Dear Ms. Sullivan:
First off, congratulations on your recent appointment as the Times’ public editor. I look forward to reading your insights and commentaries in the weeks and months ahead.
As I’m sure you’ve heard from your predecessor and probably sensed from the e-mails already flowing to your inbox, the matter of how the Times covers the state of Israel, both on the editorial page and in the news pages, is closely scrutinized by readers with passionate views on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as it has been for many years.
At the Anti-Defamation League, we do not believe that any intentional bias influences the Times’ coverage of Israel, and we greatly appreciate the hard work that Times journalists put into their coverage of Israel and the wider Arab-Israeli conflict. Their work informs us and the general public about the many important issues at stake in the region. Moreover, we are among the first to applaud when the editorial page of the news section gets it right, as much as we are the first to voice concern when we feel that it gets it wrong.
Bearing this in mind, we wanted to bring to your attention• On Thursday, September 27 in the “Election 2012” section a story headlined “Republicans Intensify Drive to Win over Jewish Voters” referred to Sheldon Adelson, the Republican donor and Las Vegas casino magnate, in the second paragraph as “a Zionist.” This is a loaded term, routinely used by anti-Israel activists to skewer supporters of Israel, and while Mr. Adelson may be proud to be described as a Zionist, it is a peculiar way to describe a significant Jewish player in the election arena. Would you describe George Soros as an “anti-Zionist,” which he is?
• On Monday, September 24, a front page profile of National Security Advisor Tom Donilon (“A Manager of Overseas Crises, As Much As the World Permits”) included a disturbing characterization of Donilon as “the one who tries to keep Israel from rupturing relations” and who manages problems “and keeps them from blowing up, so Mr. Obama can focus on Mitt Romney rather than Benjamin Netanyahu.” No one would argue that there have not been bumps along the road in relations between the United States and Israel, but to suggest that a “rupture” is imminent in this vital strategic relationship between the two allies, or that the potential actions of Israel’s prime minister pose a serious threat to the president, dramatically overstates the case to the point of hyperbole. President Obama himself has repeatedly called the bond between the U.S. and Israel as strong and “unbreakable,” and Mr. Netanyahu has confirmed and welcomed that assessment.
• On Friday, September 21, a story under “The Caucus” section headlined “Ad in Florida Warns of Weakness on Iran” discussed an anti-Obama advertisement taken out by a group, Secure America Now, warning of weakness in the president’s foreign policy toward Iran. The story’s final paragraph noted that “a senior Israeli official said the government was not consulted on the ad and did not approve it.” This notion, implied or otherwise, that the Israeli government would play any role influencing the outcome of the American election is outrageous and deeply offensive, and we question why it was necessary for the reporter to even pose that question to the Israeli government.
• On Monday, September 17, the Times ran a story with the headline “Israeli Leader Makes Case Against Iran on U.S. Shows.” The story noted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s appearance on “Meet the Press” and “State of the Union.” Both the story and a caption below a photo of the prime minister referred to his appearance on “the Sunday morning political talk shows.” We found this characterization troubling, especially since some are now unfairly accusing the Israeli government of trying to influence the outcome of the U.S. elections. As you know “Meet the Press” and the other Sunday news shows are not politically partisan – they offer a bipartisan platform for the expression of views affecting the United States on a range of issues both foreign and domestic. Referring to them as “political shows” does a disservice both to the shows themselves and to Israel.
While I do not believe there is any broader conspiracy here with these items, I believe they illustrate a carelessness or lack of sensitivity about the perceptions that flow from news stories when they are flip in their characterizations of Israel and its supporters.
I greatly appreciate your hearing us out on these issues, and I’m available at any time to discuss this or any other issues regarding the Times’ coverage of Israel.