Whose Opinion Matters? A Look at the New York Times

Wednesday's Example of Media Bias   —   Posted on March 6, 2013

From a report written by Yarden Frankl for HonestReporting.com (published on 2/20/13) analyzing The New York Times:

The Role of Opinion in Journalism
Publishing opinions – whether their own or from outside experts – allows the media to expose the public to different ways of looking at and understanding current events. …

With that in mind, we reviewed a whole year’s worth of opinion pieces from the New York Times. We analyzed almost 100 editorials, columns and op-eds. Any opinion piece where Israel or the diplomatic process was the subject was studied. While one can argue the impact of a single article critical of Israel, there is no question that a year’s worth of material from a variety of different sources will make an impact.

Our conclusion? The New York Times publishes anti-Israel opinions far more than those supporting Israel or critical of the Palestinian Authority.

Editorials, written by a news organization’s own editor, reveal the opinions of the very people responsible for overseeing news coverage. In 2012, the New York Times published 20 editorials directly addressing Israel or an Israeli policy…The vast majority either attacked Israel’s position on settlements or derided any suggestion of Israeli military action against Iran. (See “Resources” below for examples)

Columns and Op-Eds
…The op-ed section, which is opinion written by others, offers no dissenting views on these issues. Of the 63 columns and op-eds that the Times published, some 43 were directly critical of Israel, either in general, with regards to the settlements, or concerning Iran. (See “Resources” below for examples)

And it’s not as if there are regular columnists working at the Times who clarify Israel’s perspective to readers. Richard Cohen and Tom Friedman, the columnists who write most frequently about Israel, are both clearly critics of [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu’s government and its policies. This comes through in the combined 22 columns the two [wrote] during 2012.

The Times did not completely prevent dissenting viewpoints from appearing on the op-ed pages. Two articles gave views supporting Israeli policy. One argued for the legality of the settlements while a second took issue with those who have said that a military strike on Iran would not be effective. Yet these two articles hardly constitute “balance.”

Overall, 68 percent of opinion pieces in the New York Times in 2012 were critical of Israel while just over 2 percent were supportive.

Style Points
It’s not just the raw numbers that paint an anti-Israel picture. Since these are, by definition, subjective articles, the language is usually much more exaggerated. One op-ed (Seven Lean Years of Peacemaking) states:

..the years from 2005 to 2012 have been seven decidedly lean ones for peacemaking and withdrawal and seven gluttonously fat ones for entrenching Israel’s occupation and settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

An editorial (Israel and Iran) against military options on Iran says:

Israeli leaders are again talking about possible military action against Iran. This is, at best, mischievous and, at worst, irresponsible, especially when diplomacy has time to run.

An op-ed (The Two-State Solution on the Line) in favor of the Palestinians’ (successful) bid to be elevated to a non-voting state in the United Nations warned that:

If this resolution fails, it will probably mark the death of the two-state solution and move us even closer to a one-state outcome, with uncertain and potentially catastrophic consequences for both Israelis and Palestinians.

If readers are being flooded with articles that combine conclusions and style in a sharply critical anti-Israel thrust, there is no question that they will walk away with a warped view of the conflict.

For example, when thinking about the pros and cons of an Israeli military strike on Iran [to protect Israel from an expected Iranian attack], the Times reader will have been exposed to a large variety of dissenting voices while only a single piece in the whole year made a solid case for a strike. Likewise on the issue of settlements, it is unlikely that a reader would even know that there are actually conflicting opinions on the legality of settlements. After a continuous trickle of articles that reflect negatively on Israel’s government, is the Times informing the public of the obvious differences between Israel’s democracy and the Palestinian Authority’s autocratic rule?

We do not call for the New York Times to refrain from publishing opinion articles critical of Israel. But we do call for them to recognize their journalistic obligations and provide readers with legitimate views from all sides, including those that support Israeli policies.