The New York Times Still Spinning the News

The New York Times continues to spin the news about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict through its framing and placement of stories. Take, for example, the Saturday, Nov. 17 edition.

Two of the five articles about hostilities between Israel and Gaza received front-page, above-the-fold articles. One was entitled “Mistaken Lull, Simple Errand, Death in Gaza”— an emotive human interest story about two Palestinian civilians killed during the brief cease-fire by Israel during the Egyptian prime minister’s visit. Given the title and the lead, readers would be forgiven if they assumed that Israel had tricked Gazans into believing that they would cease fire, only to shoot down innocent Palestinian civilians. The article began:

The Abu Wardah family woke up on Friday morning to word that a hudna – Arabic for cease-fire – had been declared during the three-hour visit of the Egyptian prime minister to this embattled territory.

So after two days of huddling indoors to avoid intensifying Israeli air assaults, Abed Abu Wardah, the patriarch, went to the market to buy fruits and vegetables.

The story went on to give a detailed account of the deaths of Abu Wardah and a neighboring child who had gone into his yard to play soccer, as well as Palestinian anger that the ceasefire was broken.

What readers did not learn– unless they continued onto page A11 after the page break — was that the blast that killed the two Palestinians could not have come from an Israeli F-16 and that the victims were far more likely to have been killed by an errant Palestinian missile. Yes, the facts were in the article, but no one scanning the front page would know it. The headline, the lead and the tone of the first part of the story all wrongly suggested Israeli culpability.

Was this front page placement and page break just coincidental or could it have reflected a deliberate attempt to sway readers against the Israeli operation?

An examination of the other front-page story reveals a similar pattern of spin. The prominently placed analysis not only cast doubt on the wisdom of Israel’s military operation, but was framed to appear as a conflict about tactics between Israel and the rest of the world. It strongly implied that those outside Israel share the Arab view that Israel is guilty of historically dispossessing the Palestinians and that they should appease Hamas rather than take action against the leadership.

Author Ethan Bronner asserted that “many analysts and diplomats outside Israel say the country today needs a different approach to Hamas and the Palestinians based more on acknowledging historic grievances…,” and immediately followed this with an inflammatory quote contending that “only stupid or ideologically manical Zionists” do not understand that unless Israel redresses “the crime of dispossession and refugeehood that was committed against the Palestinian people in 1947-48,” then  Palestinian “fighters” will continue to battle Israel.

The quote, presented as an example of the “many analysts” who share this view was taken from and linked to an online column by Rami Khouri, a Palestinian who served as former editor of the Lebanese Daily Star, and who routinely distorts the Palestinian-Israeli conflict to blame Israel and the U.S. for whatever the problem at hand. Bronner, however, introduced Khouri merely as “a professor at the American University of Beirut.”

Yes, there were quotes from Israeli army spokesmen, but their perspective was dismissed as one that was old-fashioned and out-of-sync with new circumstances, as Bronner made clear in his own voice:

What is striking in listening to the Israelis discuss their predicament is how similar the debate sounds to so many previous ones, despite the changed geopolitical circumstances. In most minds here, the changes do not demand a new strategy, simply a redoubled old one.

Needless to say, no “analysts” or “diplomats” who support Israel’s view were cited.  Could that be because such a story would weaken the Times‘ own editorial line?

In contrast to the prominent placement of the misleading human interest story about Palestininian victims, one about Israelis during an air raid siren in Jerusalem was consigned to the back of the international section of the newspaper, as was all news about Hamas targeting Jerusalem for the first time.  Given the newsworthy nature of the story, it is noteworthy that it was pushed to the back of the section by New York Times editors. 

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