At the New York Times: Inflammatory Photo Fit to Print?

Mideast Din Drowns Out Palestinians, an article that somehow found its way above the fold on the front page of the March 8th New York Times, was adorned with this striking and inflammatory photo apparently showing Israeli soldiers firing their rifles at “Palestinian stone-throwers”:

IDF soldiers

With civilians being slaughtered in Syria, it is curious that this article, and this photo, were deemed newsworthy enough to merit such a place of prominence in the newspaper of record. Was the subliminal message supposed to be that Israel, just like Syria, slaughters civilian demonstrators?

In any event, one major problem with the photo is that it clearly shows a cylindrical attachment at the end of the soldier’s rifle, an attachment used to fire generally non-lethal rubber bullets – in other words, a crowd control tool used by police and security forces around the world.

Another problem with the photo is that it was taken “last month.” Not only is this month-old photograph not news, it also has nothing whatever to do with the story below it.

When we noticed the story at around 1 AM on March 8, CAMERA e-mailed Joseph Kahn, the paper’s foreign editor, and since it was already 8 AM in Israel we also cc’d the author Ethan Bronner, even though the reporter would not generally have anything to do with the photo choice or caption. We have since heard back from Mr. Kahn who agreed the caption needed correcting.

This afternoon the Times did change the caption to read “Israeli soldiers fired rubber bullets…” And later in the afternoon a correction was also appended to the article reading:

A picture caption with an earlier version of this article explained imprecisely the activity of the Israeli soldiers shown. While the soldiers were indeed firing rifles at stone throwers in the West Bank town of Al Ram last month, the rifles contained rubber bullets. The article does not recount the soldier’s activity.

While we appreciate Mr. Kahn’s note, the changed caption and the correction, much damage has already been done by the front-page photo and deceptive caption.

In addition, there were other serious problems with the story that were not corrected, such as Bronner’s assertion that:

For decades, as autocrats ruled their neighbors, the Palestinians were at the center of Middle Eastern politics, their struggle with Israeli occupation embodying the Arab longing for post-colonial freedom and dignity.

While this narrative might have been believable to some prior to 2000, it collapsed after the Palestinian rejection of the Clinton parameters at Camp David and later at Taba. President Clinton offered the Palestinians what Bronner terms “post-colonial freedom and dignity” and the end of “Israeli occupation.” Israel accepted the Clinton proposal, despite the painful compromises it entailed, but Yasir Arafat said no and instead started a second bloody intifada.

In fact, the Palestinians have rejected statehood at least three times, including Ehud Olmert’s peace proposals in 2008, the Clinton proposals in 2000 and, of course, UN GA Res. 181 in 1947-48. Whatever Palestinians have been “longing for,” it is apparently not just a state to call their own.

In discussing Palestinian grievances, the article also refers to Israel’s raid of two Palestinian television stations without informing readers of the reason – the stations are broadcasting on frequencies that interfere with transmissions between planes and controllers at Ben Gurion Airport, potentially putting the lives of many passengers at risk. The broadcast frequencies that Israel and the Palestinians are allowed to use are not a matter of dispute, since it was negotiated and agreed upon in the Oslo Accords. The problem has been discussed with the Palestinians in the past, but apparently the broadcasts on illegal frequencies have continued, thus provoking the raid. While an earlier Times story included this information, it was omitted from the present report.

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