Emotions first at the NY Times

The emotion-laden photo of the mother of murderer Hussein Gawadra, used by the Times to illustrate its article about the murder of Eden Atias

The emotion-laden photo of the mother of murderer Hussein Gawadra, used by the Times to illustrate its article about the murder of Eden Atias

Jonathan Haidt, in his excellent book The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion, argues that we are motivated by emotions, not reasoning. Logic can rationalize our beliefs (and the actions we take) afterwards, but emotions drive us.

Even the facts that we use to rationalize our feeling-driven conclusions are perceived, remembered and given weight selectively, through an emotional filter.

So if you want to persuade someone of something, start with the emotions. Facts and logic can wait.

I often wonder if the journalists of the anti-Israel media like NPR and the NY Times do this out of conscious intent or instinctively. Both focus strongly on the emotional aspects of the conflict. While there may be ‘balance’ in the facts presented, the weight of emotional content is always on the side of the Arabs.

Do they have meetings in which the editors explain the best propaganda techniques? Or are they expected to have learned this stuff in Journalism school?

Recently the NY Times embarrassed itself by going more than a little over the line in this direction when it published a story about the gruesome knife murder of a sleeping 19-year old Jewish soldier, Eden Atias (my take on the murder is here), illustrated with a photo of the grieving mother of the murderer!

The article, which devotes more space to Israeli plans to construct homes outside of the Green Line than it does to Arab terrorism, incitement and murder, is bad enough — but the photo provoked a storm of complaints to Margaret Sullivan, the Times’ public editor, who responded with a rare admission that the Times had made a “wrong choice” in selecting it to illustrate the story.

But the editors’ mea culpas ignored the real problem, that the emotional content of the photo was biased, and pleaded only to the lesser crime of irrelevance:

[Ms Sullivan] spoke on Monday afternoon to two senior editors at The Times. Both agreed that the photo was a regrettable choice. The dominant image with an article should reflect the overall point of the article and the reason for its newsworthiness.

This did not represent the essence of the story, which was clearly the moment of the Israeli soldier being stabbed,” said Michele McNally, the assistant managing editor in charge of photography. She said a less-senior picture editor chose the photograph, along with one representing what she considered the other side of the story, which showed an Israeli police officer at the crime scene.

The selection of the Palestinian mother’s image with the article was an effort to achieve balance, but such an effort was not appropriate in this case, Ms. McNally said. In the print editions of the newspaper, the two photographs were published on an inside page with the Palestinian photograph above the other. On the website and in other digital presentations, the Palestinian photograph was by far the more dominant image and remains so.

Of course that misses the point, which is the bias inherent in the choice. But not satisfied with merely looking dense, the editors felt the need to make up a transparent excuse:

It was only later in the news cycle that photographs of the soldier’s funeral — which would have been an appropriate choice for a dominant image — became available, she said. (A photograph of the victim would also have been appropriate, she said.) “We should have waited for that or substituted it once it came,” she said.

Were there no photos of the crime scene or of Eden Atias available immediately after the murder? Funny — all the Israeli newspapers had them. How is it that the carefully composed picture of the murderer’s mother, which could only have been taken hours after the murder and the arrest (by Palestinian Gonzo photographer Muhammad Ballas), was available to them early and these others were not? And why didn’t they substitute another picture?

Stupid or evil: you decide.

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3 Responses to “Emotions first at the NY Times”

  1. Robman says:

    Evil. Definitely.

  2. Shalom Freedman says:

    Why choose? Stupid and Evil.

  3. Olgordo says:

    Deliberate evil action by the NYT in its ongoing support of Arab propaganda.

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