The New York Times (NYT) and other major papers could benefit readers by taking an example from the British medical journal, The Lancet. Let us look at the difference between the way the NYT and Lancet handled opinion pieces written about the March of Return at the border fence between Gaza and Israel. These protests began on 30 March and will continue until 14 May.
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On 27 April, the Times published an op-ed written by Fadi Abu Shammalah. He provides a first-person description of the demonstrations, claiming them to be non-violent protests against the insufferable occupation and blockade committed by Israel against innocent Palestinian civilians. This piece was unchallenged in the pages of the New York Times and in my analysis of it, I found many errors (lies?).
Of course, it is legitimate for a newspaper to publish an opinion piece that stands on its own. According to the editorial code of ethics, journalistic reporting must be distinguishable from commentary and opinion and the Abu Shammalah piece is clearly opinion. However, even here, newspapers have a responsibility to readers to provide them with enough material to develop informed opinions themselves regarding important current events in their own countries and around the world. With Israel and the Palestinian Authority taking such a center-stage role in world news, with the issues so incendiary and sensitive, it seems only right that papers such as the Times step up their game and do what The Lancet did in this case.
Background to The Lancet Treatment of Opinion Concerning Gaza
In 2009, The Lancet published a book review entitled “A Palestinian Physician’s Memoir of Life in Israel.” The reviewer drops the guillotine on Israel, apparently in agreement with all that is written in the book:
A Harvard-educated physician and public-health expert, Kanaaneh chronicles what he sees as the Israeli state’s “intentional neglect of the health and well-being” of these citizens, as he has witnessed it during 35 years of work as a doctor in Galilee and an employee of Israel’s Ministry of Health.
This slid under the radar but remains on the journal’s site openly available to all Internet users.
In 2014, The Lancet published a damning and highly inflammatory piece, called: “An Open Letter for the People of Gaza.” In it, the authors accused Israel of committing crimes against humanity and a massacre. Furious with the lies and lack of context, Israeli doctors responded. They wrote a commentary to that piece and when it was not published, they invited the editor-in-chief of The Lancet for a visit to Israel to witness the situation for himself. This resulted in a public apology for having allowed his journal to be hijacked for nefarious political purposes.
Having learned an important lesson, The Lancet now treated the submission of a report concerning the March of Return far differently than earlier submissions.
Current Action by the Lancet
On the exact same day that the NYT published Abu Shammalah’s op-ed, The Lancet published an article sent in by Dr. Khamis Elessi, professor of medicine at the Islamic University of Gaza. Elessi accuses Israel of disproportionate response to what he calls a non-violent protest. However, in contrast to the New York Times, The Lancet invited Israeli doctors to write a response that was published online at the same time as Elessi’s piece. Both articles were in subdued noninflammatory tones, a fact that rendered comparative analysis by readers more likely. This shows respect for readers, and enhances their ability to come to their own informed opinions.
The Lancet was not telling readers what to think, but merely presenting them with two contrasting presentations of the situation. Is that not what newspapers are supposed to be doing?