Israeli apologia in the Sunday New York Times

Dear Editor,

Daniel Okrent’s attempt at further Israeli apologia in the Sunday New York Times (“The Hottest Button: How the Times Covers Israel and Palestine”, April 24, 2005), in which he pretends to summarize the “criticisms” of the paper of record, conveniently ignoring the crucial aspect of anti-Arabism visible throughout regular Times reports.

Okrent mentions a report from the media monitor If Americans Knew, repeating the organization’s contention that The Times “ignores the deaths of Palestinian children”, which is not true. The report, available to anyone who wants to download it online, notes that the Times reported Israeli deaths “at a rate 3.6 times higher than Palestinian deaths” in 2004, and reported the deaths of Israeli children at a rate of “6.8 times the rate of Palestinian children’s deaths.”

That is not ignorance, and contemptuously dismissing it as such serves to mute the report’s very real, very careful conclusions, a sampling mentioned above. Later in the same piece Okrent dismisses the study, which produces statistical data, by saying that none of us “can be objective about our own claimed objectivity.” Presumably Okrent can’t dispute the report’s findings, and dares not repeat them, so it’s safer just to move on.

Okrent quotes a concerned reader who (rightly) points out the Times’s repeated ignorance of U.N. Security Council resolutions, the latest example being a report last week. If the Times took international law seriously, the line about “Israeli settlements beyond the green line” would have been rightly reported as illegal according to the U.N. Security Council, and not clothed as a Palestinian “argument.” Such nuances serve to discredit international law by reporting them as “Palesintians argue”, a fact seemingly lost on Okrent and his editors.

In his “postscript”, Okrent notes If Americans Knew’s reasonable call for equal numbers of Arab and Jewish reporters, which he then chooses to distort as anti-Semitism. He notes that the Times is charged with anti-Semitism with “lamentable frequency”, without offering any evidence (whereas several reader complaints of anti-Palestinian reporting was previously mentioned), noting that offering real reporting that “favor(s) the Palestinian cause” is “something I am not remotely prepared to do.” We finally gain a glimpse into the true nature of the problem, highlighted last week in a story in which Alan Crowell labelled an anti-war British Muslim candidate an “insurgent”, to take one minor example. Okrent goes on to vehemently deny supposed charges of anti-Semitism, without even a hint of irony.

Finally, Okrent shrugs that the Times is “only a newspaper” and that journalism Is “inadequate to tell this story” and a “stand-in” — utter nonsense that treats the paper’s responsibility to the American public with contempt. Times reporting is utilized by the American public to help shape their view of the world and their involvement in U.S. foreign policy issues, which affect the lives of countless people worldwide. You might want to take it seriously.


Dane Baker
Bewildered Herd

Related Links

  • When the New York Times’ distortion gets up close and personal, Alison Weir (25 April 2005)
  • Copies of Off The Charts: New York Times Coverage of Israeli and Palestinian Deaths can be found at