Category Archives: Editorialized Journalism

A Public Service: Dissecting a ‘NYT’ Article on Israel

{Previously published in The Jerusalem Report (The Magazine of The Jerusalem Post}

At first glance, the New York Times news article “For Netanyahu and Israel, Trump’s Gifts Kept on Coming” by Jerusalem bureau chief David Halbfinger seems a straightforward account of US President Donald Trump’s actions that favor Israeli interests. This was in distinction from his predecessor Barack Obama’s actions that favored the Palestinians and were simpatico with the Times’ perspective.

So instead of analyzing a biased news story of which there have been many in the Times, I chose one that most would consider balanced at first blush, especially if you trust the Gray Lady as the ultimate “paper of record.” This exercise in critical thinking is one every reader should perform on all media outlets as an antidote to the pervasive editorialization found in purportedly straight news stories. Hopefully, it will educate those few of us left who yearn for a return to old-time journalistic standards. There is a vast gulf between unbiased reporting and what we experience today.  

Consciously or unconsciously over the last 30 years, The New York Times has moved from traditional news reporting to advocacy journalism, an editorialization of the news to provide its readership with their “correct” understanding of the story. This does not happen all the time, but it is not confined to their Middle East coverage. Many Times investigative pieces provide an invaluable service and are factually in context. Unfortunately, the growing instances of advocacy journalism have crossed a dangerous line, necessitating a warning label be affixed to their news stories – danger, you are reading an opinion, not news.  

Finding the truth amid the Times cherry-picked facts and using like-minded “experts” who reinforce their viewpoint without a counterbalanced perspective requires readers to digest their “news” with a jaundiced eye. This applies to many journalistic outlets from Right to Left. The problem with the NYT is that far too many people read the Gray Lady’s news reporting expecting the unvarnished truth. Therefore, analyzing an article by its Jerusalem bureau chief, one that doesn’t reek of prejudice at first glance, would be a service to their readership.  

The Times’ sad state of affairs was best exemplified this past summer when eight hundred Times staffers’ “safe space” was invaded by an op-ed of US Sen. Tom Cotton, whose opinion was supported by 57% of the American public. Yet they demanded not only a retraction but more consequentially, were allowed to cross the line into the supposed independence of its opinion pages. Never mind this violated the Times and journalistic standards, all because it offended their social justice sensitivities.  

Initially, the Times management defended its publication. Still, it quickly succumbed to the “wokesters” cancel culture, culminating in firing the opinion editor, a person of the left who just wasn’t progressive enough. Shades of the French Revolution’s Jacobins, as the incident was described as an “open revolt” by the Daily Beast.  

The resignation of Times columnist Bari Weiss, who dared not to toe the Progressive Palestinian grievance narrative of her news and opinion colleagues, was the most visible sign of the paper’s rot. The Times editorial and newsrooms’ toxic atmosphere chased away an essential voice from its opinion page, which is precisely what the Times cancel culture set out to do.  

“For Netanyahu and Israel, Trump’s Gifts Kept on Coming” is a catalog of American actions that support the Times thesis that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wagged the American dog. A legitimate opinion, but it is not news; it attempts to influence the reader’s understanding of the information, which is called opinion writing. The description of Trump’s actions as “noteworthy gifts… long list of prizes… nothing short of lavish” are adjectives to advance an opinion. Suppose the article valued Israel’s contribution to US security interests. In that case, it could have used words like shared values, justified and warranted.    

The article says, “Palestinians consider East Jerusalem, which Israel seized in the 1967 war, the capital of their future state.” The reader would be better served if the next sentence said, “Palestinian intentions regarding a division of Jerusalem may be suspect, as they refused to accept East Jerusalem as their capital at Camp David, Taba, and from Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, instead their response was violence or silence each time.”  

The piece continues, “Seeking to compel the Palestinians to drop their demand for millions of their refugees’ descendants to be able to return to what is now Israel – a demand Israel has always rejected – the Trump administration cut all funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, which provides aid to Palestinian refugees across the Middle East.” This appraisal omits mention of the Taylor Force legislation that compels the US to end funding because the Palestinian Authority transfers hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars to convicted terrorists and their families, some with American blood on their hands. Surely the writer is aware of this, but “the only news printed is one that fits.”  

The Times’ approach to Palestinian refugees conjures up images of desperate stateless people without explaining that Palestinian refugees are treated differently from every other refugee. In effect, it advocates for a Palestinian position instead of the more challenging task of explaining the refugee situation’s complexity. It never attempts to explain the vast majority of Palestinian refugees do not satisfy the international standard (UNHCR) applied to other refugees in the world. Then the Palestinian claim that descendants of refugees should have refugee status would evaporate. Nowhere does the Times explain the contradiction of counting millions of Palestinians who hold Jordanian citizenship as active refugees.  

Opinions belong on the op-ed page under the bylines of the usual Israel critics, Roger Cohen, Paul Krugman, Peter Beinart, or the Times editorials.  
On the issue of isolating Iran, Halbfinger stated, “Mr. Trump’s ordering of the killing Iranian General Qassim Suleimani eliminated one of Israel’s most feared adversaries.” No explanation that this person was one of the world’s most notorious terrorists; instead, this is phrased in such a way as to make it appear that this targeted assassination was a “gift” for exclusively Israeli interests.  

Even worse, it perpetuated the antisemitic stereotype of Israel wagging the tail of the American dog. It omitted that Soleimani had American soldiers’ blood on his hands, providing improvised explosive devices to Iranian supporters in Iraq that maimed and killed hundreds of Americans. Through his Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps., he was complicit in the attack on the American Embassy in Baghdad and on a US base, killing an American civilian.  

As a final example, the article says, “the Trump administration has increasingly equated anti-Zionism with antisemitism.” That is undoubtedly true, but again, the writer insinuates that this is a Trump-invented fantasy. Our State Department and many other democracies use the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism that unambiguously equates anti-Zionism with antisemitism.  

Sometimes photo-journalism is the most striking way to reveal overt prejudice in a news article. The section dealing with “Pressuring the Palestinians” shows a photo of terrified Palestinians on the Gaza border fleeing Israeli tear gas. The image has not been doctored, but does it tell the truth? Hardly. Nowhere in the article does it even make the most meager attempt to explain why Israel’s army released tear gas at these Palestinians. To the Times writers, this manipulation allows them to convince their readers that Israel is the brutal occupier who, without cause, attacks Palestinians as a matter of policy. Anyone familiar with the history knows that the anti-Israel leaders have for many years orchestrated photo-ops to give the appearance of Israelis bullying helpless Palestinians.  

There is no mention of Palestinians sending incendiary balloons into Israeli civilian areas or that the Palestinian people elected a terrorist Islamist government, Hamas, that supports these attacks and whose goal is to destroy Israel. Not addressed were the thousands of rockets over the past 20 years launched to terrorize Israeli civilians, who live with constant traumatic stress, while the Palestinians use their people as human shields.    

A few years ago, I spoke with one of my friends, a chairperson of an important committee in the US House of Representatives. This person is kind and fair, but seemed always to have a limited breadth of facts on the Middle East. When I asked where they got their news coverage, I was told the Times. I tried to explain that I too read the Times as an essential read. Still, I also need to read many other sources of information to form a fully balanced and comprehensive picture of the day’s news.  

So few of us today are willing to go outside of our echo chambers to discomfort ourselves with other “facts” that would challenge our preconceived notions of what happens in the world. A good part of the American populace intuitively knows that today’s news is not balanced. A recent Knight Foundation/Gallop poll revealed, 86% of Americans say that “news organizations advocate political viewpoints rather than report the news free of bias.”  

This is not healthy for American democracy or any democracy. Israel too has its issues with its advocacy journalism masquerading as news. Just open up Haaretz, where I asked a former editor if he was troubled its news articles were opinion. He didn’t deny it, but said if I didn’t like the news, read another paper. This is the paper English-speaking journalists in the Middle East read.  

It is time for the American and Israeli public to acknowledge we are part of the problem. We are so lazy, gravitating to news and social media sources that make us feel better and make us worse citizens. Once we acknowledge that, whether you are a Democrat or a Republican; a Likudnik, Lapid, Sa’ar, Bogie or Blue and White supporter, you need to prioritize making an effort to be better informed. Let your friends know that we are being duped, and demand a change from our media in how we are presented with news.  

The writer is the director of MEPIN, the Middle East Political Information Network, and regularly briefs members of the US Senate, House, and their foreign-policy advisers.

Editorialized news reporting is worse now than the Bari Weiss controversy

In 2016, James Rutenberg, the media reporter for The New York Times, wrote, “You have to throw out the textbook [of] American journalism…. You would move closer than you’ve ever been to being oppositional. That’s uncomfortable and uncharted territory for every mainstream, non-opinion journalist… by normal standards, untenable.” 

That was written in response to the nomination of Donald Trump. You can despise Trump for fabrications and divisiveness, but is throwing out journalistic standards the way forward?

For the uninitiated, this is known as “advocacy journalism” or “editorialized news reporting.” Opinion with the goal to convince is what is expected in an editorial or opinion piece, but it crosses a line when it is routinely found where news is supposed to be reported, and it is a profound danger to our democracy.

As Gerald Baker of The Wall Street Journal wrote regarding today’s news media, they are “more entrenched and [have] more enduring power to reshape the way we talk and think about politics than Mr. Trump does. We are facing nothing less than a concerted, sustained and comprehensive effort to re-educate Americans in service of a radical ideological agenda.”

Opinion writer and editor Bari Weiss’s resignation from the Times spotlighted the illiberalism and workplace intimidation at the paper of record. That should, in and of itself, frighten all fair-minded people, especially because her colleagues called her a “Nazi” and “racist” and accused her of not being progressive enough, writing as she did about antisemitism and Israel without the required level of self-loathing.

So, while Ms. Weiss’s description of a toxic environment in The New York Times’ opinion and editorial section is deplorable, the elephant in the room that must not be missed is the activist agenda of the news side of the paper, where like-minded writers and editors inject their high-minded opinions into their news stories. 

You see it in the headlines, choice of stories, the photos accompanying an article blatantly meant to influence you, and the placement of a story to advance their perception of right-minded thinking. These manipulations have been going on for decades, perpetuating a fraud upon the public who thought they could blindly trust their news sources to be unbiased.

This is in part the reason why many pro-Israel Times readers canceled their subscriptions over the past two decades. The Times has been fixated on Israel, with a disproportionate number of news, opinion and editorial pieces written in relation to the minuscule size of the country, most of a highly critical nature. The profound human rights abuses around the world, especially a stone’s throw from Israel, receive proportionally much less coverage.

Seventeen years ago, the Times created the position of a public editor to address the concerns of its readers. Its first editor wrote a column titled “Is ‘The New York Times’ a Liberal Paper?” His answer, “Of course it is.” 

Thank you for the honesty. Yet in 2017, the publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. eliminated the position, claiming it was not needed anymore in the age of social media. So much for critical self-examination.

SO IS news-journalism’s goal in the 21st century to inform the public as objectively as possible, despite acknowledging our innate biases, or is it OK to consciously write copy as a public relations agency would to create an impression in a news story that corresponds to the moral compass of the writers and their colleagues?

Weiss brought a fresh viewpoint to the opinion section of the Times, and was eager for a vigorous debate over the merits of her ideas. She didn’t expect intimidation, delegitimization, and rank illiberalism from her colleagues in both the news and opinion sections, who, like our so-delicate college kids, take offense at challenging ideas, demanding a safe space from any differing or uncomfortable thought.

I was not surprised by Weiss’s allegations. Over the years I have spoken to former and current editors and writers at both the news and opinion desks at the paper of record, who have told me that working at “The Gray Lady,” if you are perceived to be balanced or sympathetic to Israel, you are marginalized. These advocacy news writers were nurtured in universities where political diversity is absent, and where advocating for the victim and oppressed is their holier-than-thou mission.

In November I spoke to students at Berkeley who asked me what newspapers and media sources they should read to get a fair and well-rounded perspective. I told them they must read many sources, as almost all news departments are mission-oriented these days. More disturbing was that the students told me that in their classrooms they were afraid to express a point of view different from their professors, risking ostracism or a bad grade.

For some, the uproar over journalism is much ado about nothing. The new editor-in-chief of The Jewish Week, Andrew Silow-Caroll, who has taken a decidedly left turn in his opinions compared to his predecessor, Gary Rosenblatt. Silow-Caroll, in part in an attempt to attract younger readers, wrote a spirited defense of American journalism in the aftermath of the Bari Weiss affair. 

The New York Times’ opinion section is a singular, and highly influential, showplace of journalism, but it tends to overshadow the more typical work of the thousands of reporters, editors and broadcasters who are trying to provide us with the diet of information that is essential to a healthy, functioning democracy.” 

If only it were so.

Less generously, Silow-Caroll seems to blame Weiss for being thin-skinned. 

“She courted and welcomed controversy, and often her words and assignments seemed calculated to provoke exactly the reactions she now decries.” 

That is some spin, blaming the victim!

Ms. Weiss confronted the worst of progressive journalism at the prestigious New York Times, but she can hold her own. But it is the readers of the paper of record whom I worry about, as well as the students whose professors practice activism over academics, radicalizing the young people who are our future journalists, making them believe it is OK to put the stamp of your opinion in a news article. That is the greatest threat to our democracy.

Bottom line to news reporters: No matter how just your personal causes, to be respected as a true journalist, put facts in one place, opinion in another.

The writer is the director of MEPIN (Middle East Political Information Network). He regularly briefs members of Congress and their foreign policy aides, as well White House advisers. He is the senior security editor for the Jerusalem Report/The Jerusalem Post, and has written for The Hill, JNS, JTA, RealClearWorld, the Forward, and Defense News.

Editorialized Journalism:  Don’t Always Believe Your Eyes

{Previously published in The Jerusalem Post}

Media coverage – or lack thereof – leaves readers on their own.

Last week, 14 out of 15 member-states of the United Nations Security Council condemned the United States for its recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. This was no surprise, as the UN’s cultural agency UNESCO has said Israel has no legal or historical rights anywhere in Jerusalem.

In response to US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the Palestinian Authority and Hamas jointly called for rage and violence.

So the international photojournalist community, which is opposed to Israel’s being in charge of the city, needed to provide their news organizations with pictures crafted to create the impression that Israel was taking Jerusalem by force, brutalizing its non-Jewish residents.

As former Associated Press reporter Matti Friedman wrote in The Atlantic after the last war in Gaza: “The Western press has become less an observer of this conflict than an actor in it.”

How is it, you might wonder, that photojournalists are always at the right place at the right time – at “peaceful” Palestinian events that turn into premeditated confrontations – in order to create pictures of aggressive Israeli police officers appearing to attack innocent victims? Since the Jerusalem announcement, far too many photos have been captured showing lines of photojournalists who just happen to be present to photograph the responses of Israeli security forces to “peaceful” protests.

Palestinians and their international supporters have been known to provide news organizations with schedules of where protests and staged confrontations will occur.

Sympathetic journalists play along, taking pictures of “innocent” Palestinians protesting, but not showing them as they deliberately force a violent Israeli response.

The photographs are often of the elderly, meek, or very young, showing expressions of fear and horror in response to the “unprovoked” use of force by Israeli security forces.

Last week, the official Palestinian Maan News Agency published a series of editorialized pictures, available to international news organizations, of Palestinians looking the part of victims.

Among the more sensational pictures was one of a terrified, elderly woman cowering in fear of an Israeli police officer on horseback.

In another, an elderly, injured Palestinian man was being carried away from a protest, in a photograph that also captured two other photojournalists who just happened to be at that spot to record the event.

Maan’s photographs were accompanied by an account in which “witnesses said police stormed into the crowd of local activists, students and ordinary citizens who were marching peacefully on the main city street…. Police tossed stun grenades into the crowd as police on horseback reportedly ran over people, including journalists covering the event.”

Sympathetic European editors are delighted when they receive such pictures, as they represent their narrative of the Israeli “occupier” tormenting the “helpless” Palestinian.

Last week, a Palestinian plunged a knife into an Israeli security guard at the Jerusalem Central Bus Station.

The security video caught it all. The still frames of the attack are just the type of sensational material that today’s media generally love to print. But do you remember seeing a photo or the video on BBC, CNN, or on the front page of the New York Times? This is another form of editorialized photojournalism – editorializing by omission. Not publishing a photograph that contradicts a news organization’s party line is a more subtle, but equally biased form of slanted reporting, such as suppressing a news story or burying it deep in a newspaper.

Another infamous case of editorialization by omission was the AP’s refusal to publish a photograph of an Islamic Jihad rally at the flagship Al-Quds University, claiming it was not newsworthy. The event was organized by a “moderate” Palestinian professor and included en masse Nazi salutes, which made for a riveting image, but not one that fit AP’s narrative.

It is not that editorialized photojournalism is new. It began during the First Intifada, continued into the Second Intifada, then through all three Gaza wars, and continues right up until today in Jerusalem.

What is new, is that we now seem to have become dulled by the longevity of the practice, failing to notice or respond as we once did to its insidious effects.

So, going forward, become reengaged in scrutinizing the news.

Be an educated consumer of the news, especially photojournalism, and ask yourself if you can really believe your own eyes.

The writer is director of MEPIN™, the Middle East Political and Information Network™. Dr. Mandel regularly briefs members of Congress and think tanks on the Middle East. He is a regular contributor to The Jerusalem Post.