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Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Oh my: Times' public editor all but admits Matti Friedman was right

You will recall that over the summer, I blogged a Tablet Magazine article in which former AP Jerusalem reporter Matti Friedman accused the international media of institutional bias against Israel. Now, New York Times public editor Margaret Sullivan has admitted that many of Friedman's allegations were correct.

Perhaps the most eye-opening tidbit of the piece is Sullivan’s disclosure that “The Times has no native Arabic speakers in its [Jerusalem] bureau.” This, she notes, can make it difficult for the paper to adequately cover Palestinians in all their complexity. It’s a concern Matti Friedman raised in his widely shared Tablet critique of media coverage of Israel, which Sullivan cites in her column. “If you follow mainstream coverage, you will find nearly no real analysis of Palestinian society or ideologies, profiles of armed Palestinian groups, or investigation of Palestinian government,” Friedman wrote. “Palestinians are not taken seriously as agents of their own fate … Who they are and what they want is not important: The story mandates that they exist as passive victims of the party that matters.”
Sullivan picks up where Friedman left off, and recommends that the Times invest in beefing up its investigation of Palestinians:
Diversify. Strengthen the coverage of Palestinians. They are more than just victims, and their beliefs and governance deserve coverage and scrutiny. Realistic examinations of what’s being taught in schools, and the way Hamas operates should be a part of this. What is the ideology of Hamas; what are its core beliefs and its operating principles? What is Palestinian daily life like? I haven’t seen much of this in The Times. There should be a native Arabic speaker on staff who can penetrate Palestinian society with understanding and solid news judgment.
Here are some of Sullivan's other recommendations
Include more. Provide as much historical and geopolitical context as possible in individual articles, within the space constraints of news coverage. Include, too, whenever possible, a sense of the region – for example, that the rise of radical Islam is not a distant issue for Israel but a very real one and a very local one.
...
Stop straining for symmetry. In headlines, in side-by-side photos, in photo galleries, the Times sometimes looks like it is running scared. Maybe this is just an excess of sensitivity, but it doesn’t reflect the core value of news judgment above all.
So can someone please explain why the Times chose not to cover John Kerry's blaming 'Palestinian' incitement for last week's terror attack in Har Nof?

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