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News and views on Israel, Zionism and the war on terrorism.

March 19, 2003

Biases

Tom Gross did an excellent critique of how the New York Times skews its coverage of the Middle East. There's too much in the article to give you a full taste of his essay, but here's a small flavor:
While the Times couldn't find room to include a photo of Abigail (or any injured child) last Thursday, it did choose to again run its "Mideast Death Toll" chart alongside the news report about the Haifa bomb. Strangely, the Times (to my recollection) usually runs this chart — in which it lines up total numbers of Israeli deaths next to the greater number of Palestinian deaths — only on days after Israelis have died. The implication would seem to be that Israel is responsible for more fatalities than the Palestinians.

It also seems odd that the Times doesn't (to the best of my knowledge) run these kind of football-score-type charts for any other conflict (Protestant vs. Catholic deaths in Northern Ireland, for example, or Afghan vs. American deaths since September 11).
Indeed this is one of my pet peeves about any coverage. And it bothered me during the first intifada too. With no context, the numbers serve as a judgment - and not one that is favorable to Israel - despite what the editors say.

There were two examples that Gross didn't include in his article.

One of the more incredible stories of 2000 was that Egypt and Saudi Arabia encouraged Arafat to reject the Camp David agreement offered by the PM Barak. It's a really huge story that two "moderate pro-Western" Arab states played a role in this act of extremism. Of course neither country paid a diplomatic price for its perfidy; and, of course, this little item didn't cause the New York Times to rethink its evaluation of these countries.
During the last few days, a number of Arab leaders like Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudia Arabia and President Mubarak have joined with Mr. Arafat's domestic opponents in Islamic militant movements to weigh in on the issue. They all but threatened Mr. Arafat with political excommunication if he accepted Prime Minister Ehud Barak's proposals for administrative control over parts of the city and access to -- but not sovereignty over -- the major Muslim sites.
So there you have it. How did the Times work its own reporting into future stories? Let's see.
After more than 20 years of standing alongside American presidents in building peace in the region, President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt is feeling undermined by Washington, upstaged by Saudi Arabia and vulnerable before an angry Arab population, officials here say.
Apparently encouraging Arafat to reject the most generous Israeli offer (and one that was too generous) is considered "building peace." And what about our stalwart Saudi allies?
Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia is expected to tell President Bush in stark terms at their meeting on Thursday that the strategic relationship between their two countries will be threatened if Mr. Bush does not moderate his support for Israel's military policies, a person familiar with the Saudi's thinking said today.

In a bleak assessment, he said there was talk within the Saudi royal family and in Arab capitals of using the "oil weapon" against the United States, and demanding that the United States leave strategic military bases in the region.

Such measures, he said, would be a "strategic debacle for the United States."

He also warned of a general drift by Arab leaders toward the radical politics that have been building in the Arab street.

The Saudi message contained undeniable brinkmanship intended to put pressure on Mr. Bush to take a much larger political gamble by imposing a peace settlement on Israelis and Palestinians.
These five paragraphs are breathtaking, especially knowing what we now know. First, of if the Saudis think that America "imposing a peace settlement" will help, why did torpedo the American effort nearly two years earlier. Why warn about the chance that America's supposed failure to take the initiative might radicalize Arab leaders when, in fact, they'd already demonstrated that radicalization at a pivotal moment? As he did in the Mubarak article, Patrick Tyler ignores the significant story his own newspaper had previously reported.

The Thomas Friedman peace proposal also brought out some dishonesty in the Times. After Thomas Friedman unveiled the supposed "Saudi peace plan" last year, the Times used all its resources to promote the plan and presumably promote their Op-Ed guy for a Nobel Peace Prize. The most egregious violation of journalistic ethics came in the context of Syrian support for the "Saudi Peace Plan." Serge Schmemann reported:
In its first statement on the plan proposed last month by Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, which pledges Arab countries to a full normalization of relations with Israel in return for full Israeli withdrawal from land occupied in the 1967 war, Syria expressed its "satisfaction with the position of Saudi Arabia."
The statement followed a meeting between Prince Abdullah and President Bashar al-Assad of Syria in Riyadh. It said a comprehensive peace "cannot be achieved except with Israeli withdrawal from all occupied Arab land, including the Syrian Golan." The statement also called for the right of return for Palestinian refugees, a matter critical to Lebanon, where many of them live.
Since it's clear that Schmemann saw the statement its inconceivable that he didn't see this part:
Viewpoints were identical regarding all discussed issues and ideas where assertion was that the just and comprehensive peace in the region as the strategic option could never be realized but through the Israeli full withdrawal from the occupied Arab territories including from the Syrian Golan Heights to the line of June4 1967, the liberation of the remaining occupied territories in South Lebanon, the establishment of an independent Palestinian State with Jerusalem as its capital clinging the the right of the refugees return in accordance with related UN resolutions.
(Emphasis mine.) Syria added language (and Saudi Arabia agreed to this addition) demanding that Israel withdraw from southern Lebanon. It did not matter that Israel withdrew from Lebanon two years earlier or that the Security Council endorsed that withdrawal. Syria, Lebanon's occupier, changed the rules and made Shebaa Farms Lebanese territory. (It was captured from Syria and was to be discussed along with any part of an agreement with Syria.) Essentially Syria gave land to Lebanon in order to maintain a Lebanese grievance against Israel.

This is significant because it shows the hazards of any Arab peacemaking efforts. They will always change the goals. Here was a significant change in the Syrian proposal and the Times just ignored it. The reporter left out the part of the Syrian "agreement" with the Saudi plan that was inconvenient even though he had to have been aware of it. (Thomas Friedman, whose peace plan this was, clearly knew about this - I'm sure he read the Syrian statement too - and also remained silent.)

The funny thing is that the Times eventually acknowledge the Syrian position- at the end of the Arab League summit.
Some provisions in the plan run counter to existing Security Council resolutions, an official here said. Among these is the call by the Saudi plan for an Israeli withdrawal from Lebanese territory. The Council does not consider Israel to be in control of any Lebanese land after the Israeli withdrawal from the border area two years ago. In Beirut this week, Lebanon revived its claim to a small part of the Israeli-held Golan Heights known as the Sheba Farms.
It's news enough that the Security Council was honest. But here was significant evidence that Saudi peace proposal had been significantly altered and sabotaged. The Times managed one article on the subject and only after the Arab League summit was over! The Times had a responsibility to report this but didn't. Promoting its columnist's peace proposal was more important than reporting the news.

These two examples show the degree to which the Times will go to say that Arabs are trying to make peace - even against the available evidence. You'd think that these countries with official media could promote these lies effectively on their own. But the New York Times apparently thinks the cause of peace is so important that it must promote it; even if it means repeating the lies of dictators.
Cross posted on David's Israel Blog and IsraPundit.