While Hamas is firing wave after wave of deadly rockets into Israeli territory, news consumers around the world are vulnerable to the risk of the false media narrative that inevitably arises whenever Israel is in the headlines.
In my new book The Gray Lady Winked, which looks at how the New York Times‘s misreporting radically alters history, I show that during the Second Palestinian Intifada in 2000 the Times went to great pains to create a clear-cut narrative. In that story, Israel was the unrelenting aggressor and the Palestinians were the unquestioned victim.
While the Israel-aggressor, Palestinian-victim media paradigm had been in the works for many decades, coverage of the Intifada was a turning point that engraved the narrative into the hearts and minds of millions. And, as is often the case, it was the New York Times which led the way, falsely claiming that Ariel Sharon’s visit to the Temple Mount sparked the violence (a claim that was countered by the investigation of an international panel culminating in the Mitchell Report).
But more devastatingly, the Times also reported at the start of the Intifada — without any investigation being conducted, either official or journalistic — that Israeli soldiers killed a Palestinian boy in cold blood. Within days of the death of the boy, Muhammad Al-Dura, the New York Times reporters Deborah Sontag and William Orme (with an occasional cameo by none other than Judith Miller) had proclaimed Al-Dura a “symbol”of the conflict. That is, malign Israelis were killing innocent Palestinians.
It didn’t matter that the claim that Israeli soldiers shot the boy was later disproved in a French court by a French ballistics expert, who said there was “no possible way” the Israelis could have shot Al-Dura, given their relative positions. The Times persisted with its narrative and never bothered to correct the record.
Today, we’re seeing that false narrative again at play. In its reporting on this round of fighting, sparked in part by planned evictions of Palestinians in East Jerusalem, the Times declared:
For many Palestinians, the families’ plight has become emblematic of a wider effort to remove Palestinians from parts of East Jerusalem and of the past displacements of Arabs in the occupied territories and within Israel.
In just a sentence, the Times has manufactured a symbol, yet again. The families of Sheikh Jarrah are enduring a “plight.” That plight is “emblematic” of something that, by the Times’ reading, amounts to ethnic cleansing. And this is all grounded in attribution to “many Palestinians” — though how many, who they are, where they’re from and what their names are is left conspicuously unreported. This is how a false media narrative is created. In one paragraph — one sentence — we have it all.
As I’ve promoted The Gray Lady Winked over the past few weeks, I’ve been asked a question repeatedly. That is, “How do we counter this? What can we do?” The answer I give is this: educate yourself. Learn how false media narratives are made. They require a lot of coordinated effort, a lot of resources, and a lot of intention. Much like Hamas’s rockets, they don’t simply fall from the sky.
To this end, for the duration of this conflict, I’ve made Chapter 7 of The Gray Lady Winked free via this link. There, you can get the whole picture of how the New York Times created one of the most insidious narratives about Israel and the Jews — namely, that we kill innocent children.