The Silence of the New York Times

The power of The New York Times is undeniable – even in an era of declining mainstream media influence. What its editors choose to report still influences policymaking, as coverage of, or silence about, two recent Gaza-related events underscores.

Which story rated front-page coverage in the Times, with photos, follow-up stories and an editorial – triggering swift repercussions? Was it the bureaucratic blunder that temporarily deprived seven Palestinian students in Gaza of their Fulbright scholarships – or the landmark French court decision dramatically challenging a France 2 television report from September 2000 claiming that Israel murdered 12-year-old Gazan Muhammad al-Dura, a sensational allegation that has fueled hatred of and violence against Jews for nearly eight years?

Anyone familiar with the Times‘s chronic failure going back to the 1930s to cover the dimensions and significance of anti-Jewish propaganda knows the answer.

THE PALESTINIAN students’ dilemma stirred the paper to full-throated coverage beginning on May 30, triggering a diplomatic scramble in Washington and Jerusalem to enable the Fulbright winners to pursue their programs. A Times editorial on June 8 dubbed the students the “Fulbright Seven,” applauded the “victory” of the official policy shift and – with a passing nod to its security needs – lectured Israel about measures that “sow more anger and hate.”

And what of the stunning “victory” and vindication in Paris on May 21 of Philippe Karsenty against charges of having defamed Charles Enderlin, France 2’s Middle East Bureau Chief who reported the al-Dura story? Karsenty had denounced the episode as “a faked death,” a “hoax” and a “fraud.”

Not a word in the Times. Nor was the paper moved to editorialize about the global “anger and hate” sown by Enderlin and his cameraman, Talal Abu Rahma, in spawning the false, incendiary al-Dura allegations against Israel.

What has the Times thus far kept from its readers in regard to the remarkable French court decision and its profound implications? Presiding Judge Laurence Trebucq concluded that Karsenty had not defamed France 2 in light of the accumulated evidence of multiple documentaries, articles and books that testify to gross dereliction and dishonesty by a veteran journalist, his cameraman and a prestigious French media institution in broadcasting a story that shocked and incited much of the world.

She saw the un-used footage from Netzarim Junction in Gaza on September 30, 2000 – where the supposed al-Dura killing occurred – showing Palestinians staging injuries, casually faking falls, racing ambulances to bogus rescues. She enumerated the commentary of journalists, authors and scholars troubled by the contradictions and omissions concerning the Israeli military’s line of fire with relation to the boy’s location, the visible movement of the boy in the footage after being pronounced dead, the questionable provenance of the injuries of the boy’s father, the absence of blood in the wake of ostensibly blistering gunfire, Enderlin’s manifestly deceptive claims about footage of the final moments of al-Dura’s life and much more.

In the detailed court decision, Judge Trebucq cites the statements and prior testimony of many individuals who have investigated the Enderlin/Abu Rahma broadcast, including Luc Rosenzweig, former chief editor of Le Monde. The judge writes: “[Rosenzweig] concluded his testimony at the hearing in the lower court by stating his conviction that ‘the theory that the scene [of the child’s death] was faked was more probable than the version presented by France 2.’ ”

She includes references to one of the most damning elements of all pointing to willful falsification by the network – Enderlin’s repeated claim that he cut the last seconds of footage of al-Dura’s death to spare audiences from witnessing the final bloody “agony” of the child. He said: “I edited out the child’s agony. It was unbearable… It would not have added anything.”

BUT THERE is no such footage. No death-throes, no final moments. Few facts of the case are more incriminating than Enderlin’s patently mendacious embellishment of the al-Dura story in this way weeks after the story exploded as an iconic rallying point of the violent Palestinian uprising.

France 2 had attempted to bully its way out of the controversy; Karsenty was just one of three critics the network sued for defamation for challenging the al-Dura broadcast. While the other cases were either dismissed on a technicality or settled in favor of the critic, Karsenty was found guilty of defamation in a lower court with his tough charges of journalistic “fraud” before winning on appeal in the May 21 ruling.

As the Wall Street Journal editorialized on May 27, it is “hard to exaggerate the significance” of the court decision that “called the [al-Dura] story into doubt.”

It is also significant that The New York Times is mute about this triumph for free speech in what has rightly been termed a blood libel against the State of Israel. Ironically, former executive director Abe Rosenthal was eulogized in the same paper for his fierceness in confronting entrenched institutions and for saying: “When something important is going on, silence is a lie.”

Defamation of Israel and efforts to call the defamers to account have long been news the Times has deemed not fit to print. Its silence on recent developments concerning the al-Dura affair is just the latest iteration of a decades-long Times lie.
This column first appeared in the Jerusalem Post.

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