Open Letter to Los Angeles Times Leadership

Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong, Executive Chairman

Mr. Kevin Merida, Executive Editor

Mr. Scott Kraft, Managing Editor

Ms. Kimi Yoshino, Managing Editor

Dear Dr. Soon-Shiong, Mr. Merida, Mr. Kraft and Ms. Yoshino:

As the world’s oldest and largest Middle East media monitoring group, CAMERA joins with many other Los Angeles Times readers to convey grave concern about the open letter “From journalists, to journalists: Why reporting on Palestine has to change” (the “Open Letter”) signed last month by some 500 media practitioners, including nine Times journalists (two of them anonymous).

As of this writing, we are unaware of any action by The Times to deplore the content of the letter or its signatories’ endorsement of it.

According to your journalists who signed the Open Letter, coverage of Israeli-Palestinian issues should be filtered through the distorting prism of “Israel’s military occupation and its system of apartheid.” By signing onto such a politically motivated and bigoted statement, they are taking a disgraceful stand against the ethical framework that has guided responsible journalism for the better part of a century: namely, the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics (SPJ Code), which clearly sets forth the position that “impartiality should still be a reporter’s goal,” even in today’s “superheated political environment.”

You have no doubt seen the alarming findings of the recently published report by Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, revealing that out of 46 surveyed countries, the United States ranks dead last (29 percent) in terms of public trust in news media. As members of the public who deeply cherish the media’s traditional role—as described in the SPJ Code to practice ethical journalism in the service of “public enlightenment as the forerunner of justice and the foundation of democracy”—we are greatly troubled by the ailing relationship between the American public and its media. We are certain you share this concern.

Regrettably, The Los Angeles Times journalists who signed the Open Letter do not share that concern and their call to subvert core journalistic norms will worsen the media’s disastrous standing in public opinion and your paper’s reputation in particular.

Ramat Gan in May 2021 (Photo from PalInfo Twitter account, May 16, 2021, via Amit Meir Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center)

That is why we urge you to denounce the sentiments of the Open Letter and underscore there will be no abandonment of essential adherence to fact, impartiality and balance.

There is no ambiguity in the Letter’s call for subverting of such journalistic principle. It urges you to substitute propaganda for objectivity and fact.

It states: “These terms — apartheid, persecution, ethnic supremacy — are increasingly gaining institutional recognition after years of Palestinian advocacy, and we, as journalists, need to examine whether our coverage reflects that reality.” The allegations referenced are, indeed, the rhetoric of intense and widespread “Palestinian advocacy” efforts to promote a radical, false, anti-Israel narrative in media portrayals.

The endorsement of such mendacious propaganda charges would, it seems, have prompted immediate concern on the part of the Times about the fitness of the signers to report on any aspect of the Middle East — but as well would have called into question their comprehension of the role of journalists generally to report factually and impartially.

The SPJ Code urges journalists to “distinguish between advocacy and news” and to “label analysis and commentary.” But your nine journalists, in contravention of this principle, want to turn news into advocacy.

While the SPJ Code seeks “to ensure the free exchange of information that is accurate, fair and thorough,” the Open Letter’s signatories call for “contextualized truth … to recognize that obfuscating Israel’s oppression of Palestinians fails this industry’s own objectivity standards.” The “contextualized truth,” as these advocates see it, shoehorns Israelis and Palestinians into the predetermined roles of oppressors and victims, necessarily discarding facts which don’t fit the mold. It is the signers of the Open Letter who are rejecting objectivity.

The SPJ Code cautions, “take special care not to misrepresent or oversimply.” Yet the signatories of the letter advocate for the use of vitriolic language that demonizes the world’s only Jewish state, even as Jews across America, Los Angeles included, are under unprecedented levels of attack. The signatories would fan more such attacks by use of incendiary, propagandistic language demonstrably divorced from facts on the ground.

Notably, most of the Los Angeles Times signers are relatively new to the institution and yet they seek to upend adherence to the SPJ Code in your newsroom. Of the seven named Los Angeles Times signatories, six joined the paper in 2018 or later, and shortly after completing their education. The exception joined your staff just five years ago, in 2016.

Unfortunately, the unethical zeitgeist being encouraged by the signers that openly endorses partisan “advocacy” has, it seems, already affected Los Angeles Times coverage. To wit:

A June 8 article (“Palestinians finds new unity in struggle against Israel”) recasts unequivocal Palestinian calls to massacre Jews and destroy the state of Israel as a struggle “for recognition and equality.” Exhortations from Palestinian leadership for massacres (“massacring the enemy is a divine order”) and for eliminating the Jewish state (“Palestine from the river to the sea”) represent a struggle for annihilation, not equality. Antisemitic incitement (“The Jews are a treacherous people”) and urging of ethnic violence (“cut off the heads of Jews with knives”) are the hallmarks of a struggle for violence, war and genocide, not recognition and social justice.

While the article ignored these horrifying yet common expressions of supremacy – Palestinian supremacy in which treacherous Jews have no place in Israel per divine decree – it put forth a completely false narrative of Israeli Jewish supremacy oppressing an Arab population that is supposedly accepting of the Jewish presence in Israel. “It’s not a function if the Jews stay here or not,” one interviewee is quoted. “It’s whether they choose to live here as superiors or not.”

The traditional journalistic imperatives to provide context and to “diligently seek subjects of news coverage to allow them to respond to criticism or allegations of wrongdoing” were woefully abandoned in The Los Angeles Times’ June 7 article “Gaza’s economy in smoking ruins.” Featuring Gaza businesses harmed last May during Hamas’ conflict with Israel, the article failed to provide any information about the specific Hamas infrastructure that Israel targeted when the businesses were damaged or destroyed. Though the article devoted four paragraphs to the destruction of the Al Shorouq tower, and was accompanied by multiple photographs of the toppled building, The Los Angeles Times piece said not one word about why the Israeli army hit it. According to the Israel Defense Forces, Al Shorouq “housed Hamas military intelligence offices and communications equipment for transmitting tactical military information to and from the terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip.”

Presumably, Hamas’ presence in Al Shorouq did not meet the “contextualized truth” standard which requires that Palestinians be only victims. The information, therefore, was redacted instead of reported.

Facts contradicting the “contextualized truth” were likewise dropped from coverage of the Temple Mount violence that preceded Hamas’ rocket attacks against Israel. The May 12 news analysis, “Biden struggles to respond to Jerusalem clashes,” reported that “Israel also restricted Palestinian access to the hilltop site,” ignoring the fact that 90,000 Palestinians attended the prayers there that night. And while The Los Angeles Times reported “extremist Israeli settlers,” it gave no mention of the Palestinian extremists among the large crowd chanting “strike Tel Aviv” and “in spirit and in blood, we will redeem Al Aqsa.” Similarly, while the paper pointed to “restricted Palestinian access,” it omitted that Jews were completely barred from the site, Judaism’s most sacred space.

The Open Letter signatories wrote as “journalists to journalists.” CAMERA represents the public interest, and we write as members of the public to journalists. We are the other party to that sacred contract in which the press stands as an essential pillar of democracy responsible for public enlightenment but also subject to public accountability.

At a time when public trust in the media is at a nadir, and when antisemitic attacks targeting Jews are at record highs, we caution that your failure to dissociate from the Open Letter, and to halt the subversive spread of its application to Los Angeles Times coverage, will greatly exacerbate both perilous trends.

We, as members of the public, urge you to protect the industry’s longstanding commitment to ethical journalism. Reject the partisan agenda of journalists who have declared war on the most basic values of your profession. In these superheated political times, ethical journalists who practice their profession with integrity are the invaluable safeguard of our shared democracy, now more than ever.

Just as discovering Times staff members had signed a pledge to promote lies and incitement against any other people or state would almost inevitably have elicited a decisive response, so too must such a project against the Jewish state elicit a clear and forceful repudiation.

We look forward to hearing from you.

Thank you,

Andrea Levin
Executive Director

Tamar Sternthal
Director, Israel Office

CAMERA