Helping the NY Times Become 'Truth Vigilantes'

The kid glove treatment accorded Abbas stands in sharp contrast to the negative scrutiny that is regularly directed towards his Israeli counterpart. After Prime Minister Netanyahu returned home from his trip to the United States -- which included an address to Congress -- Ethan Bronner of the New York Times reported: “Israelis See Netanyahu Trip as Diplomatic Failure”:

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel returned from Washington on Wednesday to a nearly unanimous assessment among Israelis that despite his forceful defense of Israel’s security interests, hopes were dashed that his visit might advance peace negotiations with the Palestinians.

To make matters worse, the editors of the Times used Bronner's reporting as a source for an editorial the next day. Since editorials are opinions, I can't offer any "truth vigilantism" for it, but I can for the news article.

It is true that Bronner limited the scope of his definition of failure to Netanyahu's failure to "advance peace negotiations." That assumes, of course, there was anything Netanyahu could have said that would have accomplished that -- a proposition that is questionable at best. The real dishonesty is in the headline: "Israelis" should have been modified with "some." But a headline that read "Netanyahu blasted by Critics, Rivals" wouldn't be news.

One paragraph would have dispelled the false impression:

The Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz -- a publication known for being hostile to Prime Minister Netanyahu -- reported: “Netanyahu's popularity soaring following Washington trip”. This contradicts the headline of our article and the implication of the selective quoting of our reporter that Netanyahu's trip to the United States was unsuccessful.

Using diplomacy as a yardstick of PM Netanyahu's success or failure is an interesting choice: when Abbas sought to torpedo diplomacy, he was not judged a failure. In November, Abbas made an unsuccessful attempt to reach a unity agreement with Hamas. Isabel Kershner and Fares Akram reported on those efforts with “Rival Palestinian Leaders Meet but Fail to End Rift”:

But differences between the sides clearly prevailed, and since the signing of the accord disincentives for further cooperation have mounted.

Hamas rejects Israel’s existence and is classified as a terrorist organization by the United States, the European Union and Israel. Israel and the West say they will not deal with a Palestinian government that includes Hamas unless the Islamic group recognizes Israel, renounces violence and accepts all previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements.

Hamas has shown no sign of agreeing to those conditions, and the prospect of a unity government threatens the Palestinian Authority’s relations with Israel, Europe and the United States. It also jeopardizes its finances. Israeli officials have withheld the transfer of about $100 million a month in taxes and customs duties that Israel collects on behalf of the Palestinians, in part waiting to see the outcome of the latest unity talks. Meanwhile, for Hamas, the Arab Spring has buoyed hopes of new opportunities for Islamist parties across the region.

It is correct as the final paragraph quoted here that Hamas is encouraged by the Arab Spring. However, the position of Hamas isn't just problematic because it stands to endanger the funding to a combined Fatah-Hamas government, but because of what it shows about Fatah. In the interests of "truth vigilantism":

Abbas, by reaching out to Hamas, threatens to undermine the very premise of the peace process. In his famous letter to Yitzhak Rabin in 1993, Abbas's predecessor and mentor, Yasser Arafat renounced the use of terror as a means of achieving statehood. By allying (or even attempting to ally) with Hamas -- which still advocates terror -- Abbas is choosing to violate this commitment.

Brisbane's essay about "truth vigilantism" wasn't serious. Given that he advocated "correcting" an unknowable judgment and an opinion -- both held by Republicans -- it suggests his essay was less about accuracy than about how to make the New York Times more partisan than it already is, under the false pretense of making it more accurate.

However, if Brisbane truly is interested in making his paper more accurate, I hope he will consider these examples as models for improving the Times' Middle East coverage.