Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Live-Blogging Jill Abramson: "I See A Backwards Vote Of Confidence In The Times's [Gaza] Reporting."

In the face of a dozen reader diatribes accusing bias in the Times's reporting on the Gaza War, Jill Abramson has summed them up as only a self-satisfied Times editor can -- as an endorsement of what a great job the paper is doing.

Excerpts from the questions, posted shortly after 10:00 this morning:

When will your newspaper begin to offer a balanced analysis of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?....What effort is The New York Times making to consult and cite sharply critical analysts from the Arab world and Europe, as well as the usual Israeli and Washington sources?....How come the Times only writes about Gaza hardships when there is immense suffering from the Israeli side due to the rocket attacks?....My question to you is why is there no front-page coverage of the demonstrations against this invasion?.... Actually Aljazeera is doing a better job of covering the Gaza situation, albeit with a slant, than The New York Times. Interesting....When Gaza aggression is reported, we seem to hear more of body counts (Palestine always higher) and less of how many people have been terrorized by the other side (ie. needing to stay within 15 seconds of a bomb shelter in Ashkelon, etc.). Balance seems lacking.

Abramson has read the questions carefully and decided that all this vitriol towards the Times can mean only one thing: everyone else is wrong, and the Times is right.

"In the case of this set of questions," the managing editor declares, "I see a backwards vote of confidence in The Times's reporting, given that every identifiable faction in this fractured collision of peoples and injustices believes so firmly that we are taking a side — someone else's."

It's convenient to label this cacaphony of opinion a "backwards" endorsement. But in truth it's just what it appears to be: a multitude of criticisms. Taking it as a vote of confidence is a form of "backwards" logic.

After some generic horn-tooting about the Times's lofty intentions -- "We scrupulously avoid taking sides and consider it our responsibility to fully document the motives, histories, politics, and perspectives of everyone in the conflict," she says modestly -- Abramson launches into a rehash of the Times's coverage:

We wrote of the breakdown of the truce between Hamas and Israel, and the grievances on both sides.....Long before this latest outbreak, we had written about all these issues, including documenting consistently, over time, the history of rocket attacks on southern Israel.

Much like the Times's editorials, Abramson struggles mightily to strike a balance that will offend no one. To her credit, the managing editor makes no claims to objectivity, but rather to fairness -- a noble and appropriate goal in covering a conflict in which reasonable people may differ:

Fairness does not mean exactly equal treatment or play. When casualties are much higher on one side, as they are right now in Gaza, it is likely readers will see more prominent articles about the privations of Gazans. That simply reflects the realities on the ground. But we do not ignore the sufferings of Israelis and readers will continue to read about the plight of Israelis in the line of rocket fire from Hamas.

Good to hear.

It's a thankless task for the Times to cover the war on Gaza and hope to please everyone, or anyone. It might do Abramson some good to reflect more humility in her answers to angry readers, and not see their criticisms as praise. The Times's defensiveness and superiority in the face of attack is one of its least appealing characteristics, and will likely turn off these passionate, smart readers who've taken the time to send in their comments in the hopes of getting themselves heard.

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