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July 3, 2016 6:29 am

The New York Times Front Page Harshes on Israel, Gives Obama a Pass

avatar by Ira Stoll

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The site of Thursday's terrorist attack, in which Rabbi Michael Mark was killed and his wife and children injured. Photo:  Israel Fire and Rescue Services.

The site of Friday’s terrorist attack, in which Rabbi Michael Mark was killed and his wife and children injured. Photo: Israel Fire and Rescue Services.

The front page of the New York Times on Saturday featured a photo of an overturned vehicle and this sentence, promoting a news article inside the paper: “After another deadly attack in the occupied West Bank against Israeli civilians, above, Israel announced harsh restrictions on Palestinians.”

The interesting thing here is that the Times doesn’t just tell us what the restrictions are. The newspaper feels the need, in its news columns, to go beyond that, and to characterize the measures for us as “harsh.”

Read the article itself, and it tells of Israel imposing restrictions on Palestinian travel “between towns and villages in the southern West Bank.”

The double standard is that also on the front page of Saturday’s Times is a news article reporting that the Obama administration said airstrikes the US conducted “outside conventional war zones like Afghanistan have killed 64 to 116 civilian bystanders and about 2,500 members of terrorist groups.”

The Times manages to report the news of the Obama administration’s killing of more than 2,500 people and between 64 and 116 innocent civilians without calling that “harsh.” It even accepts, without scare quotes, the Obama administration’s characterization of its enemy as terrorists, without the soft-pedaling the newspaper typically does in Israel’s case of describing the enemy as “militants” rather than terrorists.

Again, it’s a double standard. Israel imposes travel restrictions, and the Times calls it “harsh.” Obama kills more than 2,500 people, and the Times doesn’t apply any pejorative adjectives at all.

It seems to me that whether one considers the Israeli reaction “harsh” or not is a matter of opinion. At least two members of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s cabinet, Naftali Bennett and Yisrael Katz, called for punitive measures that go well beyond those that have been imposed. That fact is omitted from the Times article.

If there’s a bright side here, it’s that at least some editors at the New York Times appear to agree with me on this point. The web site Newsdiffs.org tracks the changes in electronic versions of New York Times articles, and the headline on this particular one went through a series of mutations.

The headline started out as “Israel Imposes Harsh Restrictions on Palestinians in West Bank After Attacks.”

Some wise hand evidently agreed that “harsh” was a little harsh, under the circumstances, and the headline was subsequently changed to the more neutral: “Israel Imposes Restrictions on Palestinians in West Bank After Attacks.”

Someone apparently pushed back, or reconsidered, and a later version, the one in my print paper here in Massachusetts, was: “Israel Imposes Tough Restrictions on Palestinians in West Bank After Attacks.” The online Times is using the headline now without the word “tough” or “harsh.” In my view, that’s the best journalism of the three versions of the headline that the Times used. (An earlier version of the article did carry even a fourth headline: “Israeli Father Killed in Attack on Family’s Car in West Bank.” But the way the press quickly pivots from attack to reaction is a topic for another day.)

The headline improvements were welcome. But they appeared inside the newspaper. The “harsh” characterization remained on the front page throughout, even after the word had been eliminated from the headline of the article. The lesson? Once a mistake is made initially, it metastasizes.

That underscores the importance of getting things right to begin with. In this instance, the Times failed to do that. It may sound harsh, but it’s the reality, as the newspaper itself more or less conceded by backing away from the initial “harsh” headline in subsequent versions. Too bad the fix never got made on page one.

More of Ira Stoll’s media critique, a regular Algemeiner feature, can be found here.

 

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