The New York Times: Back to the Party Press Era

In the effort to document the New York Times’ continuing descent into party-line partisan journalism, CAMERA draws attention to the newspaper’s recent campaign to counteract criticism of anti-Semitism within the Democratic party.

In the latest of several articles and a podcast on the topic, reporter Sheryl Gay Stolberg characterizes such criticism as part of a Republican ploy to “demonize Democrats.” Stolberg’s lede reads more like a party-line defense that might appear in an opinion column than an objective news analysis:

In the 116th Congress, if you’re a Democrat, you’re either a socialist, a baby killer or an anti-Semite.

That, at least, is what Republicans want voters to think, as they seek to demonize Democrats well in advance of the 2020 elections by painting them as left-wing crazies who will destroy the American economy, murder newborn babies and turn a blind eye to bigotry against Jews. (“Republicans Hope to Sway Voters With Labels That Demonize Democrats,” Feb. 18, 2019)

The reporter accuses Republicans of “seizing on” congresswoman Ilhan Omar’s widely-condemned tweet about Jewish money buying American support for Israel – a charge that evokes age-old blood libels and the notorious anti-Semitic forgery, Protocols of the Elders of Ziyon – as part of an aggressive assault “meant to strangle the new Democratic majority in its infancy.” She writes that the National Republican Congressional Committee “has spent weeks lobbing charges of anti-Semitism at Ms. Omar and another freshman Democrat, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, both fierce critics of Israel.”

But Omar and Tlaib are not simply “critics of Israel”: they are proponents of the anti-Semitic BDS campaign to wipe the Jewish state off the map. And both have used the common tropes peddled in the anti-Semitic world – accusations of dual loyalties and of Jewish power and money controlling U.S. policy – to demonize supporters of a Jewish state.

The article is part of the New York Times’ effort to do damage control for radical Democrats by discrediting those who call out their anti-Semitism and by portraying their support for campaigns to eliminate the Jewish state as mere criticism of Israeli policies.

Stolberg previously whitewashed Tlaib and Omar’s views and criticism of them in another article, as well:

[Tlaib and Omar’s] uncompromising views on Israel have made them perhaps the most embattled new members of the Democratic House majority…

…Almost daily, Republicans brashly accuse Ms. Tlaib and Ms. Omar of anti-Semitism and bigotry, hoping to make them the Democrats’ version of Representative Steve King as they try to tar the entire Democratic Party with their criticism of the Jewish state. (“From Celebrated to Vilified, House’s Muslim Women Absorb Blows Over Israel,” Feb. 2, 2019) 

Reporter Catie Edmondson similarly cast criticism of anti-Semitic comments by Tlaib and Omar as Republican maneuvering:

Republicans are becoming more brash in their accusations. The National Republican Congressional Committee, the political arm devoted to recapturing the majority in the House, has called Ms. Omar and Ms. Tlaib anti-Semites, seizing on the freshman lawmakers’ social media posts. (“Senate Advances Pro-Israel Bill as G.O.P. Searches for Democratic Divisions,” Jan. 29, 2019)

Going a step further, Edmondson supported her story of unfair Republican criticism by sanitizing a tweet by Tlaib and stripping out its overtly anti-Semitic slur. Tlaib had accused Congress members who supported anti-BDS legislation of having dual loyalties: “They forgot what country they represent,” she tweeted. But that part of the tweet was removed. The New York Times presented her tweet and criticism of it as follows:

Ms. Tlaib took a swing at anti-B.D.S. legislation this month, writing on Twitter that “this is the U.S. where boycotting is a right & part of our historical fight for freedom & equality.” Mr. Rubio fired back, “This ‘dual loyalty’canard is a typical anti-Semitic line.”

As CAMERA’s Gilead Ini pointed out:

Reporter Catie Edmondson effectively covered for Tlaib by concealing the most contentious part of her tweet, and simultaneously made Rubio’s criticism of her dual loyalty charge—and similar concerns raised by mainstream Jewish organizations—appear nonsensical … Editing errors happen, of course. But this was no mistake. Rogene Jacquette, the New York Times standards editor, explicitly stood by the paper’s characterization of the exchange.

In addition, the New York Times devoted a 33-minute podcast, entitled “The Democrats and Israel,” to promote the false notion, popular among boycott activists, that criticism of Israeli policy is being misrepresented, especially by political partisans, as anti-Semitism. The podcast (replete with anti-historical assertions) tries to explain the increasing antipathy toward Israel among liberal Democrats, suggesting that it is the “hard-right” that is smearing them with charges of anti-Semitism in a political ploy.

The podcast features Stolberg and reporter Jonathan Weisman, the latter of whom accuses Republican lawmakers of introducing anti-BDS legislation as a scheme “to divide Democrats and Jews” and “to provoke Ilhan Omar and Rashid Tlaib.”

The podcast concludes with Weisman suggesting that criticism of Israel is wrongly considered “tantamount to criticism of Jews,” while the host whitewashes Tlaib and Omar as part of a growing wing of progressives who are simply “unhappy with Israel and its policies and very willing to publicly declare that.”

Stolberg, who has the last word, marginalizes mainstream Democrats who support Israel as unrepresentative of their constituents. She uses pejorative language about their support for Israel — “in lockstep”; “strident”— and ends by predicting the ascendency of Tlaib and Omar’s perspective among Democrats.

Their perspective embraces the BDS campaign that denies Jews the right to self-determination in their ancestral land. While BDS leaders have repeatedly made clear their goal is to eliminate the Jewish state, the New York Times deceives readers about their stated purpose, couching it as a social justice movement that protests negative Israeli policies. According to the newspaper, the campaign is:

to “pressure Israel into ending the occupation of the West Bank.” (“Senate Advances Pro-Israel Bill as G.O.P. Looks for Democratic Divisions,” Jan. 29., 2019)

“supporting Palestinian rights and opposing Israel’s occupation of the West Bank.” (Editorial, “Curbing Speech in the Name of Helping Israel,” Dec. 19, 2018)

“primarily in protest against its settlement and security practices in the West Bank.” (“Canceled Lorde Concert Prompts First Use of Israel’s Anti-Boycott Law,” Feb. 1, 2018)

 “against Israel for its occupation of the West Bank.” (Editorial, “Israel Says Dissenters Are Unwelcome,” March 10, 2017)

 “critical of Israel’s policies toward the West Bank.” (First Draft, “Hillary Clinton Criticizes Group Advocating Boycott Against Israel,” (May 10, 2016)

This type of reporting evokes America’s party press era (~1780’s-1830’s) when newspapers were tied to political parties. The newspaper would endorse the party’s candidates and promote its perspectives that were shared by the editor/writer/printer in exchange for financial support. It was an era of partisan reporting. In his article, “The Fall and Rise of Partisan Journalism,” the late Professor James Baughman described the media of the party press era:

“Editors,” wrote one historian, “unabashedly shaped the news and their editorial comment to partisan purposes. They sought to convert the doubters, recover the wavering, and hold the committed. ‘The power of the press,’ one journalist candidly explained, ‘consists not in its logic or eloquence, but in its ability to manufacture facts, or to give coloring to facts that have occurred.’”

Baughman noted that “by the 1950’s, most newspapers, large and small, as well as the broadcast networks, tried to present the news objectively.”  And it remained that way for awhile. But as politics became more polarized, Baughman suggested, “reportage became more interpretive.” Still,  he did not believe that the media had regressed to the partisan journalism of the 19th century, referring to “those news outlets that still endeavor to report the news seriously.”

Baughman’s article was written some eight years ago. Since then, the New York Times has become much more like the party newspapers of yesteryear.  And when it comes to coverage of Israel, the Times has become even more of a partisan newspaper.  It is now not even as much a mouthpiece for a political party as it is a mouthpiece for a political party faction – the BDS-supporting progressives whom New York Times reporter Stolberg hails as “a rising force within the [Democratic] party.”