Relentless bias in the New York Times

The New York Times is famous for being the Jewish-owned newspaper that didn’t report on the Holocaust. Today when even the Washington Post is beginning to understand the truth about the Hamas war against Israel, the Times continues its relentless bias.

Not Even Pretending to be Fair: The New York Times On Gaza
By Barry Rubin

The New York Times coverage of the Middle East, especially Steven Erlanger (who will soon be leaving) has often been terrible. Naturally, the Times and Mr. Erlanger will dispute this, but they will not do so by examining the specific stories filed and what these articles do–and do not–say.

Anyone who analyzes the articles themselves will find many points which seem slanted, and all the slants seem to lean in the same way.

Consider, for example, the January 28 article, “Israel Vows Not to Block Supplies to Gaza.” By presenting this decision as a negative rather than a positive (Israel will let supplies flow; Israel wants to avoid any humanitarian crisis in Gaza, etc) it seems as if the newspaper is grudgingly admitting that Israel is doing something good but trying to minimize it.

Then comes a spin slanted against Israel:

“Israel would no longer disrupt the supply of food, medicine and necessary energy into the Gaza Strip and intended to prevent a ‘humanitarian disaster’ there.”

The obvious and intended implication here is that Israel has been blocking three things, thus threatening to unleash a humanitarian disaster. In fact, Israel has never blocked food and medicine, and while it has reduced energy supplies slightly–to a level reducing the Gaza electricity by no more than 20 percent–it has not blocked “necessary” energy but only made a marginal reduction. Thus, in a masterfully crafted but factually inaccurate sentence, both newspapers accuse Israel of something it has never done and imply that it has committed inhuman crimes. (Or to put it another way, Congratulations, you have stopped beating your wife.)

Oh, we’re just getting started as Mr. Erlanger is a master of bias. Dig this sentence:

“Last Wednesday, the Hamas rulers of Gaza broke open the border to Egypt, allowing hundreds of thousands of Palestinians to seek goods that Israel had restricted in its clampdown on the region.”

Now it would be fair to say that Palestinians went to Egypt to buy lots of things and not just goods Israel has restricted–which, remember, we have been just falsely told include food and medicine. In addition, as other reporters have noted, it is not just availability but the fact that many things are cheaper in Egypt than in Gaza, a fact that was also true before the restrictions.

Speaking about restrictions, it might be worth mentioning that there are no such Israeli restrictions on the West Bank. Why is that? It is because the Palestinian Authority regime there doesn’t systematically encourage and facilitate terrorist and rocket and mortar attacks on Israel. This, then, is the central issue pertaining to the Gaza Strip, and not the apparently motiveless meanness that much media coverage makes it seem to be Israel’s reason for so acting.

There are 16 paragraphs remaining in the New York Times version. Do you think that we will be told that some of the restricted goods Palestinians bought in Egypt are guns, ammunition, explosives, and material for making rockets? Of course not.

Every paragraph is a gem. Here’s the next one:

“As an indication of the altered Israeli attitude the government told the Supreme Court, which was meeting to hear a petition against Israeli efforts to cut electricity and fuel to Gaza, that industrial diesel fuel needed to run Gaza’s main power station would be supplied regularly, although in amounts that would not meet Gaza’s needs for uninterrupted electricity.”

This, too, is a well-crafted lie. For even if the proposed Israeli cuts were implemented, any blackouts would be minimal at most. It would be fair to say that Gaza’s total electricity supply would be reduced but certainly not far short of what is required for “uninterrupted electricity.” Moreover, in a further flaunting of bias we are never told that Israel supplies directly 70 percent of Gaza electricity. After all, a reader might think that is pretty humane to give power to an entity next door whose leadership openly states its intention of destroying Israel and killing its people, while that same leadership permits daily attacks on Israel.

The author goes out of his way not to tell us about Israel’s direct supply. Consider for example the next paragraph:

“The government also said that supplies of gasoline and regular diesel fuel to Gaza would be resumed although in diminished amounts.” But no mention of direct electrical supply which is almost four times larger than the total amount made using fuel.

There follows several paragraphs about the meeting between Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Abbas and some material about the situation on the Egypt-Gaza border. What ensues, far down in the article, is the closest thing to explaining why Israel is acting:

“Israeli has restricted supplies into Gaza, which it has labelled a ‘hostile entity,’ to try to push Hamas to stop any militant group from firing into Israel. But the move backfired when Hamas breached the border, letting Gazans cross to buy supplies.”

Two points on the above paragraph. First, it is amusing that the reporter doesn’t say what Hamas has been firing–rockets and mortar shells in large numbers–so the reader could be forgiven for thinking it might be an occasional burst of automatic weapons’ fire.

Second, it is not clear that “backfired” is the right word here. But the reason for the phrase becomes clear in the next paragraph:

“The Israeli statement to the court on Sunday was a kind of concession that the policy had failed, but it made clear that Israel would continue restrictions to keep Gazans uncomfortable.”

The problem here is that Israel had been backing off the limited restrictions before the border breakthrough took place. Moreover, if the reporter is going to be balanced he would say that if the policy had “backfired” it was because Hamas was left in a position in which it could continue to incite and implement attacks against Israel; gain some international popular sympathy (thanks to misleading media coverage like this one); maintain a policy of seeking Israel’s extermination; and still get everything required to conduct that military campaign and avoid pressures that might turn Gaza’s population against it.

The author will not do this, however, because he wants to minimize the reasons why Israel needs to make Gazans “uncomfortable.” After all, at a time when there were no restrictions on supplies the Gazans were making Israeli civilians “uncomfortable.” But only the Palestinians are permitted to be portrayed as having a reason to be aggrieved and to be victims.

Naturally, only one side within Israel is quoted on this issue:

“Sari Bashi, director of an Israeli advocacy group, Gisha, which was part of the court case, said, ‘This is part of a stop-start game that continually pushes Gazan residents to the brink, pushing them over, then pulling them back temporarily.” She said that ‘for the last seven months, Israel has been slowly reducing Gaza residents to desperation.'”

No one is quoted from Israel saying that residents of Sderot and the region are being hit by rockets, that their children are being terrified, that Hamas is holding an Israeli soldier as hostage, etc. (Yes, Erlanger has covered this occasionally in other articles but it also belongs here as a balancing quote.) It is fairly typical, of course, that Israelis are usually only quoted when they are being critical of Israel and supportive of the Palestinians.

Ah, but there is an Israeli quoted in the next paragraph which goes like this:

“Separately, as expected, the Israeli attorney general, Menachem Mazuz, said he would not indict police officers involved in the deaths of 13 Arab civilians in 10 days of Arab-Israeli demonstrations in October 2000. In a legal opinion, he upheld a decision by the Justice Ministry in September 2005 to close the investigation of the case.”

The reader would be left to think that this is a whitewash and that people who murdered Arabs are being let off the hook. The reader is not told that the report on the demonstrations (whose violence also goes unmentioned) said that the police acted reasonably given the difficult situation they faced at the time.

A detailed examination of this one article shows a pattern of one-sidedness that can be repeated in hundreds of others, showing clearly the bias in certain specific media outlets and by certain reporters.

To cite only one example, the Los Angeles Times ran an article simply transmitting false Hamas propaganda about the horrors of Israeli cutbacks. And this, to take the cake, was published–with no mention of this fact, after the far more limited reductions had been rescinded. Speaking of cakes, a Boston Globe op-ed piece lambasted Israel for starving Gaza of flour–though its estimate was somewhat skewed by the fact that the deprivation was based on the provision of a half-ton of flour daily for each Gaza resident. At any rate, there have never been any food shortages in Gaza that would lead to deprivation, as is admitted even by international institutions.

Naturally, none of this critique is ever going to appear in the mainstream media which will, at most carry pieces ridiculing this critique and proclaiming what a great job they are doing. This doesn’t mean that many newspapers and other media aren’t doing a good job–they are–but the ones that aren’t will not engage in honest self-criticism or work hard to root out the bias they are showing.

. . .

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA). His latest books are The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan) and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley).

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