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January 22, 2017 7:28 am

Will ‘Fewer Editors’ Improve New York Times Coverage of Jewish News?

avatar by Ira Stoll

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Office of The New York Times, in New York City. Photo: WikiCommons.

The New York Times headquarters. Photo: Wiki Commons.

The top editors of the New York Times came out with a memo promising newsroom budget cuts and “fewer editors.” The Times also issued a report based on a “newsroom survey” that “we should do less coverage of incremental news.”

On the evidence of the newspaper itself, the Times has already implemented its own advice. (Though it is kind of funny, and symbolic, that the newspaper has apparently decided to reinvent itself based on interviews with its own staff, rather than with customers or potential customers).

Consider four recent highlights — or, more accurately, lowlights — of Times coverage of Jewish issues:

• A Times news article about a deadly fire in a Tehran office building reports that it was “built in 1962 by Habib Elghanian, an Iranian-Jewish businessman,” and that “[a]fter the 1979 revolution, Mr. Elghanian was accused of spying for Israel and was executed.”

The Times doesn’t say whether the accusation of spying for Israel was an accurate one or a false one. For an example of an alternative way to handle this, check out the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles: “He was falsely charged and convicted of spying for Israel.” Or:

[T]he 66-year-old Elghanian was later arrested on February 17, 1979 on trumped-up charges of spying for Israel and the United States. After several months in prison, he was given a one-hour sham trial and accused of supposed crimes against the nation of Iran and the Palestinian people. Despite the lack of evidence in his case, a three panel revolutionary court found him guilty and Elghanian was promptly executed by a firing squad on May 9, 1979.

• A dispatch from Jerusalem under the byline of the new Times bureau chief there, Ian Fisher, reports, “American policy, like that of many other nations, has long been that the future of the holy city can be determined only as part of a broader peace agreement and that putting the embassy there would prejudge the outcome.”

That may be the State Department’s policy, but it isn’t “American policy.” The “American policy” was set forth in the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995, which includes the language: “Statement of the Policy of the United States,” followed by three provisions: that Jerusalem “should remain an undivided city in which the rights of every ethnic and religious group are protected;” that “Jerusalem should be recognized as the capital of the State of Israel;” and that “the United States Embassy in Israel should be established in Jerusalem no later than May 31, 1999.”

• The Times has been on a rabid promotional kick for a writer called Ayelet Waldman, lavishing on her the sort of extended attention — a “By The Book” interview in the Sunday Book Review; a generally favorable review of her new book; and a long feature article on the front of the Sunday Style section — that it reserves only for a favored few.

The Times reports on Ms. Waldman’s use of the illegal drug LSD, saying, “Countless prescription pharmaceuticals had failed to stabilize her chronic mood disorders, including depression and Bipolar II disorder, and, more recently, her premenstrual dysphoric disorder, a particularly disabling form of premenstrual syndrome. Her tempestuous psyche, she said, was tearing apart her marriage and raising thoughts of suicide.”

Yet, none of the extensive recent Times coverage of Ms. Waldman in connection with her LSD use and her book about it mention her other career, organizing an anti-Israel book project. It’s a strange and conspicuous omission, especially since a piece of the anti-Israel book project somehow found its way into the New York Times Magazine.

• Another Times error by way of omission came in its coverage of the confirmation hearing of James Mattis as defense secretary. Numerous press outlets reported that during the hearing, Mr. Mattis identified “Tel Aviv” as the capital of Israel. Israel’s capital is Jerusalem. Yet the Times news article about the confirmation hearing failed to include any account of the “Tel Aviv” comment.

Will “fewer editors” improve the problems with the Times journalism? It’s hard to predict. What can be safely said is that even with the number of editors the paper has now, there’s more than plenty of room for improvement.

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

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