Western media has historically failed to produce accurate and thorough coverage of the Middle East. As Sarah Moawad argued for Muftah recently, Western journalism is still largely failing in this regard. Commenting on an absurd advertisement for a Middle East correspondent position at the LA Times, Moawad wrote that “American media outlets have often struggled to provide nuanced, contextualized coverage of the Middle East that captures the complexity of the region’s histories, cultures, and peoples.”
Nowhere is this more evident than in Palestine, where American media often presents biased, incomplete, and misleading narratives about the Israeli occupation, which are notably and egregiously lacking in context, nuance, and even validity.
Mondoweiss, an independent news site dedicated to covering issues in Palestine and Israel, has done excellent work documenting and analyzing the various omissions and misrepresentations regarding the Occupation published by Western media, including leading outlets like The New York Times. Philip Weiss, the founder and co-editor of Mondoweiss, along with journalist James North, are responsible for much of the site’s exceptional analysis and criticism of The Times’ coverage of the Palestinian struggle and Israeli crimes, or, rather, the lack thereof.
Weiss and North have elaborated on the many problems with this reporting. These range from “pinkwashing” Israel (North and Weiss define pinkwashing as “exonerating Israel of its oppression of Palestinians by citing freedom for gays”), to failing to disclose pertinent information, like the fact that an op-ed railing against the labeling of settlement products was written by an illegal settler, to covering up the fact that a prominent Israeli official had made statements calling for the genocide of the Palestinian people.
According to Weiss, The New York Times sometimes even fails to fact-check blatantly false information in the advertisements it publishes, which, in one instance, suggested a much higher number of Israeli casualties than was true and omitted figures on the much higher number of Palestinian casualties. One might excuse such oversights when it comes to advertisements, but The New York Times has also misrepresented important facts in its own articles. In one piece, journalist Isabel Kershner described a day in November 2015 as the “deadliest in the recent wave of violence.” Her conclusion was based only on calculating the number of Israeli deaths, and ignored the even higher number of Palestinian deaths that had recently taken place on other days.
The New York Times’ coverage also often prioritizes trivial or distracting stories over much-needed reporting on Palestinian narratives and Israeli atrocities committed against the Palestinian people. For instance, The New York Times has featured pieces on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s dog and efforts in Israel to recreate wine from the time of Jesus. There has, however, been little coverage of the numerous extra-judicial killings of Palestinians that have recently taken place (and regularly take place) at the hands of Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). Only when the perpetrators are Arab does The New York Times seem willing to feature stories about Palestinian victims of crime.
At a time when outlets like the LA Times do not even require that a Middle East correspondent speak Arabic, it might seem reasonable to be grateful for the occasionally good reporting on Palestine that does come from the The New York Times. This good reporting is, however, massively overshadowed by the many poor examples of journalism coming from the newspaper. As Professor Jerome Slater concluded in a recent piece for Mondoweiss criticizing another Times’ article on Israel-Palestine, “In the end, should we be grateful for some half-truths from the NY Times? Perhaps so, but I’m afraid that’s not how I see it.”