Sunday, August 29, 2010

Jews, Israel and the New York Times - An Open Letter to The Times' New Public Editor

August 29, 2010

Mr. Arthur S. Brisbane
Public Editor
The New York Times

Dear Mr. Brisbane,

Welcome and much success in your new position as Public Editor of The New York Times (NYT).

As you noted, yours in an interesting position, and I am sure you will, at least at the outset, get tons of unsolicited advice, in addition to the complaints and vitriol that obviously come with the territory.

I write to respectfully add my two-cents' worth in the advice department.

It was heartwarming and refreshing to learn that you believe that it is a reporter's and editor's job to leave his or her personal prejudices at home when coming to work. It was also gratifying to learn that you yourself are able to back both Democratic and Republican candidates, as you see fit, which is welcome evidence of open-mindedness.

I am guessing but I would not be surprised if it turns out that one of the more vexatious ongoing issues you will have to deal with is the New York Times' relationship with Israel and Jews, and coverage of stories related to these matters. There is a well-documented history, going back to the waves of immigration of Jews of Eastern-European descent and continuing with the rise of Nazism, and the establishment of the State of Israel and continuing on to present practice of the NYT's evident bias in matters Jewish- or Israel-related. Among large swathes of the Jewish community, it is an article of faith that the NYT is and has been for a large part of its history controlled and run by left-leaning, assimilated, anti-Zionist and (say many) self-hating Jews and that there is a pervasive atmosphere surrounding these topics that is dictated from the top and is totally alien and antithetical to fair and balanced reporting. There is abundant evidence that reportorial coverage on such matters routinely lacks balance and crosses the line demarcating the boundary between reporting and editorial opinion. Quality watchdogs like C.A.M.E.R.A. frequently take the NYT to task for its lapses, few of which are ever acknowledged or corrected by NYT. There is over-reporting of scandal and under-reporting of achievement as related to Jews (especially of the Orthodox variety) and Israel especially as relates to more Zionistic elements, routinely portrayed as "hard-line" or worse. In short, many of us believe that the NYT has a deeply-ingrained cultural bias that mars the quality of its reporting on these matters.

Institutional culture is notoriously difficult to change.

Change, if it is to happen,  must first begin with an acknowledgement of the problem and of past mistakes.

As you take up your many new challenges, and many vie for your attention, I hope you can find time for some focus on this long-festering sore, so that it may begin to heal.

David E Y Sarna

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