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New York Times Public Editor Critiques Its Israel Coverage

Margaret Sullivan calls on NYT to better cover Palestinians, including Hamas

Yair Rosenberg
November 24, 2014

In Sunday’s paper, New York Times Public Editor Margaret Sullivan tackles one of the most contentious topics in contemporary journalism: media coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “This is the column I never wanted to write,” she opens, in a nod to the subject matter’s fraught nature. But however reluctant she may have been to produce it, Sullivan’s contribution is a measured one, with several intriguing recommendations for the paper’s improvement.

Perhaps the most eye-opening tidbit of the piece is Sullivan’s disclosure that “The Times has no native Arabic speakers in its [Jerusalem] bureau.” This, she notes, can make it difficult for the paper to adequately cover Palestinians in all their complexity. It’s a concern Matti Friedman raised in his widely shared Tablet critique of media coverage of Israel, which Sullivan cites in her column. “If you follow mainstream coverage, you will find nearly no real analysis of Palestinian society or ideologies, profiles of armed Palestinian groups, or investigation of Palestinian government,” Friedman wrote. “Palestinians are not taken seriously as agents of their own fate … Who they are and what they want is not important: The story mandates that they exist as passive victims of the party that matters.”

Sullivan picks up where Friedman left off, and recommends that the Times invest in beefing up its investigation of Palestinians:

Diversify. Strengthen the coverage of Palestinians. They are more than just victims, and their beliefs and governance deserve coverage and scrutiny. Realistic examinations of what’s being taught in schools, and the way Hamas operates should be a part of this. What is the ideology of Hamas; what are its core beliefs and its operating principles? What is Palestinian daily life like? I haven’t seen much of this in The Times. There should be a native Arabic speaker on staff who can penetrate Palestinian society with understanding and solid news judgment.

Read the full column and Sullivan’s other recommendations for the Times here.

Yair Rosenberg is a senior writer at Tablet. Subscribe to his newsletter, listen to his music, and follow him on Twitter and Facebook.