We at JewishPress.com's Media Monitor column could not disagree more with those who think the return of Joseph Lelyveld, on an interim basis, as executive editor of The New York Times somehow signals a return to objective journalism on the part of the former paper of record.
While the disgraced Howell Raines certainly earned his banishment, the truth of the matter is that the Times’ credibility had already been under question — and not just by conservatives — for years when the Times’ astoundingly callow publisher, Arthur (Don’t Call Me “Pinch”!) Sulzberger Jr. appointed Raines executive editor in September 2001.
The man under whose leadership that credibility gap seemed only to widen in the years immediately preceding the Raines era is, of course, the very same Joseph Lelyveld now being celebrated as a breath of fresh air by those with short memories.
It was, in fact, during Lelyveld’s first tenure in the executive editor’s chair that the Times launched its guerrilla war in the paper’s news pages against George W. Bush, beginning with Bush’s 2000 presidential campaign and continuing when he moved into the White House.
It also was under Lelyveld that the Times’ coverage of Israel, which had always been problematic, descended to unprecedented depths of subjectivity when Deborah Sontag was given free reign, as Jerusalem bureau chief, to file reports that invariably read as though they were first vetted by some Palestinian Authority functionary.
The widely respected essayist and author Renata Adler, in the introduction to her book Canaries in the Mineshaft (St. Martin’s Press, 2001), dismissed the Times in acerbic fashion, writing:
“For years readers have looked in the Times for what was once its unsurpassed strength: the uninflected coverage of the news. You can look and look, now, and you will not find it there. Some politically correct series and group therapy reflections on race relations perhaps...But nothing a reader can trust any longer, either. Certainly no reliable, uninflected coverage of anything, least of all the news. The enterprise, whatever else it is, has almost ceased altogether to be a newspaper.”
That was not Howell Raines’s New York Times Ms. Adler was indicting in her jackhammer prose; it was Joseph Lelyveld’s New York Times.
For the time being it’s Lelyveld’s Times again, and here, in a June 11, 2003, story by Steven Weisman and James Dao, is how the paper lumped together the previous day’s bus bombing in Jerusalem and Israel’s counterstrike in Gaza that followed: “On a day of new attacks and counterattacks by Israeli and Palestinian militant forces....”
Got that? Not only are the Israelis listed first, giving the impression that it was they who initiated the day’s violence, but the IDF — the Israeli army — is apparently now considered by the Times to be a “militant force.”
Two days later, on June 13, Lelyveld’s Times once again displayed its demented idea of moral equivalence by placing, side by side on its front page, a photo of a lone Israeli girl mourning a cousin who perished in the Jerusalem bus bombing and a photo of nine flag-draped bodies of Palestinians killed in Israel’s retaliatory attack. The photos elicit from the average reader a visceral sympathy for the dead Palestinians and create the false impression that more Palestinians than Israelis died that particular day.
“The Times views the world in a certain way,” says Binyamin Jolkovsky, editor-in-chief of the indispensable website JewishWorldReview.com, “and they waste no opportunity to impose it on their readers. It’s moral equivalency run amok, and the Times reinforces it on a daily basis, with its headlines, its photo selection, the tilt of its stories, and the constant use of the term ‘cycle of violence’ and similarly misleading and essentially dishonest formulations.”
Jolkovsky, who in recent weeks has debated representatives of Arab-American organizations on such cable news shows as “Scarborough Country” and “Fox & Friends,” tells the Monitor that those on the other side of the debate have mastered the art of Times-style moral equivalency.
“They know exactly what American opinion shapers and policy makers are reading in the Times, and they pick up on it and take it to a new level. Which is why their arguments are about as trustworthy as what you expect to find in the Times on any given day.”