That the New York Times views Israel through a jaundiced eye is not news to those who read the newspaper’s editorial page. But how does this perspective color news coverage? The newspaper’s recent editorial and news article about Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Oct. 1 address to the United Nations General Assembly provide a case study.
In his speech, Netanyahu warned against both the threat of a nuclear Iran and the risk of being lulled into false complacency by President Rouhani’s charm offensive. The Israeli prime minister backed up his criticism of Rouhani with detailed evidence pointing to Iran’s continued engagement in nuclear weapons development.
The Israeli leader’s speech was labeled “aggressive,” “combative,” and “sarcastic.” Netanyahu, they wrote, “seems eager for a fight.”
How did the New York Times’ news article on the subject, “Netanyahu Excoriates Iran’s Leader and His ‘Charm Offensive,” relay the same indictment of the Israeli leader while maintaining a pretense of objectivity?
1) The reporters quoted only one outsider, Gary Sick, introduced as “a former National Security Council staff member who specializes in Iran and who is now a research scholar at Columbia University”– to relay the same message. It is no coincidence that they turned to Sick for a quote. His opinions on Iran and Israel are well known—Iranian President Rouhani is “the real thing,” sanctions against Iran should be opposed, Israel’s leader “has been crying wolf nearly as long as he has been in politics.”
What the reporters neglected to mention, however, was that Gary Sick, who had served on former President Jimmy Carter’s staff during the Iran hostage crisis, authored a widely-dismissed conspiracy theory suggesting that former US President Ronald Reagan’s election campaign, with Israel’s help, plotted to delay the US prisoners release in order to sabotage Jimmy Carter’s re-election. Nor did they inform readers that Sick had shared a podium with John Mearsheimer to accuse the “Israel lobby” for “pushing very hard for an extremist position on the U.S. side.” Instead, the article, suggesting Sick was a neutral expert, allowed him relay the indictment of the Israeli leader:
“[Netanyahu] was so anxious to make everything look as negative as possible he actually pushed the limits of credibility,” [Sick] said, noting that it seemed incongruous after Mr. Rouhani’s diplomatic overtures and President Obama’s cautious responses. “It really is jarring to see that, the extreme element, and how far he was willing to push it. He did himself harm by his exaggerations.”
The tactic of introducing supposed neutral observers — who in fact hold partisan views that are in tune with the newspaper’s own institutional mindset — to relay the desired message is one that the New York Times uses again and again.
2) The article criticized Netanyahu for “all but ignoring the Palestinian issue” when, in fact, Netanyahu had repeatedly emphasized in the speech his commitment to seeking “a historic compromise” with the Palestinians, his preparedness “to make painful concessions” for peace, and his desire to end the “conflict once and for all.” The Israeli Prime Minister clearly explained that Israel seeks “peace based on security and mutual recognition, in which a demilitarized Palestinian state recognizes the Jewish state of Israel.”
Were New York Times journalists asleep during that part of the speech?
3) And finally, the reporters apparently could not help but insert a negative editorial comment about Mr. Netanyahu – “low on smiles, high on sarcasm.”
How can readers trust The New York Times as an objective source when its news reporting is so colored by its editorial viewpoint?