This article was updated with information about the newspaper’s Editors’ Note.
The New York Times crossed a particularly odious line on September 10. The International section of the newspaper included a prominent graphic about Democratic opposition to the Iran deal that highlighted, first and foremost, the Jewishness of lawmakers and/or their constituency. (“Lawmakers Against The Iran Deal”)
The graphic, which appeared in print and online, triggered a swift public outcry, including from CAMERA, that prompted small modifications to the Web version. Editors removed a particularly shocking column headed “Jewish?” to assign religious affiliation to lawmakers. Yet, the chart still focuses reprehensibly on the Jewishness of lawmakers’ districts and their alleged voting patterns.
Indeed, a sentence injected in the first paragraph of the piece after the public protest underscores explicitly the bigoted characterization of Jewish perspectives, claiming: “The debate divided Jewish constituents between those who saw the deal as a threat to Israel and those who backed it as a way to avert conflict between Iran and the United States.”
It is obviously not the case that Jews are either 1) concerned about threats to Israel on the one hand – and oppose the deal – or 2) are concerned about conflict between America and Iran – and support the deal. In fact, many Jews – and the many millions of non-Jews who oppose the deal – see it as a threat to the US, to Israel and to global stability. The Times formulation is outrageous.
The author of this piece is Jonathan Weisman, Deputy Washington Editor of The New York Times. Reacting to the storm of criticism, he asserted his authorship proudly and Tweeted: “As I said, I take responsibility for graphic & don’t apologize. We kept data, just put it into intro. I’m Jewish” [sic]
The newspaper’s decision to signal that Jewishness is the central factor to be scrutinized when looking at opponents of the deal evokes a number of dark and dangerous stereotypes: That Jews in this country should be singled out for examination; that lawmakers may be putting their Jewishness above their party; that they may even be putting their Jewishness above their American identity (after all, why else should The New York Times highlight — literally highlight, in yellow in the original graphic — that these lawmakers are Jews?); and/or that the Jews wield disproportionate influence on foreign policy.
The newspaper also suggests to its readers that Jews may be warmongers. It has vociferously editorialized in favor of the deal, stating that the deal “reduces the chance of war” (and making that case on more than one occasion). In other words, the message of the newspaper as a whole is that this is a list of Jews, or representatives of Jews, who by rejecting the deal would increase the chance of war.
It bears repeating: The decision to differentiate Jews from their non-Jewish colleagues was conscious and intentional. It was a choice by editors. If this were simply a graphic about “Lawmakers Against the Iran Deal,” as its title claims, the graphic would look different. The list would be organized differently. If this were merely about politics, for example, the graphic might have illustrated how the proportion of American Democrats opposing the deal far outweighs the proportion of Democratic lawmakers opposing the deal, according to a Pew poll published earlier this week.
What will the newspaper do next? Will it inform readers when Op-Ed contributors who discuss Iran or Israel are Jewish? Will it show a graphic highlighting which of the many generals and admirals who have petitioned against the deal are Jewish?
But in reality the graphic is not about “Lawmakers Against the Iran Deal.” It is about Jewish lawmakers against the deal, as text accompanying the chart in the print edition made clear: “The Democrats against the deal are more likely to be Jewish, represent Jewish constituencies or be on the more conservative spectrum of their party.” In a passage added to the online edition, but that did not appear in print (and which was eventually removed from the online copy), the newspaper admitted that “more Jewish members of Congress support the deal than oppose it.” So again, why highlight Jewish opposition? (Even a chart focusing on Jews could be organized differently to send a very different message, as one journalist pointed out.)
In fact, the overwhelming majority of Americans opposed to the Iran deal are not Jewish. They’re all shades of religion and ethnicity and oppose the JCPOA for myriad reasons. And yet The New York Times has clearly informed its readers: This is about the Jews.
The Times responds
In response to a deluge of complaints from readers, a CAMERA letter-writer received an emailed reply from Greg Brock, Senior Editor for Standards. It reads
Do you ever read the Jewish press — some of the finest journalism around, in my humble opinion. If you search online right now, you will see that these publications have been keeping a running count of the voting position of Jewish senators and representatives for weeks. This is no doubt because the Jewish congressional caucus has made it an issue. Many of the legislators have spoken on how Jewish legislators are voting.
And the Jewish press is right. This is a legitimate angle of the nuclear d
eal. And we are right to give our readers this information, too.
Would we have such a chart if the bill was about highway funding? Of course not. We would however note how female lawmakers voted if the legislation was about some major women’s issue.
I’m not going to get into the gutter with you with name calling and saying your email is “stupid” — as you said of us. But it would be helpful if you did your homework. You’ll find that we are in excellent journalistic company. I just wish The Times had thought of it sooner so we do not appear to be copying others.
Senior Editor for StandardsSent from my iPhone
In fact, the letter-writer had not called anyone “stupid” but had objected in reasonable and civil language to the offensive chart. Nor do Brock’s arguments hold water. The fact that the Jewish press regularly notes who in public life is Jewish is irrelevant to how The Times presents information about Jews. The Jewish press services the Jewish community, speaking to a particular audience. What’s acceptable for Jews to say to one another and about their community is not necessarily acceptable for the nation’s most influential media outlet to publish. (Among African Americans the “N” word may be used freely, but it goes without saying that it is highly offensive for the term to be used by others.)
A separate article, published online on September 10, had also included a reference to Judaism being the primary reason some Democrats, said to have divided loyalties, sided against the president. “Debate over the accord divided Democrats between their loyalties to the president and their constituents, especially Jewish ones,” it read before the reference to Jews was eventually cut.
A senior New York Times spokeswoman seemed at odds with the standards editor’s message, having told The Washington Post‘s Erik Wemple that the graphic had over-emphasized Jewishness. “After a number of readers raised questions,” she said, “editors took another look and decided that that element of the graphic put too much emphasis on the question of which Democrats opposing the deal were Jewish.”
Unfortunately, the amended language, with its insinuation that Jews opposed to the deal side with Israel over the United States, continues to put too much emphasis on religion, and on canards historically used to justify bigotry against Jews.
Sept. 11 update: The newspaper has added an Editors’ Note to the graphic, which reads as follows:
Editors’ Note: September 11, 2015
A chart published on Thursday about Democrats in Congress who opposed the nuclear agreement with Iran oversimplified a complex aspect of the debate — the views of Jewish members of Congress and the divisions among American Jews over the deal.
In one version, which ran in print and for part of the day online, a separate column in the chart noted which congressional Democrats who opposed the deal were Jewish and which were not.
Under Times standards, the religion or ethnicity of someone in the news can be noted if that fact is relevant and the relevance is clear to readers. The positions of Jewish members of Congress, and efforts to influence them one way or another, were a legitimate subject for reporting, since many Jewish Americans on both sides of the debate were particularly concerned about the deal’s impact on Israel’s security. Some members of Congress alluded to their perspective as Jews when they announced their positions on the deal.
But the chart did not include this context, or make clear that Jewish voters and lawmakers, like other Americans, were sharply divided on the issue. Its emphasis may have left the impression that their Jewish identity was a decisive factor for Democrats who opposed the deal, an assumption that was not supported by reporting.
Many readers and commenters on social media found that aspect of the chart insensitive. Times editors agreed and decided to revise it to remove the column specifying which opponents were Jewish.
(The revised version itself, when first published, included a factual error, misstating the overall number of Democratic opponents of the deal who are Jewish. There are eight, not 15.)
The note fails to address one of the more problematic elements of the graphic. The passage stating Jewish opponents of the deal are more concerned with Israel’s security than they are with averting a US conflict with Iran — “The debate divided Jewish constituents between those who saw the deal as a threat to Israel and those who backed it as a way to avert conflict between Iran and the United States” — remains unaltered online.