Wednesday, June 01, 2005

The Tribune and the Times

Anybody who thinks that there is really no bias in European media and society, should read this spectacular editorial that appeared in the Jerusalem Post a year-and-a-half ago and compares an article that was published in the New York Times with its "edited" version that appeared in the Times' international edition, the International Herald Tribune.
But it turns out that IHT editors often "improve" the Times copy a bit. The adjustments are minor in terms of the amount of text changed, yet sufficient to give the reader a completely different understanding of events.
I discovered this only last month, having never before thought to compare an IHT article to its Times original. What sparked the discovery was a piece in the IHT's December 27-28 edition, entitled "Israeli tactics assure future bombings, Palestinians assert" and credited to the Times. The article's main thrust was that the Israel Defense Forces believes its two-pronged anti-terror campaign – construction of the separation fence and frequent raids aimed at arresting terrorists and destroying bomb-making facilities – has significantly reduced the number of successful attacks.
But the article also claimed that the December 25 bombing at the Geha Junction ended a three-month period that "seemed to be a sort of unofficial cease-fire. In that time, Palestinian radical groups carried out no suicide bombings."
This struck me as outrageous, since a cease-fire implies that no attacks were attempted – whereas, according to IDF statistics, there were no fewer than 22 attempted suicide bombings during that time, all foiled by Israel's security forces. But when I checked the article on the Times Web site in preparation for an angry letter to that paper, I discovered the following:
The Times never referred to this period as a cease-fire.
The Times explicitly mentioned that "numerous terror attempts" had been made during this period and were thwarted by Israel; that entire paragraph was cut from the IHT piece.
The Times did not say that Palestinians "carried out no suicide bombings," giving the false impression that they attempted none; it merely said, correctly, that no bombings took place.
Moreover, the Times article carried a very different – and far more accurate – headline:
"Bombing after lull: Israel still believes the worst is over."
The result is that the average Times reader came away with the following impression: Israel's military activity produced three months in which no Israelis were killed, despite "numerous terror attempts." This activity is thus saving Israeli lives, and therefore potentially justifiable.
But the IHT reader received the opposite impression: Neither the fence nor the raids were justified, since there was an "unofficial cease-fire" and Palestinians were not committing attacks in any case. Moreover, since no attempts took place during this period, Israel's activity did not save a single life.
In short, rather than preventing bombings, Israel is, as the IHT headline asserts, "assuring future bombings" by persecuting the Palestinians for no reason.
Do read the whole article: it goes on to recount several other instances of breathtaking creative editing. No wonder the Times has long lost its reputation as the newspaper of record.

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