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Rotten Times


Once upon a time, I only read and wrote for the most radical, Left, and feminist media on the face of the earth. Reluctantly, suspiciously, I read just one establishment, “grown up” paper: The New York Times. After all, it was my hometown paper – and being as provincial as most Manhattanites, I somehow still believed (you imbibe this in the drinking water) that the Times covered issues in an objective, sophisticated, and leading-edge manner.

I still read the Times, but never first and sometimes not at all (I love how it covers weddings and usually check the obituaries). But duty calls, and as a culture warrior on the front lines, so to speak, I have to read the Times.

But now I first read the New York Sun, Wall Street Journal, New York Post, Weekly Standard, New Republic, Commentary, Middle East Quarterly, various Jewish periodicals, the online Israeli and Middle Eastern papers and then check about twenty-five other Internet websites beginning with FrontPageMag.com and Pajamas Media in order to steel myself for the ordeal of reading the Paper of Record – the one that buried news of the Holocaust on its back pages and that today chooses, positions, and captions photos in such a way that its readers have been conditioned to believe Israel is an “apartheid” state and that Palestinians, including suicide killers, their handlers, and their billionaire funders, are barefoot, unarmed, and innocent victims of Israeli and Jewish aggression.

Just the other day – August 11, to be precise – right on the front page of Saturday’s Times was a photo four columns wide and five inches high. It was not about the American miners tragically trapped in Utah.

It showed us a lonely man on a long, long road surrounded by a high wall. The article was captioned “A Segregated Road in an Already Divided Land.” One more time, the most sinister light was cast on Israel’s attempt to defend itself from terrorist attacks by building a security wall – and, incredibly, to allow the West Bank Palestinians to travel from Ramallah to Bethlehem without checkpoints, without being stopped, without having to deal with Israeli soldiers.

One might think congratulations were in order. Not a chance. In fact, the article’s pull-quote read, “A Lack of Exits Will Keep Palestinians Out of Jerusalem.” I do not recall any similar pull-quotes about how Jews or Christians are not allowed to practice their religions in Saudi Arabia or Pakistan or even at their own holiest sites in Muslim-held territory.

Because the Times is still so large, it can afford to throw bones, offer scraps, to cover its considerable moral nakedness. Thus, the paper has published inspired, “corrective” reportage by Nicholas Kristof, Christopher Caldwell, and David Brooks – even occasionally by Thomas Friedman on the subjects of Islamic gender and religious apartheid and about the Middle East.

And, let me admit, I still read the paper’s Sunday Book Review which, though it chose not to review my last two books, (a first for me, but a very educational experience), still remains essential reading.

But here’s the problem: Despite all the ongoing critiques, the Times remains a major cultural gatekeeper. If a film, opera, ballet, concert, or book is reviewed in its pages, the work officially “exists.” Otherwise, the work and its creator are rendered almost invisible.

A good review in the Times (and I have had two front-page Sunday book reviews, appeared on the cover of the Times Magazine, and been interviewed and published in their pages hundreds of times), inevitably leads to book sales, lecture and media requests, larger publishing advances, and invitations to much-talked about parties. It does more than that: it ensures that your ideas are made available to a large number of people.

If this is true about culture, imagine the influence the Times wields by its coverage of war, politics, foreign policy or the presidency.

I don’t think the bias or the influence of the mainstream media will change any time soon. It may actually get a lot worse as the Saudis continue to purchase shares in American media.

There is, however, cause for hope. I am banking on the Internet to effectively compete with mainstream media. Most people under 30 turn to the web for their news, not to hard-copy newspapers – or so my son and various polls tell me. This, more than the cancellation of subscriptions by irate readers, is probably the primary reason circulation has fallen at the Times.

About the Author: Dr. Phyllis Chesler is a professor emerita of psychology, a Middle East Forum fellow, and the author of fifteen books including “Women and Madness” (1972), “The New Anti-Semitism” (2003), and her latest, “An American Bride in Kabul” (2013). Her articles are archived at www.phyllis-chesler.com.


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