Her successor, Fares Akram, said in an interview that he believed Bronner’s son’s military service had never been an impediment to or affected his coverage of Gaza. Akram said nobody from Gaza had ever expressed concern about it; the only people who asked him about it were visiting foreign journalists.
As to Jewish critics of the Times, the most intriguing group might be the Orthodox community centered in New York City, whose views on the paper’s coverage of Israel are usually spread by word of mouth in synagogues.
In 2001, Rabbi Haskel Lookstein issued the first of his several calls for a temporary boycott of the paper to protest what he said was its biased coverage against Israel. In a July 2001 letter in New York’s The Jewish Week, the leader of Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, and the principal of the Ramaz School—both important centers for New York’s Modern Orthodox community—called for his congregants and other like-minded people to suspend their subscriptions from Rosh Hashana to Yom Kippur.
“Starting with the second intifada and during the editorship of Joe Lelyveld, I found that the Times, through its headlines and its lede paragraphs frequently, if not consistently, presented the Palestinian version of the conflict without reflecting the Israeli version,” he said in a recent interview.
After his letter appeared, he received a call asking for a meeting from Lelyveld, who grew up as the son of a prominent Reform rabbi and was then the paper’s foreign editor.
Though they came from different branches of Judaism, Rabbi Lookstein’s father, Rabbi Joseph H. Lookstein, had been friends with Lelyveld’s father, Rabbi Arthur J. Lelyveld. Lelyveld said he remembered that the elder Lookstein had attended his bar mitzvah reception. (His Orthodoxy made attending the Reform service itself out of the question.) “I thought I could use my credentials,” Lelyveld said. “I could say: ‘Listen, I’m a rabbi’s son. What are you talking about’” when you assert that the Times is slanted against Israel? While Lelyveld seemed to hope he could serve as a kind of ambassador for the paper to those elements of the Jewish community who were infuriated by the Times’ coverage of Israel, in the end, it appears he found it a more difficult task than he had first thought.
“Joe Lelyveld reached out to me,” Lookstein recalled, giving his version of events. He said he was invited to meet with Lelyveld, then the executive editor, and Serge Schmemann, then an editor on the foreign desk and a former correspondent in Israel.
“We had a discussion. He agreed with me that some of the headlines and stories were slanted and that some of my complaints were legitimate,” he said. But Lelyveld, he said, also rejected several of his criticisms. The rabbi said that after the meeting, the coverage, in his view, improved for a while but then returned to an unacceptably hostile perspective on Israel.
Lookstein’s last call for a temporary suspension of subscriptions was in 2006. Asked if he still avoided the paper, he said that his wife found it difficult to get by without the Times and its delivery was quickly restored then and, presumably, forever “to keep peace in the family.”
Critics like Rabbi Lookstein can easily find what seem to them errors in emphasis or tone on any individual article. A newspaper is, to many, a stunning achievement: Each day, (or now with the Web, almost each moment) a rendering of tens of thousands of words produced under great time pressures. That means that errors or misplaced emphases are inevitable. These will be smoothed over in time and, for any fair analysis, coverage should be viewed as part of a larger thematic narrative.
The unwillingness or inability to do so might be seen in Rabbi Lookstein’s complaint during his last burst of anger at the Times in 2006. He wrote, among other complaints, that a brief piece inside the paper noted the number of rockets that fell on the Israeli village of Sderot the day before. The article recorded the fact that no one was injured.
The rabbi was angered that while the dispatch noted the lack of injury from the latest rocket salvo, it did not mention the many times previous rocket attacks on Sderot had injured, killed and maimed people.
But those attacks, at least many of them, had already been covered in the Times. The article to which Lookstein objected was a simple exercise in basic news—recording the events of the day and, in a limited space. It was a piece of spot news and was not intended—nor could it—carry the burden of a full exegesis of the history of rocket assaults against Sderot.