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Media Analyses





CAMERA Column in Jerusalem Post: "'NY Times' Trigger Happy on Israel"


The following Op-Ed was originally published in the Jerusalem Post on April 2, 2009. Read it in its original setting by clicking here.

'New York Times' Trigger Happy on Israel

By Gilead Ini
 
In February 2009, a few veterans of the recently concluded Operation Cast Lead met to discuss what some of them felt was immoral conduct by the IDF. The soldiers exchanged war stories, including two specific allegations about unarmed civilians being killed in Gaza. Details of the now notorious meeting emerged the following month, when a transcript of the conversation was leaked to Israeli newspapers.

On March 20, just one day after the story broke in Israel, The New York Times covered the allegations in a front page, above the fold story. A follow-up piece the next day repeated the allegations. And a day later yet another piece dealt with the issue.

Almost exactly one year earlier, in March 2008, American veterans of the most recent Iraq war got together near Washington to publicly recollect their battlefield experiences. They told stories of indiscriminate fire, the killing of innocent civilians and systematic cover-ups of wrongful deaths.

Although these veterans' charges were clearly more relevant to American readers of The New York Times — they were, after all, about American soldiers, American policies and alleged American atrocities — the newspaper didn't cover it on its front page, as it did with the Israeli allegations. It didn't cover the Americans' accounts in three consecutive articles. It fact, although other mainstream news organizations covered the story, the Times didn't report on it at all.

THE TIMES isn't known for being soft on Americans. But this baffling discrepancy between the newspaper's handling of stories about Israeli soldiers and American soldiers is no fluke.

For example, when a US sniper testified before a military court in February 2008 that "he had ordered a subordinate to kill an unarmed Iraqi man who wandered into their hiding position near Iskandariya, then planted an AK-47 rifle near the body to support his false report about the shooting," The New York Times buried the story on page 8.

When the newspaper learned in August 2008 that two American soldiers confessed, in a signed statement to army investigators, to executing handcuffed and blindfolded Iraqi prisoners and dumping their bodies into a canal, the story ran on page 11. And when the soldiers were formally charged with murder a month later, it was noted on page 16.

Perhaps the most striking contrast is between the newspaper's treatment of the Gaza stories and its caution in dealing with allegations that American troops wrongfully killed civilians in the Iraqi town of Haditha. While The New York Times put on its front page the news that, in Israel, "the military's chief advocate general ordered an investigation into" the alleged Gaza killings, it's early 2005 report that the US military was "investigating whether a Marine squad ... near the Iraqi town of Haditha committed wrongdoing" amounted to three short paragraphs hidden at the end of a long article on page 12. In fact, it wasn't until more than 10 weeks after Time magazine first scandalized the country by suggesting there may have been a massacre in Haditha — and only after US officials said the military investigation was expected to find that the marines indeed "carried out extensive, unprovoked killings of civilians" — that The New York Times found the incident worth publishing on its front page.

It gets worse. Even before The New York Times published its three pieces about allegations of Israeli misconduct, those charges had been substantially discredited. Israel's Channel 2 television station reported that the source of one of the allegations admitted his story was based only on rumors. Yet none of the three Times articles mentioned this key point. On the contrary, they wrongly described the allegations as "testimony," "revelations" and "eyewitness accounts."

This unfair overemphasis on allegations of Israeli misdeeds relative to similar, and sometimes more credible, stories about Americans is, simply put, discrimination against the Jewish state.

It took more than a week for the Times to finally reveal, in a fourth article, that the core of what it reported in the three earlier pieces was nothing more than hearsay, and that Israeli investigators believe the charges are almost certainly false. But the damage was already done. The trigger happy The New York Times splashed dubious rumors on its front page, and in doing so caused irreversible harm not only to Israel's reputation, but also to the truth. (The newspaper's "retraction" — which was not described as a retraction — was published on page four.)

In prominently highlighting the false accusations, the newspaper seemed to be implying that IDF troops, in their fight against Hamas's guerrilla fighters, exhibited bad judgment and were too quick to kill Palestinians. But what the stories actually showed was that, when it comes to bad news from Israel, it is The New York Times that's guilty of bad judgment and being quick on the trigger.

The writer is a senior research analyst at CAMERA, the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America.


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