By Ira Stoll
Just how bad is the New York Times coverage of Israel these days? How about this for an answer: worse than Al Jazeera.
“Plan approved for 2,500 new settler homes in West Bank,” is the headline over the article at AlJazeera.com, the web site of the satellite network geared to an Arab audience and controlled by the al Thani family that rules the Persian Gulf emirate of Qatar.
That kind of straightforward headline was the sort placed on the story at a wide variety of news outlets, from NBC News (“Israel Okays 2,500 New West Bank Settlement Homes”) through USA Today (“Israel approves 2,500 West Bank settlement homes”), the Jerusalem Post (“Israel announces plans to build 2,500 new West Bank housing units”), and even the Guardian (“Israel announces 2,500 more West Bank settlement homes”).
The New York Times, however, unlike the other news organizations, chose to make its headline feature not an objective number of housing units, but a subjective adjective. The Times headline reads: “Israel Approves Large Settlement Expansion in West Bank.”
Well, maybe 2,500 units is “large” compared to the ideal number of housing units for West Bank Jews in the minds of the Times editors. Their ideal number is zero. But it may be small in comparison to other relevant numbers, none of which are included in the Times article. How many new babies are born to existing West Bank families each year? How many newly married couples are there who need new housing? How many immigrants are arriving in Israel each year fleeing rising antisemitism in Europe, or even (to hear the Times tell it, at least) the Trump-era United States? How many new housing units are the Palestinian Arabs building in the West Bank each year? How many housing units are there already? Are the 2,500 units studio apartments or eight-bedroom McMansions? What percentage of the overall land area of the West Bank will be affected by the construction? (New York City, by comparison, aims for about 8,000 new “affordable” housing starts each year.)
The Times article doesn’t answer any of those questions that might provide meaningful context for readers to assess whether the Times characterization of the settlement expansion as “large” is accurate. It just hurls the adjective, which is really just an opinion masquerading as a news headline. Maybe the headline should really say, “Israel Approves Tiny Settlement Expansion in West Bank.” Or maybe it should say, “Israel Approves Medium-Sized Settlement Expansion in West Bank.”
It doesn’t really matter, for the purpose of seeing this point, what your opinion is about the West Bank settlements, or the future disposition of them. I can respect a variety of views of that issue. What does matter is your ability to recognize that it is an opinion, and whether 2,500 units is “large” or “small” or “medium-sized” depends, to a large degree, on what your opinion is, and what you are comparing it to. The Times’ apparent inability to recognize that — or indifference to it — is a journalistic blind spot.
As a related side note, the Times barely reported at all on President Obama’s last-minute release of $221 million to the Palestinian Authority, handling the matter by picking up a wire-service story that does not appear in the print New York Times. The headline: “US Sent $221 Million to Palestinians in Obama’s Last Hours.” Not “US Sent Large Sum to Palestinians in Obama’s Last Hours.”
If the Times editors there can’t comprehend this basic journalistic point, maybe they should take some time off and go work for Al Jazeera, where they can get some training in how to treat Israel-related news more objectively.
© 2017 The Algemeiner Journal