Few people come close to Joseph Epstein as perceptive critics of media, literature, and the culture. In the latest issue of Commentary, he addresses the decline and fall of the daily newspaper industry. The entire essay is well worth reading. But his comments on the New York Times, and on press coverage of Israel really caught our attention:
I do subscribe to the New York Times, which I read without a scintilla of glee. I feel I need it, chiefly to discover who in my cultural world has died, or been honored (probably unjustly), or has turned out some new piece of work that I ought to be aware of. I rarely give the daily Times more than a half—hour, if that. I begin with the obituaries. Next, I check the op—ed page, mostly to see if anyone has hit upon a novel way of denigrating President Bush; the answer is invariably no, though they seem never to tire of trying. I glimpse the letters to the editor in hopes of finding someone after my own heart. I almost never read the editorials, following the advice of the journalist Jack Germond who once compared the writing of a newspaper editorial to wetting oneself in a dark—blue serge suit: 'It gives you a nice warm feeling, but nobody notices.'
The arts section, which in the Times is increasingly less about the arts and more about television, rock 'n' roll, and celebrity, does not detain me long. Sports is another matter, for I do have the sports disease in a chronic and soon to be terminal stage; I run my eyes over these pages, turning in spring, summer, and fall to see who is pitching in that day's Cubs and White Sox games. And I always check the business section, where some of the better writing in the Times appears and where the reporting, because so much is at stake, tends to be more trustworthy.
Finally—quickly, very quickly—I run through the so—called hard news, taking in most of it at the headline level. I seem able to sleep perfectly soundly these days without knowing the names of the current presidents or prime ministers of Peru, India, Japan, and Poland. For the rest, the point of view that permeates the news coverage in the Times is by now so yawningly predictable that I spare myself the effort of absorbing the facts that seem to serve as so much tedious filler.
The only place to get a reasonably straight account of news about Israel and the Palestinians, according to Stephanie Gutmann, author of The Other War: Israelis, Palestinians, and the Struggle for Media Supremacy, is in the blogosphere.
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