When I was growing up in the Bronx, my newspaper of choice was the New York Herald Tribune. A rival to the more stodgy New York Times, its tagline was “Who says a good newspaper has to be dull?” I mastered the art of folding the newspaper as I held onto the strap handles of New York City subways as I headed downtown.
Back then I believed, perhaps naively, that news coverage was supposed to be objective, just stating the facts as the journalist uncovered them. Opinions were reserved for the editorial and op-ed pages.
Over ensuing decades, I’ve discovered that quite often the way news is covered reflects the biases of the reporters in how they write about the news, which sources they tap for their reportage, and how their editors display them in their headlines.
Many examples abound.
During the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon, many news sources reported the displacement of tens of thousands of refugees as the Israel Defense Forces marched northward toward Beirut. This reinforced much of the media’s bias against Israel’s alleged brutality in its aggression. As the headlines screeched about Israel’s brutality, the New Republic debunked the stories by reporting the simple fact that this could not be accurate. The Lebanese population subject to the invasion was significantly below the numbers allegedly displaced during the invasion. And who was the source of these vastly inflated numbers but Yassir Arafat’s brother, Fathi, founder of the Palestinian Red Crescent Society? He certainly was not a disinterested party dispensing objective facts and should have been disqualified as a news source.
Then there was the so-called massacre in Jenin during the Second Intifada, when news reports and subsequent documentaries reported hundreds of civilians wounded or slaughtered by the IDF as it invaded this densely populated city. The fact is that virtually all of the 52 fatalities recorded were armed terrorists and the IDF suffered significant fatalities of its own.
Photos of children allegedly murdered by IDF fire are used in the front pages of Western media, and later to be found fraudulent. But as Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, a former journalist, recently lamented, by the time the correction is published the public relations damage already has sunk in among the public.
Too many newspaper headlines, including the New York Times’, bemoan the death of Palestinians without mentioning the predicate: knife-wielding attackers against civilians or police officers. It’s only in the second or later paragraphs of the news story that the full picture emerges.
On our shores, the mantra used by protesters against police brutality, “hands up, don’t shoot,” based on the shooting of Michael Brown by police officer Darren Wilson, was based on false information in the media. As the Washington Post reported years later, a St. Louis County jury and Department of Justice investigation could not find any evidence that Michael Brown uttered those words. But “hands up, don’t shoot” is still a rallying cry for street protests.
I’m no fan of Donald Trump. But when his administration was saddled with accusations of Russian collusion fed by the fraudulent Steele dossier connected with the Clinton campaign, major news outlets ran with it without doing adequate due diligence. Perhaps this was because most of the media disliked Trump and ran with this story due, in part, perhaps, to confirmation bias. Pulitzer prizes were awarded to the Washington Post and New York Times based on this fabricated dossier.
Most recently, Fox News’ sponsored subscription service will be airing a series, hosted by Tucker Carlson, in which the rioters who entered the Capitol on January 6th are largely portrayed as misunderstood patriots, many of whom were government officials or agents acting on their behalf. Less than one year after rioting designed to prevent the peaceful transfer of power via a validated election result, we already have “revisionist” history intended to bolster the image of our former president.
Virtually every news media outlet applauded the workings of our criminal justice system with the conviction of three white men in the murder of Ahmaud Arbery. But the media led by CNN and MSNBC castigated the acquittal of Kyle Rittenhouse. Accusations abounded, including that he was a white supremacist, even from President Biden. While I don’t approve of his behavior, wielding a rifle in the midst of rioting in the aftermath of the Jacob Blake shooting by police in Kenosha, a jury found him innocent on the basis of self -defense. There was no evidence of racism. His victims were white. Was the vitriol directed against the 18-year-old because the victim of the police shooting was black? Was the narrative of police brutality and the omnipresent white supremacy a prerequisite for this paradigm?
Last year, the New York Times published an op ed by Senator Tom Cotton calling for a federal role in restoring order if the local authorities couldn’t do so in the aftermath of the George Floyd murder and riots. Calls for the dismissal of the op ed editor, James Bennet, came from dozens of outraged members of the press, some of whom “felt threatened.” Initially defended by the publisher, Bennet lost and the mob won as he was summarily dismissed. As Bari Weiss so well documented in her resignation letter to the New York Times, this rabble of so-called reporters couldn’t tolerate opposing viewpoints that would upset their narrative of “mostly peaceful” protests calling for defunding the police. These reporters practice advocacy journalism with the objective facts just an obstacle in their “truth gathering.”
If the Herald Tribune was still in business and in competition with the New York Times its tagline should be: “All the Truthful News Fit to be Print.”
Max Kleinman of Fairfield was the CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest from 1995 to 2014 and he is the president of the Fifth Commandment Foundation.