In the Middle East, we seem to hear all too often about a ‘line being crossed’. I am going to keep with that tradition and say that last week’s coverage by the New York Times of the brutal murder of 18 year old Israeli soldier Eden Atias z”l, very firmly crossed a line. Atias was fatally stabbed by a 16 year old Palestinian, as he slept on a bus in the northern Israeli city of Afula.
It’s not unusual to see within the headlines and editorials of this famous New York newspaper, anti-Israel commentary, one-sided reporting, or the byline of Thomas Friedman boasting yet another attack on the policies and character of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
However, as far as I am concerned, what finally tipped them over the line was the publication of a picture used to illustrate this savage murder.
As Simon Plosker, Managing Editor of Honest Reporting, brought to our attention in real-time, the picture that the New York Times chose to accompany the story was, ‘Not a photo of Eden Atias, not a photo of his mother mourning the loss of a son, we are treated instead to an image of the mother of the terrorist responsible for murdering Eden Atias, presumably mourning the fact that her son is now in Israeli custody”.
As someone who has been around imagery and newspapers all my working life, I have been part of that decision making process, as to how the editors choose what images the public see when they pick up their morning newspaper or open their favorite websites.
I understand the pressures of a newsroom, editorial deadlines and trying to find the balance between for example, a publisher’s personal political agenda, and the editor’s professional ethic.
The process involves bringing together a selection of photos supplied to the picture editor from a range of sources; news agencies and wire services, staff or freelance photographers, emergency services, and now even a cell phone snap taken by a passer-by.
Indeed due to cutbacks across the industry, there are fewer staff, under even more pressure, added to which they have to cope with social media and blogs breaking news in real time without the same demand for fact checking and accuracy.
However, in the case of the Afula bus station stabbing, the images from the scene while being incredibly hard to look at, were still respectful – Israel traditionally does not show pictures of dead bodies (and rightly so).
There was a clear picture of the seat on the bus where Eden had been sleeping next to the terrorist who murdered him, drenched with his blood. That is surely the picture that should be used. It captures the brutality of the killing, while reminding readers of the everyday scenario in which the murder took place.
The next images that emerged were pictures of Eden and his murderer, two children who perfectly highlight the sadness and futility of all of our situations. These two were logical pictures to illustrate the story.
After the funeral that same evening, a picture was taken of Eden’s family at the graveside, his coffin draped in an Israeli flag. This was circulated to the media, and used by the few outlets internationally that actually had the moral compass to publish the story of an 18 year old Israeli soldier being stabbed to death on a bus while he slept.
With all these images to choose from, the decision makers at the New York Times, in their infinite wisdom, decided to use an AP agency picture of the murderer’s mother and family which may have been specifically commissioned, or more likely, undertaken at AP’s own initiative, with the understanding the picture was more likely to sell to the international media.
On a professional level I want to believe that the picture editor at the New York Times supplied all of the mentioned images and relevant captions to the person writing the story together with a suggestion that the pictures of the blood stained seat and the images of both the boys be included for objectivity.
On a personal level I believe that there was never any intention by the paper to use these pictures objectively, as like numerous other media outlets worldwide, because Eden Atias was wearing a green Israeli army uniform the killing was somehow justified. By depicting the murderer somehow as the victim, and showing the mother of the killer as the ‘bereaved’, the paper is able to reinforce to its readers its perverted assertion that Israel is the aggressor, and the Palestinians are the oppressed underdogs.
By disregarding the reality, and choosing a narrative in this way, the New York Times has lost its own moral compass, and truly stepped over that fateful line.