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February 23, 2020 7:36 pm

New York Times Bares Bias in Attack on Jerusalem Housing Plan

avatar by Ira Stoll


East Jerusalem. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

The New York Times has abandoned even the pretense of evenhandedness when it comes to its news coverage of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

A Times news article about Netanyahu’s announcement of plans for new housing in Jerusalem includes quotes reacting to the news from three sources.

“The veteran Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat condemned the move,” the Times reports, adding a quote from Erekat.

Then, from the Israeli side, the Times included two more reactions.

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One, from “Aviv Tatarsky of Ir Amim,” which the Times describes as “a group advocating an equitable arrangement between Israelis and Palestinians in Jerusalem,” uses the word “destructive.”

A second, from Peace Now, described the building plan as “state suicide.”

To find anyone welcoming or praising Netanyahu’s announcement, you’d have to resort to reading a different newspaper than the New York Times.

The result is to give Times readers a distorted, inaccurate, misleading view of what is happening in Israel. If you read the New York Times, you’d be shocked and surprised that Netanyahu keeps getting reelected, because the Times news articles (and opinion pages, too) are full of people criticizing Netanyahu and talking about how terrible whatever he is doing is. Yet somehow, Netanyahu and his party keep getting lots and lots of votes from people whose voices the Times doesn’t routinely deem worthy of including.

The Times idea of “balance” is including a Palestinian critic of Netanyahu and an Israeli critic of Netanyahu. Genuine balance would be to include some supporters of Netanyahu, too, but that is not something the Times did in this particular news article.

The cherry-picked source selection isn’t the only way the Times news article is tilted. Consider the online subheadline: “The announcement by Prime Minister Netanyahu of 6,200 homes in a contested area was seen as an effort to solidify right-wing support.”

To Israel’s enemies, every square inch of the country is “contested,” so the word “contested” doesn’t really add much. “Was seen” is classic Times passive voice. “Was seen” by whom? The Times headline doesn’t say, but the fact that it is the headline makes one suspect that it “was seen” that way by Times news editors, in which case, why don’t they just stop hiding behind “was seen” and just come right out and say it? I’m tempted to top this column with, “New York Times headline was seen as latest example of the newspaper’s egregious bias against Israel’s elected prime minister.”

What’s more, the Times effort to portray Netanyahu’s decision as solely partisan and political in nature ignores the fact that Jerusalem housing, like housing in other world-class cities, is expensive and in high demand. When the New York Times covered Mayor Bill de Blasio’s housing plan, it did so with a headline that read, “De Blasio Unveils Plan to Create 15,000 Units of Housing.” No spin or snark about how that New York plan “was seen” in terms of his political support. Likewise, when New Jersey’s Democratic governor, Jon Corzine, announced plans to add housing, the Times covered it in a straightforward fashion: “100,000 Units of Housing Are Planned in  New Jersey,” was the Times headline. No spin or snark about how the plan “was seen” in terms of his political support with construction unions or real estate developers. It’s a classic Times double standard. When a Democratic politician in America announces new housing developments, the Times takes it at face value and cheers it on. When a Likud politician in Israel announces new housing development, the Times dutifully compiles quotes from opponents and criticizes it as cynical political maneuvering.

Meanwhile, the Times Jerusalem bureau chief is insulated from the housing cost pressures felt by other Jerusalem residents by virtue of a Times-owned residence in Jerusalem’s Katamon neighborhood that, unlike many other fine properties that the Times once maintained for its foreign correspondents, hasn’t yet been sold off to prop up the financially hard-pressed publication. In fact, the more the supply of additional housing is artificially constricted by political opposition of the sort the Times news article stokes, the higher the value of existing properties such as the Times-owned Katamon residence. I’m not alleging that the Times’ journalistic hostility toward new construction in Jerusalem is driven by the newspaper company’s corporate financial interest in its Jerusalem property. But I am suggesting that if the Times newsgathering personnel were less insulated from the realities of the Jerusalem housing market, they might be less reflexively hostile toward new building plans.

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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