The photograph accompanying a New York Times article about the murder of an IDF soldier, which shows the grieving mother of the attacker(Mohammed Ballas/Associated Press)
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NYT Admits ‘Poor Choice’ of Photo in Story on Murdered IDF Soldier

Main image showed the teenage Palestinian suspect’s grieving mother

Chavie Lieber
November 19, 2013
The photograph accompanying a New York Times article about the murder of an IDF soldier, which shows the grieving mother of the attacker(Mohammed Ballas/Associated Press)

The New York Times has acknowledged they used an inappropriate photo in their coverage last week of the death of 19-year-old Israeli soldier Eden Atias.

Last Tuesday, the Times ran a story of the murder with the headline, “Attack on Israeli Worsens Tensions with Palestinians.” The accompanying image was a photograph of Silwa Gawadreh, the mother of the Palestinian teenager accused of stabbing Atias. She looks visibly distraught, and is being comforted by relatives as she gazes over photos of her son.

In a post this morning, New York Times Public Editor Margaret Sullivan acknowledged the photo was “a poor choice, failing to put the focus where it belonged.”

I spoke on Monday afternoon to two senior editors at The Times. Both agreed that the photo was a regrettable choice. The dominant image with an article should reflect the overall point of the article and the reason for its newsworthiness.

“This did not represent the essence of the story, which was clearly the moment of the Israeli soldier being stabbed,” said Michele McNally, the assistant managing editor in charge of photography. She said a less-senior picture editor chose the photograph, along with one representing what she considered the other side of the story, which showed an Israeli police officer at the crime scene.

The two photos were thought to create a sense of balance, but the police photo was not as prominently featured as the photograph of the Palestinian mother, either in print or online. McNally acknowledged the Times should have waited for photos of the soldier’s funeral to come in before running the story, or should have used a photo of the victim.

Foreign editor Joseph Kahn said reporters and editors at the Times “do their utmost” to present news of the Israeli and Palestinian conflict in an accurate and fair manner, although Sullivan admitted the Times has been accused of being biased from both sides of the conflict.

“We are, have been and need to be very attuned to the message that images, as well as words, send to readers on one of the most delicate subjects The New York Times covers,” Kahn told Sullivan. “We don’t always get it right.”

Following the Times’ coverage of Atias’ murder, many took to social media to decry what they called clear bias against Israel in the Times’ reporting. Pro-Israel media watchdog Honest Reporting wrote a blog post about the photo choice, calling on readers to write to Sullivan. They also pointed out that the details of Atias’ murder was buried 10 paragraphs into the story, underneath reports of settlement plans.

The Times’ Israeli bureau chief, Jodi Rudoren, responded to Honest Reporting last week, agreeing the photo wasn’t the best choice.

“Photo selection is among the trickiest parts of balancing coverage, and we have had many discussions about it related to this beat — clearly, still a work in progress,” she wrote.

Chavie Lieber has written for The New York Times, New York Magazine, The Daily Beast, the Huffington Post, Business Insider, the Times of Israel, and more. Follow her on twitter @chavielieber.