Think piece for a sobering day: 'The Forward' dissects New York Times coverage of Israel

Today is the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, an event that -- to my surprise -- is getting very little coverage in the mainstream press on this side of the Atlantic.

Why is that? Any theories?

Perhaps the coverage will be tomorrow, focusing on news events linked to the anniversary. Maybe.

Anyway, this made me think about a piece of journalism-related material that I had hoped to post this past weekend in one of my usual "think piece" slots, but other news jumped ahead in my priorities.

While there is, let me stress, no direct connection between the issue of Holocaust coverage and current debates about coverage of Israel, I thought that this piece from The Forward was very interesting.

I don't know about you, but I often get tired of the usual left vs. right debates in politics, media, religion and culture. In this case, we have a liberal Jewish publication offering a serious critique of the newspaper -- The New York Times, of course -- that serves as holy writ for the cultural left. The headline: "The New York Times and its Israel Bias --The Gray Lady's Blind Spot."

This piece, in turn, opened with a Times hook -- a column by Times Public Editor Margaret Sullivan in response to waves of letters from readers about this topic.

The key is a topic that your GetReligionistas hear about all of the time from our readers: How are people supposed to believe that the EDITORIAL perspective shown in social media and columns is completely separated from the worldview that drives the hard-news coverage in the same publication?

Thus, Richard A. Block of The Forward begins with this:

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not confined to the battlefield. It is also waged in the media, nowhere more prominently than in The New York Times. In “The Conflict and the Coverage,” a November column she “never wanted to write,” Margaret Sullivan, Times Public Editor, addressed “hundreds of emails from readers on both sides of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, complaining about Times coverage.” Her verdict: a “strong impression” “that The Times does everything it can to be fair in its coverage and generally succeeds.” She was wrong.
A prime reason is the limited evidence Sullivan considered. “This column,” she wrote, “is restricted to news coverage and does not consider the opinion side offerings.” This ill-advised, self-imposed constraint doomed her effort from the outset. The Times’ “worldview” of the conflict is also revealed in its editorial page, headlines and storylines, and the Op-Ed columns it chooses to run.

And, at the very end, there is this, for me, rather frightening reference to recent debates about "false balance" in media reports (perhaps even "Kellerism" at The Times) and other postmodern discussions of balance, fairness and, perhaps, even accuracy.

It comes as no surprise that, as Sullivan laments, many readers mistrust the motives and efforts of Times editors and reporters. ... The ultimate question is whether The Times will transform its culture, given systemic problems that Sullivan, and senior editors she takes at face value, fail to acknowledge. Her most problematic recommendation is that The Times stop trying to show both sides of each story, creating the impression of “running scared“ or exhibiting “an excess of sensitivity.” Rather, its reporting should reflect “the core value of news judgment.” However, in covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict poor news judgment is The Times’ essential deficiency.
In her widely praised book, “Buried By The Times,” Northeastern University Professor Laurel Leff excoriated “America’s most important newspaper” for its scandalously negligent coverage of the Holocaust. Max Frankel, Times Executive Editor from 1986 to 1994, called it “the century’s most bitter journalistic failure.” Someday, historians will render a similar judgment on its coverage of the Jewish State and will discern a clear connection between the two colossal miscarriages of justice.

Read it all.

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