OP-Ed: Etcetera Reporting At The New York Times: A 10 Day Analysis Of Its Slanted Coverage Of The Israeli-Palestinian War From May 13 To May 23


Arthur Solomon

Few things in life are as certain as the New York Times reporting on Israeli-Palestinian conflicts.

Its news stories feature the terrible suffering of Palestinians, usually accompanied by photos supporting the articles.

Conversely, articles regarding the suffering of Israeli’s from decades of Palestinian attacks are few to almost none existent. 

Its editorial slant is consistently pro-Palestinian, as is its selection of essays from contributors.

Below is a 10 day analysis of its slanted coverage of the recent Israeli-Palestinian war, from May 13 to May 23.

The one-sidedness of the Times pro-Palestinian reporting (no surprise here based on reading it for decades) was evident during the recent fighting. In its May 13 edition, perhaps the most balanced reporting I’ve seen for decades in the Times during Israeli-Palestinian fighting was published. It was a huge article written by Patrick Kingsley, the Jerusalem bureau chief, accompanied my multiple photos. 

Mr. Kingsley’s reporting was in contrast to the one-sided selection of contributor’s essays on the subject: On May, 11, the Times published an essay headlined by, “Why So Much Rests on the Fate of a Tiny Neighborhood in East Jerusalem,” written by Rula Salameh, a Palestinian community organizer. On May 13, an essay titled, “Palestinians Deserve to Return, Too” was published. It was written by Peter Beinart, a professor at the City University of New York. Another pro-Palestinian essay on May 13 was titled, “My Child Asks, ‘Can Israel Destroy Our Building if the Power Is Out?’” written by Refaat Alareer, a Palestinian book editor. It’s as if the essay editor of the Times is acting as the public relations arm of the Palestinians with the approval of the top editors.

Also on May 13, a column by Nicholas Kristof, a regular Times columnist, was published, titled, “The U.S. Should Condition Aid to Israel on Reducing Conflict.” (No mention in the article about reducing aid to the Palestinians to reduce conflict.) 

In contrast to Mr. Kingsley’s balanced article, the Times news side reporting regarding Israel and Palestinians returned to form on May 14 in the guise of two page one articles. One story by Declan Walsh said the trouble started because of “a heavy-handed police raid.” The other, written by Isabel Kershner said that police “roughly dispersed” protests by Arab youths. Both descriptions properly belong in editorials or opinion columns, not in supposedly impartial news reporting.

(Instead of editorializing its news reports by using phrases like “a heavy-handed police raid” and “roughly dispersed,” an article in the May 15-16 Wall Street Journal by Jared Malsin and Anas Baba provided a lesson in how news reporting used to be done in the days when I was a journalist and how it should be done today, completely unbiased. “The current confrontation began with Palestinian protests over the possible forced removal of residents from homes that are also claimed by Israeli settlers in East Jerusalem. Israeli police stormed the mosque during a crackdown on protesters in the city who threw stones and aimed fireworks at them. Hamas then fired a salvo of rockets into Israel.” Jack Webb used to say on his popular police “Dragnet” TV series, “All we want are the facts, ma’am” and not contain words that belong in another section of the paper. Hard news reporters should remember his famous phrase.)

It wasn’t until May 14 that a pro-Israeli article appeared in the Times, when columnist Bret Stephens wrote a column headlined, “Israel Must Rout Hamas For Peace’s Sake.” It also wasn’t until May 14 that the Times published a pro-Israeli letter to the editor, in which the writer rightly said that the Palestinians goal is to destroy Israel and remove it from the world’s maps.

On the following day, May 15, there was a balanced front page article by Vivian Yee but another anti-Israel essay by Sen. Bernie Sanders, long a critic of Israel, which brings the score of anti-Israeli contributor essays to pro-Palestinians 4, pro-Israel 0.

In my readings of the Times news reporting on the conflict, it appears that thus far the most balanced reporting is when Mr. Kingsley’s by-line is on an article. A dispatch written by him and Vivian Yee on May 16 included the following: “The death toll is overwhelmingly higher in Gaza, where at least 145 people have been killed since Monday, according to Palestinian officials. But Israeli cities have been wracked by civil unrest for days, amid mob attacks by both Jews and Arabs. And they have been targeted by more than 2,800 missiles from Gaza, 90 percent of which have been intercepted by the Iron Dome, an anti missile system partly financed by the United States. Ten Israeli residents have been killed, along with two Israeli soldiers, according to the Israeli government.”  (Obviously, with 2800 missiles launched from Gaza, it wasn’t because of a lack of trying by Hamas that the Israeli death toll wasn’t much higher. Still to come, I believe, are the usual Palestinian claims, echoed by their anti-Semitic and anti-Israel allies, which always follow repeated attacks on Israel: “The death tolls are disproportionate”. Which raises the question: Since when during a war are deaths supposed to be proportionate?)

On May 17, the nonsensical claim of a “disproportionate” response by Israel, as it defended its citizens, finally made the Times news stories, which reported that “Human  rights groups, however, say that Israel routinely pushes the boundaries  of what might be considered proportionate  military force, and that it has frequently breached the laws of war.” (Question: Since when in warfare have the combatants been criticized for not limiting casualties to a “proportionate” number? Answer: Only when Israel responds to a Palestinian attack.)  Also, on May 17, Times news stories quoted Israeli human rights groups that criticized its government’s military action. Nowhere in the stories was there a mention that supporters of Palestinians and Hamas never have critical comments about their actions.

In its May 18 edition, the Times published two columns by its regular columnists – Bret Stephens and Michelle Goldberg. Stephens was supportive of Israel. To this day he is the only pro-Israel voice that has been heard on the opinion pages of the Times. Goldberg’s essay was so one-sided that it could have been written by a Palestinian public relations flack. She even criticized Israel for defending itself against Hamas attacks. (Not kidding. Google the column yourself.) Ms. Goldberg seems to be far left of those people calling for only a “proportional response,” a long-held ludicrous talking point of Palestinian propagandists after Israel responds to Palestinian attacks. In her column she accused Israel of “…causing obscene numbers of civilian casualties.” (Question: When Israel is constantly attacked by Palestinians who publicly say they want to destroy the country and push Jewish citizens into the sea, what is the acceptable number of Palestinians who might be killed during a war? Answer: Probably Ms, Goldberg thinks the number is Zero.)

The news reports in the paper on May 18, were fairly straight forward, mentioning that “Over eight days, Hamas has fired nearly as many rockets – 3,350 so far – as it did over all of the 50-day conflict between Israel and Hamas in 2014, and has killed nine civilians in Israel, including two children, and at least one soldier,” a fact that Ms. Goldberg, who has an affinity for quoting anti-Israel spokespeople, failed to mention. But the news report once again showed how a minor junior Democratic Congresswoman, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who has little support in her caucus, is treated as a major policy influencer, because she is outspoken, by quoting her anti-Israel twitter comment, giving it the same prominence as Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and other senior members of Congress who actually can influence legislation and foreign policy. 

The coverage on May 19 also was fairly straightforward but there were two notable exceptions. For years, news stories and anti-Israel commentators have been accusing Israel of adding to the suffering of Palestinians in Gaza because of the Israeli blockade. But a Times article mentioned that Egypt also has instituted a blockade of its own, a fact hardly ever mentioned. Also columnist Thomas Friedman said that both Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, and Hamas both welcome the conflicts because it keeps them in power, a cynical opinion made even more bizarre considering that in the same column Friedman wrote that Hamas is   “…an Islamo-fascist organization without a shred of democratic fiber that is dedicated to destroying the Jewish state and imposing a Tehran-like Islamic regime in Palestine…”

However on May 20 the Times resorted to its template coverage of the situation, both in the news and opinion sections. An article in the news section was headlined, “Rescued From Rubble, Father Emerges to Grief.”  The article told the truly tragic story of a Palestinian father who lost his wife and four children during an air strike. What made the publishing of this heart-wrenching article suspect is that throughout the many conflicts between the Israel and Palestinians, the Times consistently runs articles about the tragedies of Palestinians, while hardly ever reporting on the grief of Israelis when a member of their family is killed by Palestinian attacks.

And in a column titled, “The ‘Unshakable’ Bonds of Friendship With Israel Are Shaking,” columnist Nicholas Kristof opined that American support of Israel is weakening. He opened his column by asking, “If you oppose war crimes only by your enemies, it’s not clear that you actually oppose war crimes.”  He ended it by writing, “And it’s not anti-Semitic to criticize Israel for possible war crimes.”  (While it’s acceptable for Mr., Kristof to voice his ant-Israel beliefs, it is also acceptable for me to believe that he is in the pro-Palestinian caucus of the Times editorial staff.)In the column, Mr. Kristof quotes Human Rights Watch, an organization that has been accused of having anti-Israel bias from its beginning and has also been accused of being anti-Semitic.)

The anti-Israeli bias in the Times coverage was strikingly noticeable on May 21. Accompanying a lengthy comprehensive straight forward news article by Patrick Kingsley were a dozen photos. (For readers not familiar with the workings of a newspaper, photos accompanying an article are not chosen by the reporter.) There were two photos associated with the article on page one — a four column picture showing a home damaged by an Israeli missile; the other showing “Celebrations in Gaza streets.” Ten additional pictures accompanied the article, which was continued on pages 10 and 11. Of the 10, six depicted death and destruction scenes caused by Israeli missiles. But the two largest photos, one covering all six columns, the other over four columns both showed destroyed Palestinian buildings. Photos showing Israeli suffering were minuscule by comparison.

Also returning to the pages of the Times on May 21 were two pro-Palestinian essays. One was by Yousef Munayyer, a scholar at the Arab Center in Washington, D.C. It was titled, “For Palestinians, This Moment Is Different,” which not surprisingly took a pro-Palestinian slant. That’s okay with me. He’s entitled to his opinion. But the one that I have editorial problems with was by a lifelong Gaza resident and Times reporter, Iyad Abuheweila . Ms. Abuheweila wrote about viewing the destruction from the window of her apartment. In her article she wrote, I looked out my window. “Israel was lashing out, striking randomly and everywhere.” It’s been a long time since I was a newspaper editor, but if I was editing her story, there are a few questions I would have wanted answers to before publishing it; 1) Since it is known that Hamas, hoping to deter Israeli attacks, positions its forces in civilian areas, how did she know that Israel was “striking randomly and everywhere?” 2) Isn’t using that phrase a talking point of Arab propagandists? 3) Isn’t using that phrase editorializing instead of reporting? 4) And most important: Reporters are supposed to be objective. Should a Times reporter be permitted to write what obviously is an anti-Israeli article?

The Times pages on May 22 provided both an anti-Israel opinion column, disguised as a “news analysis” article by Roger Cohen and a surprise.

Mr. Cohen accused Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of deliberately welcoming the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians because it helps to keep him in power. He wrote that “The Prime Minister has put enormous energy and considerable ruthless into crafting the image of indispensability,” to create an image that he is “the sole guarantor of Israel security.” (Instead of being labeled as “NEWS ANALYSIS” a more apt description of the article would be “One Sided Anti-Israel, Pro-Palestinian Propaganda Hit Job.”)

The Surprise: Ever since the outbreak of hostilities, I have been counting the days before the Times ran an editorial on the situation, expecting it to be pro-Palestinian and, as usual, a condemnation of Israel. When it finally materialized, the editorial was titled, “New Ideas for Israel and the Palestinians.” The headline of the editorial is self-explanatory. But the surprise came in the second and third paragraphs. “Israelis should not have to live in fear of rockets raining down…” read a line in the second paragraph. The following graph contained a sentence that was the strongest about Israeli’s right to defend itself that I saw in a Times editorial in years.  It read, “Israeli has a right — even a responsibility – to put a stop to the rocket attacks at its source.”

But the Times news side resorted to its pro-Palestinian position on May 23. A huge story by David M. Halbfinger and Adam Rasgon chronicled the sufferings of Palestinians. It began on page one, accompanied by four portraits of Palestinians, and continued on two inside pages, accompanied by five photos. The article was titled “The Misery of Life Under Occupation.” Nowhere in the Times that day was there even one paragraph of how Israeli’s felt when one of their family was killed by Palestinians. Instead there was a story about the technological capabilities of the Israeli army.

The above is an abridged look of the Times coverage, only from its print edition. But those who have paid attention over the decades know that its coverage, print or on-line, have always favored the Palestinians. That’s what made the May 22 editorial so surprising. 

Also people who closely follow the Israeli-Palestinian conflicts know that the goal of Hamas is the total destruction of Israel. They have publicly said so even after they tried to convince the world of their reasonableness by removing the destruction of Israel from its manifesto in 2006. But as recently as 2019, a Hamas official called for Jews around the world to be killed, a statement which he attempted to walk back.

Nevertheless, again missing from the Times coverage of the conflict was the Palestinian oft-repeated declaration to eliminate Israel and drive its citizens into the sea.

Newspapers have editorial writers to express the entity’s viewpoints on matters and staff columnists to express their opinions. I might disagree with the viewpoints but both have a place in journalism. However, the above contributory essays written by Palestinians and their supporters fall into another category. They were partisan opinion pieces that appeared without any opposing essays and that demonstrates why the New York Times coverage of the Israeli-Palestinians situation and conflict has always been anti- Israel.

The Unspoken PR Tenet: Bad News Is Good News for Our Business By Arthur SolomonAbout the Author: Arthur Solomon, a former journalist, was a senior VP/senior counselor at Burson-Marsteller, and was responsible for restructuring, managing and playing key roles in some of the most significant national and international sports and non-sports programs. He also traveled internationally as a media adviser to high-ranking government officials. He now is a frequent contributor to public relations publications, consults on public relations projects and is on the Seoul Peace Prize nominating committee. He can be reached at arthursolomon4pr (at) juno.com or artsolomon4pr@optimum.net.