The New York Times, The Daily Ruse. What an outfit! Sulzberger’s flagship will never be content to be just another municipal paper. Like their fellow travelers at the Washington Post, the other half of our ‘national’ press, these lads are self-elected international power brokers. Just reading Katherine Graham’s obituaries is enough to acquaint even a casual observer with the modern American mass media; which has never been just an information or entertainment business. The publishers and editors of these two papers are not in the business of selling news. Pundits like Safire and Friedman are no mere columnists. Their real assignments is to sell agendas to the President and Congress. Very private agendas and, often enough, very ethnic agendas.
If you want to see the depths to which Sulzberger and his crew will sink to deliver on their ‘Israeli’ agenda, check out the Guardian’s coverage of the Palestinian uprising against Israeli military rule. (http://www.guardian.co.uk/israel/Index/0,3332,207873,00.html). If you have been trying to follow this story by reading the American press, a trip to The Guardian’s comprehensive archives will make you forever sour on trusting the word of an American media baron.
The New York Times has long been an ardent supporter of Israeli governments; no matter how extreme. Sharon, an indictable war-criminal, is a favorite child of the gray lady. The sanitation of Sharon’s war crimes would not have been possible without a determined effort by the staff at the Times. At the New York Times, Sabra and Shatila and Qibya are no vice. And assassinating Palestinian leaders or laying siege to Palestinian towns and villages are considered the virtues of a ‘restrained’ Ariel Sharon. Yet, Sulzberger’s largest publication continues to market itself as the paper of record on all matters, foreign and domestic.
Of course, The New York Times never counted on the Internet. Nobody did. It came like a bolt out of the blue. And for all the dot.com failures, the ‘information highway’ has been an enormous success for media consumers. Especially, those readers who care to take side trips to sample the journalism of smaller publications. Serious media junkies have already ventured off the main arterials and now have easy and cost-free access to quality journalism from around the globe. It will be a cold day in hell before they ever depend on a guided tour by a Sulzberger or a Rupert Murdoch. Ted Turner’s CNN has reformatted its news formula after all the negative jokes about its ‘Global Minute’, the sixty seconds devoted to the rest of the planet. The times they are a changing. And so will the New York Times.
For now, the media barons are still as arrogant as ever. If only because they still believe they can dominate coverage, even in cyber space. As far as they are concerned, they have an agenda to sell and the Internet is just one more way to let their pundits loose on the public. Take the Middle East. Sure, a serious English paper like the Guardian, could trounce Sulzberger’s coverage of the Israeli/Palestinain conflict every day of the year. But the boys on 43rd street still count on the size of their bully pulpit. They can shout down anybody, especially when serenading their first love, Israel. Besides, who was going to check up on them? Who would bother to go to the trouble of comparing their work to the journalism of Robert Fisk and Phil Reeves of The Independent? What possible damage could come from some obscure study that made an unfavorable comparison between the award winning journalism of Suzanne Goldenberg of The Guardian and Sulzberger’s Deborah Sontag? A few years ago, who would bother to do such arduous research? Perhaps an obscure political science student doing a masters thesis at the University of Iowa. So what if the Sulzberger coverage got well deserved negative exposure on some ‘obscure’ publication like the Washington Report on the Middle East? They just swept it under the table. If they were in a particularly generous mood, they would allow the occasional letter to the editor from an irate Arab-American.
As an ethnic publication, their bias against the Palestinians has been especially belligerent. For thirty-four years, they have been avid supporters of the Israeli military occupation. They constantly portray the conflict in the Middle East as something that results from Arab cultural ‘deficiency.’ When the Palestinians revolt against the brutality of the Israeli occupation troops, they portray them as terrorists. Indeed their choice of language rarely deviates from the standard fare in an IDF press release. True to form, a New York Times reporter rarely passes up the opportunity to slander the Palestinians.
So, a visit to the Guardian Archives will astound anyone who has a few hours, or days, to retrace the events of the last ten months. Many of the stories will sound familiar. But the details differ. On the pages of the Guardian you will read of a Palestinian uprising that is a noble struggle of an innocent people against a brutal alien invader. It is a story as old as time. In many ways, it is the story of East Timor and Kosovo and Chechnya. It is the story of the French resistance against the Germans and the Vietnamese resistance to French occupation. It is the story of the struggle against Apartheid and colonial rule.
There was a time when the British press differed little from the American press in covering liberation struggles. But the British have obviously moved on to higher and more noble grounds. Both the Guardian and the Independent are considered mainstream papers in England. They have an excellent Web presence and they don’t gouge you for looking at materials in their archives.
What America desperately needs is another British invasion. Thanks for all the music, but now we need to hear the beat of a different drummer, the British journalist. English journalists like Suzanne Goldenberg, Robert Fisk and Phil Reeves are already teaching Sulzberger’s Israel Firsters a few hard lessons on credibility in the age of the internet. For that alone, they should be considered international treasures. It should be noted that Ms. Goldenberg was recently awarded the London Press Club’s prestigious Edgar Wallace award for her outstanding writing on the Palestinian uprising. It is essential for justice to prevail, that the history books reflect the work of Ms. Goldenberg and her colleagues at The Independent. Robert Fisk and Phil Reeves do not mince their words when describing Israel’s army of tormentors and their daily crimes in the occupied West Bank and Gaza.
Ten months into the uprising, there appears to be a slight change in the tone of The New York Times and The Washington Post. Can it be that they are finally showing some concern for the serious credibility gap created by the illustrious journalists from the other side of the pond? If they want to be taken seriously in the future, they will have to start by cleaning up their miserable choice of language. And at some point they will need to explain how things got so out of hand, and for fifty years, no less. Finally, they will have to come to terms with the institutional ethnic bias that continues to taint their journalism. Sulzberger needs to stop posing as a ‘national’ publisher and come out of the closet as an ‘ethnic’ publisher. Oh, yes, a constant stream of apologies to the public would certainly be useful. Giving an overt racist like Safire the boot wouldn’t hurt anything but the boot. But don’t hold your breath. Rome wasn’t built in a day and it will take a few years to dismantle Sulzberger’s media empire and hand him back a provincial Jewish municipal paper. In the meantime, join the demolition party by visiting The Guardian and The Independent.
Mr. Ahmed Amr is Editor of NileMedia.com in Seattle and a regular contributor to Media Monitors Network (MMN)