On Media / Pop Culcha

Jewish World Review July 18, 2002/ 9 Menachem-Av, 5762

Robert Leiter

How the Times wishes history unfolded

http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- An article by John Kifner in the July 10 issue of The New York Times contains the single most alarming and mendacious statement yet to appear in media accounts of the recent warfare in Israel. The piece was about the closing by the Israelis of Dr. Sari Nusseibeh's Jerusalem office. The government's contention is that Nusseibeh, often described as a voice of moderation, was serving as an agent of Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority and using his university office as a base.

The troubling sentence came in the third paragraph of the story and referred to the warrant the Israelis used, which we were told was written in Hebrew and said that "the office was operating in violation of the Oslo accords, though the Israeli Army has virtually obliterated the accords in recent weeks by reoccupying seven West Bank cities that were under Palestinian control."

There are a number of problems here, journalistic ones and factual ones. The journalistic piece can be taken care of quickly: How could this sentence appear in a reputable news article? This is either analysis or opinion - and neither has a place in news reporting.

The fact that it is gratuitous and has no bearing on the story that's being told seems almost too obvious to comment upon.

But these are mild transgressions when it comes to the matter of factual inaccuracy. Let us begin with the matter of who did what when it comes to the Oslo accords. Yasser Arafat has not held to any of the agreements he initialed on Sept. 13, 1993, when on the White House lawn and in front of the whole world he vowed to be a partner for peace. The infractions he has incurred over nearly the last decade have been carefully tabulated, most prominently by the Zionist Organization of America.

Even more important is the fact that no actions the Israelis have taken thus far in their efforts to secure the safety of their citizens constitute an infraction of the Oslo accords - except it seems in the eyes of several reporters and editors at The New York Times. The truth here can be easily verified by going to the Web site of the Israeli government, which has posted the full accords (www.israel-mfa. gov.il/mfa/go.asp?MFAH000c0). Any interested party, especially journalists, who in the past have been known to search for truth, can find all the verification necessary, particularly in Article VIII on public order and security, and in Article XIII on the redeployment of Israeli forces.

None of this would be of much consequence if it hadn't come to affect subsequent Times stories, such as James Bennet's paean to the "glorious" sufferings of the city and populace of Bethlehem, and Bennet and Joel Greenberg's article on the death of the journalist Imad Abu Zahra. Kifner's assertion has obviously been taken as fact, and has come to affect the tone and substance of what other reporters have to say - especially as pertains to these two stories, which appear to have no other point but their tone of mournful reproach of the Israelis for their behavior.

If that were all that was at stake, it would also be of negligible concern. But a recent profile of Howell Raines, the new managing editor of the Times, in The New Yorker makes it clear that he wishes to remake the paper in the image of his old-style liberalism. Already, there is less and less distance between what appears on the op-ed pages and the comments made in news reports, as in the case of the Kifner story.

It seems that the Times now wants to affect not only public opinion and perceptions, but foreign policy as well.

JWR contributor Robert Leiter is Literary Editor for the Jewish Exponent in Philadelphia. Comment by clicking here.


© 2002 Robert Leiter