By Rolene Marks
The New York Times used to be one of the world’s most respected publications. Packed with thought provoking content that delved into the nuances and complexities behind some of the world’s biggest stories and issues, readers could look forward to diverse opinions and well researched articles.
But over the last few years, something has changed at this once venerated bastion of journalism and the NY Times has gone from admired – to derided. What has happened? Why are there many asking the question has the NY Times fallen victim to institutional capture and is now a vehicle for those wishing to push a very transparent agenda? Many believe this to be true – especially when it comes to issues that are either focused on Israel or American Jewry.
Israel and the conflict with our neighbours occupies many a column inch in the world’s leading newspapers (and some really unsavoury ones as well) which is almost understandable because of the religious and emotional connections that a lot of people have, but there is a line where the connection dangerously becomes the obsession. The New York Times is obsessed.
Over the last couple of years, any mention of the NY Times is guaranteed to raise the blood pressure – and ire of many who feel that the publication is pandering to a far-left agenda, with truth (and Israel) as a casualty.
Political satire in the form of cartoons has always been a creative way for opinion makers to be highly controversial and circumvent certain parameters but in 2019, the paper featured a cartoon that led to many writing complaints – and cancelling of subscriptions. Never a fan of the Trump administration, the cartoonist drew a caricature that featured a blind President Trump being led by Israeli PM Netanyahu, portrayed as a “guide dog” with a big Star of David around his neck. The inference was plain to see – the most powerful man in the world, the President of the USA (and this is not an issue of whether one likes or dislikes him) was being led and heavily influenced by Israel. This trotted out the age old ugly stereotype that Jews control the governments of the world and in particular, the leading superpower.
Faced with an avalanche of complaints from Jewish individuals, institutions and supporters, the paper would eventually publish an “acknowledgement of an error of judgment” on their Twitter page and subsequently apologized saying:
It is not unusual these days for the NY Times to raise the odd eyebrow or two, a misleading headline here and omission of context there and often face the wrath of readers or media watch dogs. It gets more worrisome when they dredge up old articles that may not be relevant and serves no purpose other than to fuel the flames of divisiveness.
The world was horrified when the images of George Floyd slowly asphyxiating to death while a cop placed his knee firmly on his windpipe. This event ignited protests across the US and the world and while the social justice movement, Black Lives Matter would gain momentum in highlighting and fighting racism, there were elements who took advantage of the fervour whipped up against injustice.
Enter Deadly Exchange, a group dedicated to blaming Israeli law enforcement for the tactics employed by the police officer in question. They claim that Israel’s training exchanges which see officers receive and give training to their colleagues from around the world, is what is allowing this tactic to be adopted by law enforcement officers in the US. While Israeli police have at times used what some might see as excessive force, these instances have been dealt with – and are not isolated to Israel and are definitely not training policy.
The NY Times would have you believe otherwise. Months after this issue has died down, journalists, David Halbfinger and Adam Rasgon, wrote an article titled “An Autistic Man Is Killed, Exposing Israel’s Festering Police Brutality Problem,” the authors depict Israeli authorities as having “failed to rein in the use of excessive force, which has a long history.”
According to media watchdog HonestReporting, the article which is 2000 words long, “fails to acknowledge that Jerusalem is a city that has been plagued by terrorism and remains at the heart of a territorial conflict. Israeli police and military, as well as civilians, have over the years been victims of shooting, stabbing and car ramming attacks.”
The complexities and nuances of the conflict are presented in a way that is very vague and this is cause for concern that readers may miss any robust discussion – and recognition about the unique challenges in this volatile region.
By far the most alarming was the shocking resignation of respected journalist, Bari Weiss. Weiss who is largely centrist in her opinions and has written for the Wall Street Journal as well as other publications was initially hired to represent a different ideology or voice and enjoyed a very successful career. This was until her sometimes controversial opinions clashed with the “woke” folk at the paper. Isn’t the point of a free press to allow for a variety of opinions, even though you may disagree with them?
It would appear that instead of creating an environment where people could respectfully disagree and debate, the NY Times allowed for one where bullying and cancel culture became rampant. The environment became so hostile that Weiss was forced to resign.
Comments such as “Nazi” and “racist” and “you are writing about the Jews again” contributed to a workspace that was more” mean girl” than meaningful. Weiss is not the first and will no doubt not be the last journalist to be driven out of the workplace for opinions that clash with the growing woke voice. Suzanne Moore and English journalist with The Guardian newspaper was also put in a position where she would rather resign than work in an environment growing ever more intolerant of her opinions.
This phenomenon is very dangerous in a profession that is supposed to be driven by fact and diversity and not personal agendas.
Bari Weiss resignation letter: https://www.bariweiss.com/resignation-letter
Weiss has been replaced by far-left writer Peter Beinart whose views are perhaps more palatable to the agenda of the paper.
The latest iteration is the Jewish festival of Chanukah. Everybody has the right to observe (or not) religious festivals how they deem fit but does a personal choice really necessitate an op-ed in the NY Times? Many are asking this of an op-ed entitled “Saying goodbye to Chanukah” that was published as millions around the world prepared to celebrate a festival that allows for some light in an otherwise dark year. The writer makes a point of stating how her family will carry on Christmas and Easter traditions (as is their right) but one gets the feeling that she heaps scorn on Chanukah. It is almost derisive.
One has to ask the question, would an op-ed of this kind be written about the festivals of other religions?
Institutional capture is a new type of MacCarthyism. In the 1950’s, this movement was largely dedicated to weeding out those in the entertainment industry that were suspected of having Communist sympathies. In the case of the NY Times, it is weeding out and cancelling anyone that may seem to have an affinity to Israel or Jews that does not suit the agenda of the thought and opinion police. This is very dangerous territory. One would hope that this once highly respected journal, once the benchmark of journalistic integrity and excellence will break free of its one-sided captors. Free expression in a democracy depends on it.
Feature Picture credit: Doug Chayka
While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves. LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO)