The Jury Talks Back

4/28/2019

New York Times: We’re Sure Sorry About Publishing That Anti-Semitic Cartoon

Filed under: Uncategorized — Dana @ 2:26 pm

[guest post by Dana]

Oops. A cartoon appeared in the Op-Ed section of The New York Times’ International edition on Thursday that depicted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a dachshund wearing a Star of David collar and leading a blind President Trump who is wearing a yarmulke:

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After receiving criticism for its publication, The New York Times subsequently released a non-apology on Saturday that weaselly claimed that it was a cartoon that included anti-Semitic tropes, rather than a forthright description: it was an anti-Semitic cartoon:

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Knowing that this error of judgement didn’t happen in a vacuum, this can be seen as nothing but yet another effort at normalizing anti-Semitism in the pages of The New York Times. Thus the claimed “error in judgement to publish it” becomes as laughable as does the quasi-apology. Given that at least one editor of the International edition had to approve publication of the cartoon, one presumes said editor is educated and has some real awareness of the skyrocketing levels of anti-Semitism, both here and throughout Europe. Further, said editor must be familiar with the blowback the paper receives every time they engage in anti-Semitism. Therefore such an error in judgement would appear to be an intentional decision. Interestingly, no employee names are mentioned, and no mention of whether those who made the error in judgement will lose their jobs as a result of actively pushing anti-Semitism in the newspaper.

Seth Franzman, op-ed editor of The Jerusalem Post makes it simple enough for even the editors at the NYT to grasp:

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It’s instructive to remember what executive editor Dean Baquet told the public editor in 2015 about his decision made to not run the Charlie Hebdo cartoon in the pages of the NYT:

Mr. Baquet told me that he started out the day Wednesday convinced that The Times should publish the images, both because of their newsworthiness and out of a sense of solidarity with the slain journalists and the right of free expression.

He said he had spent “about half of my day” on the question, seeking out the views of senior editors and reaching out to reporters and editors in some of The Times’s international bureaus. They told him they would not feel endangered if The Times reproduced the images, he told me, but he remained concerned about staff safety.

“I sought out a lot of views, and I changed my mind twice,” he said. “It had to be my decision alone.”

Ultimately, he decided against it, he said, because he had to consider foremost the sensibilities of Times readers, especially its Muslim readers. To many of them, he said, depictions of the prophet Muhammad are sacrilegious; those that are meant to mock even more so. “We have a standard that is long held and that serves us well: that there is a line between gratuitous insult and satire. Most of these are gratuitous insult.”

Clearly the sensibilities of Jewish readers were not considered in this decision making process. But then again, even the NYT understands that the only real risk in offending the Jewish community is a short-lived collective outcry and the possible cancellation of subscriptions. Impacts they have previously absorbed.

This morning, however, an actual apology was published. Of course one has to wonder why such a direct, we-own-it apology wasn’t made right out the gate? That it took four days after the fact diminishes its intended impact. In a sad bit of irony, the apology comes as :

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This “faulty process,” however, is nothing new, not even in New York.

New York Times columnist Bret Stephens addressed the publication of the cartoon an op-ed this morning, pointing out that “The Times wasn’t explaining anti-Semitism. It was purveying it”:

Here was an image that, in another age, might have been published in the pages of Der Stürmer. The Jew in the form of a dog. The small but wily Jew leading the dumb and trusting American. The hated Trump being Judaized with a skullcap. The nominal servant acting as the true master. The cartoon checked so many anti-Semitic boxes that the only thing missing was a dollar sign.

The image also had an obvious political message: Namely, that in the current administration, the United States follows wherever Israel wants to go. This is false — consider Israel’s horrified reaction to Trump’s announcement last year that he intended to withdraw U.S. forces from Syria — but it’s beside the point. There are legitimate ways to criticize Trump’s approach to Israel, in pictures as well as words. But there was nothing legitimate about this cartoon.

While he questions its placement in the NYT, Stephens cuts the publication (and individual editors) slack, and is willing to give them a benefit of the doubt that I am unwilling to do:

For some Times readers — or, as often, former readers — the answer is clear: The Times has a longstanding Jewish problem, dating back to World War II, when it mostly buried news about the Holocaust, and continuing into the present day in the form of intensely adversarial coverage of Israel. The criticism goes double when it comes to the editorial pages, whose overall approach toward the Jewish state tends to range, with some notable exceptions, from tut-tutting disappointment to thunderous condemnation.

For these readers, the cartoon would have come like the slip of the tongue that reveals the deeper institutional prejudice. What was long suspected is, at last, revealed.

The real story is a bit different, though not in ways that acquit The Times. The cartoon appeared in the print version of the international edition, which has a limited overseas circulation, a much smaller staff, and far less oversight than the regular edition. Incredibly, the cartoon itself was selected and seen by just one midlevel editor right before the paper went to press.

An initial editor’s note acknowledged that the cartoon “included anti-Semitic tropes,” “was offensive,” and that “it was an error of judgment to publish it.” On Sunday, The Times issued an additional statement saying it was “deeply sorry” for the cartoon and that “significant changes” would be made in terms of internal processes and training.

In other words, the paper’s position is that it is guilty of a serious screw-up but not a cardinal sin. Not quite.

The problem with the cartoon isn’t that its publication was a willful act of anti-Semitism. It wasn’t. The problem is that its publication was an astonishing act of ignorance of anti-Semitism — and that, at a publication that is otherwise hyper-alert to nearly every conceivable expression of prejudice, from mansplaining to racial microaggressions to transphobia.

Imagine, for instance, if the dog on a leash in the image hadn’t been the Israeli prime minister but instead a prominent woman such as Nancy Pelosi, a person of color such as John Lewis, or a Muslim such as Ilhan Omar. Would that have gone unnoticed by either the wire service that provides the Times with images or the editor who, even if he were working in haste, selected it?

The question answers itself. And it raises a follow-on: How have even the most blatant expressions of anti-Semitism become almost undetectable to editors who think it’s part of their job to stand up to bigotry?

The reason is the almost torrential criticism of Israel and the mainstreaming of anti-Zionism, including by this paper, which has become so common that people have been desensitized to its inherent bigotry. So long as anti-Semitic arguments or images are framed, however speciously, as commentary about Israel, there will be a tendency to view them as a form of political opinion, not ethnic prejudice. But as I noted in a Sunday Review essay in February, anti-Zionism is all but indistinguishable from anti-Semitism in practice and often in intent, however much progressives try to deny this.

Add to the mix the media’s routine demonization of Netanyahu, and it is easy to see how the cartoon came to be drawn and published: Already depicted as a malevolent Jewish leader, it’s just a short step to depict him as a malevolent Jew.

It will interesting to see if the editor is actually fired over this error in judgement, and to learn exactly what an investigation reveals. But, in the end, will anything really change? After all, the publication of the cartoon occurred during the Jewish Holy Week, and the subsequent apology comes as Holocaust Remembrance week begins.

-Dana

1 Comment »

  1. Thanks, Dana. I especially liked the Charlie Hedbo angle.

    I can’t accept that even the dolts at the NYT could possibly be unaware that this was rabidly anti-semetic.

    I think the answer is, of course they knew, they just didn’t care. Anti-semitisim is big on the far left these days, so the NYT thought this would be okay, especially in the international edition.

    I can’t find non-obscene words to describe how I feel about what the NYT has done here, but it comes as no surprise, either. Maybe we’ll find that their layers upon layers of fact checkers is Josef Goebbels.

    It’s stuff like this that causes me to make snide remarks when anyone cites the NYT as if it was a news source.

    Comment by Arizona CJ — 4/28/2019 @ 5:00 pm

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