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New York Times Ombudsman on "Balanced" Coverage of Israel-Lebanon Conflict:

I missed this when it first came out:

While fairness can't be determined solely by the numbers of pictures in a situation like this, there is one statistic worth keeping in mind: the death toll. Nearly 1,150 Lebanese died, most of them civilians [actually, we have no idea how many of the "civilians" were actually Hizbollah fighters]. This is more than seven times as many as the roughly 150 Israelis, mostly soldiers, who died, according to The Times's latest estimates. (One factor, of course, was that Israel's population apparently had more access to shelters that offered greater protection from Hezbollah's bombs.) The death toll appeared to relate closely to what was happening in the conflict [only, as I discuss below, if the primary focus of war coverage is supposed to be short-term civilian suffering], and therefore to provide a reasonable measure for shaping — and subsequently evaluating — the coverage. Indeed, Times editors responsible for both photography and news articles had those cumulative numbers of the deaths on each side in their minds each day. "We were totally aware," said Michele McNally, the assistant managing editor for photography. "Absolutely."

This focus on the death toll led me to review the number of Times pictures depicting corpses and coffins. There were about eight times as many photographs of Lebanese as of Israelis, a ratio roughly comparable to the overall one for deaths during the conflict. "We try to reflect what happens on the ground," said Susan Chira, the foreign editor. "We are extremely conscious of the death tolls. It would be unfair to truth to do otherwise."

Estimates of the relative physical damage weren't so readily available to Times editors as the conflict unfolded. But I'm comfortable with the editors' estimates that the relative physical destruction was even more disproportionate than the death tolls. The pictures in the paper reflected that. Eight times as many pictures of physical damage in Lebanon, compared with those of destruction in Israel, appeared on Page 1. The ratio for all such photographs used in the coverage shrank to three to one, but the pictures from Lebanon that ran inside the paper tended to be larger.

What an odd way to justify the "fairness" of media coverage! For one thing, it suggests that the Times' coverage of the Iraq war has been grossly unfair to the Iraqis, or, if you prefer, the Iraqi "resistance."

For that matter, consider the "unfairness" of the Times' coverage of 9/11 and the war in Afghanistan. We certainly got more pictures of "American suffering" because of 9/11 than of suffering in Afghanistan because of NATO military action.

Sure, the Times is an American paper, and thus gives the U.S. a "home field advantage," but that just raises the question of why Israel, a close American ally, fighting Hizbollah, a sworn American enemy, doesn't get at least a less extreme version of the same sort of advantage.

For another thing, the ombudsman later acknowledges that these photos were completely acontextual, because the Times almost never carried any photos of Hizbollah forces:

Times readers got hardly any photographs of Hezbollah fighters. Photographers were actively discouraged [what a euphemism for "were threatened with death"!] from taking pictures of them, Ms. McNally said. I found only two pictures that portrayed Hezbollah fighters; both ran on Aug. 10, and both showed the difficulty the guerrillas had in crossing the Litani River after Israeli attacks had put bridges out of commission. The two fighters in the front-page photo were wounded.

Meanwhile, although Israel didn't allow photographers to accompany its soldiers in the field, the Times managed to run quite a few photos of Israeli soldiers. The ombudsman says that this was for "balance," but it strikes me as the opposite, a propaganda victory for Hizbollah. The visual image Times' readers received, after all, was of the Lebanese civilian population suffering at a far greater rate than the Israeli civilian population, with pictures of Israeli soldiers doing the damage, and no pictures of Hizbollah forces (not to mention Syrian and Iranian assistants) at all--much less pictures of them hiding among the civilian population--save for two photos of wounded soldiers, which would naturally raise the basic human sympathy of many readers.

Perhaps the most disturbing comment in the column is this: "editors had to shape their photographic coverage, however, with the knowledge that the access of Times photographers to the death and suffering on each side was not equal." It reflects a mentality, that is present in the entire column, that the essence of war is the suffering it creates on each side while the war is going on. The reasons for the war, the implications of victory or defeat for each side, the moral status of the combatants (an issue the ombudsman says is irrelevant!), and so forth, is at best a sideshow. I'd be the first to admit that it would be difficult, if not impossible, to use photographs to illustrate these complexities. But to the extent newspaper photographs play on visceral, but acontextual, emotional reactions of readers, the Times should at least be contrite about this, rather than bragging of it's "balance" because its photos reflect a given ratio of casualties. Moreover, the ombudsman acknowledges that the death toll affected news coverage as well, despite his disclaimer that the Times shouldn't consider "morality" in its coverage! [Is not the choice to focus on acontextual civilian suffering in Lebanon as the essence, or at least, an extremely important aspect, of the war itself an implicit moral choice, a choice that implicitly favors a pacifistic response to terrorism when the terrorists hide among civilians?]

UPDATE: I notice many commentors are focusing on tangential quibbles, and missing three basic points: (1) The ombudsman's explanation of the coverage, if accepted, would mean that the Times is "unfair" in virtually ever other conflict it has covered, a rather startling admission. (2) The ombudsman chose to focus on the photographs covered by the Times as an indication of objectivity, but if you follow the ombudsman's own "count", readers who relied solely on the visual saw no pictures of Hizbollah gunmen, lots of pictures of Israeli soldiers, few pictures of Israelis suffering, and many pictures of Lebanese suffering. That's only "balanced" in some sort of alternate universe. (3) The idea that the "balance" of war coverage should be determined by how well a paper covers "suffering" on each side suggests that the suffering is the most important aspect of the war. This is hardly a neutral perspective, and the Times should not pretend it is.

Luke 1152 (mail):

It reflects a mentality, that is present in the entire column, that the essence of war is the suffering it creates on each side while the war is going on.

Ever had your house up Mr. Bernstein? Ever carried the mangled body of your child out of some wreckage?

I suspect that if you had, you too might think that the "essence of war" is the "suffering it creates on each side."
9.27.2006 8:25pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
War creates suffering. It also ends suffering. It would be useful to address the conduct and status of any war.

But the last point in the article is correct. The implication is to not fight back when attacked, since it might create suffering.
9.27.2006 8:40pm
dick thompson (mail):
The essence of war is the suffering each side attempts to crete on the other. In this case the Hizbollah were not as successful as the Israelis although they tried harder. The Hizbollah were also more willing to photograph over and over and stage over and over for the media (see the woman with the 7 homes that were blown up or green hat or the ambulance that was bombed but the inside was not destroyed somehow).

Check how often the pitiful photos of the Hizbollah were printed vs the pitiful photos of the Israeli homes. Check how often the Hizbollah buried themselves in with the locals as opposed to keeping the locals away from the fighting. For some reason that MSM and the ombusdmen didn't see fit to make allowances for that at all.
9.27.2006 8:40pm
gaussling (mail) (www):
Perhaps the most disturbing comment in the column is this: "editors had to shape their photographic coverage, however, with the knowledge that the access of Times photographers to the death and suffering on each side was not equal." It reflects a mentality, that is present in the entire column, that the essence of war is the suffering it creates on each side while the war is going on. The reasons for the war, the implications of victory or defeat for each side, the moral status of the combatants (an issue the ombudsman says is irrelevant!), and so forth, is at best a sideshow.

Mr Bernsteins analysis seems more dispeptic than insightful. Handwringing over nuances in the tone of the NYT editorial policy and microanalysis of todays "editorial outrage" says more about the writer than the newpaper. Perhaps we can expect to read about the population of angels on the head of a pin next?
9.27.2006 8:44pm
Luke 1152 (mail):

says more about the writer than the newpaper.

It could be that the recent little war was not quite the "mission accomplished" some members of the 101st Keyboard Brigade had hoped it would be.
9.27.2006 9:01pm
Glenn B (mail):
"the essence of war is the suffering it creates on each side while the war is going on."

Uh, do you have any comprehension of the destructive potential of the modern military apparatus? Apparently not, or you wouldn't utter the above with such scorn.
9.27.2006 9:09pm
kr:
So this is a criticism that the NY Times hasn't sufficiently romanticized war? Look at these brave lawful combatants ride off to victory on their noble steeds! In most wars, the only tangible thing left at the end is a bunch of blown up property and dead people.
9.27.2006 9:11pm
wooga:
So, Luke, what do chickenhawks and Bush's carrier appearance have to with this article? How about throwing in a few random references to "Haliburton," "Neocons," and "yellowcake"?

The point of this article is that civilian death tolls are not an accurate yardstick for determining whether coverage is balanced. The Times reliance on such a justification is certainly novel (it's never been used for other conflicts, to my knowledge), but its disingenuous and improper. But I suppose when all you care about is the "ends" (eliminate israel vs. disarm Hizbollah) and not the means (random rocket attacks on civilians vs. targetted bombings), Hizbollah are a bunch of noble proles, spreading love and poetry.
9.27.2006 9:15pm
Robert F. Patterson (mail):
In the last decade, at least, perhaps longer, every newspaper, every magazine, every newscast on TV or radio, has a bias. It never used to be so. I am speaking as a quondam editor as well as a teacher of journalism. It used to be that a news item started with a lead which summarized the story, and the rest of the story expanded on the lead, as accurately and as clearly as possible. Gone are those days. And I think the N.Y. TImes started it. A news item now more often than not begins with a story about some individual, and perhaps way down in the story we get what the news is all about. In the course of relating the story, certain facts in keeping with the bias of the particular medium, are related. As often as not, the other side of a story is either not given, or underplayed. Usualy most readers, listeners or viewers, have to choose between the media to get the news he or she wants, and ignore the medium that presents the "other side."
One glaring example is the editorial cartoon that appears daily in the Gannett newspapers. Fifty percent are cartoons of President Bush doing some atrocious thing, and the rest are of some Republican following his Chief's suit. I have NEVER seen a cartoon ridiculing the "other side."
So why is the Old Gray Lady any different?
9.27.2006 9:17pm
frankcross (mail):
Well, the ratio doesn't prove fairness, but it is a piece of evidence. To study fairness, you have to remove your own biases, which is difficult to do. This comment reads like: "If they don't do what I think, they're unfair."

Indeed, the "home court" bias you note with respect to 9-11, is inevitable for an American paper but surely "unfair" insofar as innocent Afghani have suffered. You seem like you demand the benefit of unfairness for Israel.
9.27.2006 9:50pm
Greedy Clerk (mail):
Is wooga David Bernstein? (Serious question.)
9.27.2006 9:50pm
DavidBernstein (mail):
War certainly creates suffering, awful suffering. But as a commentator points out, lack of war can create even worse suffering.

Under the ombudsman's theory, Israel will only get sympathetic coverage from the Times if it lets its enemies kill thousands of Israelis.

And when you're talking about "fairness" or "balance" to war coverage, the moral standing of the parties, including who bears ultimate moral responsiblity (e.g., Hez hiding behind civilians) is certainly relevant. Or, if morality is not relevant to begin with, than that includes civilian suffereing.
9.27.2006 9:51pm
DavidBernstein (mail):
Is Wooga Greedy Clerk in the Bizarro World?
9.27.2006 10:06pm
TomCS:
It's not the NYT that's the problem (and the problem is well illustrated by this selective attack on it). The problem is the underlying balance (if a balance can be fundamentally off-balance) of the US media over the Middle East: being at war, or being an ally at war, does not relieve the press of the responsibility of telling the truth as the journalist sees it. Israel has no persistent business in Lebanon, and no right to deploy the best of US tactical munitions against unprotected (if not entirely civilian) targets. The civilian suffering was almost entirely on one side.

I fear the real result of this dirty little war is that the state of Israel has finally lost any hope of earning long-term legitimacy in its neighbourhood: it has fought and clearly failed to win an unnecessary war, at the expense of its relatively innocent neighbours. You do not undermine Hezbolah by demolishing projects (and the project next door, while we're at it). This is not about press coverage, it's the beginning of the end of the dream of an accepted Jewish homeland in the Middle East. It may be all over by the centenary of the Balfour Declaration.
9.27.2006 10:12pm
DavidBernstein (mail):
Frank, the point is that the "home team advantage" only gets you so far. The media clearly think that the U.S. is the "good guy" in Afghanistan, so civilian casualties there get treated as "collateral damage" from a just and necessary war, and as ultimately the fault of the Taliban and Al Qaeda. The fact that civilian casualties in Lebanon are not treated the same way suggests either a contrary moral judgment about Israel, or at least the unwillingness to make a moral judgment, which itself is a moral judgment. BTW, can you think of any other international conflict in which less than a thousand civilians were killed on one side in which that side's casualties got even 1/10th (1/50th?) the coverage? The Times' focus on civilian casualties in this war is not only selective in the sense of downplaying context, it's selective in the sense of it's not done anywhere else.
9.27.2006 10:27pm
wb (mail):
If the US action in Iraq has inflamed jihadism making the US less secure against terrorism, the Israeli actions in Lebanon threw gas on the fires. What the Times showed is just what the rest of the world has decided was the rape of Lebanon. At least the NYT has provided its readers some indication of why opinion outside the US and Israel is what it is.
9.27.2006 10:31pm
DavidBernstein (mail):
Sure, and that's why Muslims worldwide are marching on Sudan to stop the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of Sudanese, because it's all about the objective actions of the Western countries, not the pathologies of jihadist/Islamist ideology.
9.27.2006 10:49pm
Rich B. (mail) (www):
I would be interested in Prof. Bernstein's take on this "On The Media" piece from this past summer about bias in journalism, which special focus on the Middle East. The conclusion appears to be that (1) there is bias, (2) the more you care, the more likely you are to find bias, but (3) the less you care, the less likely you are to be swayed by the bias that the bias-watchers are afraid you will be swayed by.

http://www.onthemedia.org/transcripts/
transcripts_072806_iknow.html
9.27.2006 11:02pm
R. Nebblesworth:
Jesus Christ, yet another proportionality tizzy over Israel/Lebanon?

Why would US media cover the Lebanon/Israel conflict any other way than to document the suffering inflicted unjustly on civilians on both sides? If the ratio of civilian death is 7 to 1 Leb-Isr., then it makes sense to portray such suffering in those same proportions in the media, unless one has a vested interest in a certain side's cause.

What if there was 10 times as much suffering in Israel instead, but the media covered the conflict the way that DB suggests? Undoubtedly we would find him here braying on and on about how the media 'minimized Israel suffering'.
9.27.2006 11:48pm
SeaLawyer:

why opinion outside the US and Israel is what it is.


If you have ever really lived overseas then you will know that the opinion of the U.S. is really shaped by hollywood.
9.27.2006 11:54pm
A Berman (mail):
Wow, do some of you guys need a reality check.
Many more German civilians than American Civilians suffered during World War II. Would that have justified coverage of the sort that the New York Times had of Lebanon?

Oh, wait, you say, that's different. World War II was *justified* and Lebanon wasn't. Well, OK, you're entitled to your opinion. But admit it is an opinion, and obviously one that the New York Times shares, and displayed magnificently in it's highly opinionated coverage masquerading as news.
9.28.2006 12:32am
DavidBernstein (mail):
Rich B., my view of the Times' coverage of Israel is that its worldview, overall, is similar to the worldview of the Israeli (Zionist) far left, e.g., the Meretz Party. Thus, it wouldn't be surprising for partisan of the Palestinian or Arab cause to find the Times to be "pro-Zionist," nor would it be surprising to those who don't share the underlying premises of Meretz--which represents the most leftist 5-10% of Jewish Israeli opinion, minus the lunatic fringe--to find the Times hostile to Israeli policy, if not Israel as such. After all, I often cringe when I read what Yossi Sarid of Meretz has to say, so it's not surprising that I'd cringe at the same ideas coming out of the Times. The international left, however, is rapidly getting to the point where even the Israeli far left is not left enough for it; Meretz mostly supported the war.
9.28.2006 12:52am
Bryan Long:
Many more German civilians than American Civilians suffered during World War II. Would that have justified coverage of the sort that the New York Times had of Lebanon?

Is the United States at war with Lebanon?
9.28.2006 12:53am
Dilan Esper (mail) (www):
I don't agree that the "home team advantage" should extend to allies, at least in the absence of a single unified war effort that both allies are fighting in.

There's two good reasons for the "home team advantage", which overrides the journalist's normal responsibility to gather both sides of the story-- (1) the journalists are citizens of the nation on one side of a conflict, and owe that nation some loyalty, and (2) it is very difficult, often impossible, to cover something happening behind "enemy" lines.

Neither applies here. New York Times reporters owe no loyalty whatsoever to Israel. Nor is it difficult for the New York Times to cover what happens in Hezbollah-controlled territories.

Thus, there is no reason the New York Times shouldn't give full coverage to Israeli-inflicted casualties. Of course, they should also cover Hezbollah-inflicted casualties, and the tactics and justifications used in the conflict. (Israel will come out better than Hezbollah on those measures-- and if those aspects of the conflict are undercovered, there is a legitimate claim of media bias.) But loss of innocent life is a part of warfare, and hawks constantly want the media to ignore it so as to keep wars popular. That instict is dangerous enough when the journalists owe some duty to help their own country's war effort. It should be absolutely and emphatically rejected when the country involved is one that the journalists should owe no loyalty to.
9.28.2006 12:55am
Dean V. Wermer (mail):
It is quite difficult for the New York Times to cover honestly what happens in Hezbollah-controlled territories or in the territories of most other totalitarian, terrorist or similar non-democratic countries. Access to those territories comes at the price of not offending the host under implicit or, in the case of Hezbollah, explicit threats of violence.

The notion that journalists should treat democratic and non-democratic countries the same is silly.
9.28.2006 1:06am
reflecting:
Sure, sure. The story was about civilian suffering--and that was a good point/focus for a story, but what was not necessarily on the ball was to focus on the cause of the suffering as being Israel Airstrikes.

It is true that there wouldn't have been the same suffering where not for the Israeli strikes, but the same can be said that there would have been the same suffering had the militants not used populated areas to stage their rocket attacks.

And I think we can agree that the common cause was the militants:

militants -> airstrikes -> suffering.

So should the main fair story been between the militants justifying their use of human shields versus the the suffering it caused the people of lebanon?

Making the story primarily "Israel's interests" versus killing lots of people is to give Hezbollah a pass they didn't deserve.
9.28.2006 3:38am
reflecting:
Sure, sure. The story was about civilian suffering--and that was a good point/focus for a story, but what was not necessarily on the ball was to focus on the cause of the suffering as being Israel Airstrikes.

It is true that there wouldn't have been the same suffering where not for the Israeli strikes, but the same can be said that there would have been the same suffering had the militants not used populated areas to stage their rocket attacks.

And I think we can agree that the common cause was the militants:

militants -> airstrikes -> suffering.

So should the main fair story been between the militants justifying their use of human shields versus the the suffering it caused the people of lebanon?

Making the story primarily "Israel's interests" versus killing lots of people is to give Hezbollah a pass they didn't deserve.
9.28.2006 3:38am
reflecting:
Sure, sure. The story was about civilian suffering--and that was a good point/focus for a story, but what was not necessarily on the ball was to focus on the cause of the suffering as being Israel Airstrikes.

It is true that there wouldn't have been the same suffering where not for the Israeli strikes, but the same can be said that there would have been the same suffering had the militants not used populated areas to stage their rocket attacks.

And I think we can agree that the common cause was the militants:

militants -> airstrikes -> suffering.

So should the main fair story been between the militants justifying their use of human shields versus the the suffering it caused the people of lebanon?

Making the story primarily "Israel's interests" versus killing lots of people is to give Hezbollah a pass they didn't deserve.
9.28.2006 3:38am
Ken Arromdee:
Nor is it difficult for the New York Times to cover what happens in Hezbollah-controlled territories.

You have got to be kidding.
9.28.2006 3:50am
jvarisco (www):
"The fact that civilian casualties in Lebanon are not treated the same way suggests either a contrary moral judgment about Israel, or at least the unwillingness to make a moral judgment, which itself is a moral judgment."

That is a criticism you can make of the times, if you like. But it's hardly that exceptional - quite a few people, rabid zionists aside, condemn Israel from a moral perspective. The fact remains that en extremely large number of innocent Lebanese died for no reason whatsoever. Israel is leaving, and doing a prisoner swap. Not to mention a million unexploded cluster bombs sitting around there still. But of course, the entire international community, many Israelis included, are a bunch of anti-semites. Isn't it nice to always be a victim?
9.28.2006 4:16am
davod (mail):
The problem with the NYTs reporting is that it was biased. It may be that the bias was because their reporters in the area were pro Hezbolah. Or it may be that the reporters were coerced into following the Hezbolah line.

Regardless, the reporting was biased. At the very least every article originating from Lebanon should have contained a rider that the reporter was unable to fully report because of intimidation.

As an aside. I wonder how many NYTs reports from Israel mentioned Israeli military censorship.
9.28.2006 5:58am
Bottomfish (mail):
The reliance on visual media is a highly significant part of the fairness problem. A photo of a woman wailing next to a house that has been destroyed does not really give us the information we need to understand what is going on. Even if it is her house, we cannot be sure of her relation to the war or for what purpose the house was used. The photo tells us nothing about causes or what was happening elsewhere. But it is striking, or compelling, or heart-wrenching. Some aspects of war are easily conveyable by visual media and some are not, but the cameras ignore the validity everything that is not photographed. A thunderingly obvious point really.
9.28.2006 6:38am
TC (mail):

Israel has no persistent business in Lebanon, and no right to deploy the best of US tactical munitions against unprotected (if not entirely civilian) targets. The civilian suffering was almost entirely on one side.

Israel has more right to attack "unprotected" (whatever the heck that means) targets than Hezbollah does to intentionally launch attacks from civilian structures and areas.

If a warring party uses civilians as shields, then that party is responsible for their suffering.
9.28.2006 10:02am
JohnAnnArbor:

Uh, do you have any comprehension of the destructive potential of the modern military apparatus? Apparently not, or you wouldn't utter the above with such scorn.

Potential is not the same as what actually happened. Israel is fully capable of flattening every city in Lebanon with WWII-style fire raids, killing tens of thousands daily. Instead, they used precision-guided munitions for the most part, making Hezbollah scramble to make sure civilians were in the way of the bombs (all the better for CNN).
9.28.2006 12:30pm
Third Party Beneficiary (mail):
"Many more German civilians than American Civilians suffered during World War II. Would that have justified coverage of the sort that the New York Times had of Lebanon?"

Yes. I find it loathsome that Allied atrocities against Axis civilians are largely airbrushed out of mainstream histories of the conflict or otherwise minimized or justified. (See, e.g., the tendency to portray the London Blitz as equivalent to the Allied air campaign against Germany, despite the fact that the latter killed over ten times as many civilians and in its later stages was far less justifiable by any standard of strategic or tactical gain relative to civilian losses.)
9.28.2006 2:08pm
Luke 1152 (mail):
From "All the News thats Fit for Bernstein"

Photo: Mangled Corpse of a Child Killed in Lebanon

Caption: The above incident of collateral damage was caused solely by the unlawful and cowardly hizbollah forces who secreted themselves among the civilian Lebanese population while firing rockets at innocent Israeli women and children as part of the terrorist organization hizbollahs ongoing efforts to destroy the state of Israel with the aid and assistance of weaponry from Iran (who remember is working to get nuclear weapons and will probably have to be dealt with by the United States if peace loving Americans are to protect themselves from the nutty Islamic horde [have you see the beards on those guys]). And don't forget the holocaust happened and it killed many Jews (some of whom still live in Israel) and all of this is yet another example of how Israel's neighbors want to destroy it which just goes to show that blowing apart children is perfectly acceptable provided we all view it in the proper context.
9.28.2006 2:18pm
josh:
R. Nebblesworth hits it right on the head:

"Why would US media cover the Lebanon/Israel conflict any other way than to document the suffering inflicted unjustly on civilians on both sides? If the ratio of civilian death is 7 to 1 Leb-Isr., then it makes sense to portray such suffering in those same proportions in the media, unless one has a vested interest in a certain side's cause." (italics mine)

Ineed, Prof Bernstein "has a vested interest in a certain side's cause," aply demonstrated if we look at the ratio of the number of posts he has written about the media's treatment of Israel, versus his posts that approach legal thought.

Yes, the unbiased reader saw the increased coverage of the Lebanese civilian casualties and recognized that they might more often trump reports of soldiers' deaths on the other wise from a newsworthy standpoint. Most unbiased readers recognized that, while tragic, those Lebanese civilian deaths were "justified" (for lack of a better term) on the basis that the Party of Eric Clapton (Clapton is God) attacked first, kidnapped Israeli soldiers by crossing the Israeli border, and, unlike Iraq, posed a clear and present danger to Israeli security.

Bertsein's analogies to coverage of so many other conflicts only belies his entire lack of understanding of the many factors that go into determining whether something is newsworthy and to what extent. Right or wrong, choose to lower yourself to ad hominem attacks of liberal bias if you will, but the media has and always will consider civilian casualties more news worthy than those of soldiers.

When "one has a vested interest in a certain side's cause," the question of news value is never going to matter.
9.28.2006 2:43pm
Yankev (mail):

it has fought and clearly failed to win an unnecessary war, at the expense of its relatively innocent neighbours. You do not undermine Hezbolah by demolishing projects (and the project next door, while we're at it). This is not about press coverage, it's the beginning of the end of the dream of an accepted Jewish homeland in the Middle East.

Well, let's see. Here are some things that are true, but that you did not read in the NY Times or most other press. Hezbollah is the second largest party in Lebanon's parliement, with 20 to 25% of the seats, as to about 50% held by the majority party. Hezbollah has several ministers in the government. Not only did Lebanon take no steps to disarm or control Hezbollah, but the leader of Hezbollah received approval before the war from the Lebanese PM to launch incursions from Lebanese territory into Israel at future dates to be chosen by Hezbollah unpsecified times. The war was triggered when Hezbollah gunemn entered Israel from Lebanon, killed several Isareli soldiers and kidnapped two more. For several months BEFORE the war, Hezbollah fired numerous rockets into civilian areas of Israel, with no interference from the Lebanese government. Doesn't make the war seem so unnecessary or the Lebanese seem so innocent, does it? No nation can tolerate continued attacks into its territory from a neighboring country. Israel responded to acts of war by and from Lebanon, no matter how much the Lebanese government wants to claim innocence. Yes, innocent children suffered horribly, and some died, in that war. Innocent children always suffer and die when their adults start wars. If you try to kill me and my children and then hide behind YOUR children, don't expect me to have more mercy on your children than you do -- not at the risk of my children.

Since Israel has forefeited its right to exist by fighting a war that you deem unjustified, I'm sure we'll soon be seeing you call for dissolution of China, Argentina (the Falklands), the US, Russia and a host of other nations.
9.28.2006 2:48pm
DavidBernstein (mail):
I'm sure the world is in fact more interested in Israeli-caused civilian deaths than the many times more civilian deaths caused in various conflicts around the world. Perhaps that makes these deaths newsworthy, but it doesn't make the coverage "unbiased," given that world opinion is itself very hostile to Israel. If the Times wanted to justify its coverage on that basis, it'd have an argument. Instead, the ombudsman pretends that the ratio of civilian casualties dictates its coverage, which is demonstrably untrue with regard to any other conflict.
9.28.2006 3:18pm
Luke 1152 (mail):
But look on the brightside DB: see how much more safe and secure Israel is today than it was a few months ago. It was all worth it.
9.28.2006 3:27pm
AaronC:
America and Israel may be allies but that doesn't mean that Israeli casualties will be treated by the media the same way as American ones. This is because American readers care more about our own casualties than those of another country -- even if that country is generally a strong ally. Proportionality in reporting except for a "homefield advantage" for Americans is likely a close appriximation for the demands of the newsreading American public.
9.28.2006 5:51pm
josh:
I'm not sure what to make of much of DB's latest comment, so let's break it down:

"I'm sure the world is in fact more interested in Israeli-caused civilian deaths than the many times more civilian deaths caused in various conflicts around the world. Perhaps that makes these deaths newsworthy, but it doesn't make the coverage "unbiased," given that world opinion is itself very hostile to Israel."

Who said "the world is in fact more interested in Israeli-caused civilian deaths than the many times more civilian deaths caused in various conflicts around the world?" I think that belies the reader bias here. Most people would view the Israeli-caused deaths not as a measure of Israel in and of itself, but as the civilian deaths caused by a far-superior power against a less powerful enemy. Only readers such as DB bring the question of moral equivalence into the equation.

So is the argument that the US-caused civilian deaths in Afghanistan and Iraq should get the same ratio of coverage as Israel's in Lebanon. DB seems to answer this in his original post (the "home-field" advantage) but then just dispenses with the correct answer in conclusory fashion. No. I"srael, a close American ally, fighting Hizbollah, a sworn American enemy, [should not] get at least a less extreme version of the same sort of advantage." It's not the home team. That's why American newspapers won't soon be running profiles of dead Israeli soldiers, as they do of American soldiers who die in conflict (See today's Chicago Tribune profile of recent West Point grad Emily Perez -- sorry don't know how to provide the link)

"The ombudsman pretends that the ratio of civilian casualties dictates its coverage, which is demonstrably untrue with regard to any other conflict."

So, again, DB utterly ignores the varying factors that would make a story (or stories) about civilian casualties newsworthy. I really could care less about the application of the NYT's ombudsman's explanation for the ratio in the Israel-Lebanon conflict to the US-Iraq War. Again, it's apples and oranges.

This portion of DB's original post sums it up: "The visual image Times' readers received, after all, was of the Lebanese civilian population suffering at a far greater rate than the Israeli civilian population." That's right because the fact was Lebanese civilians suffered at a far greater rate than the Israeli civilian population. Those are the facts, whether DB wants to suppress them or not. The notion that the reporting those facts somehow evinces bias is entirely unfounded, unless that bias is directed toward the reader, as in this instance.

The reasonable readers understood that the Party of Clapton started the conflict, and Israel was justified in its response, even if the facts later showed that Lebanese civilians suffered more than Israelis. That's usually what happens when a weaker power takes on the stronger. But to seek to censor those facts from the public consciousness is rather sad.
9.28.2006 7:42pm
Jiffy:
The thrust of DB's argument seems to be that reporting--at least with respect to the number of photographs of wartime injuries--should reflect a judgment about which side of the conflict has the more justified position rather than reflect what happened. In other words, he wants the reporting to be biased.

By the way, I don't think the focus of American media on American casualties is necessarily an example of or justification for press bias in favor of America or a "home town advantage." It is simply a reflection of the fact that the consumers of American media are more interested in American casualties than other casualties. (By the same token, my local paper has a "city" section that reports news in my city, not a section reporting on news from Cincinnati. I don't take that as a sign of "bias," I take it as a sign of reader interest.) Similarly, if US media caries more images of casualties in conflicts involving Israel than in conflicts in other places, that is probably motivated by American media consumers' greater interest in Israli conflicts, not by some anti-Israel agenda.
9.28.2006 7:47pm
PDXLawyer (mail):
David's objection isn't that that the NYT is biased in reporting the facts. The objection is that the reporting of the facts fails to conform to David's judgment about which facts are important. David objects that the NYT reports important facts (Israeli deaths) and less important facts (Lebanese/Hez deaths) more-or-less equally. He tells us why he thinks the Israeli deaths are more important, but ultimately this complaint of bias is a loser.

It reminds me of some unsophisticated litigants who condemn unhelpful (but truthful, accurate) testimony by others as a "lie." What they mean, of course, is that hearing this particular part of the truth might confuse a listener, and obscure the deeper, basic truth that their side is more justified. I understand such sloppiness of thought in people who are not capable of more, but I know that David doesn't fall into that category.

The fact is, Israel has a *very* capable and successful military, particularly by comparison to the militaries and militias with which it is engaged. This fact is somewhat at odds with David's (and others) tendency to see Israel as a helpless victim. Of course, a country can be relatively powerful, and *still* be the victim of injustice (e.g. 9/11). Although might does not make right, weakness *certainly* does not make right either (a fact sometimes forgotten by the NYT crowd).

Israel's supporters (dare I use the word "Zionists"?) persuade no converts if their argument is based on simply suppressing or ignoring inconvenient facts. Their strongest argument, by far, is that it is an error to believe that whoever kills the most people is the bad guy, regardless of reasons. The NYT doesn't look anti-Israel to me - it looks like it is against war and militaries generally. I agree that this is naive, but it is not bias.
9.28.2006 8:40pm
Ron (mail):
Photo: Mangled Corpse of a Child Killed in Lebanon


Jewish ethics will never allow to see photographed the mangled corpse of an Israeli child.


Hence why Israel always loses these image wars with its amoral enemies.
9.28.2006 10:18pm
DavidBernstein (mail):
I notice many commentors are focusing on tangential quibbles, and missing three basic points:
(1) The ombudsman's explanation of the coverage, if accepted, would mean that the Times is "unfair" in virtually ever other conflict it has covered, a rather startling omission.
(2) The ombudsman chose to focus on the photographs covered by the Times as an indication of objectivity, but if you follow the ombudsman's own "count", readers who relied solely on the visual saw no pictures of Hizbollah gunmen, lots of pictures of Israeli soldiers, few pictures of Israelis suffering, and many pictures of Lebanese suffering. That's only "balanced" in some sort of alternate universe.
(3) The idea that the "balance" of war coverage should be determined by how well a paper covers "suffering" on each side suggests that the suffering is the most important aspect of the war. This is hardly a neutral perspective, and the Times should not pretend it is.
9.28.2006 10:23pm
DavidBernstein (mail):
"startling ADMISSION"
9.28.2006 10:24pm
Guest J:
"I notice many commentors are focusing on tangential quibbles, and missing three basic points:
(1) The ombudsman's explanation of the coverage, if accepted, would mean that the Times is "unfair" in virtually ever other conflict it has covered, a rather startling omission. "

Can you give us the statistics on images shown for the dozens or hundreds of other conflicts the Times has covered to show how you know this?
9.28.2006 11:18pm
josh:
What DB calls "tangential quibbles" really are the answers to his questions. One could explain (again) why (1) the ombudsman's explanation need not be the same for "virtually ever other conflict it has covered"; (2) the count of Party of Clapton soldiers v. count of Israeli solders is entirely unrelated to the comparison of the numbers of civilian casualties; and (3) that each new civilian casualty might have a news value beyond what the paper has already reported (what Db in his bias might consider "the most important aspect of the war.")

As the reader bias here shows, no discussion will penetrate. As long as inconvenient facts are reported (even when the biased party's side of the conflict may well be in the right), addressing the logic behind the reporting will be ignored.

None of the "tangential quibbles" missed your three "missing" points. You just choose not to listen to the reasons why the facts you don't like (at various different periods of time during elongated news coverage) might be more news worthy than the ones you do.

Two ships passing in the night ...
9.29.2006 4:26pm
Robert Stevens (mail):
Seems David Bernstein's detractors miss the forest for the trees. Israel SHOULD be seen as fighting our war because it IS. In case you don't care to remember, hizbullah has killed plenty of Americans, and more than any other terrorist band until 9/11.

Even putting that aside, a couple other indicators demonstrate that newspaper's anti-Israel bias. One, their refusal to call terrorism against Israel, and only Israel, terrorism is rather prima facie evidence. And two, why is it that their admitted and non-admitted errors always are to the benefit of Israel's enemies? You don't have to be a conspiracy theorist to figure that one out.

Perhaps "jvarisco" and his fellow travelers are a little too quick to scoff at accusations of anti-semitism of certain of Israel's critics when it is Israel and only Israel that many of them see fit to "condemn from a moral perspective", not withstanding the incomparabe moral difference between it and its enemies, and many other nations of this world.
9.29.2006 6:25pm
josh:
Robert Stevens says:

"One, their refusal to call terrorism against Israel, and only Israel, terrorism is rather prima facie evidence."

Er, no. It is not prima facie evidence of anti-Israel bias, unless the reader is unable to discern that actions taken by what are often called "militants" in news reports actually are terrorist acts. Fortunately, most reasonable readers can come to their own conclusion that a person strapping a bomb to his body and blowing up a cafe is a "terrorist" without an objective news reporter having to take a side in the matter. If RS wants to admit to be unable to come to that conclusion on his own, that's her right, I guess.

"anti-semitism of certain of Israel's critics." This post discussed the NYT coverage of the Israel-Lebanon conflict. If Richard Stevens thinks the NYT is anti-semitic, he clearly has no idea of the papers background or its readership. His comment is not even worth addressing in that regard.

"not withstanding the incomparabe moral difference between it and its enemies, and many other nations of this world."

This portion also demonstrates a failure to either read or comprehend the comments being attacked. As one of those criticizing DB's forever media bias meme, I repeatedly stated that isn't an issue of moral equivalence. Israel was aboslutely in the right in its defense and the methods use in support. All commenters like me have said (and please go back and reread the comments again) was that civilian casualties resulted from Israel's justified defense and to blame the reporting on those facts as bias is nothing more than an express and implied discomfort by those who don't like the facts that other biased individuals would view as negative to Israel.

Facts are facts. It's the news industry's job to report them. Moral equivalence has nothing to do with it. Any concern that the reporting of these facts is biased simply demonstrates the bias on the part of the reader.
9.29.2006 7:29pm
Rich Rostrom (mail):
Israel would have no business in Lebanon if paramilitary forces in Lebanon did not threaten and attack Israel. These attacks constitute a complete casus belli; under international law, Israel is entitled to invade Lebanon with whatever force is required to subdue resistance and destroy the forces attacking them. There is no moral obligation for Israel to tolerate _any_ level of bombing, shelling, or sniping, regardless of the force required to suppress it.

Suppose some racist biker gang thugs go out on the street, grab a passing black man, poke him with a knife, just enough to draw blood, and take $5 from his pocket. Then they retreat into their clubhouse, which is heavily fortified and stocked with weapons, uttering defiance.

The police respond with a SWAT team siege, in which the building is wrecked, adjacent buildings are damaged, and innocent people are seriously injured.

Is that a 'disproportionate' response to a trivial assault and robbery? Should the bikers' crime be ignored?

My answer: absolutely not, because the police have an obligation to put down _all_ breaches of civil peace.

In the same line, a state has the right to do whatever is required, however drastic, to defend its citizens against foreign attack, however trivial.

For the NYTimes to 'balance' its coverage by ignoring the cause of the war and reporting only the casualties is dishonest and irresponsible, as Mr. Bernstein noted.
9.30.2006 4:26pm