What Was the New York Times Thinking?

You know that old and shopworn expression, “A picture is worth a thousand words”? I don’t know where it originated but it’s mentioned in every Journalism 101 textbook. Photo placement is crucial, the textbooks teach, because many readers don’t even look at the article, just skim through the photos and headlines. Even if they read the article, pictures are crucial, for they set the tone for the story.

That brings me to today’s New York Times coverage, both in print and online, of the stabbing death of a sleeping Israeli soldier on a bus in northern Israel.

The Washington Post, in its article, showed what you’d expect in coverage of a 19-year-old murdered in his sleep: an AP photo of a woman crying out near a bus station.

Not the Times. Its foreign desk (or whoever was responsible) also selected an AP photo to lead off the top of page A10 of its print edition, and its online coverage. But incredibly, grotesquely, the Times used a photo of the alleged assailant’s mom being comforted by relatives.

Photos of an individual accused of being a cowardly murderer were spread on the floor in a mournful array, tenderly touched by the mother–who, unlike the victim, is identified by name. Eden Attias, who was murdered, is faceless, nameless.

Below the photo of the mom, occupying a third of the space, is a photo of the bus seat occupied by the victim. It is blurry and indistinct in the print edition. In the online version the photograph is in color and sharp, but much smaller than the immense photo of the grieving, upset mother of the perpetrator.

Unlike the emotional photo of the mom, the photo of the site of the slaying is oddly dispassionate, unemotional, with what seems to be a police official with white gloves looking the other way.

There is no photo of the victim, which I assume was available, as it was published by the Jerusalem Post.

There are frequent complaints about anti-Israel bias in the Times, but to me nothing hits home more than the Times editors’ news judgment in selecting the photo to illustrate this article.

The words “moral equivalency” come to mind. Murderer and victim, just two sides of the same coin, in the Times thinking. Just two kids. One happens to be a terrorist, the other an innocent conscript. But the Times editors do not betray any awareness of that distinction.

What were they thinking? One can only guess. But you know what they say: a picture is worth a thousand words.


Gary Weiss’s most recent book is Ayn Rand Nation, published by St. Martin’s Press. Follow him on Twitter @gary_weiss

About the Author
Gary Weiss, is a veteran journalist and author. He is a longtime investigative reporter who was a senior writer for BusinessWeek magazine and a contributing editor at Condé Nast Portfolio. At BusinessWeek, his articles on Wall Street, focusing on stock fraud and organized crime in the markets, won widespread acclaim and numerous awards, as well as a rare commendation from the director of the FBI, Louis Freeh. He was a regular weekly columnist for Salon and, and has taught at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. His work has appeared in Parade, The Daily Beast, The New York Times and many other publications. His latest book is Ayn Rand Nation (St. Martin's Press, 2012). His previous books were Born to Steal (Grand Central, 2003) and Wall Street Versus America (Portfolio, 2006).