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What the Times Gets Wrong About Israel

Snide bias is no substitute for real reporting on complicated stories

Liel Leibovitz
July 24, 2014
(Erika Cross /

(Erika Cross /

If you read the Jerusalem Post today, you would’ve learned about foreign correspondents in Gaza being harassed for accurately reporting that Hamas is using civilians as human shields. Over at the New York Times, however, the story has a different focus: it’s about reporters in Israel complaining of intimidation. The piece does not mention the significant complaints voiced by western journalists in Gaza; nor does it acknowledge that intimidation in Israel means being harangued by angry citizens—an unpleasant nuisance swiftly curbed by the police—whereas in Gaza it means being threatened by a murderous terrorist organization, or that those journalists bothered in Jerusalem are then absolutely free—as they are not across the border to the south—to complain about it as loudly as they please.

It’s easy to blame this glaring discrepancy on the reliable “the Times hates Israel trope.” But the tale that emerges from both pieces is more complicated. It is, primarily, about the blogger who wrote the piece, Robert Mackey, and what his continuous employment by the Times says about the paper of record’s pitiful worldview.

If you’re unfamiliar with Mackey’s work and have some time on your hands, you could see him in action here, here, and here. If you’re looking for the brief, brief version, it’s this: the Mackey Method, on display for years now as a blogger for the Times, involves cherry-picking facts, hand-selecting quotes, and weaving them all together into a tapestry pitting imperious and violent Israelis versus Palestinians, the latter being blameless even when dabbling in a bit of terrorism here or there as the Israeli occupation washes away all of its subjects’ sins.

Mackey is a disgrace; that’s been noted before. And the Times is doing very little for the cause of accuracy in reporting by entrusting him with such a prominent perch. That is largely because Mackey does no reporting—his dispatches are pastiches, requiring an active imagination but no real understanding or experience of the situation on the ground.

Which is really what is so sad about the whole thing: eager to compete in the digital landscape, the Times stacked its site with blogs it imagined as more platforms to deliver its readers with necessary and evocative journalism. Then it handed one of the most visible to Mackey. In other words, instead of letting actual reporters frame big, complicated stories, it settled for deliciously cheaper snide armchair analysis, and appointed one of its least competent practitioners for the job. The occasional bias we can survive; a thorough misunderstanding of what journalism ought to look like in the age of the Internet is a much harder blow.

Liel Leibovitz is editor at large for Tablet Magazine and a host of its weekly culture podcast Unorthodox and daily Talmud podcast Take One.

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