Three Steps Forward, Two Steps Back

by Marilyn Kleinberg Neimark

On the same day The New York Times–in a groundbreaking move for the grey lady–
published Ian Lustick’s op-ed on the impossibility of a two-state solution, the paper also revealed that it still has cold feet when it comes to news reporting on the U.S. relationship with Israel.

Days earlier, the Guardian newspaper in Great Britain reported that the “The National Security Agency routinely shares raw intelligence data with Israel without first sifting it to remove information about US citizens.” I expected the story to make headlines in America’s newspaper of record. After all, thanks to whistleblower Edward Snowden, the report, by Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poltras and Ewen MacAskill, included a smoking gun, the actual “memorandum of understanding” between the NSA and Israel. And the story was promptly reported in The Washington Post , The Los Angeles Times and linked to in The Huffington Post. At The New York Times, however, silence reigned and now, thanks to the doggedness of a combination of NYT’s readers and its public editor, Margaret Sullivan, we now know why. It just wasn’t important enough:

I asked the managing editor, Dean Baquet, about it on Monday morning.

He told me that The Times had chosen not to follow the story because its level of significance did not demand it.

“I didn’t think it was a significant or surprising story,” he said. “I think the more energy we put into chasing the small ones, the less time we have to break our own. Not to mention cover the turmoil in Syria.”

So, I asked him, by e-mail, was this essentially a question of reporting resources? After all, The Times could have published an article written by a wire service, like Reuters or The Associated Press.

“I’d say resources and news judgment,” he responded.

In a world with many news outlets, he said: “We can spend all our time matching stories, and not actually covering the news. This one was modest and didn’t feel worth taking someone off greater enterprise.”

Sullivan correctly challenged Baquet’s reasoning: “I disagree, however, with Mr. Baquet’s conclusion on this one. I find it to be a significant development and something that Times readers should not have to chase around the Web to find out about. They should be able to read it in The Times.”

Even with Sullivan’s bold intervention, Baquet has, in a way, prevailed. The Times itself is now the subject of commentators’ attention instead of the substance of the revelation: the unseemly relationship between the U.S. and its putative ally and the scary fact that Israel, too, has its unrestrained hands on our phone calls