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“All the Consent That’s Fit to Manufacture”

New York War Crimes

New York War Crimes

New Writing

“A Continuous Series of Insults to Our Understanding”

Rashid Khalidi discusses The New York Times as state media
https://newyorkwarcrimes.com/media/pages/a-continuous-series-of-insults-to-our-understanding/1c3da3b7e6-1710274377/palestine-coverage-khalidi-large-01.jpg
March 14, 2024

Rashid Khalidi is the Edward Said professor of Modern Arab Studies at Columbia University and a historian of Palestine, whose books include The Hundred Years War on Palestine and Palestinian Identity. We spoke to him in his office about his encounters with The Times as a reader, writer, historian and critic.



THE NEW YORK WAR CRIMES
Perhaps we can just start off very generally by asking how you would characterize The New York Times as an institution?

RASHID KHALIDI
It’s the gray lady. It’s the newspaper of record. It takes itself extremely seriously. It is relied upon by vast numbers of people. And it is, as far as my own concerns go — which is to say the Middle East — a thoroughly unreliable and extremely noxious agent. And has been for a very, very long time.


NYWC
You grew up in New York. And you’re Palestinian. The Times is a New York institution that has, for some reason, global reach. What was your first encounter with the paper early on?

RK
I’ve been reading it since I was a kid. My father worked at the UN and dealt with what was happening in the Middle East. So that was the dinner table discussion. And The Times coverage was always being discussed when I was a child and teenager. So, I’ve been aware of them since the 50s or 60s, and I’ve been aware of the enormous divergence between their coverage and what we knew was actually happening on the ground — because we had family there, because we knew Arabic and could listen to broadcasts but also from UN observers, from reports to the Security Council. My father was actually sitting there listening to the reports — from the Syrian frontier, say, or about a massacre in Jordan. And the divergence was blatant to us between what was happening and The New York Times coverage, whether of the Suez War, or the 1967 war or any of the more minor incidents.


NYWC
Do you remember the first of those specific incidents with The Times’ coverage? Or one that stands out from those early years?

RK
I don’t actually have a memory of the first. It was a continuous series of insults to our understanding. You know, we knew what was going on, and they were not telling and not narrating what was actually going on. They were narrating a version which tended to be driven by Israel or by the State Department or the White House or the Pentagon. You had an American-Israeli or Israeli-American version of events, whether in the Security Council or on the ground. There’s been change at The Times in many ways, but the perspective of power — whether it’s our government or whether it’s the Israeli government — tends to dominate The Times in its coverage and its opinion pages as well.


NYWC
You’ve written for them on occasion, too. What’s your experience been like?

RK
Like extracting an impacted wisdom tooth. My most enjoyable experience in this regard was with a recent op-ed where after struggling with the editor over what I wanted to say it went to the fact checker and proofreader. I got two queries, one about American weapons deliveries to Israel, in which the fact checker said American weapons were not delivered to Israel until 1973. And I went back to my editor and I listed for him by weapons type — from the A-4 Skyhawk to the F-4 Phantom to the HAWK anti-aircraft missile — the major weapon systems that were delivered to Israel starting in the early 60s, a decade before 1973. And I said, “This man is making up facts, you take him off this story, or I’m pulling my piece. I will not deal with fantasists who are putting out some kind of nonsense propaganda in the guise of fact checking.”


NYWC
You got it through.

RK
Yeah, it was published.


NYWC
I suppose one dilemma is that The New York Times offers this enormous platform. We can’t deny that it has this extraordinary reach which no other papers have. And yet we find ourselves in this position of asking what we do now. Do we boycott? Do we refuse to write? Is it even fair to ask that of, say, Palestinians who might be offered a space to write? We’re calling for a subscriber boycott. And many have refused labor. Nan Goldin recently refused to give them her photographs, after she was contracted to do so. We are refusing to give quotes. I don’t know if you have thoughts on this question.

RK
Since October 7, especially after a week or two of their coverage, I got so angry at them I didn’t want to speak to anybody from The Times. I didn’t want anything to do with them. I cannot contribute in any way to what they’re doing — I mean, they’re apologists for genocide. I mean, “People Killed When Aid Convoy Was Mobbed,” or whatever the headline was!? Everybody who was killed was killed because of the shooting. Whether truck drivers ran over people fleeing the shooting or whether they were shot down by the Israelis, as multiple hospital reports say, this was a result of the Israeli army shooting people. This has not been reported in The New York Times or NPR or the BBC. This is malfeasance.


NYWC
The New York Times also has this ability to set the way that those other outlets — respectable, liberal outlets like NPR, like the BBC, like The Washington Post — cover these issues.

RK
I’ve noticed that. I get interviewed a lot. And quite frequently, I am asked questions that are clearly a result of the producers and the editors reading The New York Times that morning. I mean, the questions are directly taken from whatever The New York Times has chosen to print that very morning. And it is pervasive. You don’t find that with any other medium. I don’t find that the BBC drives the way other news organizations cover things. I don’t find that with NPR or The Washington Post or The Wall Street Journal. I mean, occasionally a story will do that — a specific, breaking story of importance — but it’s systematic with The Times. So, it plays a central role in the whole news cycle, driving so much of the coverage.

And it is, along with what government spokesmen say, a two-cylinder engine for manufacturing consent. One of the two cylinders is [National Security Council Spokesperson] Admiral Kirby. And then you have The New York Times pumping out nonsense: whatever it is that the Israeli military spokesman or Netanyahu’s media person wants the story of the day to be. So, the International Court of Justice is meeting, and the rape story is released. Whatever is happening, a story gets released by Israel and fed to this outlet, such that this is the story that hits the front page — rather than whatever it is Israel wants to cover up.


NYWC
I’m wondering what’s to be done. They have this capacity to set the agenda; they have this prestige that they claim for themselves and that we — as readers, consumers, writers — continue to bestow on them even when we hate them. And we don’t want to reform it; it’s not reformable. The artist Avram Finkelstein describes how when ACT UP produced The New York Crimes in 1989, the purpose was to capture their voice and capture the space that they have in New York City and the U.S. more generally. And it seems to me like that’s something we’re really struggling to do at this moment.

RK
I don’t know how one deals with these institutions of power. My sense is one of the great ways of doing so is satire. The Onion and the English magazine Private Eye pretend to be The Daily Telegraph or pretend to be The New York Times. They report things in such a farcical way, while using their tone and trying to sound authoritative that it sends them up and makes them the object of ridicule that they should be for their malfeasance.

The other thing that I’ve noticed is that the editors are people in their fifties, sixties, and seventies, who grew up with the “miracle” of Israel’s establishment and the “existential danger” Israel has always been in. This is their mindset. This is also when the president we’re suffering from came to political consciousness. And these are the people who run The New York Times, who own The New York Times, who publish The New York Times, who edit The New York Times. They send the journalists out to find the stories and then decide what headline will be put on a piece and where it will be in the paper. Those are people who have a completely different worldview than the younger reporters in their twenties and their thirties, though of course, not everybody in their twenties and thirties is enlightened. But I don’t know how you exploit that.


NYWC
You’ve made a comparison a few times of The New York Times to Pravda — The New York Pravda. This is also coming out of your own research on Soviet Middle East policy and spending time reading Soviet state media.

RK
My wife disagrees strongly with any use of the Pravda and Izvestia comparison. She says that everybody knew that Pravda simply reported what the Soviet government wanted it to report. It was the party line; it was the government line; there was no pretense of objectivity or reportage involved. “This was what we, who hold power in the Soviet Union, want you to think.” And everybody knew that, there was no pretense.

The pretense that The New York Times is in any way separated from the centers of power is ludicrous. It simply reports mechanically whatever Admiral Kirby or [White House Press Secretary] Karine Jean-Pierre, or the other spokespersons for the state want reported. That is the story. There’s no criticism. There’s no context. There’s no pushback. It is a mouthpiece for the state in a way that is similar to Pravda but with the difference that with Pravda there was no pretense. With The Times there’s a pretense that this is “All The News That’s Fit To Print.” In fact, this is all the news the government wants you to know — which is what Pravda was, but here it’s under this dressing of objectivity.


NYWC
Of being reporting, not opinion.

RK
Precisely. I mean there’s no pushback whatsoever. And there’s a partisan element here. They support the Democratic Party and they’re cheerleaders for the president. It’s not just power, it’s that they want these contenders for power to be reinforced.


NYWC
Do you think that’s why they printed that cover in 2021 with the faces of children killed in Gaza — because it was during Trump’s presidency, when they were going head-to-head with Trump?

RK
That would explain it. It’s this moment where they imagine themselves to be anti-state.


NYWC
When Fox News runs exactly the same material — the State Department or the IDF line — American liberals might be critical. But when The New York Times does that, it totally shuts down people’s ability to think. It makes them much more dangerous as an outlet.

RK
One of the best examples of this came in the week after October 7, where all of the media, just like lemmings, followed the Biden and Israeli line, which were identical. They were just megaphones for this American-Israeli line, which is identical, especially for that first week or so. Now there’s a slight, slight divergence . . .


NYWC
Now the Israelis and the Americans play good cop, bad cop with each other. I’ve been very interested in this line they’ve been promoting that Biden is privately frustrated with Netanyahu. And of course, Biden is facing backlash and discontent, but of course he’s not doing anything meaningful to impose limits on Israel.

RK
That’s what The Times won’t tell you. The Times will tell you what Biden wants you to know, which is that his heart bleeds for the Palestinians. That he wishes he could do more. That privately, he’s raging against Netanyahu. That he’s called him an asshole. I read this all in The New York Times and that’s how I know these things are “true.” But the reality is, exactly as you say, that not one thing has been done — such as stopping the shipment of 120-millimeter tank-artillery ammunition or 185 Howitzer ammunition, or Hellfire missiles or anything else that’s being dropped daily on the people of Gaza. That won’t have changed.

This chatter about differences between Netanyahu and the president is the Democratic party line. It’s how they tried to spin the Michigan primary results. Yes, the president is very worried. Yes, yes. The president is taking these concerns seriously. Yes, the president sent three flunkies out to Michigan to talk to Arab Americans. Blah, blah, blah. Meanwhile, the war goes on. The American-Israeli war goes on.