CJR on the New York Times and Israel

I’ve blogged before about the New York Times’ coverage of Israel, so I thought I’d point out a piece in the Columbia Journalism Review by former Times reporter Neil Lewis on that precise topic.

Unfortunately, it’s trite, largely repeating what any fair-minded observer already knows: first, that the Times is not hostile to Israel, per se, but its reporters’ and editors’ views of “proper” Israeli policy have for decades leaned far to the “left” of actual Israeli policy, which in turn makes much of its coverage implicitly adversarial (and which also explains why folks that are truly hostile to Israel think that the Times is a Zionist rag); and, second, that in a David vs. Goliath story, reporters tend to strongly favor David. As the narrative of the Arab-Israeli conflict has shifted from little Israel defending itself against tens of millions of Arabs to stateless Palestinians demanding rights from Israel the advanced military power, reporters, including reporters at the Times, have a natural inclination to skew their stories to favor the Palestinian Davids, with much of the context of the conflict–including those tens of millions of neighboring Arabs still largely unremittingly hostile to Israel–often lost in the shuffle.

Meanwhile the piece misses some opportunities to point out various occasions where the Times’s has deviated from anything resembling fairness to Israel. For example, while Lewis notes that Deborah Sontag, the Times’s Israel correspondent from August 1998-2001, was considered even by her bosses at the Times unduly unfriendly to Israel, he then adds that the Times considered replacing her with Jeffrey Goldberg, a clearly pro-Israel (albeit, as one would expect, left-leaning) writer.

But he somehow neglects to note a much more salient point than the Times’s flirtation with Goldberg: that the head of the Times’s Middle East Bureau during Sontag’s time (and assumedly therefore Sontag’s direct supervisor) was a leftist ideologue named Chris Hedges. As I noted in 2006, we’ve since learned that Hedges thinks that Israel is far worse than either Hamas or Hezbollah. One wonders, in fact, how much of the bias many saw in Sontag’s writing was attributable in one way or another to Hedges. But my main wonder is how someone could write a lengthy essay on this particular topic, and discuss specifically the period when Hodges was in charge of the Times’s overall Middle East coverage, and never even acknowledge Hedges’ existence.

Correction: Hedges was the Times’s Middle East Bureau Chief, but earlier in the decade.
I’m not going to be available to moderate comments tomorrow, so comments will be open, but not indefinitely. But I stand by my general point, which is that even though Lewis acknowledges in the abstract that the Times’ coverage of Israel is often adversarial, he fails to point out ANY instances where agrees that the Times’s coverage was actually unfair.

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