Readers sometimes wonder whether it is worthwhile to write to the Times (or to any paper, including The Jewish Week) regarding slights by reporters covering Israel.
In fact, Clark Hoyt recently ended his term as Public Editor (ombudsman) of the Times, and one of his many worthwhile contributions came just a few weeks ago (May14) when, in response to a letter from reader Nathan Dodell, Hoyt tackled the indiscriminate use of the word "settlements" in the Times’ coverage of Jerusalem:
Back in May, when Elie Wiesel lunched with Pres. Obama, the Times reporter, Helene Cooper, wrote [May 4] that the lunch was part of Obama’s attempt to mend fences with Jews over the president’s stance against construction of "Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem."
Writes Hoyt: "Nathan Dodell of Rockville, Md., said it was ‘tendentious and arrogant’ to use the word ‘settlements’ four times in the article when the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has explicitly rejected it in relation to East Jerusalem."
Hoyt questioned Cooper, who replied, "I called them settlements because that’s the heart of the dispute between the Israelis and the United States: settlement construction in Arab East Jerusalem, which the Palestinians want for an eventual Palestinian state."
"But to Dodell," writes Hoyt, "she was taking sides. He asked why she didn’t use a neutral term like ‘housing construction.’
"Settlement is a charged word in this context" admits Hoyt, "because it suggests something less than permanent on someone else’s land. Israel argues that all of Jerusalem is its undivided capital, a claim not recognized by the United States and most of the world. Articles by Times reporters in Jerusalem do generally use words like ‘housing’ instead of ‘settlement.’ Still, Ethan Bronner, the bureau chief, said it would be unwise to adopt a hard and fast rule,
because some areas of the city taken by Israel in 1967 had long been Jewish neighborhoods while others, built more recently, had the feeling of settlements. I think Cooper should have found a more neutral term."
For all the frustration with the Times by many Jewish readers, it is a measure of the Times’ greatness that it has a public editor (firstname.lastname@example.org) willing to take a second look at things. How many Jewish journalists — or Jewish readers — are as capable of reexamining our choice of terms, or conclusions?
This past week, there was another turn-around in the Times.
Nicholas Kristof, in a column (July 2) about Israel’s blockade of Gaza, writes: "Visiting Gaza persuaded me, to my surprise, that Israel is correct when it denies that there is any full-fledged humanitarian crisis in Gaza."
Imagine that. "Israel is correct."