Chesler Chronicles

Reading the (Funny) Papers or My NY Times Problem

As you read this, I will be away from my desk. While I am gone, I will be posting a mini-retrospective of some of my previously published, copy-righted work. The articles seem to hold up. In some cases, I will introduce the piece. In most instances, I will let the piece speak for itself.

This originally appeared as a blog on my own website. It was written before I started writing a blog for Pajamas Media. It also appeared in The Jewish Press.

Reading the (Funny) Papers or My NY Times Problem

Once upon a time, I only read and wrote for the most radical, left, and feminist media on the face of the earth. Reluctantly, suspiciously, I read just one establishment, “grown up” paper: The New York Times. After all, it was my home town paper and being as provincial as most Manhattanites, I somehow still believed (you learn this from the drinking water) that the Times covered issues in an objective, sophisticated, and leading-edge way.

I still subscribe to and read the Times but never first and sometimes not at all. (I love how they cover weddings and usually check their obituaries). But duty calls and, as a culture warrior on the front lines, so to speak, I have to read the Times.

But now, I first read The New York Sun, Wall Street Journal, The New York Post, The Weekly Standard, The New Republic, Commentary, Middle East Quarterly, the American Jewish media, the online Israeli and Middle Eastern papers and then check about twenty five other internet websites beginning with FrontPage and Pajamas Media in order to steel myself for the ordeal of reading The Paper of Record–yes, the same paper which buried news of the Holocaust on its back pages; the one which today, chooses, positions, and captions photos in such a way that over time, its readers have come to believe that Israel is really an “apartheid” nation state and that every single Palestinian, including the suicide killers, their handlers, and their billionaire funders are barefoot, unarmed, and innocent victims of Israeli and Jewish aggression.

Just the other day–on precisely August 11, 2007, what fresh outrage blinded me and caused me to reach for my blood pressure medication? There, right on the front page of the Saturday Times was a photo four columns wide and five inches high. It was not about the American miners who were, at the time, heartstoppingly, tragically trapped in Utah.

It showed us a lonely man (Camus’ existential stranger-hero, perhaps Kafka’s lonely civilian facing a nameless bureaucracy) on a long, long road surrounded by a high wall. The article was captioned: “A Segregated Road in an Already Divided Land.” One more time, the Israeli attempt to defend itself from terrorist attacks by building a security wall and, incredibly, in this instance, to also allow the West Bank Palestinians (those who do not comprise the 1.2 million who live in Israel proper as Israeli citizens) to travel from Ramallah to Bethlehem without checkpoints, without being stopped, without having to deal with Israeli soldiers.

One might think that congratulations were in order. Nope. In fact, the pull quote read: “A Lack of Exits Will Keep Palestinians Out of Jerusalem.” I do not recall any similar pull quotes about how Jews or Christians are not allowed to practice their religions in Saudi Arabia or Pakistan or even at their own holiest sites in Muslim-held territory.

And, as Paul Berman has brilliantly pointed out, the Times has glamorized fascism in its overly gushing reviews of the work of Tariq Ramadan, the grandson of the founder of The Muslim Brotherhood, who now teaches at Oxford University and is published by their distinguished press.

When Islamic jihad intensified against Israel in 2000, I began to meticulously document such media biases. I wrote articles, delivered speeches, lost old friends and colleagues but made new ones for doing so. I counted myself one lucky woman when HonestReporting, Camera, and Memri emerged to do just this both systematically and splendidly.

Let me note that because the Times is still so large it can afford to throw bones, offer scraps, to cover their considerable moral nakedness. Thus, the paper has also published inspired, “corrective” reportage by Nicholas Kristof, Christopher Caldwell, and David Brooks–even occasionally by Thomas Friedman on the subjects of Islamic gender and religious apartheid and about the Middle East. And, let me admit: I still read their Sunday Book Review which, although it chose not to review my last two books, (a “first” for me, but a very educational experience), still remains essential reading. But, the book reviews in the New York Sun, Wall Street Journal, and Weekly Standard are now also essential reading.

Here’s the problem: Despite all the ongoing critiques, the Times remains a major cultural gate-keeper. If a film, opera, ballet, concert, or book is reviewed in its pages–the work exists. Otherwise, the work and its creator are rendered almost invisible. A good review in the Times (and I have had two front page Sunday book reviews, appeared on the cover of their magazine, been interviewed and published in their pages hundreds of times), inevitably leads to book sales, lecture and media requests, larger publishing advances, and invitations to much-talked about parties. It does more than that: It ensures that your ideas are made available to a large number of people.

If this is true about culture, imagine the influence the Times wields by its coverage of war, politics, foreign policy or the Presidency.

I don’t think the bias or the influence of the mainstream media will change any time soon. And, it may get a lot worse with the increasing Saudi purchase of shares in American media.

However, there is cause for hope. I am banking on the internet to effectively complete with such mainstream media. Most people under 30 turn to the internet for their news, not to hard copy newspapers–or so my son and various polls tell me. This, more than the cancellation of subscription by irate readers, is probably the primary reason that circulation has fallen at the paper of Record.

And now, having gotten this off my chest, I am ready to face the Paper of Record for today.

August 14, 2007