Again, NY Times Rebrands Gunmen and Bombers as “Demonstrators”

The New York Times yesterday described Palestinians killed in the act of shooting Israelis and planting bombs as having been shot by Israel while merely “demonstrating.” CAMERA has informed editors of the inaccurate language, and has called on them to publish a correction to set the record straight for misinformed readers. 

New York Times reporter David Halbfinger

According to yesterday’s story, by New York Times‘ Jerusalem bureau chief David Halbfinger, the American ambassador to Israel delivered a speech on Tuesday during which he mentioned violent clashes in Gaza exactly one year earlier, on May 14, 2018. During those clashes, Halbfinger claimed, “Israeli soldiers killed about 60 Palestinians demonstrating along the border fence” (emphasis added). 

But reporting from the time made clear that, far from “demonstrating,” many of the casualties were well-armed combatants. According to a May 15, 2018 story in the New York Times itself, 

Eight of the dead, the army said, were armed Hamas militants in civilian clothes who tried to storm the fence in northern Gaza and attacked Israeli forces with grenades and pipe bombs before being killed in a shootout. A photograph showed what the military said was an Israeli battalion commander’s armored vehicle pockmarked with Kalashnikov fire. Another three militants were killed while laying an explosive device in the south, the army said.

It didn’t take long for the newspaper to rewrite that history, though. In subsequent articles, the New York Times began characterizing all of the casualties, which include at least eleven combatants,  as “protesters.” And yesterday’s piece by by Halbfinger again conceals their violence by describing their activities — shooting and planting bombs — as “demonstrating.” Shooting is not “demonstrating.” And the paper shouldn’t mislead readers by using the latter word to describe the former.

Two Standards

Halbfinger’s story, which focuses on a sentence from this week’s speech U.S. Ambassador David Friedman’s speech, is also noteworthy in how it contrasts with the way the newspaper has downplayed inflammatory language by Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas.

The article slams Friedman’s assertion that Israel is “on the side of God.” But when Abbas last year said in reference to Jews that there is “no one better at falsifying history or religion than them,” the Times covered the speech and completely ignored the Palestinian leader’s slur. The failure to recognize or care about Abbas’s anti-Semitism foreshadowed last month’s fiasco, in which the newspaper published an egregiously anti-Semitic cartoon.

Later that year, Abbas recited a list of conspiracy theories and slurs that stunned the Jewish community, prompting wall-to-wall condemnation from across the political spectrum and from former US ambassadors and peace negotiators. The Times, though, characterized it as little more than a boring and lengthy “history lecture,” and even suggested it was a relatively moderate speech. And in striking contrast with Halbfinger’s description of Palestinians left “slack-jawed” by Friedman’s comment, critics of Abbas’s speech were virtually ignored. 

Finally, when Abbas last year called the US ambassador a “son of a dog,” the  Times paid no attention to the insult — though the same newspaper had previously covered Netanyahu’s mild critique of former American ambassador Dan Shapiro. Why? Reporting “without fear or favor” — that’s the newspaper’s age-old promise of objectivity, which publishers today repeatedly trot out, and continually ignore — means treating inflammatory Palestinian language the same way they treat comments by Israelis and Americans. That doesn’t happen. And it means describing gunmen killed in the act of attacking Israelis as gunmen, not “demonstrators.” Tellingly, New York Times editors have opted not to correct their error. 


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