Reader Post: How Dean Baquet Helped Me Understand The Bias At NY Times
I was reading the N.Y. Times on Saturday, November 14th, and was disappointed (as usual) with the coverage of the attack that ended the lives of Rabbi Yaakov Litman and his son, Natanel. As I often do, I wrote a letter to the paper, the text of which is enclosed below.
Subject: 2 killed as Israeli family is attacked in West Bank
By Diaa Hadid
Nov. 14, 2015
The Israeli media reports that a Red Crescent ambulance was at the scene and left without treating the Jewish victims of the Arab attack. Why is this omitted from the report by the N.Y. Times?
Why is it that when an Arab is killed at a checkpoint no article ever notes how many times attempted terror attacks and weapons smuggling have been stopped by Israeli checkpoints, but when an Israeli family is attacked the reporter needs to note that more Arabs than Israelis have died in the current spate of attacks?
Given the fact that the majority of Arabs have been killed as they were attacking Israelis while the Israelis who have been killed by Arabs were engaged in peaceable activities, it should not matter if there are more casualties on one side than the other.
This attempt to treat the casualties from both sides as moral equivalents is a sad misrepresentation of the facts on the ground.
To my surprise, I promptly received a response from Dean Baquet, Executive Editor at the N.Y. Times, and was pleased to see that he had read my comment. However, that pleasure turned to disappointment when I read his response.
Arthur, Forgive me. Given the work we have spent two days doing in Paris, your note is ridiculous.
While I am used to the fact that my letters do not get published, I was quite shocked by the rudeness of his response, and even began to wonder if having written about such a seemingly minor issue, at least in comparison to what had just happened in France, had been inappropriate.
A couple of days later I found time to respond, and by then any self-doubt had disappeared.
Mr. Baquet, I can appreciate that the distress of covering the massacre in France was overwhelming, but even so I found your response to be unpleasant. I have been trying to understand for a few days now what the NY Times coverage in Paris has to do with the coverage of an incident in the West Bank. Was Ms. Hadid also busy working in Paris so that she did not have time to look into the details of the shooting in the West Bank before submitting her report? Was Ms. Jodi Rudoren, the Jerusalem Bureau Chief, also involved in uncovering information in Paris and so unavailable to check the details of Ms. Hadid’s story before setting it into print? A sixteen year old boy, who had just seen his father and older brother shot to death, and who was sitting in the wreckage of their car with his mother and sisters, called for help and was recorded as describing an Arab Red Crescent Ambulance at the scene but driving off without making any effort to assist, and that does not come close to being reported by the NY Times and all you can say is that my comment is “absurd”? Ms. Hadid did report the following, so she clearly was aware of news of a call being made. “The voice of a man said to have been one of the victims was recorded pleading for help in a call to Israeli emergency services, according to Channel 10, which broadcast the recording. The authenticity of the call could not be immediately verified independently.“ According to the Jerusalem Post, “Channel 10’s weekly Friday evening newscast aired audio of the call, which confirmed earlier reports on social media that Palestinian paramedics did not tend to the victims of the shooting near the West Bank settlement of Otniel.” The fact that she clearly references the Channel 10 newscast suggests that she was, prior to filing her report, aware of that newscast and that there was a claim that the Arab Red Crescent ambulance had driven off. Nonetheless, her only reference to that story is to deny that the call might be genuine. Why? Thus far, the Red Crescent has not denied that an ambulance was there and that it left, although they claim that it was ‘scared off’ by the arrival of Israeli soldiers with guns. So why is it that Ms. Hadid could not be bothered to mention that aspect of the story at all? Why did Ms. Hadid hide the fact that an Arab ambulance was at and left the scene?
Then, after noting that there have been 13 Israelis killed thus far, Ms. Hadid goes on to write, “During the same time, at least 85 Palestinians have been killed. Some were attacking or trying to attack Israeli soldiers and civilians; others were killed during violent demonstrations. The latest were two Palestinian men killed in demonstrations on Friday, local news media reported.” Aside from my displeasure at the manner in which this sort of comparative body count is brought up as if to show how the Arabs are the greater victims, there are other issues with this material. According to the Israeli government, 52 of those Palestinian Arabs were killed while attacking Israelis, who have been as young as 2 and as old as 80. One victim, Richard Lakin, was a prominent activist who spent his life working to promote peaceful coexistence. For Ms. Hadid to say that “SOME were attacking” when the reality is that “MOST” were attacking is clearly misrepresenting the facts.
Working from the list of attacks on the website of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, I would estimate that there have been 81 Israeli civilians who have been attacked (this only includes those killed or wounded), as compared to 61 people who were police, security guards, border guards and IDF soldiers. According to the IMFA, only 25 attacks were directed at people clearly identifiable as “soldiers.” Even giving Ms. Hadid the benefit of considering all such people involved in security in any way as being ‘soldiers’, the fact is that far more of the victims have been civilians. I would like to point out that the IMFA reports only counted those who were physically attacked, so the estimated figures that I have presented here do not include the substantial number of civilians who would be considered as victims if we were to count every student who was on the school bus which Palestinian Arabs attempted to attack but were repelled, or every civilian on the bus where police caught a man with a knife under his seat. That being the case, for her to note that the Palestinian Arabs who were killed were attacking “Israeli soldiers and civilians” falls quite short of the truth that Israeli civilians have been the primary targets for attacks, probably 75% or more of the total. So, again, she is clearly not representing the situation in an honest manner. She’s not lying, per se, but she’s clearly hiding the truth and even implying that things are the opposite of what they are.
However, that is not the most “absurd” thing that I’d like to discuss. On October 27, after reporting a Palestinian Arab witness insisting (despite video footage caught by MSNBC and broadcast almost live showing him running with a knife-like object in his hands) that any knife must have been planted by the Israelis, she noted that “The Israeli police soon published a photo of a pocketknife, the kind Boy Scouts use, next to the slain teenager.” While a 19 year old is in fact a teenager, many would consider that label to be trying to deny his adulthood in a manipulative way. However, even more than the attempt to make him seem young, I have to wonder what would motivate Ms. Rudoren to refer to the knife as the “kind” that a “boy scout” would use? Clearly she is trying to connote the image of innocent youth that the phrase “boy scout” brings up, and most certainly the kind of knife that would be associated with a boy scout is something like a Swiss Army knife, with scissors and maybe even a fork and spoon rather than the more martial weapon that this “teenager” was actually carrying.
But the most “absurd” aspect of this was yet to come. On November 10, the paper published a correction. While the correction noted that butterfly knives were typically weapons, it went on to say, “The Boy Scouts of America does not explicitly ban such knives; it endorses pocketknives for general use, and does not sell butterfly knives in its official Scout shop. Butterfly knives are legal in some states, and knife policies are set by individual troops, so it is possible, though unlikely, that some troops approve them. But the knife pictured is not typically “the kind Boy Scouts use.” What sort of correction is that? “It is possible, though unlikely, that some troops approve them”? Can you please explain to me why the NY Times cannot simply admit that it made a mistake instead of quibbling like some petulant adolescent about whether or not boy scouts might actually use butterfly knives? By the logic used for the correction, any knife not “explicitly” banned by the boy scouts is therefore eligible to be described as the kind of knife that a boy scout might use. The boy scouts do not explicitly ban hatchets, so that can also be described as something that a boy scout would use. A butterfly knife is designed to be slender and easy to carry, fast to open with one hand, and has a blade that will not fold back on you like a Swiss Army knife will. It is clearly designed as a weapon and is not what any reasonable person would consider the instrument of choice for a camping trip. Ms. Rudoren’s description of it as being something that a “boy scout” would use was bad enough, the correction that quibbles at length about whether or not such knives would be sold, banned, approved or used by scouts is embarrassing to see in a paper of the stature that the New York Times claims to have.
However, most absurd was your response to me. Even allowing for your being emotionally overwhelmed by the events in France, it was rude and unprofessional. Even with the horrific events in France, which I have also been following with sorrow and dread, facts are facts and it is the responsibility of a newspaper to focus on the facts. Ms. Hadid’s omission of any mention of the Red Crescent Ambulance leaving the scene was inappropriate, as is her willful misrepresentation of the attacks by the Palestinian Arabs and her gratuitous mention of how many have died on each side. Facts are facts, and I do not think that it is “absurd” for someone to point out that facts are missing or that they are being misused to create a misleading impression. I expect better from the NY Times and I expected better from you.”
His response appeared within the hour.
That’s not the distress I’m talking about. I’m talking about the stress of getting your one-sided complaints.
And with that I began to understand how the N.Y. Times has become what it is, a shadow of the “paper of record” that it claims to be. If asking for a reporter to honestly report the facts of an incident is “one-sided,” then how can we expect to see anything but bias and misinformation in the paper? And if the executive editor is so openly hostile to readers who dare to complain, then what hope is there that the paper will ever be better.
Even so, I have sent off another letter today, although I’ve decided to leave Dean off of the mailing list for a bit. He seems far too stressed. Of course, as the old saying goes, if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.