Is it Too Much to Ask that The New York Times Does a Better Job in 2015? The New York Times vs. Al Jazeera: The Malleability of Truth

The New York Times vs. Al Jazeera: The Malleability of Truth


One incident. Two articles. Two totally different impressions.

The event in question occurred the day before Christmas, on the border between the Gaza Strip and Israel. What is established is that a firefight broke out, resulting in the injury of one Israeli soldier and the death of the Palestinian who coordinated regional surveillance for Hamas. It’s also agreed that it was the most serious outbreak since Aug. 26, when a tenuous ceasefire brought the 50-day “Operation Protective Edge” to a close. Beyond that, the two articles paint widely divergent pictures.


The Israeli soldier injured in the Christmas Eve incident is evacuated.

The New York Times, typical of American press reports, headlined its story this way: “Sniper Is Said to Prompt Clash at Gaza Border.” The use of the word “said” suggests to the savvy reader that there may be another side to the story, but the writer chose to feature one version only – Israel’s. I know from my past work as a newspaper reporter that the author of the story is not the writer of the headline. However, headlines do take their cue from the tone of the story – and it becomes clear right from the first paragraph that the Israeli narrative is considered the “privileged” one.

“The tenuous cease-fire in the 50-day war between Israel and Gaza militantswas deeply strained by a clash that Israel’s military said had been started by a Palestinian sniper attack on a routine border patrol” (emphasis mine).

To the uninformed or hasty reader, nothing seems wrong with this seemingly factual sentence. However, consider first the statement that the summer war was fought between Israel, an entire, unified country, and a group of “militants” in Gaza. (In the second paragraph, the militants are revealed to be members of Hamas, the “Islamic group that dominates Gaza.” The term “Islamic” has become synonymous with “terrorist” in the Western mind. One has to wonder why The New York Times considers it essential to describe the party that governs Gaza in this way, without similarly referring to the faction currently in charge in Israel “Zionist.”) However, it’s important to note, the factions that took up arms to fight for an end to Israeli control of Gaza were supported by a majority of the population. In a survey conducted in early December, the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research found that 79 percent of all Palestinians in the Occupied Territories, including Gaza, favor armed resistance as long as the Israeli blockade continues.


Israeli border patrol

Next in the critical first paragraph (all that many people read) is the Israeli claim that the Palestinians started the fight by attacking its “routine” (read: innocuous) border patrol. It’s not until the ninth paragraph that a response from Hamas is shared – and even then only a statement that Israel was responsible, with no added explanation except an angry warning about “bearing the consequences.” Yet Al Jazeera, in its own story on the same incident, did what The New York Times reporter apparently did not – ask for an explanation. And it got a credible answer: “The Israeli soldiers ‘busted’ the (border) fence and tried to cross into our territory,” said Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri.

Restraint is needed from all sides if a truce is to hold. However, as regrettable as it may be, it is understandable for the Palestinians to be just a little hyper vigilant. After all, they have just emerged from a war in which Israeli air and ground troops killed more than 2,000 Gazans, injured more than 11,000 and destroyed or damaged nearly 100,000 homes – affecting an estimated 600,000 people. Just four days before the border fight, an Israeli settlement official was quoted as saying that “another war with Gaza is just a matter of time.”

Likewise, the MSM media coverage largely implies that provocation is the exclusive province of the Palestinians. It’s important, however, to challenge the word “routine” used by the Israelis to describe their border patrols. Those patrols and border guards haveshot at Palestinians 41 times since the so-called ceasefire, mostly at farmers and fishermen trying to practice their trade to support their families. Two were killed and another 25 injured. Several other times, land and property were leveled. In fact, Israeli troops have violated the ceasefire terms nearly every week since the truce was called, compared to three breaches committed by Palestinians. Yet there is a virtual coverage blackout in the Western “mainstream” media of these events, unless a Palestinian rocket or sniper is involved. When Israeli spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner described the sniper attack as “a blatant breach of Israel’s sovereignty,” no one questioned him – including The New York Times.

That’s not surprising, when you consider who reported this particular story for the newspaper – Isabel Kershner. A correspondent in the newspaper’s Jerusalem bureau, she is an Israeli citizen whose son is training to serve in the country’s army. This is the third time in recent years that a writer who covers the conflict for America’s leading newspaper has had a son serving in an army that is regularly accused of human rights abuses in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, which the journalists are expected to cover impartially. On each of those occasions, according to the website Mondoweiss, an outside publication has disclosed the army service, rather than the newspaper itself.

Although Kershner is said by the Times to be “a contract writer,” not a member of the staff, the newspaper has relied on her extensively for coverage of the region. An individual by the name of Majd Al Waheidi contributed reporting from Gaza for the article about the border skirmish. Kershner clearly, however, played the dominant role in writing the piece. I wonder how the story would have read if Al Waheidi had written it, without censorship from his editors.

A hint can be found in the Al Jazeera article, which was headlined this way: “Israeli forces kill Palestinian man in Gaza.” As a former journalist, I have to agree that the killing of an opponent is more important news-wise than the mere fact that there was a “clash.”

The first seven paragraphs of the story go on to report the basic facts and Israel’s interpretation of them – belying the common belief that Al Jazeera is biased in favor of the Palestinian narrative. The Palestinian explanation for what happened doesn’t come until later, but at least (unlike in The New York Times), it is there.

Is that too much to ask?

About eslkevin

I am a peace educator who has taken time to teach and work in countries such as the USA, Germany, Japan, Nicaragua, Mexico, the UAE, Kuwait, Oman over the past 4 decades.
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