2006-07-21 / Editorial/Opinion

From the Editor's Desk

All The News That The NY Times Believes Is Fit To Print
By Howard Schwach


As a newspaper editor, it is mandatory that I read the New York Times each day. The Times, often called "The Gray Lady" or "The newspaper of record," is considered a must-read for those involved in journalism, politics or business. That's just the way it is.

I don't have to like it, however, and very often I don't. There are times, and those times seem to be increasing, when the paper's content incenses and inflames me because of its liberal and to me, nonsensical view of the world as well as its biases that mirror that liberal viewpoint.

That does not mean, however, that I necessarily disagree with its decision to publish the recent stories about the government's secret anti-terrorist moves that seem to impact citizens more than it does terrorists.

As the King of Siam once said, "Tis a puzzlement."

Why the paper incenses me can be seen in stories both recent and ancient.

The one that comes to mind most often is the Sunday Magazine piece that told the story of a Hispanic teenage girl who took over her lover's drug gang when he went off to prison. The story made the girl out a hero for keeping both her family and the gang together while her drug-dealer was away.

Make a role model out of a teen mother who runs a drug gang. Only in the New York Times.

There have been a number of stories in that vein. Minorities seem to be able to do no wrong. The system that defines them can do no right.

What brings this up again in my mind is a recent story by Steven Erlanger, datelined the Gaza Strip. The Times has long trumpeted the Palestinian cause in its pages.

Erlanger's story was about a four-year-old boy named Izzedine Eid, who can't sleep because he is worried that an Israeli gunship will kill him in the night.

Look at the story's lead.

Israeli Apache helicopters were hovering overhead, firing heavy machine guns down toward Palestinian militants nearby, and Mahmoud Abu Eid could only talk about his son, Izzedine, 4 years old.

"He sleeps holding onto my arm, hanging onto me, Mr. Eid said. "How did he sleep last night? Hanging onto my shoulder, I couldn't sleep at all."

Izzedine is frightened, Mr. Eid said, frightened of the gunfire, the sonic booms in the darkness without electricity, the buzzing of surveillance drones overhead.

"Normally, he's very peaceful," said Mr. Eid, 30, a primary school English teacher who grew up in the southern Gaza area of farms and open fields. "I know psychologically he's very upset, and it's making us all upset. As an adult, we don't cry for our lives, but how can you see a child screaming and crying?"

Get the picture? Poor little Palestinian boy traumatized by the big, bad, cruel Israeli military machine with no balance in the story about why the Israeli Apaches (notice the American connection) were there in the first place - to kill some militants in that area who had shot rockets into an Israeli public school two days previous, injuring some young boys who were probably much like Izzedine.

In addition, Israel was putting pressure on the Palestinian's terrorist government that may or may not have had some involvement in the kidnapping of an Israeli soldier from a checkpoint and the killing of two others a few weeks ago. The soldier is believed held nearby where Eid lives, in a Palestinian refugee camp there.

"The Israeli's are stealing our money," Eid said. "This is politics and ideology, but my kids are hungry and they need milk. The Israeli's say that they want a partner for peace but my son will not grow up to be a partner for peace."

Erlanger makes a try at some balance when he asks whether Eid understood that Israeli parents feel similarly about their children in places hit by rockets fired from Gaza. Eid's answer is given and apparently accepted by Erlanger without further question.

It's not because we want to fight," Eid said. "It's because they are killing us and we need to defend ourselves, but we are helpless."

Not much about the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza last year, that the Israeli army had to go back in to stop the rocket attacks, to stop the terrorist attacks coming from the verdant area that Erlanger describes as pastoral and peaceful.

No balance at all. A typical New York Times story about the Israel-Palestinian problem.

You will never see a like story about an Israeli family who has had to live underground at night ever since 1948, when the United Nations granted statehood to the Jewish state.

Nothing about the anguish of American families whose children were killed by suicide bombers while eating in a restaurant or shopping in a mall.

In fact, the odds are that Izzedine Eid would more likely become a suicide bomber than a Muslim partner for peace.

That is the way it is in the Middle East, and has been for generations. For the Times to highlight the angst of one side without addressing the angst on the other is disingenuous at best and lousy reporting at worst.

Eid told Erlanger that "peace does not come from violence, it comes from understanding." He is right about that, but perhaps that understanding should be strengthened on both sides of the line while the fact that he attributes the violence only to the Israelis and not to the Moslem terrorist is really the problem that Erlanger fails to address.

Another example (I could go on all month about New York Times stories that anger me).

A front page story a few weeks ago said, "Pentagon Study Describes Abuse By Special Units."

Now, I don't believe that our troops should rape and pillage in the name of war spoils, but I am a Navy Vietnam vet and do understand that war is sometimes hell and things happen that would not happen at a cocktail party on the upper west side.

The story enumerates the "abuses" that were perpetrated by the special troops.

The interrogators gave the detainees only crackers and water for 17 days. Loud music was played to disrupt their sleep. Some were stripped and water was poured over them. They were then questioned in air-conditioned rooms. Others were locked in small cells where they could neither stand nor lie down for up to seven days.

In light of the fact that the Americans captured by the Moslem insurgents are tortured, beheaded and their bodies burned and booby-trapped, that "abuse" seems rather tame.

Not to the Times. I'll continue to read the Times and it will continue to incense me. I will not, however, enjoy it - not one bit.

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