The New York Times has trouble reporting the facts
straight about Middle East documents, repeatedly distorting their terms and
shifting responsibility and fault to Israel. Recent
misinformation about the road map by correspondent Steven Weisman is fuel for
critics who see the paper increasingly marshaling its news pages to advance an
Weisman and the Times are particularly
reading-impaired when the document includes reference to Jewish
On May 12, a front page story above the fold stated in flat
contradiction to the written terms of the road map peace initiative that with
regard to Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza the
peace plan calls for their dismantling...
The road map does no such thing. It addresses this large
issue in broad terms, leaving the resolution to final status negotiation, and
it uses the word dismantle only with respect to certain satellite
outposts recently built.
Specifically, in Phase I the document calls for
a settlement freeze and the dismantling of outposts erected since March
2001. In Phase II the document refers to further action
on settlements in conjunction with creation of a Palestinian state with
provisional borders. The last reference in Phase III is to
a final, permanent status resolution considering issues such as
borders, Jerusalem, refugees, settlements...
Challenged to correct the false settlement-dismantling
assertion, the Times instead dissembled. On May 21, Weisman wrote:
The peace plan calls implicitly for settlements to be dismantled as part
of a final settlement, its drafters say.
Which drafters? Weisman neglects to name those
who see Israel as having implicitly forfeited ahead of time its
rights of negotiation on a major issue.
Moreover, although the road map similarly leaves resolution
of the issue of refugees to permanent
statusdiscussions, the Times has not reported that it is
implicitly understood there is no so-called right of
return for Palestinians to pre-1948 Israel. Nor has it presented such a
view as fact, as it has its interpretation of the settlement matter.
A Weisman story on May 22 filled with half a dozen unnamed
sources an informed diplomat here and an
administration official and knowledgeable source there
is indicative of the partisanship underlying the reporters coverage. He
defines the road map as a phased timetable to create a Palestinian
state. That is, indeed, the Palestinians primary aim, but Israel
does have goals as well.
Though disregarded here by the Times, they are
actually written into the road map. Israels overriding concern is that
the initiative entails finally an end to terrorist violence and acceptance of
May 23 brought another Weisman story replete with anonymous
sources this time citing unnamed administration officials as
well as many in Washington all nameless critical of
the Sharon government.
In addition, a correction ran underscoring the
papers refusal to simply report the facts. It read:
A front-page story
on May 12 about Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, his talks in Jerusalem and
the Bush administration?s efforts to bring peace to the Middle East referred
imprecisely to the peace plan drawn up by the United States, the United
Nations, the European Union and Russia. The plan, known to diplomats as the
road map, is understood by its authors and by Israel and the Palestinians to
entail the eventual dismantling of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and
Gaza. But that understanding is not stated explicitly.
While a number of major national newspapers had also
reported erroneously on the terms of the road map with regard to settlements
and had issued corrections, each had simply stated the terms of the road map.
Only the New York Times inserted its interpretation, claiming that all
the parties, including Israel, understand the document as requiring
prior to, or without, negotiations dismantling settlements. It offered
no evidence whatsoever for this assertion.
All this insistent misrepresentation of reality is not new.
It recalls former Jerusalem bureau chief Serge Schmemanns remarkable 1998
rewriting of Israeli-Palestinian agreements related to Hebron.
Then the Times reporter first erred in claiming
Israel was imposing new conditions on the Palestinians, charging
Israel with, in effect, lying about the stipulations of a written agreement.
Later, in a mendacious correction, the paper falsely maintained
Israel was injecting new, specific demands.
It seems, despite the shadow of Jayson Blair and public
unease about the newspaper of record, when it comes to reporting on
the Arab-Israeli conflict, political agenda still trumps journalistic propriety
at the New York Times.
Originally appeared in the June 6, 2003
edition of the Jerusalem Post.