NYT Perfumes Palestinian Aggression
On Tuesday, Aug. 20, Israeli troops entered a Jenin neighborhood in the West Bank to arrest a member of the Islamic Jihad terrorist group suspected of planning drive-by shootings of Israeli civilians and soldiers.
However, before they could accomplish their mission, the Israeli soldiers ran into a live-fire ambush by armed Palestinians who shot at them from rooftops and other cover. The Palestinians also piled on with rocks, firecrackers and explosive devices.
In returning fire, the Israeli team killed one Palestinian, while also managing to arrest the Islamic Jihad terrorist. Two Israeli soldiers were injured, as well as two other Palestinians.
How does a newspaper report such an incident? It would seem that the proper and logical way to communicate what happened is to make clear to readers who started the exchange of fire -- in this case, Palestinians attacked Israeli security personnel -- and who then was forced to engage in defensive actions.
But not at the New York Times, which did its best to play down Palestinian aggression, while falsely painting Israelis as aggressive killers.
Thus, the headline: "Palestinian Is Killed in Raid by Israel in West Bank camp." Readers who only look at the headline -- and they often outnumber readers who delve into the actual article -- would be left with a false impression that Israel was the aggressor, killing a Palestinian whose identity as a terrorist is also crucially missing.
Jodi Rudoren, the Times' Jerusalem bureau chief and author of the article, similarly serves up an upside-down narrative in her lead paragraph -- a Palestinian portrayed as victim of Israel amid toned-down aggressive Palestinian actions.
Her lead paragraph reads as follows: "Israeli soldiers killed a young Palestinian man early Tuesday during a confrontation in the Jenin refugee camp in the northwestern West Bank, as troops arriving to arrest an Islamic Jihad member suspected of planning terrorist attacks were greeted by violent protesters, Israeli officials said."
In Rudoren's account, there was no aggressive, life-fire ambush, only a "confrontation." The Israeli troops were not greeted by gunshots, rocks and explosive devices -- only by "violent protesters" -- a mild euphemism. Nor is there any indication that the United States, the European Union, and Israel regard Islamic Jihad as a terrorist organization.
It's not that Rudoren hides what actually happened. But like Sheherazade's veils, she waits and reveals telling details only farther down in the article. Again, how many readers get that far?
As for example the placement of this quote from Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, an IDF spokesman: "It seems when you're shot at, you shoot back. It's pretty professional. We expect our troops to be able to respond and defend themselves in life-threatening circumstances."
The problem is that the only readers to see this quote is that very small minority that peruses the entire article from start to finish. Colonel Lerner's quote, you see, is found only in the very last paragraph -- the 12th paragraph of a 12-paragraph story.
Rudoren may think she's provided "all the news that's fit to print." What matters more, however, is whether that news is fairly and objectively arranged and presented to readers. Whether, as a whole, it's a true slice of history. On that basis, Rudoren and the Times fail spectacularly.
Leo Rennert is a former White House correspondent and Washington bureau chief of McClatchy Newspapers