Gilead Ini

Robert Mackey Pulls New York Times to Extremes of Bias

Noa Shaindlinger isn’t the type of person you’d expect to find cited as a credible source in The New York Times. She is the type who thinks the death of two Israeli pilots in an air force training accident was “good news.” It is a “shame he didn’t die,” she once wrote after describing an Israeli severely wounded in an accident. And when a Palestinian firebomb attack failed to maim the intended victim, she called the lack of injury “unfortunate.”

In other words, Shaindlinger is the kind of person who openly celebrates when Israeli children — in the case above, a two-month-old boy and 16-, 17- and 20-year-old girls — lose their fathers. The Israeli propagandist is so extreme, in fact, that it is hard to draw an analogy to an American counterpart. This isn’t because there are no fringe Americans who take delight at the death of their countrymen. There are. Rather, it is because we don’t tend to encounter them in newspapers. Journalistic judgment about which voices are worth taking seriously acts as a filter meant to separate the credible from the demagogic, the thoughtful from the hateful — and The New York Times website from the anarchy of the internet at large.

And yet there was Noa Shaindlinger, cited approvingly by New York Times journalist Robert Mackey. Not only did Mackey sneak Shaindlinger past the journalistic filter, he also lied to readers by describing her as nothing more than an “activist opposed to Israel’s continuing military occupation of the West Bank.”

Shaindlinger is certainly not shy about her actual aims. When she calls Israel a “thieving, genocidal occupier,” she refers not only to the West Bank, but to Israel proper, or in her words, “occupied 48 Palestine.” After Hamas terrorists infiltrated Israel during Operation Protective Edge, she posted on Twitter: “Resistance fighters do NOT ‘invade’ Israel. They r reclaiming their own [occupied] lands” (brackets in original). Another of her posts stated that it is “time 4 the genocidal Zionist apartheid regime 2 disappear.” Yet another called Israel a “sinking ship,” and asked, “4 the sake of everyone, can it please drown already?” Opposed to Israel’s occupation of the West Bank? Not exactly.

To make sense of why Mackey would turn to Shaindlinger and mislead readers about her goals, it helps to understand his long history of citing some the most extreme anti-Israel voices around.

Since last May, Mackey has written 12 pieces related to the Arab-Israeli conflict. Seven of them cite the radical Electronic Intifada or its radical founder, Ali Abunimah.

Think about that. There’s no shortage of people with interesting things to say about the Arab-Israeli conflict. Qualified people. People who empathize with both Israel and the Palestinians. People whose geopolitical understanding is nuanced enough that they’d never dream of calling Israel the “Zionist butcher regime” and its army the “cowardly, murderous rabble of a psychotic apartheid settler-colony,” as does Abunimah. But if you close your eyes and pick a recent Mackey article out of a hat, you’re more likely than not to end up with a piece that plugs Abunimah and his organization.

The rhetoric that comes from the Electronic Intifada clique will sound familiar. Just as Noa Shaindlinger saw the death of Israelis as “good news,” Electronic Intifada’s Rana Baker literally cheered when three Israeli teens were abducted in June 2014. “Wonderful wonderful news that three settlers have been kidnapped,” she said on Twitter. “Celebrations celebrations. Cheers everybody (Zionists excluded!)” Ali Abunimah came to his writer’s defense when she was criticized for this tweet. It was ultimately discovered that the three Israeli boys were immediately murdered by their Palestinian abductors.

Mackey describes Joe Catron, an Electronic Intifada contributor whom he cites, as a “human rights activist.” Even Catron himself realizes the descriptor is inappropriate: “For the record, I call myself a solidarity activist,” he writes. “If someone else says ‘human rights activist,’ I won’t fight, but it’s on them.”

Perhaps Catron understands that human rights activists don’t say things like “Zionists are racist scum. Never let them forget it. In their homes, in their workplaces, in the streets, remind them.” He may also understand that human rights activists don’t tend to put the word Israel in scare quotes or refer it as “the 1948 territories,” as Catron does to suggest the entire country is illegitimate and belongs to the Palestinians. What is certain is that Mackey’s readers are misled into thinking they are hearing from a human rights activist, when in fact Catron is a fringe ideologue, whose hatred of Israel (or “Israel”) dictates what he says, shares and hides.

Another Electronic Intifada writer, Rania Khalek, criticized The Nation, a far-left magazine, for publishing too many articles written by Jews. It didn’t matter that most of those “Jewish” articles were harshly critical of Israel, something Khalek herself acknowledged. The fact that they were born Jewish was reason enough to disqualify them. Khalek also believes, or at least has no second thoughts about telling her followers on Twitter, that Israel is intentionally murdering babies during its operation to stop Hamas rocket fire from Gaza.  Neither the Jew-counting nor the blood libel deterred Mackey from linking to Khalek as a credible source.

Nor has the hateful hysteria of Abunimah and his writers prevented Mackey from making Electronic Intifada (along with other anti-Israel sites such as +972 and IMEU) his go-to organization. Amazingly, over the several years that he had wrote for and edited The Lede, a recently shuttered New York Times news blog, and Open Source, his new one, Mackey has mentioned “Electronic Intifada” more often than he did even “Palestinian Authority.”

By giving priority access to Electronic Intifada, Mackey may be aiming to mainstream the radical anti-Israel ideology at the core of the organization — reason enough for concern — but even he may be getting more than he bargained for: An egregious factual error on the New York Times website that has been misinforming readers from the  website for over a month and counting. On Open Source, Mackey features a Twitter post by Abunimah that states, “Kill a Palestinian ‘every hour,’ says new Israeli Facebook page liked by 18,000.”

The Facebook page’s tag line, which Abunimah mistranslated, actually says, “Until the boys return, every hour we shoot a terrorist,” a reference to the three Israeli teens who were kidnapped. Inflammatory? Perhaps. A call for killing Palestinians? Certainly not. Is The Times obligated to correct the falsehood Mackey is spreading? Of course. (The Guardian, not known for its sympathy for Israel, has corrected their own mistranslation. Why hasn’t The New York Times?)

Supplementing Mackey’s reliance on extremists is his shifty standards. Catron, who says Zionists are “racist scum,” is supposedly a human rights activist; and Abunimah, coiner of “Zionist butcher regime,” is gently described as “the Palestinian-American founder of the Electronic Intifada”; and Shaindlinger, who celebrates the death of Israelis, is supposedly opposed only to “Israel’s continuing military occupation of the West Bank.” But when introducing the rather innocuous Israel-advocacy group Fuel For Truth, Mackey slurred the organization as an “anti-Palestinian group.”

Along with such glaring double standards is “the Mackey Method,” which is how Tablet Magazine’s Liel Liebovitz describes the New York Times blogger’s history of “cherry-picking facts, hand-selecting quotes, and weaving them all together into a tapestry pitting imperious and violent Israelis versus Palestinians,” who are generally cast as blameless.

Consider the headlines to Mackey’s recent pieces about the Arab-Israeli conflict this year. Most recent is “Foreign Correspondents in Israel Complain of Intimidation,” a long piece about the Foreign Press Association’s brief complaint on July 24 about two incidents involving journalists, in which nobody was hurt. His habit of cherry-picking means that Mackey never said a word about the more strongly worded FPA complaint one month earlier, which protested the abuse of journalists by Palestinian Authority police.

Then, in reverse chronological order, the headlines read:

“Palestinian Family Finds Missing Son in YouTube Video of His Shooting” (7/23/14); “Witness Accounts of Gaza Attack That Killed 4 Boys” (7/17/14); “Young Israelis Fight Hashtag Battle to Defend #IsraelUnderAttack” (7/16/14); “Israelis Watch Bombs Drop on Gaza From Front-Row Seats” (7/15/14); “Rumor and Leaks Fill a Void as Israel Silences Press Over Killings” (7/11/14); “Beating of Palestinian-American Boy Caught on Video” (7/6/14); “Video Shows Abduction of Slain Palestinian Teenager, Family Says” (7/4/14); “Israel’s Justice Minister Condemns ‘Incitement’ on Facebook” (7/3/14); “Witness to Fatal Shooting of Palestinians Reports Threats From Israeli Soldiers” (6/20/14); “Israelis Start #BringBackOurBoys Campaign” (6/17/14); “Israel Suspends Soldier in West Bank Shooting Investigation” (5/29/14); “Video Shows Killing of Palestinians on ‘Nakba Day’” (5/19/14); “Israel’s Defense Minister Calls Settlers’ Attacks on Palestinians ‘Outright Terror’” (1/8/14).

The only two headlines that don’t obviously reference Israel behaving badly are are about another of Mackey’s favorite topics, organized Israeli campaigns that in his narrative smack of propaganda. (The piece “Young Israelis Fight Hashtag Battle to Defend #IsraelUnderAttack” explicitly tells readers that the word hasbara is “a Hebrew euphemism for propaganda.” The word actually refers to what is normally called public diplomacy or advocacy. And “Israelis Start #BringBackOurBoys Campaign” insists, without evidence, that the Twitter hashtag was started by a group of Israelis “trained to promote their country online.”)

In none of the headlines is the focus directly on Palestinians or their online allies behaving badly, even though they cover a time span when three Israeli teens were murdered, hundreds of rockets were fired into Israeli cities, and self-styled pro-Palestinian activists helped the hashtag #hitlerwasright trend on Twitter.

So Tablet‘s Liebovitz was right. Mackey cherry-picks the news. And he’s not above cherry-picking his own New York Times colleagues, too. In one recent article, Mackey links to an old story by Greg Myre to substantiate the claim that an Israeli road “was rerouted in 1990 to add bypasses that allow Jewish settlers to travel the West Bank without having to go through Palestinian towns.” If it sounds a bit racist, that is because Mackey leaves out a critical part of what Myre wrote: “Those bypasses allowed Jewish settlers to travel the West Bank without having to go through Palestinian towns, where they often faced stones or worse.”

And in another piece, Mackey substantiated his claim that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad never said Israel should be wiped off the map by linking to an article by his colleague Ethan Bronner — a piece in which, Mackey failed to tell readers, Bronner concluded that Ahmadinejad essentially did call for Israel to be wiped off the map.

The list of hostile and distorted reports goes on and on and on. And it likely will continue to grow as long as The New York Times continues to let Mackey drag down its already flagging reputation by favoring extremists, selectively sharing news and misleading his readers.

About the Author
Gilead Ini is a senior research analyst at CAMERA, where his writing on media coverage of the Arab-Israeli conflict highlights how one-sided and inaccurate reporting can distort understanding of the Middle East. You can follow him on Twitter at @GileadIni.