews.  She has written on virtually no other part of the world, except, very occasionally on Iraq.”

“Conn Hallinan writes a regularly appearing foreign affairs analysis column for the Berkeley Daily Planet, under the byline, “Dispatches From the Edge.”  Hallinan is in fact from the very edge of the American body politic, being a lifelong Communist.   He is a contributor to various anti-Israel websites, such as  At least 15 of his columns to date entirely or mostly concern Israel, while many more bring Israel into articles written chiefly on other topics.”

Managing editor, Justin DeFreitas has published at least 13 cartoons concerning Israel or the Jews, but only a small handful about all the other situations in the world.  Additionally, there have been numerous “news” articles concerning Israel…. By admission and implication, the Berkeley Daily Planet, while obsessed with Israel, is only interested in one side of the story.

“O’Malley placed an anti-Israel article by well-know anti-Israel activist Henry Norr in the news section instead of in the commentary section where it belonged (August 30, 2005).”

“Both Becky O’Malley and Conn Hallinan (we will consider Hallinan in depth elsewhere) equate Israel and its supporters with the Nazis.  This in itself is a very strong indication of anti-Semitism, while Daily Planet cartoonist, Justin DeFreitas, has used imagery in depicting Israel that is indistinguishable from Nazi and neo-Nazi propaganda.”

Gertz also claims that despite its claimed commitment to freedom of speech, the paper has special rules that apply to Jews and Israel only, such that pro-Israel Jews (but no other ethnic groups) may be slurred on ethnic grounds in the paper. (The Times notes that Gertz was attacked in a letter to the paper for wearing the “funniest looking yarmulke,” but fails to note that Gertz points out that he doesn’t wear a yarmulke, making the remark not just a juvenile insult, but a juvenile insult of the sort someone who hates Jews would make, like saying “Obama wears the funniest looking dashiki I have ever seen”).  Gertz also suggests that the paper has a special letters to the editors policy re Israel, so that anti-Israel and even blatantly anti-Semitic letters from readers outside the Bay Area (one of which is noted in the Times) are published, but pro-Israel letters from local residents are “censored.”

In short, Gertz alleges not that the Planet is too indulgent in publishing crankish letters to the editor, but that it has an official editorial policy, adhered to by its editors, columnists, and reporters,  that is obsessive about and extremely hostile to Israel, to the extent that it sometimes crosses the line into overt anti-Semitism.

Again, I had never heard of the Planet, or O’Malley, or Gertz.  But it does strike me that if the Times thinks that the controversy over the Planet’s coverage of Israel and Jews is worth reporting, it should report both the allegations and O’Malley’s defense, not take the line that O’Malley is under seemingly unfair attack for adhering to free speech principles.

UPDATE: Bizarrely, two commenters below seem to think that my block quotations from Gertz’s site mean that I’m endorsing both his general attack on the Planet and all of the specifics in those block quotes.  I should think that it’s very clear that I’m just reporting, not endorsing, his allegations, because I think the Times’ story did not fairly portrary those allegations, and it’s easy to show that this is true by just reprinting them.  But just to be even clearer, the point of my piece is that the Times’ only provided O’Malley/the Planet’s side of the story, and failed to accurately portray Gertz’s allegations.  I did not address whether those allegations are sound in general, much less endorse any or all of Gertz’s specific language. (Further update: perhaps this will clear up the source of the confusion: the block quotes, including internal links, are all Gertz, no me).

ADDITIONAL UPDATE: I do not meet to imply that the author of this article, San Francisco bureau chief Jesse McKinley, is motivated by hostility to Israel or Jews.  Rather, I suspect a combination of sloppy, lazy reporting and the tendency of Times reporters to portray any case in which a media outlet is being criticised as involving trogrlodytes who don’t understand the value of free speech, and treating editors under attack as beleaguered heroes, almost without regard to the merits of the underlying controversy.

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