Sunday, February 28th | 16 Adar 5781

March 24, 2020 7:04 am

New York Times Backs Cellphones to Fight Virus Everywhere Except Israel

avatar by Ira Stoll


The New York Times logo. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

A New York Times news article from Israel is faulting Prime Minister Netanyahu for combating the coronavirus with measures similar to those the Times itself, in a different article published the same day, says experts recommend.

Here’s the side-by-side comparison. The Times article about Israel reports, “Mr. Netanyahu has resorted to emergency regulations to usher in increasingly draconian measures to combat the spread of the virus. Those included authorizing the Shin Bet internal security agency to use cellphone data to track citizens, without any parliamentary oversight.” The language­ — “resorted,” “draconian,” “without any parliamentary oversight” — makes it clear enough that the Times disapproves. Draco, a 7th century BCE Athenian lawgiver, favored the death penalty for anyone who stole a cabbage or an apple, according to Plutarch.

And here’s the front-page New York Times news article from the same day’s newspaper, under the introductory language, “There is a chance to stop the coronavirus … doing so takes intelligent, rapidly adaptive work by health officials. … What follows are the recommendations offered by the experts interviewed by the Times.”

The Times says, “Everyone who is infected in South Korea goes into isolation in government shelters, and phones and credit card data are used to trace their prior movements and find their contacts. Where they walked before they fell ill is broadcast to the cellphones of everyone who was nearby. Anyone even potentially exposed is quarantined at home; a GPS app tells the police if that person goes outside. The fine for doing so is $8,000. British researchers are trying to develop a similar tracking app, albeit one more palatable to citizens in Western democracies.”

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The same Times article reports, “China’s strategy is quite intrusive: To use the subway in some cities, citizens must download an app that rates how great a health risk they are. South Korean apps tell users exactly where infected people have traveled.”

So when it’s South Korea, Britain, and China using cellphones to fight Covid-19, the Times basically cheers them on, describing them as expert-recommended. Yet when the Israeli prime minister, Netanyahu, does a version of the same thing, the Times casts shade. It’s a classic Times double standard.

The only thing missing is for the disease to spread to Palestinian-controlled Gaza or areas of the West Bank, or for that matter, in Israel itself, and the Times then to blame Netanyahu for failing to use cellphone data to prevent the spread. It’s a safe bet that whatever Netanyahu does with the coronavirus and cellphones, the Times will find a way to criticize him.

Defenders of the Times may point out that, in this instance, the newspaper is just reporting on complaints made by Israel’s democratic opposition and civil society, rather than generating the complaints. Fair enough, but somehow such complaints about Netanyahu get a lot more traction with the Times than do opposition complaints in South Korea, Britain, or China.

Ira Stoll was managing editor of The Forward and North American editor of The Jerusalem Post. More of his media critique, a regular Algemeiner feature, can be found here.

The opinions presented by Algemeiner bloggers are solely theirs and do not represent those of The Algemeiner, its publishers or editors. If you would like to share your views with a blog post on The Algemeiner, please be in touch through our Contact page.

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