In a purported news article in the Nov. 11 edition of the New York Times, reporter Mark Landler starts off in his lead paragraph of his article by taking the Palestinian side against Israel on the thorny issue of Jerusalem -- by describing Jewish neighborhoods in the eastern part of the city as "settlements." ("U.S. Struggles to Restore Middle East Talks" page A16).
"Settlements," as descriptive of Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, is exactly the line propounded by the Palestinians. At the same time, however, it's a label rejected by Israel, Prime Minister Netanyahu just reminded President Obama that "Jerusalem is not a settlement; it is the capital of Israeli."
It is not Landler's job to take either the Israeli or the Palestinian side when reporting on Jerusalem. Israel deems Jerusalem -- east and west -- as its eternal capital. The Palestinians deem well-established Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, whether Har Homa, as in this instance, or the Jewish Quarter of the Old City. as "settlements" where Jews don't belong.
Given these wide differences, an objective report on frictions between Israel and the Obama administration over plans to build more apartments in Har Homa would rubber-stamp neither the Israeli nor the Palestinian view of such Jewish neighborhoods in eastern Jerusalem.
Landler, however, writes the following in his lead paragraph:
"With tensions between the United States and Israel flaring again over Jewish settlements, the Obama administration and its allies worked feverishly on multiple fronts Wednesday to put Middle East peace talks back on track."
A fair, objective lead would eschew labels attached to such areas of eastern Jerusalem by both sides, and simply focus on tensions between the U.S. and Israel over plans for more housing for Jews in a Jewish neighborhood of East Jerusalem.
Landler himself seems to recognize this when, in his second paragraph, he refers to "Israel's new housing plans in East Jerusalem," dropping the highly charged, propaganndistic "settlements" label.
But getting the second paragraph almost right (these are not "new" plans), isn't good enough. The lead paragraph of a news article is supposed to encapsulate the gist of the entire article. A lead paragraph should be able to stand entirely on its own -- and objectively sum up what the article is about to inform readers.
Landler and the NY Times ignore this basic tenet of responsible, accurate and fair journalism. Landler, after all, is writing for a "news" section of the Times, not for its editorial page. Or does that distinction no longer matter at the Times?