Sam Ehrenhalt, whose op-ed articles and letters to the editor always enhance The Jewish Press, has shared with the Monitor a thoughtful note he recently dispatched to New York Times Executive Editor Bill Keller.
Ehrenhalt began by informing Keller that “after close to 65 years as a reader of The New York Times, I cancelled my subscription last year because of its unfair reporting on the Middle East conflict, its inade quate reporting on the upsurge of anti-Semitism in Europe and other
parts of the globe, and its failure to report on the raging incitement of hatred of Jews inundating media, schools, mosques and government institutions of Arab lands.”
He noted to Keller that he’d sent 200 letters to the Times “detailing specific concerns on Middle East reporting,” but that they “failed to elicit any substantive reply.”
His letters, he explained, “cited unquestionable errors of fact, pejorative or other loaded language usage, misleading headlines, failure to include essential context, presentations unbalanced by pictures accompanying the reporting. The Times response, basically, was that its staff was as good as they come and doing “a masterly job.” ”
But, Ehrenhalt continued, “except for a few corrections or editorial notes, often inadequate, there was no indication that the Times was at all willing to consider the issues of accuracy, fairness and balance I raise. From the early days of the new Intifada on, Times reporting
established a narrative of determined advocacy, interrupted only for the short time that Clyde Haberman was assigned to Jerusalem, evidenced by what was reported and what not, how it was reported, emphasis, placement, pictures, headlines – all the components of news presentation.”
Ehrenhalt next offered what he called a “small, telling example” of Times-style bias: “When the Times got into the situation of the Temple Mount its reference to Muslim concerns was finely calibrated: ‘the third holiest site in Islam.’ The Jewish connection was dismissive: ‘The site is
also holy to Jews.’ That locution managed to elude the fact that the Temple Mount is the holiest site in Judaism, that it has been the holiest site for Jews since 1,500 years before the birth of Islam. Jews praying all over the world face Jerusalem, and within Jerusalem the Temple Mount. Muslims in prayer face Mecca – depending on their location, with their backs to Jerusalem. There was never a correction; reporting of this sort became a continuing pattern.”
According to Ehrenhalt the former paper of record “proved impenetrable, fending off criticism and question with the simple, effective weapon of nonresponse. There was no mechanism that offered an opportunity for engagement with it. At that point, after a particularly atrocious report on the annual Israel Solidarity March in New York, I concluded that I could no longer in good conscience continue my subscription.”
Voicing hope that the paper’s “new editor for public affairs will bring a new openness to reader concerns that can play a significant role in your efforts to renew the Times commitment to outstanding reporting and news presentation,” Ehrenhalt suggested that Keller undertake “a
comprehensive and searching review of the Times coverage of the Middle East conflict over the past three years as well as its coverage of anti-Semitism.”
Ehrenhalt pointed out that former Times executive editor “Max Frankel, for a special supplement on the Times” 150th anniversary, wrote an incisive review of the Times’ coverage of the Holocaust and the developments leading up to it. It came more than a half century after
the event. I believe it is in the Times’ interest, as well as that of its readers, that it deal with its Jewish problem of recent years without further delay.”
Note To Readers: Thanks to all who sent in their choices for our forthcoming “Favorite Websites” list. Frankly, the Monitor wasn’t sure at first whether the idea would resonate, but the response was steady and heavy from the first announcement through last week’s deadline. The list will be published in the Sept. 29 issue of The Jewish Press.
Jason Maoz can be reached at email@example.com