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CJR evaluates charges of NYT’s anti-Israel bias

by Brad A. Greenberg

January 26, 2012 | 5:11 pm

The New York Times building in New York, NY across from the Port Authority. Photo by Wikipedia/Haxorjoe

Neil Lewis over at Columbia Journalism Review has a piece about the New York Times and the perceived animus that many Jews believe the newspaper has for Israel. And while Laurel Leff’s “Buried by the Times” convincingly depicts America’s most important newspaper turning a blind eye to the Holocaust, the NYT really doesn’t have an Israel problem.

The basic gist of Lewis’ article:

For years, a small but determined segment of American Jews have believed that the Times has been regularly unfair to Israel, even harming its standing and security.

This has produced a tension between the paper and a portion of its readers that is as intense today as ever and hovers over the paper’s coverage of the region.

It is, however, largely an ill-founded—as well as toxic—notion based on misunderstandings of journalism, some lamentable history of the Times’s coverage of the Holocaust, and perceptions about the relationship of the paper and some of its forebears to their own Jewish heritage. It also ignores the changing political realities in the region.

There are, of course, those who, like Doris Halaby, believe just as strongly—whether because of its journalism, its Americanness, or its many Jewish employees—that the Times has a pro-Israel bias.

Even so, the enduring criticism from this segment of American Jews, who have historic and geographic connections to the Times, is especially poignant. That is particularly so in light of the fact that, given the inherent imperfections of close-quarters journalism—as opposed to history—the paper’s coverage has been overwhelmingly fair and appropriate.

That sounds about right to me.

You can talk to activists on either side of this issue—and many places in between—and get very different portrayals of the NYT as anti-Israel or pro-Israel. I’ve often felt like the paper does a decent job telling both the Israeli and Palestinian stories, though is sometimes handicapped by the proclivities of the reporters in their Jerusalem bureau (many of whom are, in fact, often Jewish).

Thoughts? David Bernstein thinks that Lewis’ piece is “trite, largely repeating what any fair-minded observer already knows.” What say you?

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