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October 29, 2020 5:35 pm

Newly Appointed New York Times Jerusalem Bureau Chief Has History of Mistakes in Israel Coverage

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avatar by Ira Stoll


Patrick Kingsley. Photo: screenshot.

The New York Times’ next Jerusalem bureau chief will be a 31-year-old whose previous articles about Israel have been riddled with mistakes.

The Times announced the appointment of the new correspondent, Patrick Kingsley, on Thursday. It did so in a memo that, in classic Times bureaucratic cluster style, was signed by not one, not two but five Times middle managers: assistant managing editor for international Michael Slackman, Europe editor Jim Yardley, Middle East editor Herbert Buchsbaum, senior news editor for international Marjorie Olster, and international managing editor Greg Winter.

The Times memo reported that Kingsley “recently discovered that he has several long-lost relatives in Israel, via a mutual ancestor in Lithuania. A reunion is planned.” Kingsley didn’t respond to a query from The Algemeiner asking whether he is Jewish.

The same memo announcing the arrival of Kingsley broke the news of the departure of David Halbfinger, the current occupant of the Times job. The memo said Halbfinger “has kept The Times on top of a highly competitive story for three and a half years.”

The Times can’t even report a personnel change in its own foreign staff without inserting a factual inaccuracy. “Three and half years” exaggerates how long Halbfinger has been there. He started filing from Israel in September 2017, and his departure announcement comes after barely longer than the three years that is usually the minimum commitment for a Times foreign stint.

Halbfinger did manage to outlast the two previous Timesmen in the job. Ian Fisher, who arrived in January 2017, left in July 2017. And Peter Baker, who started in August 2016, left in December 2016. This all means that between January 2015, when Jodi Rudoren left, and January 2021, when Kingsley starts, the revolving door Times Jerusalem bureau will have had a total of five chiefs in six years. It’s a turnover rate you’d usually see among Trump national security advisers or 1980s New York Yankees managers, not foreign bureau chiefs at once-prestigious newspapers. It hurts the coverage, because it takes a while to get your feet steady on the ground in an assignment like that.

Kingsley has some Israel experience already, but it’s not at all encouraging. A March 2020 article he wrote from Israel for the Times carried a whopper of a correction: “An earlier version of this article referred incorrectly to the number of Israelis who are of Arab ethnicity. It is about one in five, not two in five. The article also misstated Arab turnout in Israeli elections. Turnout fell below 50 percent in the April election, but it is not the case that turnout has been below that level historically.” Left uncorrected in the article was the claim that President Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Middle East peace plan “would annex large tracts of Palestinian land.” As I wrote then, “It’s not accurate for the Times to describe it as ‘Palestinian land.’ Usually they call it the West Bank, or, sometimes, Israeli-occupied territory. Some Israelis refer to it as Judea and Samaria. Whether it is or isn’t Palestinian land is what the Israelis and Palestinians have been intermittently negotiating about or fighting about for decades. To call it Palestinian land is to take one side — the Palestinian one — in that dispute.”

An April 2019 front-page Times article by Kingsley about antisemitism was full of inaccuracies, including the false assertion that “For decades after World War II and the Holocaust, anti-Semitism was mostly consigned to the political fringes.” The same article falsely claimed that Netanyahu’s government “has forbidden non-Jews to exercise the right to self-determination, and removed Arabic as an official Israeli language.” I commented then, “Leave it to the New York Times to turn a front-page article on antisemitism into a vehicle for spreading destructive falsehoods about the Jewish state and its prime minister.”

Apparently that is the sort of thing that, at the New York Times, wins someone promotion to a plum post at a young age.

The Times memo announcing Kingsley’s appointment reported that he failed the British driver’s license test seven times before finally passing on the eighth try. One admires his persistence while at the same time wondering precisely how many more Kingsley failures will be inflicted on long-suffering Times readers. I wish him rapid improvement to passing level on the accuracy front, and good luck in the new job.

Ira Stoll was managing editor of The Forward and North American editor of The Jerusalem Post. His media critique, a regular Algemeiner feature, can be found here.

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