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Sunday, The Rabbi Skipped The New York Times: Part II

Responses to a Tablet essay about the newspaper’s coverage of the Gaza war

Staff Notes
September 05, 2014
(Erika Cross /

(Erika Cross /

On August 28, Tablet ran an essay by Reform rabbi Richard A. Block titled “Why I’m Unsubscribing from The New York Times.” The piece, an impassioned denunciation of what Rabbi Block saw as the newspaper’s biases in reporting on the Gaza war, struck a chord, and it has been shared on Facebook nearly 20,000 times. After it ran, we did hear from one reader who argued that Block ignored examples that didn’t serve his case.

For example, Block wrote that if Times coverage weren’t so biased, “it would show traumatized Israeli children running to shelters, cowering, wetting their beds, and suffering nightmares.” Our reader pointed us to Jodi Rudoren’s July 28 Times piece, in which she wrote that in “cafes and playgrounds, on social-media sites and in the privacy of pillow talk, Israelis exchange nightmare scenarios that are the stuff of action movies: armed enemies popping up under a day care center or dining room, spraying a crowd with a machine gun fire or maybe some chemical, exploding a suicide belt or snatching captives and ducking back into the dirt.” The reader noted photographs like this one, showing Israeli families in shelters.

And Block wrote that if the Times were less biased, it “would publish photos and accounts of militants launching rockets from the roofs of mosques, a church, and a media hotel, alongside schools, refugee shelters, clinics and hospitals, and of weapons concealed by Hamas in UN facilities,” drawing readers’ attention to Hamas’s policy of using civilian shields. Our reader pointed us to a July 24 Times article: “But it is indisputable that Gaza militants operate in civilian areas, draw return fire to civilian structures, and on some level benefit in the diplomatic arena from the rising casualties. They also have at times encouraged residents not to flee their homes when alerted by Israel to a pending strike and, having prepared extensively for war, did not build civilian bomb shelters.”

We never took Block’s piece to be a scientific survey of all the articles the Times has run about Gaza, but rather his impressionistic take on how the coverage may or may not be slanted. So we reached out to him about these counter-examples and asked what he thought, and he sent an e-mail back. “In my view, despite occasional exceptions,” Block wrote, “the preponderance of the NYT coverage of the Gaza conflict over nearly two months, as reflected in stories, headlines, framing, and choice of Op-Eds, presented a distorted and overwhelmingly one-sided picture.” As an example, he pointed to the July 24 article, the headline of which “begins ‘Israel says … ’” “Thus,” Block wrote, “it begins by presenting Hamas’s use of human shields as an Israeli claim, rather than a fact.”

There’s no perfect way to analyze bias, so the more evidence one has at hand, the better. We’re proud to have run Block’s essay—and also grateful to highlight contrary points of view and pieces of evidence. For his part, Block said he does not plan to re-subscribe. “I’m sure,” he wrote, “I’ll check it on line from time to time, if only to monitor its coverage of the Middle East and see if anything changes.”

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