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January 24, 2014 3:04 pm

EXCLUSIVE: New York Times Slammed for Bias on Billboard in Front of Times Square HQ (INTERVIEW)

avatar by Joshua Levitt

CAMERA's billboard in front of New York Times headquarters. Photo: Screenshot / Twitter / @JCCWatch.

CAMERA's billboard in front of New York Times headquarters. Photo: Screenshot / Twitter / @JCCWatch.

The New York Times was confronted on its home turf on Friday by a giant billboard in plain view of its Times Square, New York City, headquarters that accuses the media group of slanting its news against Israel.

The billboard was put up by CAMERA, the  Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America, and will be up for the next six months.

It reads: “Would a great newspaper slant the news against Israel? The New York Times does.”

In the ad, CAMERA accuses the newspaper of “Misrepresenting facts, omitting key information, skewing headlines and photos” and exhorts it to “Stop the bias.”

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The billboard includes a link to a section on the CAMERA website that provides backup for the argument, as well as linking to a six-month study published as a monograph that makes the same case.

In an exclusive interview with The Algemeiner, CAMERA Senior Research Analyst Gilead Ini said he has yet to learn of a reaction from the newspaper about the billboard, which went up on Friday morning, but he said, “I assume they’re not happy.”

Ini is a co-author, with Ricki Hollander, of ‘Indicting Israel: New York Times Coverage of the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict,’ the CAMERA monograph about the newspaper’s reporting.

“The New York Times is famous for holding other powers accountable, and I know they feel a lot less comfortable with the spotlight on them; it’s safe to assume they’re not happy about this,” he said.

The rationale behind the giant billboard, CAMERA’s first, is “not something that comes out of the blue,” Ini said.

“We want them to pay attention, but this is not something that comes out of the blue, more of a continuum of a conversation. Over the years, we’ve met with their editors about our concerns, published a study zooming into fine detail about the nature of how they view news against Israel, published a monograph about our study, have run ads in the New York City area to get their attention; basically, we really do want them to hear our message every day.”

He said when they learned about the availability of the billboard space, in view of The New York Times‘s headquarters, CAMERA jumped at the opportunity because the newspaper’s management would be “forced to contend with it.”

While multiple attempts to reach The Times’s communication department were unsuccessful on Friday morning, several people who picked up the telephone within the organization confirmed that they saw the billboard. “I can’t see it from this side of the building, but I definitely did on my way in this morning,” one assistant told The Algemeiner. “Ya, it was pretty ugly,” said another.

CAMERA’s Ini said this was the Boston-based watchdog’s “first foray” into really confronting The Times in such a grand fashion and is a “step up” to raise awareness.

“This is a very influential newspaper read by millions and policy makers and people should know the facts about how they’re misleading readers,” Ini said.

As to the effectiveness of CAMERA’s approach, Ini says that it works.

“Sometimes we hear back directly when our work has immediate effect,” he said, adding that CAMERA has been successful at forcing the newspaper to issue retractions in the past and, on one story, three times.

“We contacted their editors about the misrepresenting of a UN resolution, and we pushed them, and they corrected it again, and again, and a third time, until the editor finally stood up and reprimanded the journalists, having them accept the fact they made a mistake.”

He said that question was about The Times’ reporting of the Camp David accords, under U.S. President Bill Clinton, and specifically the wording used to describe UN Security Resolution 242, with The Times reporters reading into details that didn’t exist in the actual text.

“The newspaper is violating its own code of ethics, and we believe this policy of confronting them and publicizing their mistakes works,” he said.

In CAMERA’s monograph about The Times’ coverage of Israel, Ini highlighted the reporting of Jodi Rudoren, the paper’s Jerusalem correspondent, who happens to be Jewish, among others.

“Problems continue with her work and the question of fairness may have gotten worse since she started. There’s a tendency to editorialize that puts harsh opinions into news articles where they don’t belong. Of course, the editorial pages can publish whatever opinions they want, but news coverage should be more impartial.”

He said that one example is the subtle use of loaded adjectives to describe Israeli leaders, describing them as “shrill, stubborn, strident, abrasive, or cynical.”

“These types of adjectives have no scope coming out of a reporter’s mouth,” he said. “They might be fine for the opinion pages, but that’s something we’re promised won’t happen in a news story by a paper that says they cover news impartially.”

Rudoren’s Judaism doesn’t mean her reporting is more balanced than others, he said.

“Historically, being a Jewish reporter doesn’t mean you’re more fair, or accurate or balanced, or even reasonable about Israel. When you look at the range of voices out there, being Jewish doesn’t play a predictable role in the fairness of a newspaper’s coverage,” Ini said.

“Whether this is intentional or overcompensation, we don’t know, but what we do know is that was the case with The Times during the Holocaust when there was an intentional move to distance the paper from Jewish issues so as not to be seen as a Jewish paper because its owners were Jewish.”

There is also “a popular misconception” that The Times is still owned by Jews — the Sulzberger family is no longer Jewish, but Episcopalian, Ini said.

The chairman of the newspaper’s parent company is Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, Jr., who was born to an Episcopalian mother and Jewish father, and he was raised Episcopalian – “he was basically not born a Jew,” Ini confirms. “That’s another total misconception brought to you by people who think Jews own all the media – well, they do not own this one.”

CAMERA counts 65,000 members among its supporters, with a mission to hold “communications media to traditional journalism standards of accuracy, objectivity, context, comprehensiveness, balance, prompt correction of errors and absence of conflicts of interest.”

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