Wednesday, April 24th | 19 Nisan 5779

January 9, 2017 7:31 am

New York Times Editor Acknowledges Injecting Opinion Into Reporting Twice a Day

avatar by Ira Stoll

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The scene of the truck-ramming attack in Jerusalem. Photo: MDA.

The scene of the truck-ramming attack in Jerusalem. Photo: MDA.

There are “a couple examples…every day” of New York Times editors and reporters injecting opinion into news articles, the executive editor of the New York Times, Dean Baquet, acknowledged in a recent interview.

Today’s “couple of examples” just happen both to involve the newspaper’s coverage of Israel.

The first comes in the Times coverage of an attack in Jerusalem that killed four Israeli soldiers. Prime Minister Netanyahu connected the killings to attacks inspired by the Islamic State in France and Germany. The Times article follows that claim with this sentence:

Mr. Netanyahu has often made the comparison between local attacks against Israelis and those in the rest of the world, though the attacks in Israel are more broadly viewed as being more connected to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“Are more broadly viewed” by whom? By the Times editors and reporters, who use the passive voice as a trick to sneak their own opinions into what is supposed to be a straightforward news article. If the Times wants to dispute Mr. Netanyahu’s characterization of Israel’s fight against Islamist extremist terrorism as being related to the broader global struggle, let the newspaper build a fact-based case based on polling, or reporting, or quotes from experts or elected officials. Instead we get vaguely sourced assertions.

The lapse is not entirely surprising, because the post of Times Jerusalem bureau chief is again vacant and unfilled, as it has been for a majority of the past year. Though perhaps not even a full-time and fully present bureau chief might improve the coverage, at least it might be worth a try.

Alas, the New York Times’ London-based reporting isn’t any better. A dispatch from there begins:

LONDON — In a deeply embarrassing episode revealed on Sunday, a senior employee of the Israeli Embassy in Britain was recorded plotting to “take down” senior British politicians critical of Israel and calling Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson “an idiot” who “has become minister of foreign affairs without any responsibilities.”

This is some heavy spin. The Times here doesn’t just tell us the news; it first prepares us by telling us what to think about it, that it is “deeply embarrassing.” Not merely embarrassing, mind you; deeply embarrassing.

The only thing deeply embarrassing here is the Times departure from journalistic standards.

It takes until the fifth sentence of the story for the Times to tell readers that the so-called “plot” was a kind of sting operation provoked by a reporter for Al Jazeera. The Times does not mention that that news organization is controlled by a government, Qatar, which doesn’t have diplomatic relations with Israel.

Contrast that to how the Times covered a similar stunt a few years back by political conservatives who secretly taped NPR executives they goaded into saying silly things. That story didn’t carry any language about how it was “embarrassing,” let alone begin with a claim that it was “deeply embarrassing.” In that story, the third sentence reports, “The video was the product of James O’Keefe, a Republican provocateur, whose organization helped trick Mr. Schiller into attending a lunch and sharing what he said were his personal opinions.”

The Times doesn’t use the “trick” or “provocateur” language about the Al Jazeera reporter who spoofed the Israeli, even though it seems warranted.

In Mr. Baquet’s interview with the public editor of the Times, Liz Spayd, he was largely dismissive of the problem of opinion slipping into reporting: “You and I could probably go through The Times every day and come up with a couple examples where they do. But I think mostly they don’t.”

Rather than going through the newspaper after it is published to find these examples, maybe Mr. Baquet could authorize his editing staff to find them, and remove them, before they are inflicted on Times readers. Doing otherwise risks being deeply embarrassed.

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

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