NYT Reports 'Deluge' of Complaints About Coverage of Israel-Gaza Fighting

Public editor receives more than 1,000 emails during week of Operation Protective Edge.

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The New York Times building in Manhattan.Credit: Reuters

Operation Protective Edge has caused a sharp rise in readers' complaints of poor news coverage at the New York Times, with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict easily the most whinged-about topic among the readership since the fighting between Israel and Hamas began a week ago.

In an article titled, "A Deluge of Readers' Complaints on Israel-Palestine Coverage," Public Editor Margaret Sullivan wrote on Monday that over 1,000 emails reached her from readers on the subject during this time – "with protests on both sides, and, in some cases, charges of bias coming from both sides."

She noted that many presumably pro-Israel readers complained about the Times' erroneous report that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not respond promptly to the burning alive of Mohammed Abu Khdeir of Shoafat, which led the paper to publish a correction.

Meanwhile, many presumably pro-Palestinian readers objected to a headline that made it seem that Hamas' attacks, not Israel's, were killing Palestinians in Gaza. The headline was changed "to make its meaning clearer," Sullivan wrote.

On Sunday the readers' editor of Britain's The Guardian, Chris Elliot, took up the same issue. Introducing it, he wrote, "The latest [eruption] of violence above the day-to-day has seen Hamas firing rockets into Israel, and Israel, in a counter-offensive, bombing and shelling Gaza, with the loss of many lives." He followed that with the sentence: "Though I have tried to write the above as carefully as possible, there will already be readers reaching for their keypads to complain about the way I have framed the conflict, readers who believe passionately that the Guardian is either pro-Israel or pro-Palestine."

He noted that presumably pro-Palestinian readers complained that a story about the confessions by three Israelis to Abu Khdeir's murder was illustrated with a photo of Palestinian youths with scarves around their faces. The photo was changed, Elliot wrote.

NRP underrepresents Palestinians

The ombudsman at America's National Public Radio did not discuss readers' reactions to recent events in the conflict, but on Monday Edward Schumacher-Matos wrote that a just-completed study of 11 years of NPR stories on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict showed that the Palestinian side of the story had been underrepresented.

The head of the survey, former foreign editor John Felton, found that Israeli voices were heard or quoted in stories more than Palestinian ones by a 664-448 margin. Among leaders, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was heard or quoted 772 times, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas 323 times, and Gaza Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh not once.

Schumacher-Matos wrote: "As [Felton] explains, some of the imbalance is to be expected. Israel generates more news in part because its officials are more open and the country is more democratic than in the Palestinian territories. Israel stages more newsworthy 'official' events, such as elections, and its economy is far more dynamic. Israel also is an ally of the U.S., and its officials frequently visit. The Gaza Strip in particular is miniscule. NPR's sole correspondent is based in Jerusalem.

"The criticism that Felton draws from the numbers is not bias but something else: that the coverage could be more complete. He calls for more stories that give an understanding of the Palestinian territories and of their leaders, including the radical Hamas ones."

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