In New York Times, Hamas Oppression of Palestinians Not So Newsworthy

Every so often, the New York Times provides especially striking evidence of its double standard with regard to Israel.

In 2009, for example, the newspaper published a front-page story, and two additional follow-up articles, claiming that Israeli snipers targeted Palestinian civilians during that year’s Gaza war. The claims turned out to be based on nothing more than rumors based on hearsay. By contrast, the Times repeatedly glossed over stories about murders and other unprovoked killings of civilians by American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, either ignoring the stories or burying them deep in the newspaper.

This obsession with criticizing Israel has yet again become apparent.

Last month, the New York Times reported on Hamas’s decision to prevent Palestinians from studying in the United States. The article brought to mind a nearly identical story, reported in the same newspaper several years earlier, about Israel preventing Gazan students from traveling to U.S. universities. In both instances, the newspaper reported that seven Palestinian students were awarded scholarships to study in the U.S. In the earlier case involving Israel, they were granted Fulbright scholarships administered by the non-profit Amideast, while in the latter case involving Hamas, it was a Youth Exchange and Study program sponsored by Amideast. In both cases, the students were disappointed to learn that they could not leave Gaza.

If anything, the recent incident involving Hamas was more noteworthy, since Hamas admitted it made an intentional decision to prevent the students from being exposed to other societies, whereas Israel’s decision seemed as much a result of bureaucratic blundering as a policy reflecting the government’s philosophy. Indeed, four of the students blocked by Israel were eventually allowed to travel to the U.S. Three others were linked to Hamas and deemed security risks.

But while the article about Hamas amounted to 669-words buried on page 8 of the newspaper’s late edition, the piece about Israel was highlighted prominently on the front page and, at 1243 words, was nearly twice as long. Why, in the eyes of the newspaper, was one story so much more important than the other?

It gets worse. The day after the New York Times covered the story involving Israel, it published a brief follow up on page seven of the newspaper’s late edition. Two days later, a longer follow up was published on page five. A few days later, yet another story on the topic appeared on page six. And two days after that, Israel was denounced on the editorial page, where the Palestinians were anointed the “Fulbright Seven.” By the time the newspaper published its fifth story on the topic a few days later, the article finally slipped to page eight — the same page that the report about the Hamas restrictions appeared.

But that wasn’t the end of it. Times columnist Nicholas Kristof referred to the Palestinian students in an Op-Ed. The following month, another follow-up piece appeared in the newspaper. And a month later, yet another article was published on the topic. In all, nine articles were devoted to the four students whose passage to the U.S. was temporarily delayed and the other three whose Hamas links raised concerns not only in Israel but also in the U.S.

Other, subtler differences likewise revealed that the newspaper treats criticism of Israel differently than criticism of Hamas. For example, the first quotes to appear in the piece about Hamas were statements by a Hamas official defending his government’s policy. The first quotes in the piece about Israel were given to critics of the Israeli position.

The New York Times’ handling of the two incidents underscores how the “newspaper of record” makes news as much as it reports it. Readers were told in no uncertain terms that the “Fulbright Seven” were important. They were a cause, or even heroic. Again and again, readers were confronted with the image of Israel as a callous antagonist.

On the other hand, it seems that the “Amideast Seven” are destined to be forgotten. Even after Human Rights Watch and a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council weighed in with criticism of Hamas, the New York Times did not bother to follow up on their story with a brief, feature or editorial. Their aspirations and freedom of movement, after all, are being stymied by the wrong antagonist: Hamas.

As former New York Times reporter Ari L. Goldman recently noted in an exposé of his newspaper’s mis-coverage of the Crown Heights Riots, editors and journalists have a preferred frame through which they choose to see the world, and the stories they report are made to fit that frame. The Times, said Goldman, who is now a professor of journalism at Columbia Universtiy,  glossed over the anti-Semitic nature of the riots because the “right” story was that of a racial conflict pitting white Jews against their black neighbors.

When it comes to the Arab-Israeli conflict, the New York Times makes clear that is considers the story of Palestinian victimization at the hands of the oppressive Israelis to be the “right” story. That means Hamas wrongdoing can only get so much attention. It means Fatah is dubbed “moderate,” and repeated examples of its extreme anti-Israel incitement are ignored. And it means that readers are being deprived of the chance to reach informed conclusions about the Middle East conflict.

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