On April 25, the New York Times published an egregiously antisemitic cartoon that evoked conspiracies about Jewish and Israeli control over the world.
After widespread condemnation by media watchdogs, Jewish groups, and others, the newspaper published an editors’ note acknowledging the cartoon’s use of antisemitic tropes and called its appearance in the paper’s international edition an “error of judgement.” A subsequent apology by the Times promised “significant changes” to the paper’s internal processes.
Antisemitism is not just a violation of ethical journalism. It is dangerous. The gunman who murdered 11 people at a Pittsburgh synagogue last year had previously shared an image promoting identical themes of Jewish control over world leaders. And the New York Times cartoon appeared just days before a white-nationalist, anti-Israel gunman attacked a California synagogue, killing a Jewish woman. This underscores the need to forcefully confront antisemitism whatever its source, and to demand transparency, accountability, and change from the influential newspaper, whose judgement about Israel and Jewish concerns is, now more than ever, in question.
To that end, CAMERA presents editors with the following call to action:
We urge the New York Times to take all necessary steps to regain public trust, ensure lessons are learned from its publication of an antisemitic cartoon, and address the atmosphere of strident anti-Israelism that prevented editors from recognizing blatantly antisemitic imagery.
Any credible response to the scandal must include the following five principles:
Transparency. The public, and particularly Jews harmed by the spread of antisemitic tropes, deserve openness about the newspaper’s promised “significant changes” in response to the scandal. What disciplinary action will be taken? How will editors be trained to recognize anti-Jewish bigotry? Has the paper adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism? What staffing changes will be made? The newspaper must transparently back up its promise of change.
Impartiality. While Times editors make a point of promising to cover the news “without fear or favor,” its habit of favoring Israel’s opponents is glaring. In recent months, for example, the paper minimized broad criticism of antisemitic comments by anti-Israel members of Congress, wrongly suggesting that only “Republicans” or “some Jewish Democrats” were behind the condemnation. If journalists don’t take antisemitism seriously from all sources and in all its guises, they don’t take antisemitism seriously, period.
Balance. A New York Times columnist argued that the cartoon’s blatant antisemitism wasn’t detected by editors because of “the almost torrential criticism of Israel and the mainstreaming of anti-Zionism” by his newspaper and others, including treatment of the country that rises to “demonization.” This is correct. If the newspaper begins to treat Israel as it does other countries, it will be more likely to treat antisemitism, including the variety that invokes Israel, as it does other forms of dangerous bigotry. The newspaper must end its obsession with Israel.
Accountability. The New York Times code of ethics speaks of “responding openly and honestly to any reasonable inquiry from a reader.” Too often, in practice, this does not happen. The New York Times recently eliminated the position of Public Editor, an ostensibly independent editor who had taken complaints from the public, confronted journalists with those complaints, and publicly critiqued the newspaper’s decisions. More than ever, then, the newspaper’s complaints process is a black box. This cannot stand. Editors must give good-faith, forthright responses to reasonable complaints so that the public knows its concerns are taken seriously — if necessary, with the help of an independent public editor.
Accuracy. The New York Times has promised to fix the issues that led to its publication of the antisemitic cartoon. But it’s hard to trust this promise when the newspaper doesn’t adhere to its most fundamental promise — that of factual accuracy. There is a backlog of substantive, straightforward errors about the Jewish state that have not been corrected. To underscore for readers and reporters alike that there is no “Israel exception” to ethical journalism, the newspaper must correct its outstanding factual errors about the Jewish state.