Have you heard the one about the major news organization that published an abominable piece by a contributor who made no real effort to obtain a thorough account and ran instead with an impassioned story that sounds plausible and moving just as long as you don’t bother looking at the actual facts? I’m not talking about Rolling Stone’s disastrous UVA piece; I’m talking about the New York Times. This morning, the paper of record ran an opinion piece by Max Blumenthal, lambasting Israel for being perpetually predatory to its minorities and neighbors.
Let’s not mince words here: Blumenthal is an anti-Semite. He’s been labeled as such by the Simon Wiesenthal Center, as well as by the leader of Germany’s Left opposition party, who cancelled a talk Blumenthal was scheduled to give in the Bundestag. The snub provoked Blumenthal to harass the politician, which got Blumenthal banned from entering the parliament building in the future.
The New York Times editors who invited Blumenthal to contribute, then, knew exactly what they’d get. They must have known, if they’ve ever read anything by or about Blumenthal, that they’d be in for nothing more than a hysterical, slanted, nonsensical account that obliterates all nuance in an effort to convince that Israel is a singularly awful nation—racist, violent, murderous—and therefore has little or no right to exist.
Blumenthal did not disappoint. The “price tag” attacks against Palestinians, he wrote in one exemplary stupid sentence, are just a reincarnation of the Nakba, the Arab name for Israel’s declaration of independence and the eventual departure of droves of Palestinian refugees. Never mind that the former is a series of isolated attacks perpetrated by extremists and sternly prosecuted by the Israeli police while the latter is a cataclysmic historical event involving numerous states, armies, and international organizations. And never mind the intricate web of nuanced historical sequences that led to the creation of the Palestinian refugee problem, a question debated at length by serious scholars of the subject. Blumenthal has no tolerance for any shade that brightens his endlessly dark vision of the Jewish state. And it’s hard to believe that the Times decided to publish him for any other reason.
As all of us learned all too well this week, journalistic enterprises thrive when they present a thorough and nuanced account of reality. And while opinion pieces have more leeway than reported ones to present personal points of view, they, too, are bound by the core standards of journalism—not to mention the dictates of basic human decency—to argue with the facts rather than obfuscate them or ignore them all together. Rolling Stone has apologized for its transgression to this basic principle. I doubt the Times ever will.