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September 1, 2016 11:00 am

A Disturbing Debut at the New York Times

avatar by Andrea Levin

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The new Jerusalem bureau chief of the New York Times. Photo: Facebook.

The new Jerusalem bureau chief of the New York Times, Peter Baker. Photo: Facebook.

The New York Times’ new Jerusalem bureau chief Peter Baker filed the first story of his tenure on August 28. Given the complexity of issues relating to Israel and the fraught debates about coverage of the country, readers might have anticipated a carefully balanced, factually nailed-down, serious inaugural article from the correspondent.

Instead, echoing a Haaretz story about a minor incident involving a female singer who was asked to leave the stage because she was wearing a revealing bikini top at a publicly-funded event, Baker’s debut piece veered from this trivial story to one that claimed that Israel is “struggling with its identity and values.”

This struggle, he said, is rooted in the influence of “Orthodox Judaism,” which he links in a lurch of logic to “culture minister, Miri Regev,” who is “seeking to deny state money for institutions that do not express loyalty to the state.”

Judaism, patriotism, identity and values would be large topics for a veteran on the scene, and, not surprisingly, ring both shallow and muddled at the same time in this piece.

In any case, the intended message is clear: Israel is supposedly veering rightward — a bad thing in the Times‘ worldview.

More substantively problematic was the incomplete and deceptive framing of Regev’s efforts related to taxpayer funding of cultural events. Based on the characterization by Baker, readers might assume that her actions compel Orwellian public expressions of fealty to the state.

But the “Loyalty in Culture” legislation seeks to remove public funding for extreme anti-Israel projects. It permits a retroactive reduction in the budget for “actions against the principles of the state.” Among these are cultural events that entail: “Denying the existence of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state; incitement to racism, violence and terror; support for an armed struggle or terror act by a hostile country or terror organization against the State of Israel; marking Independence Day as a day of mourning; an act of vandalism or physical degradation that dishonors the country’s flag or state emblem.”

Regev is calling for, what she terms, “freedom in funding,” along with freedom of expression. She and supporters of the bill believe that Israel should be free to not fund cultural events that promote terror, incite racism, denigrate Israel’s Independence Day, and so on.

To further his implicit message of Israel as a censorious government, Baker also mentions that Regev has proposed “to vet the music played by the army’s radio station for its patriotism.”

Here, again, the facts of the proposal convey something different from the Times’ innuendo. Regev expressed the desire to “create cultural justice” at the state-funded radio station by increasing the amount of music played from local artists. According to Haaretz, she suggested three options, including “adding a sister station” that would air “Israeli music only,” having the station increase the time devoted to Israeli artists, and diversifying the playlist committee to reflect the demography of the country.

In a related story from January 2016, another Times piece cited criticism of Regev’s initiatives but, importantly, also provided a balancing counter-voice. Reporter Steve Erlanger wrote:

… Mr. Leibler, The Jerusalem Post columnist, defended Ms. Regev and Mr. Bennett as trying to “restore a climate that nurtures love of Israel and promotes pride in Jewish heritage” after years when “far-leftists, postmodernists and even post-Zionists took over the Education Ministry.”

That’s a piece of information that readers deserve to have. Readers of the New York Times must hope that going forward they will receive some sense of the full context of a story — even if the reporter’s default viewpoint is to fault Israel.

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  • Pearl

    Do you really expect honesty and a culture of truth from this anti-semantic rag, the NYTimes? So they sent a new reporter to cover Israel. Did ANYONE think he would be reporting in a fair and unbiased way about anything Israel? Get a grip. “All the news that’s fit to print” is simply twisted by all times reporters to fit upper management idea of what they wish to report on Israel. NEVER he truth!

    • Jonathan Cohen

      We should not be surprised that Peter Baker wrote as he did. He is only the last of a long line of NYT reporters whose reporting and style meets the needs of the NYT editors.

      The NYT logo used to be “All the News that’s Fit to Print”. Today, a more accurate logo would be “All the News that Fits”! The clear message is that if a piece does not fit the NYT mindset it doesn’t get printed!

  • Richard sherwin

    What’s disturbing? He was obviously chosen to continue the NYT-Haaretz supersessional labor zionist pre-post-israeli-zionist-disneyworld. The only difference is he belongs in Shenkin St Tel Aviv, not pretending to inhabit Jerusalem. Maybe perhaps east jerusalem? Unfortunately he’d not survive long in ramallah nablus gaza or rafiah. So ok, jerusalem. We know why. We know what to expect. And we know who. So what’s disturbing, or rather, who’s really disturbed at all?

  • laurie sapir

    Baker actually wrote that it was the rise of Conservative (not Orthodox) Judaism (!)that was challlenging secular values, which, of course, is nothing but ludicrous. Shows how uninformed he is.

  • Laurie Sapir

    Actually, Peter Baker wrote that it was the “influence of CONSERVATIVE Judaism” (not Orthodox Judaism) that was on the rise and challenging the secular values. Shows how uninformed he is.

  • Joy D. Brower

    What can one expect from the Old Gray Lady? It used to be that opinion pieces appeared in the editorial pages, but the rest of the paper reported the news in a straight-forward and factual manner. No more. Their libtard editorial poppycock has spread to every other section of the paper, while their once “unbiased” reporting is simply gone with the wind! And that this neophyte is allowed to parade his ignorance and biases is contemptible in the extreme!

  • stevenl

    NYT shows its selection for a BIASED and controversial “journalist”. Let him spin in the thin air of the Palestinian self-destructive politics. Just make the effort to keep Jews out of this mess.
    IL is struggling …! Such is not the case for the NYT devoid of any code of ETHICS. Thirty five hundred years old values & IDENTITY. Who can claim better? I struggle therefore I AM! Most of humanity does not have this luxury!

  • duPont

    Stop buying the NYT and ignore Baker. An incompetent so called journalist should not be recognized for anything but his incompetence. He needs to go home and get a better education.

  • Rusty van Druten

    Not sure whether Baker is Jewish as a quick search provides no answer. If not, at the very least one would expect the Times to have appointed a top Jewish journalist to this post. Not for any biased opinions or mindset, but just to provide especially its Jewish readership with the impressions of someone that has an excellent knowledge of the country, its people, its history, its traditions, and a host of other basic realities that go to make for an ability to talk with maximum authority, He is a very successful journalist judging by his background but reporting on this subject and its complexities requires at least ten years of domicile in Israel and a Jewish pedigree, surely.

    • Azriel

      Dear Rusty
      Thank you for your support.
      Just one point I disagree: Jew or not is not relevant at all.
      The history knows a lot of Jews anti-semites and there are more than enough today as well.
      I am terrified to think that Noam Chomsky or Norman Finkelstein could have been appointed
      as chief of the NYT bureau in Israel.
      The only qualities required are honesty, intellect, knowledge, objectivity.
      Is such journalist available in NYT is THE question.p

      Azriel Tel Aviv

  • Martin Booksan

    Baker is merely parroting the insidious anti-Semitism rampant in the pages of this disgraceful rag of a newspaper, useful these days only as a wrapper for fish……

  • Francis Figliola

    Doing what the NYTimes does best, fabricating news!

  • Hamanslayer

    Readers of the NYT must hope, going forward, that what used to be the leading newspaper in America will somehow stop Leaning so far to the left that it makes it impossible to report anything truthfully, factually and objectively.

    It is not just Ira Solar that can blog on the continuing decline of the NYT — their roll of subscribers and readers has been steadily diminishing year by year in this decade.

    So you see, the problem is not just with the Israel bureau of NYT, it’s with the establishment as a whole.

  • Jane Blustein

    What is being done to steer Mr. Baker away from using such distortions
    and unsubstantiated conclusions in his reporting. He should be forced to apologize for this piece o trash and taugh how to report factual and balanced information.

  • rad

    Peter Baker continues the pronounced bias of the NYT against Israel . Hopefully the NYT will self- destruct as Haaretz is…..but then I will not have either paper to put on the bottom of a bird cage…..

  • Lia

    Poor Mr Baker – let us pray for him that his eyes may be opened.

  • judith grayson

    do people still read the new york times? why.