March 26, 2014 15:58
by Yarden Frankl
We have documented how the vast majority of articles and editorials in the NY Times depict Israel in an unfavorable and often erroneous way. Yet the NY Times might argue that its coverage is negative because Israel’s actions and policies warrant such coverage. In other words, it would claim to be simply reporting the news rather than presenting a biased viewpoint.
So we decided to compare the NY Times’ coverage to that of the Washington Post and Los Angeles Times. If coverage of Israel by all three papers was close, then perhaps the NY Times’ argument would have merit.
On the other hand, if the NY Times presented a different picture of Israel than the other papers, it would add to the evidence that it reports from a biased, anti-Israel perspective. How else could one explain that the NY Times covers Israel differently to other sources reporting on the same events?
So what did we find?
In every category we measured, the coverage of Israel by the New York Times was far worse than that of the LA Times and Washington Post. Again, this is analyzing coverage of the same events in the same time period (January-February 2014.) We looked at four categories of bias: Fairness, Context, Terminology, and Selection of Sources. Some of the bias is very subtle, but when readers absorb news that is written in a bias way, it can’t help but impact the way they understand events.
Just one example paints the picture. We looked at what we refer to as “fairness.” By that, we mean what percentage of the articles concerned subjects that reflected negatively on Israel.
While only one quarter of the Washington Post articles and one third of those in the LA Times reflected negatively on Israel, an overwhelming 67% of articles in the New York Times did so.
Other metrics we measured showed similar discrepancies.
Percentage of articles that expressed criticism of Israel or depicted Israeli actions in a negative light.
In any media outlet’s reports on Israel, there will be some negative and critical stories. That’s to be expected since Israel, like all Western countries, is not perfect. However, there is no reason why negative stories should overwhelm all other coverage. They don’t in the LA Times or the Washington Post. Yet reporting on the same facts and the same events, the New York Times finds a way to report negatively on Israel two-thirds of the time.
For example, on January 10, the New York Times published “In Blow to Peace Efforts, Israel Publishes Plans for New Housing in Settlements.” Not only is the Israeli announcement labeled a “Blow to Peace Efforts” in the headline, but the article opens by referring to “a move the chief Palestinian negotiator condemned as a “slap” to Secretary of State John Kerry’s intense push for a Middle East peace deal.” Before the reader can actually get to the details, the Israeli announcement has been qualified in both the headline and the first paragraph.
The same day, the LA Times published an article on the same issue with the headline simply stating that “Israel announces more settlement construction.” The article opens and describes how the move drew criticism but was expected. The Washington Post had a similarly neutral headline. The Post did mention the “slap” reference, but only in the fifth paragraph. It is only the New York Times that elevates the quotation by Saeb Erekat to the first description of the Israeli policy. The way the NY Times reported on the Israeli announcement was far from an objective survey of the facts – it condemned Israel by using an opinion on settlements as a factual analysis.
Then there is the issue of opinion pieces. In the New York Times, 88% of the op-eds were critical of Israel. Most of the opinion pieces in the LA Times and Washington Post were either neutral or positive. Examples of opinion pieces critical of Israel or Israeli actions or leaders include “Israel Needs to Learn Some Manners,” “How Israel is Losing the Propaganda War,” and “The Third Intifada” (justifying the boycott movement.) The NY Times employs regular columnists like Tom Friedman who has shown a history of one-sided criticism of Israel and support for the Palestinian Authority.
Percentage of stories lacking important context that can explain Israeli actions.
The situation in the Middle East is complicated. When important context is left out, readers can get a biased view of what’s happening and what Israel is doing. In an article that mentions Jerusalem, stating “which Israel conquered in 1967? is not enough. This neglects to mention the city’s thousands of years of Jewish history or any context to the 1967 war – a war of defense that ended with Israel in control of Jerusalem. Implying that Israel is a “conqueror” lacks such context.
Settlements should not simply be labeled as “illegal under international law” without the acknowledgement that there is a wide range of opinion on this issue.
Likewise, in reporting on the Palestinian education system, to neglect to mention the specific, documented cases of anti-Israel incitement and glorification of terrorists in Palestinian schools would be to leave out critical context. Some Palestinian schools are even named after terrorists and there are murals honoring terror that Palestinian children are exposed to every day.
Yet, in “For Arabs in Israel, Curriculum Choice is Politically Charged,” the NY Times glosses over this information and instead uses quotations from Arabs stating how important it is to them that the Palestinian “narrative” be taught in school. They turn the story of Israeli funding for schools to use a standard curriculum into a conspiracy. One person interviewed says:
“I don’t want my son to be afraid to say he’s Palestinian.”
Another Palestinian says:
“The Israeli authorities “don’t only want to occupy the land, they want to occupy the minds of the people — like a brainwashing.”
There is no way that readers will be able to understand the curriculum debate when presented only with these types of opinion without reference to the history of anti-Israel incitement in Palestinian schools.
In “Abbas, Talking to Israeli Students About Peace, Finds a Receptive Audience,” Mahmoud Abbas is treated as a moderate leader willing to make serious compromises in the name of peace. While it has been well documented that Abbas has made fiery speeches in Arabic that contradict the image the NY Times paints, the article simply notes:
Batting away accusations by some Israelis that he says one thing in Arabic and another in English, Mr. Abbas said, “I speak the same language with everyone.” (Mr. Abbas addressed the students in Arabic; simultaneous translations in Hebrew and English were provided.)
But that statement has been proven to be false time and again. Why should the NY Times allow it to stand unchallenged?
Percentage of articles where inaccurate terms are used to Israel’s disadvantage.
When Hamas terrorists are labeled “militants,” their true nature is hidden. When terms like “right-wing,” “hawkish,” and “nationalist,” are applied to the Israeli government and not to Abbas’ Palestinian Authority (which has shown far less flexibility in the peace process), it gives the impression that the lack of progress is primarily due to the make-up of the Israeli government.
The use of these misleading labels is so common that many readers see nothing wrong with headlines such as “Israel Orders Airstrike Against Gaza Militant.” But certainly, a headline and article that describe a strike against a “terrorist” (and that’s what those who launch rockets at civilians are by any standard) would have a much different impact.
Unfortunately, this is an area where the Post and LA Times also have work to do. For some reason, when it comes to Israel, journalists will do anything to avoid using the dreaded “T” word. At least the Post mentions the rocket attacks in the headline “Israel fires missile at motorcycle rider in Gaza it says was responsible for rocket attacks.” Although the key words are in quotes, the LA Times uses “Israel kills two in Gaza strike targeting ‘terrorist operative.‘” It should be noted, however, that the LA Times ran the article with a completely inappropriate picture of the terrorist’s mother weeping at his funeral.
Percentage of articles that use direct quotations critical of Israel that are from dubious sources or are factually suspect.
While a direct quotation can bring clarity and insight to an article, there are many ways that quotations can instead distort an entire article. If the quotation is inaccurate or from a source that is biased or has a history of spreading false information, then it will do more to confuse the issue. Even when a quotation is balanced by another viewpoint later on, if it is more prominently placed in the article, it will also steer the reader to one perspective. This is especially troubling when dealing with people who live in a situation where saying the wrong thing publicly can lead to harm for themselves and their families.
In “Settlement News to Wait Until Kerry Leaves Israel,” we find:
Xavier Abu Eid of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s negotiations unit said that Israel was “under an obligation to cease all settlement activities, not for one or two days, but forever.”
But this is not true. So even if a high ranking official said it, the NY Times is under no obligation to publish it.
In the article “In West Bank Settlements, Israeli Jobs Are Double-Edged Sword” the NY Times quotes a Palestinian laborer who says:
“I feel like I’m not a human being — we are serving the occupation,” said Mr. Jalaita, 47, a father of five, two of them university students. “I am forced to work here because I have a house, I have a family. Tomorrow, if there is another place to work, if there is work in Palestine, I will do it.
But was this quote honest and truthful? Under the Palestinian Authority, one can be targeted for saying the wrong thing. Can we take this source at face value?
While the LA Times scored very well in the use of quotations, the same cannot be said of the Washington Post where the use of biased quotations was almost as bad as in the New York Times. In the article “Israel says Palestinian ‘incitement’ could undermine peace talks,” Hanan Ashrawi responds to Israel’s demand that the Palestinians stop incitement by saying:
I think that Netanyahu is desperate to find a way to scuttle the talks and blame the Palestinians, including clutching at straws and providing these fabrications.”
Yet incitement is a real issue and has been heavily documented. Why should the Post publish Ashrawi (who has a fairly consistent record of providing biased and inaccurate quotes to the media)?
The way the New York Times covers Israel displays a clear bias. We have analyzed its coverage on its own merits and compared to other leading American newspapers — that are not known for being pro-Israel. In all our studies going back over many years, it has shown a consistent bias, reporting negatively on Israel and Israeli actions. Negative stories far overwhelm positive ones, important context is lacking, misleading terminology is used, and quotations showing subjective bias influence readers to have a poor impression of Israel.
We intend to follow the New York Times, as well as the Washington Post and the LA Times throughout the year to see if coverage improves.
Ask the NY Times Public Editor, Margaret Sullivan why the paper’s coverage is so biased against Israel when compared with other reputable news sources. E-mail her at [email protected].