The NY Times and Israel: Still Reporting on a Slant

July 18th, 2006 1:17 PM

The Shiite anti-Israeli terror group Hezbollah crossed from Lebanon into Israel on July 12, killing eight Israeli soldiers and kidnapping two others. Israel is responding with force, unleashing targeted air strikes against Hezbollah positions in Lebanon in an effort to get the kidnapped soldiers back.

The New York Times' coverage of Israel's counterattack has been generally fair, or at least more balanced than usual -- the prospect of wide-scale war appears to have clarified somewhat the paper's often-wishful thinking about the true aims of Israel’s foes.

One major annoying tic that remains is the paper's use of the term "captured" to describe kidnapped Israeli soldiers, when it comes to covering the June kidnapping by Hamas of Gilad Shalit at an Israeli Defense Forces outpost, and the two kidnapped soldiers resulting from the incursion by Hezbollah. "Captured" is a phrase used by anti-Israeli leftists like ANSWER and implies these soldiers were prisoners of war captured on the field of battle, not abducted over a border by a terrorist group.

Another taste of the Times' old labeling ways comes in Tuesday's front-page story by Middle East reporter Hassan Fattah, "Bombings Bring Season of Fear To Sea Resort." It brings a little reminder of the paper's standard non-judgmental treatment of the groups currently invading Israel's borders, kidnapping soldiers, and killing Israeli civilians with rocket attacks.

"Just a week ago, Tyre was an idyllic seaside town on the Mediterranean Sea, a fledgling tourist spot with everything from scuba diving to fishing cruises, populated by a mixture of Christians and Shiite Muslims. Posters herald a concert by Nancy Ajram, one of the hottest pop singers in the Arab world. But this town is also the gateway to Hezbollah country, where Hezbollah controls everything from local administration and schools to security. Hezbollah has its footprint everywhere here, from its signature yellow banners to portraits celebrating fallen martyrs."

Stephen Spruiell at National Review Online, who remembers history, wonders,

"Would that include the 'martyrs' who killed themselves along with 241 U.S. military personnel in 1983? The ones who murdered 17 Americans when they blew up the U.S. Embassy in Beirut the following year? Not to mention the countless Israeli civilians Hezbollah 'martyrs' have blown to pieces?"

"Martyrs" is worse than the Times' usual descriptive word for Hezbollah and the Palestinian terrorist group, Hamas. The Times term for these groups, whose sole aim is the destruction of the state of Israel? "Militants."

Conventional wisdom aside, the Times can in no way be described as pro-Israel, especially not in its news columns.

Steven Erlanger, the Jerusalem Bureau chief of the Times, talked of PLO terrorist leader Yasir Arafat's "heroic history" in January 2005 and has issued sympathetic profiles of Palestinian terror bombers. Erlanger once opened a story by referring to Hamas as "the Islamic group that combines philanthropy and militancy."

While marking the fourth anniversary of the deadly Palestinian Intifada, Erlanger lamented (under the suspiciously positive headline, "Intifada's Legacy at Year 4: A Morass of Faded Hopes"):

"Among the more than 3,000 dead, more than three Palestinians die for every Israeli, and among the Palestinian dead, though figures are hard to come by, easily more than half are civilians." Erlanger is lumping Israeli victims in with Palestinian terrorists and citizens.

Erlanger's sympathies seemed evident in a December 2005 on the necessary Israeli security checkpoints:

"Current checkpoints were thrown together in 2000 after the violent Palestinian uprising, known as the second intifada. The experience, monitored by various groups like Machsom Watch (machsom means checkpoint in Hebrew), is often humiliating, with young soldiers sometimes treating individuals with contempt."

A text box accompanying the story fed into the pro-Palestinian line that the barrier was an intolerable insult to Palestinians crossing from the West Bank into Israel:

"Easier passage for people and goods, or just new wallpaper for the prison?"

Erlanger's predecessor on the beat, James Bennet, was almost as biased. Bennett also belabored the "charitable" aspect of Hamas, as if it was primarily a widows and orphans society (as opposed to one that made widows and orphans of Jewish civilians).

"Hamas does not operate only underground but maintains schools, health clinics and a steady, even celebrity presence on satellite television."

Bennett carried even-handedness to an extreme on May 21, 2004, lumping in Israeli soldiers and Palestinian "militants" (not terrorists) in a general "fog of war," and deploring the cycle of violence without fingering anti-Israeli terrorism for blame:

"Some things here are what they seem, and some are not. Israeli soldiers have camouflaged themselves in Palestinian vehicles. Militants have hidden smuggling tunnels in the basements of houses. Each side plays on what it considers the other's habit of deception to cast doubt on claims about the killing....Many of these differing accounts will never be balanced. Each side prefers its version of the facts. The violence continues, and the accounting can seem beside the point."

But in the "fog" of what is now shaping up to be genuine war in Israel and Lebanon, an honest "accounting" by America’s most influential newspaper becomes all the more important -- including accurate labeling and descriptions of groups bent on Israel's destruction.

For more examples of New York Times bias, visit TimesWatch.