Boycotting the media
American Jews are expressing their dissatisfaction with media coverage
of the Middle East by suspending their subscriptions to leading
newspapers, starting with The New York Times
By Nathan Guttman
WASHINGTON - Jewish communities in cities across the U.S. have
organized boycotts of almost all of the country's leading newspapers.
A month-long boycott against The New York Times sponsored by groups
of New York City Jews should end soon; The Washington Post could
face a similar protest next month; The Los Angeles Times has had
subscriptions suspended by more than 1,000 readers; and the Chicago
Tribune has struggled with a wave of canceled subscriptions and
A series of local initiatives undertaken by Jewish communities
across America led to these boycott efforts. Mainstream American
Jewish organizations have not officially endorsed the boycotts;
and yet the protesters feel as though the boycotts have gotten a
message across, and yielded results.
The most conspicuous measure was The New York Times boycott, spearheaded
by New York City Orthodox activists Haskell Lookstein and Eli Scharf.
The pair of rabbis decided to take action against what they consider
The New York Times' anti-Israel bias. "The goal is for them
to end this balance between the murderers and the murdered - for
instance, when a young woman blew up a bomb in a supermarket [in
Jerusalem's Kiryat Yovel neightborhood - N.G.], and killed a young
Jewish woman, they wrote one article about the two young ladies.
That's atrocious," claims Rabbi Lookstein, who heads Manhattan's
But what really precipitated the protest against The New York Times
was its coverage of an Israel solidarity rally staged in the city.
The newspaper's editors chose pictures that showed a Palestinian
counter-demonstration, which involved just a few hundred protesters;
the Jewish rally, in which thousands took part, could be seen only
in the background in the photo layout.
Although the editors acknowledged in print the next day that they
had erred in the choice of a picture, the boycott was already in
the works. Its organizers estimate that between 5,000 and 10,000
readers answered their call, and canceled subscriptions to the paper
for a month. "I don't want to destroy The New York Times; instead,
I want them to understand the way we feel," Rabbi Lookstein
New York Times spokeswoman Catherine Mathis confirms that the paper
received a number of complaints from readers, but confirms that
its policy is to maintain balance. "Our task is to cover all
the sides, without partisanship or emotional involvement,"
Mathis said. The newspaper is not ignoring the Jewish protest; in
fact, it invited the boycott organizers for a meeting with its editors,
in which the various complaints were aired. The boycotters claim
that results of their protest can already be felt; as evidence,
they note that three photographs, including one on the front page,
the last terror strike at Rishon Letzion.
The Washington Post is also under fire. A group of Jewish readers
is using the Internet to organize a temporary boycott, starting
June. "The newspaper surveys positively the terrorists' positions,
and uses misleading headlines to slant the coverage and distort
objective facts," the boycotters' site declares. The site provides
a number of examples of what its organizers regard as anti-Israeli
In addition to subscription cancellations, protest actions include
flooding newsapers with phone calls and letters to protest coverage
against Israel. Demonstrations have even been staged in front of
newspaper offices. The Chicago Tribune has experienced various forms
of protest since the start of the intifada. Among other things,
readers have complained that the paper refrains from using the word
"terrorist" to describe armed Palestinians.
"We are very careful about the use of the word `terrorist,'
and apply it only to those who carry out acts of terror," says
Timothy J. McNulty, associate managing director for foreign affairs
at the Chicago Tribune.
This explanation does not satisfy all of the newspaper's readers.
Twice, groups of Jewish readers have demonstrated in front of the
newspaper's offices in Chicago. "I think that our coverage
is balanced and fair," says McNulty. "From the standpoint
of those who complain, the goal of pressure exerted against the
newspaper isn't to cause us to be balanced, but rather to make us
pro-Israel," says McNulty.
Jews who remonstrate against American newspaper coverage of the
Middle East are not only unhappy about what they regard as unwarranted
"balance" between the two sides in the dispute. They charge
that the media adopts Palestinian claims without verifying facts,
and also that newspapers do not apply the same standards in coverage
of Palestinians and Israelis. They also object to fragmentary coverage
of terror strikes against Israelis, and about the newspapers' greater
willingness to run human interest stories about Palestinian, as
opposed to Israeli, suffering.
The common denominator in these boycott efforts is their independent,
spontaneous character. They are run virtually in defiance of the
established organizations which represent Jewish communities. While
the organizations are reluctant to endorse formal sanctions such
as boycotts, members of the communities are willing to do so independently,
using synagogues, newspapers advertisements, and e-mail connections.
Information compiled by Camera, a media watchdog group, regarding
media bias against Israel supplies these local efforts with ammunition
for protest actions against the newspapers.
Israeli officials refrain from endorsing these boycott campaigns.
A diplomat in the Israel Embassy in Washington said that Israel
often has criticism about media coverage, but does not encourage
Radio also draws fire
Accompanying complaints about bias in the print media, protests
have been made against National Public Radio. Jewish groups in the
U.S. argue that NPR's coverage of Middle East events is blatantly
pro-Palestinian; the Camera organization has even demanded that
NPR's foreign affairs editor be dismissed because of his anti-Israel
As a public radio station, NPR depends upon government funds and
listener donations. There have been reports about decreased donations
for NPR in various areas since these protest actions were started.
Some believe that several long-standing Jewish NPR donors have withheld
money of late.