Monday, February 28, 2005

Rob & Kara's Report on the coverage in the New York Times of Israelies and Palestinians

Rob & Kara: Having agreed to take a look into the New York Times reporting on Israelies and Palestinians, we had no idea of the rabbit hole we were going down. Our large conclusion is that the reporting tilts towards Israel three out of four times. This appears to result from systematic issues at the paper and not out of malice.

*When reporting on deaths in the regions, Israeli deaths and injuries pop up as stand alone stories. If today at three o'clock, seven Israelies are killed, that's a story the New York Times will run and they will only write of that.

*When reporting on the deaths of Palestinians, the New York Times is three times as likely to add a paragraph or two about about Israelis killed in an incident prior even if that means dropping back a few days to find an incident.

*When reporting deaths in the region, direct quotes are supplied by those in the Israeli government. Palestinians, average ones, who may witness an incident, are referred to but direct quotes are not printed from them. This may be the reliance on official sources pattern at the New York Times. Regardless of the reason, the only official voice of the Palestinians the paper chooses to give weight to is Mahmoud Abbas. Prior to his election, while Yasser Arafat was ill and in the time before Abbas died, the Palestinians were left without an official voice recognized by the paper and as such were largely rendered silent. The New York Times should address this issue.

*Humanitarian activits speaking the truth about what is or is not on ambulances are not advocates for Palestinians or Israelies and should not be presented as such. When the paper lets them respond to charges against them by officials in the Israeli government, that appears to pass, for the paper, as balance. It is not balance. The paper has presented the charge from officials in Ariel Sharon's governments of complicity in aid of the Palestinians on the part of relief workers. While humanitarian advocates should be allowed to respond to such charges, so should Palestinians.

*Abbas is one official source recognized by the paper against many official sources from the Sharon government. The paper should realize the flaw in this pattern and make efforts to either find other official sources for the Palestinians or else to (and we recommend this) stop relying solely on official sources. We find no other area in international coverage where the citizens are so rarely quoted. While the New York Times should increase the voices of the people across the board, that is especially the case when it comes to Israelies and Palestinians because eye witness accounts seem to be trumped by official lines (on both sides).

*In the lead up to the election, only Abbas was highlighted in a serious manner. The paper may see that as "we focused on the winning horse!" and pat themselves on the back. That would be a mistake. Other contenders represented other elements of the Palestinians and should have been highlighted. By not doing so, the people were treated in a simplified manner. In addition, some potential contenders may become important to history at some point due to the long history of conflict and attention given to this conflict. The paper would have better served the readers by detaling each candidate.

*Abbas's clothing choices were the least important aspect of his campaign; however, to read the coverage, you'd assume that fashion had as much to do with his eventual win as anything he stated. The coverage of Abbas, while treated in a nondismissive manner, leaves much to be improved upon. New York Times readers who read each piece leading up to the election were woefully underinformed as to what he stood for and what he had done in the past. Should Abbas remain in power half as long as Araft, this lack of attention to Abbas from the start will have seriously damaged our understanding of not just who the man is but what the prospects for this continued conflict are.

*Dissidents from both sides remain invisible in the paper's coverage. This is especially noteable in the coverage of the "wall" which continues to be reported in this manner: the paper recoginizes Sharon or some other official from his government and quotes them, the paper then may mention the UN judgement on the wall, and then we're told that nameless and faceless people (on both sides) will be effected. This is not reporting that increases a reader's understanding of the issues involved.

*We are not prepared to charge (nor are we at present charging) the paper with favorable bias towards Israelies over Palestinians. However, the paper is predisposed to utilize what they recognize as official sources. That should change. But if and until it does, the paper needs to make stronger efforts to seek out official sources from the Abbas government.

For our research, we looked at all news stories reported from the region for the months of September to February 15th. Focusing on stories from the region exempted the coverage of Arafat who was outside the region. We will note, however, that if the reporting on Arafat (including the coverage of his death) are noted, the picture is much bleaker. Since we were not greately impressed with any sense of fairness in any of the mainstream media's reporting on Arafat's death, we elected to exclude the coverage on Arafat that came from outside the region.
However, as a matter of historical record (something the New York Times attempts to provide which often leads to it over-reliance on official sources), we will note that superficial reasoning often passed for deeper examination.