By Ira Stoll
For the New York Times coverage of Jews and Jewish issues, it’s two steps forward, one step back.
The executive editor of the New York Times, Dean Baquet, said in a recent interview that New York Times readers have “far more power” to influence the decisions of Times editors than they ever have had before. “Readers pay our bills more than they ever have. We have to listen to them,” Mr. Baquet said.
It sure looks like that’s what the Times has done in reaction to at least two complaints published here at the Algemeiner.
Back in April, I wrote about what I called the Times’ “flawed crusade against yeshivas.” I wrote:
If the Times is going to choose to cover, rather than ignore, the topic of Jewish education, it would be nice to read some success stories, instead of just the complaints and scandals.
Lo and behold, over the long New Year weekend, the Times delivered, in the form of a long story about the “little-known but thriving” world of floor hockey at New York area yeshivas. Maybe the Times would have bothered to tell this story if I hadn’t complained about the previous coverage. But maybe not.
In sports — not necessarily yeshiva floor hockey, but professional sports — this is known as a “make-up call.” Just as a referee or umpire may make up for one bad call by giving the team that suffered from it the benefit of the doubt on the next one, Timeseditors can do their best to make up for mistakes or tilted coverage by doing better with another story.
Another example of this phenomenon came in the Times arts section. In November, I complained about how the Times had given scant attention to an exhibit at the New-York Historical Society titled “The First Jewish Americans: Freedom and Culture in the New World.” By contrast, the Times lavished space and praise on an exhibit called “The Art of the Qur’an: Treasures from the Musuem of Turkish and Islamic Arts,” which was at the Sackler Gallery in Washington, DC.
Again, lo and behold, also over the New Year weekend, the Times went back and ran another story about the Jewish exhibit at the New-York Historical Society. This second story appeared on the front of the arts section rather than buried inside, which had been one of my complaints about the original coverage. And it ended with a warm and positive quote rather than a strange or potentially hostile one, which had been another one of my complaints about the original coverage.
It’s an encouraging development — almost enough to make me think that Mr. Baquet is right, and that Times reader complaints like the ones I’ve been publishing at the Algemeiner do have the power to push the editors of the paper to adjust coverage in an improved direction.
Yet there’s at least one area in which the Times is still in need of improvement, and that is in its coverage of Israel. The US House of Representatives voted on January 5 to approve a resolution objecting to UN Security Council Resolution 2334 as “biased against Israel” and calling for it to be repealed or fundamentally altered. The approval came on a 342-80 vote that included majorities of both Republicans and Democrats.
The Times didn’t even assign a staffer to report that news. Nor, at least as far as I can tell, was the news published in the print newspaper. The Timesinstead handled it only on its website, relying on a couple of Associated Pressdispatches (Lawmakers Vote to Rebuke U.N. for ‘Anti-Israel’ Resolution; Israel’s Netanyahu Thanks US House for Vote to Rebuke UN).
Contrast that to the second-coming-type coverage — top-of-the-front page headlines, long editorials, multiple ecstatic op-ed pieces, wave upon wave of staff-written news articles — that accompanied the UN Security Council vote. When Israel is condemned, the Times is all over the story. Yet when the condemnation of Israel is itself condemned by a wide bipartisan majority in Congress, the Times editors don’t consider it news “fit to print.” Here’s hoping that when it comes to their failure to cover the Congressional vote in response to the UN resolution, the Times editors attempt a make-up call like the ones they did on the yeshivas and the art exhibit. It’ll be a fine test of Mr. Baquet’s promise to listen to the paper’s readers.
© 2016 The Algemeiner Journal