For the legions of commentators and bloggers who try to discern the Middle Eastern bias of the New York Times, this week offered two contradictory pieces of evidence.
On the Gray Lady’s front page April 5, there was a story describing the plight of the residents of Sderot, the Israel town under fire from Gaza. The article, which cast a sympathetic eye on Israel, lent support to those who see a pro-Israel bias at the paper.
But then, news came out that a Times-owned radio station, WQXR, had rejected an advertisement about Sderot from the American Jewish Committee. The station said the ad was problematic, partly because it did not mention Israeli military reprisals.
In response, the AJCommittee canceled its advertising campaign on the radio station. Kenneth Bandler, the head of its communications department, said that after this decision was made, the president of New York Times Radio, Tom Bartunek, called him and explained that the radio station does not run ads with sirens or gunshots, nor does it carry spots about “hemorrhoid cream or sexual-potency pills.”
“I am sure the people of Sderot will be pleased by the comparison,” Bandler told the Forward.
Bartunek, general manager of WQXR, did not respond to a request for comment. Catherine Mathis, a spokeswoman for the Times, told the Forward in an e-mail that Bartunek’s intention was “to provide general background on the station’s advertising review policy and examples of the many reasons that spots do not meet the acceptability standards of WQXR.”
She said the management of WQXR makes advertising decisions independently of the Times.
The same week as the WQXR dispute, the AJCommittee dropped an ad campaign with Bloomberg Radio after the station rejected a separate ad spot about incitement in Palestinian textbooks.
After initially failing to provide any justification, Bandler said the radio station called the AJCommittee on Tuesday to apologize. Bloomberg Radio also asked the AJCommittee to restart the ad campaign, which began in January. Judith Czelusniak, a Bloomberg spokeswoman, said the station had called the AJCommittee but was told it was too late.
“We hope they’ll advertise with us again,” she added.
Bandler said no decision had been made.
In the case of The New York Times’s radio station, the 60-second AJCommittee spots began running on WQXR in January. For the week of March 31, the ad was a 15-second countdown describing the angst of Sderot inhabitants coming under missile fire and running to the shelters.
Bartunek explained in an internal memo that in addition to his perception that the tone of the message and the countdown device were unecessarily fueling anxiety, he claimed that “reasonable people might be troubled by the absence of any acknowledgement of reciprocal Israeli military actions.”
This was not the first time the AJCommittee and WQXR squared off over Middle Eastern-related ads. Six years ago, the classical music station yanked an AJCommittee ad about incitement in Saudi and Pakistani textbooks. The AJCommittee simply stopped placing its ads with the station but decided to stay mum about the incident. This time, it decided to go public — full-bore.
In a blog posting on The Jerusalem Post Web site, David Harris, the AJCommittee’s executive director, wrote that according to the station’s logic, “the only way to broadcast the plight of Sderot’s residents over the airwaves is to equate Israel’s right of self-defense with Hamas’s and Islamic Jihad’s right to strike Israel at will.”