In the Middle East, the New York Times Doesn’t Burden Itself with Proof
In the little town of Candor in the last year of my youth
I learned the final lesson of the levels to the truth – The Mayor of Candor Lied – Harry Chapin
There was a line in a recent New York Times report that made me think about how the New York Times shades the truth. The report was about the increasingly contentious relationship between Egypt’s interim government and the international media.
Officials now charge, without evidence, that many protesters are Syrian or Palestinian.
Apparently that’s the standard of the New York Times. To be true, an assertion must be supported with evidence. Or does it?
In recent weeks we’ve seen a number of articles that demonstrate how the New York Times deals with demanding proof of an assertions validity.
Earlier this month, Israel was about to restart peace talks with the Palestinians, after agreeing to release 104 murderers from jail. The New York Times reported On Eve of Talks, Israel Approves More Housing and Stops a Rocket:
In a new affront to the Palestinians on the eve of resumed peace talks, the Israeli Interior Ministry’s final approval of nearly 900 new apartments in a contested part of Jerusalem has been officially published, Israeli news media reported Tuesday. It was Israel’s second move since Sunday to advance housing construction in areas sought by the Palestinians for a future state.
But as the article later reported, Secretary of State John Kerry said that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu had been “completely upfront with me and with President Abbas that he would be announcing some additional building that would take place in places that will not affect the peace map.”
Even after the reporting effectively refuted the idea that the announcement was an affront, the reporter still used the loaded language. (Of course, she also provided outraged quotes from Palestinians. But was she reporting the outrage; or seeking to validate it?) When Palestinians take offense in the New York Times, no qualification is necessary.
In contrast, another article from the same time told of the differing approaches of the two societies to the prisoners who were to be released:
They are widely viewed in Palestinian society as political prisoners, but most Israelis see them as terrorists.
They are terrorists. They are not political prisoners. Palestinian society (and its cheerleaders) is the exception and yet the Times portrays both sides as equally valid. “Most Israelis?” Actually most civilized people consider the murderers of innocents to be terrorists.
Affronts to Israel are qualified.
In another dazzling display of logical acrobatics, the New York Times managed to imply that Israel was guilty of a terrorist bombing in Lebanon.
Last week a powerful car bomb exploded in Beirut killing at least 27 people. There are two true statements about the news of this terrorism.
a) A Sunni group called the Brigades of Aisha took responsibility for the attack.
b) A Lebanese political analyst suggested that Israel may have been responsible.
Guess which true statement made it into the New York Times.
In Deadly Blast Rocks a Hezbollah Stronghold in Lebanon, New York Times reporter Ben Hubbard first wrote that there were “no credible claims of responsibility” but towards the end he quoted the Lebanese analyst:
Talal Atrissi, a Lebanese political analyst, said he did not rule out Israeli involvement. Israel, along with the United States and the European Union, considers Hezbollah a terrorist organization, and it has assassinated many of its leaders. The bombing took place one day before Hezbollah’s annual commemoration of its one-month war with Israel in 2006.
So it’s true that Talal Atrissi suggested that Israel may have been responsible. But it’s also true that Atrissi made his absurd suggestion with no evidence, which had been the standard at the New York Times elsewhere. Worse, the reporter added a sentence to suggest (again with no evidence) that maybe there was something to the suggestion.
More recently the usually execrable Robert Mackey did some fact checking of his own, in Israel Behind Egypt’s Coup, Erdogan Says. After claiming that he had evidence that Israel was behind the ouster of Egypt’s Mohammed Morsi. Well Erdogan had proof.
Mr. Erdogan’s office later confirmed that he was referring to a YouTube video of remarks Mr. Lévy made in 2011 during a discussion of “Israel and the Arab Spring” with the Israeli politician Tzipi Livni at Tel Aviv University.
In the video Tzippi Livni, who was in the Israeli government and the Jewish philosopher, Bernard Henri Levi were discussing a hypothetical Muslim Brotherhood electoral victory. Levi was simply saying that he thought that Islamists were a danger to any society that they ruled. So yes Erdogan had evidence, it just wasn’t evidence of the conspiracy theory he was peddling. Mackey’s aware of this and then writes:
It remains unclear why Mr. Erdogan interpreted comments from a French philosopher who holds no official position in his home country or in Israel as “evidence” of Israeli responsibility for the coup in Egypt. As my colleague Jodi Rudoren reported this week, Israeli officials have welcomed the coup and acknowledged waging a “diplomatic campaign urging Europe and the United States to support the military-backed government in Egypt despite its deadly crackdown on Islamist protesters.”
“[R]emains unclear?” Who’s he kidding? Erdogan has a history of such outbursts. But then Mackey suggests that since Israel prefers al-Sisi to Morsi after the fact it’s almost as if Israel conspired to get Morsi removed from office by pointing to a news report that exaggerated Israel’s efforts regarding Egypt.
Like the Lebanese political analyst, Erdogan had no basis for his Jew-centric conspiracy, but the New York Times reporter provided the support to demonstrate that maybe the lunacy wasn’t so irrational.
From these three cases a pattern emerges. When the Times is sympathetic to a cause, they accept claims coming from its partisans without checking. But they demand rigor from causes that they’re hostile towards.
In terms of Israel, that means the craziest charges against Israel will be repeated uncritically and for Israel’s enemies the most absurd sentiment expressed will remain unexamined.