Sunday, August 26, 2012

The Middle East Media Sampler 8/26/2012: New York Times Defends Itself

From DG:
1) "political and cultural progressivism ... virtually bleeds through the fabric of The Times"

Arthur Brisbane's term as public editor of the New York Times is ending. My view of the public editors and ombudsmen who have become ubiquitous as newspapers in recent years is that they're useless ornaments. They accept all the premises of how the newsroom operates with the editors of the newspaper, so they rarely disagree with coverage of the news. They're job is less one of oversight but of describing to unsophisticated non-journalists the true wisdom of journalistic professionals. The dissents of public editors are so rare, that they make news. Brisbane, in his final column as public editor of the New York Times, Success and Risk as the Times transforms, therefore made news when he wrote (h/t Instapundit):

When The Times covers a national presidential campaign, I have found that the lead editors and reporters are disciplined about enforcing fairness and balance, and usually succeed in doing so. Across the paper’s many departments, though, so many share a kind of political and cultural progressivism — for lack of a better term — that this worldview virtually bleeds through the fabric of The Times. 
As a result, developments like the Occupy movement and gay marriage seem almost to erupt in The Times, overloved and undermanaged, more like causes than news subjects.  
I disagree strongly with his assessment of the presidential campaign. However, the executive editor, Jill Abramson took exception to Brisbane's "progressivism ... bleeds" comment. She told Dylan Byers of Politico:
But Times executive editor Jill Abramson says she disagrees with Brisbane's "sweeping conclusions." 
"In our newsroom we are always conscious that the way we view an issue in New York is not necessarily the way it is viewed in the rest of the country or world. I disagree with Mr. Brisbane's sweeping conclusions," Abramson told POLITICO Saturday night. 
"I agree with another past public editor, Dan Okrent, and my predecessor as executive editor, Bill Keller, that in covering some social and cultural issues, the Times sometimes reflects its urban and cosmopolitan base," she continued. "But I also often quote, including in talks with Mr. Brisbane, another executive editor, Abe Rosenthal, who wanted to be remembered for keeping 'the paper straight.' That's essential."
"[S]ometimes?" For the record, here's what Okrent wrote:
I'll get to the politics-and-policy issues this fall (I want to watch the campaign coverage before I conclude anything), but for now my concern is the flammable stuff that ignites the right. These are the social issues: gay rights, gun control, abortion and environmental regulation, among others. And if you think The Times plays it down the middle on any of them, you've been reading the paper with your eyes closed. 
But if you're examining the paper's coverage of these subjects from a perspective that is neither urban nor Northeastern nor culturally seen-it-all; if you are among the groups The Times treats as strange objects to be examined on a laboratory slide (devout Catholics, gun owners, Orthodox Jews, Texans); if your value system wouldn't wear well on a composite New York Times journalist, then a walk through this paper can make you feel you're traveling in a strange and forbidding world. 
Start with the editorial page, so thoroughly saturated in liberal theology that when it occasionally strays from that point of view the shocked yelps from the left overwhelm even the ceaseless rumble of disapproval from the right.
That sounds like a confirmation, not a contradiction, of Brisbane's characterization.  It's a shame that Byers didn't call Abramson on it.

What does this have to do with the Middle East. Let's go back to last year when Brisbane wrote, Where Words Can Never Do Justice:
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in short, is the third rail of New York Times journalism. Touch it and burn.
Ms. Chira defends The Times’s journalism strenuously but is reconciled to the fact that the subject will be a constant source of protest from readers. “I have just come to the conclusion that we are always going to have really, really angry people,” she said. 
In her view, some readers who take sides in the conflict view the other side not just as wrong, but as monstrously wrong on a historical scale. The usual journalistic practice of assuming a neutral posture simply won’t suffice for these readers, she believes. “To not call Side A or Side B wrong is like not calling Hitler wrong,” she said, drawing a parallel that appears often in the reader e-mail I get on this topic.
The "third rail" claim is a cop out. It's a way of saying we'll never make everyone happy. But the paper's job isn't to make everyone happy, it's to be accurate. If Brisbane admits now to "progressivism" isn't it possible if not likely that "progressivism" also affect the New York Times's Middle East coverage? A fair reading of the opinion pages shows that the New York Times is rather adversarial towards Israel. Last year as the Palestinians attempted to get UN recognition for a state, the news reporting of the paper was undisguisedly supportive.

Brisbane's admission is welcome. Still it is late and insufficient.

2) It's not only the Israeli media

Much of what Arik Elman writes here, applies to the American media too. (h/t Jewtastic):
Day in and day out, Israelis are bombarded by gossip in the guise of reporting. Today we’re being told that the decision has been made, tomorrow – that it will wait until September when Netanyahu might meet with Obama at the UN. Mysterious “sources” report that the security establishment is against the attack – a day later you’ll learn from the same “sources” that the generals – naturally – prefer an American-led operation. The febrile atmosphere caused the usual Left-wing nuts to erupt – while the increasingly unhinged Yoram Kaniuk called on the “true Beitarim” to rise on Netanyahu and “stop” him, the assorted “progressives” started a Web petition calling on the Israeli pilots to refuse an order to bomb Iran. One of those, law school professor Menahem Mautner, cheerfully proclaimed in a radio interview that a huge difference exists between the Left and the Right with regard to the (blatantly illegal) refusal to obey lawful military orders given by an elected government. Turns out, that the Right refuses, because it wishes to turn Israel into a racist theocracy, and therefore it must be crushed, while the Left wants to preserve Israeli democracy and therefore its refusal is legitimate and must be respected. 
There’s of course nothing “democratic” in the idea that in a crisis, an opinion of the military bureaucrats and “intelligence professionals” must prevail over this of the civilian leaders elected by a clear majority of the people. This, in fact, is what the Israeli hard Left has been dreaming about all along – since it can no longer persuade the people to follow its suicidal course, it must utilize tools outside of representative democracy to make the will of the people irrelevant. This anti-democratic mood is fully shared by the ideological elder twins of the Israeli “liberals” in America – that’s why the “progressive” Peter Beinart’s Open Zion is willing to entertain the possibility of a military coup “to save Israel from itself”.
3) We oppose honor killings ... nice scarf you have there!

I was rather appalled by the following exchange with Victoria Nuland at the State Department last week:
QUESTION: And finally – I know you guys issued a statement regarding the money on Friday; you responded to the question that was asked by Mr. Matt Lee the day before. I wanted to ask whether you also made conditional on the judicial process in the West Bank. Because as it seems, honor killing is on the rise, and there is a loophole in the law that basically allows the killers to go free. Do you ever make – like, reforming the law to tackle this issue that is becoming a real problem? 
MS. NULAND: You mean linking money to this particular -- 
QUESTION: Yeah. I mean, you linked it to other aspects, to other good behaviors by the Palestinians, but do you ever link it to such things? 
MS. NULAND: I don’t have anything particular on that. If we have something – I mean, in general, as you know, this money is designed to support strong institutions of the Palestinian Authority, democratic institutions increasing their services to the Palestinian people. So the degree to which we have issues there and the way governance is handled, we obviously are clear with the Palestinian Authority. 
QUESTION: Is this an issue that the State Department would raise – the rise of honor killing?
MS. NULAND: Obviously, it sounds like the kind of issue we would generally raise in the context of our human rights discussion, yeah.
Please, Jill. 
MS. NULAND: Yeah. The scarf is the color of your eyes, my dear.
How did Nuland comfortably switch from honor killings to the scarf of the next questioner? It appears that honor killings remain a problem in the Palestinian Authority.

Last year Mahmoud Abbas passed a law to criminalize honor killings. However Phylis Chesler noted a  loophole in the law:
In typical Arab style, President Abbas has said he has done something but he has really done nothing. He has not yet signed his vow into law or published it. Abbas has used the unexpected outcry against the (non-honor) murder of a young woman who is being called a "martyr," and whose reputation was above reproach, to stage a symbolic but actually toothless response to the very real epidemic of honor killings among Arabs. According to experts, judges do not rely upon the "mitigating factor" provision when they hand down lenient sentences for honor murderers. According to Haaretz, a newspaper with which I generally do not agree, here are the facts about what Abbas did (and didn't) do:
[A] review of the draft of the presidential decree indicates that judges in Palestinian courts, who showed leniency toward murderers – handing down sentences ranging from six months to three or four years in prison in such cases – did not necessarily rely on the two problematic clauses mentioned above, but rather, on other articles not even mentioned in the presidential decree.
In addition, there is this: Aya is being presented as a "chaste" and "noble" girl who did nothing wrong according to Arab standards. What about those Arab girls and women who refuse to veil or to accept arranged marriages? Or who are seen as too "Western?" Do Abbas and Arab society still believe that such women deserve to be honor murdered? In what way are their civil and personal rights protected under the rule of the Palestinian Authority or under Hamas's rule in Gaza?
Abbas has recently appointed a commission to amend laws to protect women. How much of an effect the commission will have is an open question.

However as Palestinian Media Watch documents, there is growing popular opposition to honor killings.
Palestinian press reports about murders of Palestinian women by male family members, in so-called family "honor" killings, have been increasing. According to an op-ed in the official Palestinian Authority daily:
"The frequency with which crimes against women are committed is rising constantly, and every day more than one crime is committed against more than one woman..." [Al-Ayyam, Aug. 7, 2012]
Palestinian Media Watch notes that the murders have been widely condemned by Palestinian officials and human rights activists, some of whom have called for new legislation and longer prison terms. Others have argued that the killings won't stop until there is a change in Arab - Muslim culture.
Interestingly even an official publication of the PA has taken this issue up. (Interesting, too, that honor killings are blamed on Arab - Muslim "culture," isn't it?) Unless the latest commission develops effective legislation, not much will come from this. (Is this incident, though in Gaza, a sign that public sentiment is changing?)

If the official Palestinian media has taken up the cause of preventing honor killings, though, what's to prevent it from stopping the incitement against Israel and Jews?

4) Live in Palestine - work and vacation in Israel!

Daled Amos drawing from several sources notes that Increasing Numbers Of Palestinians Working In Israel At Better Salaries and observes.
According to the report, a Palestinian construction laborer will often earn more than a senior ministry official in the Palestinian Authority or the Hamas administration. (If only Abbas knew this, maybe he wouldn't be insisting on staying in power nearly 4 years after his term in office has ended!)
In related news NPR reports If Only Briefly, Palestinians Flood Into Israel. (The accompanying photograph is disgraceful. Why no photograph of Palestinians freely shopping in an Israeli store?):
Israel loosened entry restrictions for Ramadan and the three-day Eid el-Fitr holiday that followed. Israel gave permits to 100,000 Palestinians, double the number from last year. 
One morning this past week, hundreds of Palestinians lined up at the Qalandia checkpoint on the edge of Jerusalem, clutching their permission slips.
One Israeli mall manager reported Palestinian shoppers this week gave his stores a 10 to 50 percent spike in sales. At an outdoor mall in Jerusalem, Israelis were browsing alongside Palestinians.
Naturally not everyone viewed the increase in permits to visit Israel as a good thing. Ma'an reports:
National Economy Ministry undersecretary Nasser Tahboub said the permits issue was being given more attention than it deserved. "I think we are mistakenly accusing Israel of being too genius." 
The permits issue, he said, is a purely a political move. According to Tahboub, Israel is trying to improve its image by showing the world that the Israeli authorities do allow the Palestinians to move freely and do not deny them their right to pray in al-Aqsa Mosque.
Khaled Abu Toameh, though, argues that the detractors have their own agenda:
For years, the Palestinian Authority has been demanding that Israel lift travel restrictions imposed on West Bank Palestinians. But now that Israel has permitted tens of thousands of Muslims to visit its beaches and malls, Israel is being denounced for trying to damage the Palestinian economy. 
What is clear is that neither the Palestinian Authority nor Hamas wants to see Palestinians living a good life. Improving the living standards of Palestinians is something that these two parties are not interested in. They would rather see Palestinians direct all their anger and frustration only toward Israel. 
Otherwise, Hamas and the Palestinian Authority fear, Palestinians may vent their anger against their own leaders.

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