Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Ethan Bronner Rants Instead of Writes in New York Times Coverage of Gaza Mall

Provocative Article Reads as an Analysis Piece but Wasn't Labeled as Such

You'd think The New York Times would have the drill on Mideast coverage down cold by now. After all, the dispatches from its reporters in Israel, Cairo, and Beirut, are arguably parsed more carefully than any other news organization.
Jewish groups--and I've seen this first-hand--like to pounce on anything remotely critical of Israel as anti-Zionist bias, while many Arabs typically believe the Times is in the tank for whomever is holding their tenuous sway over the Knesset that week.
So, a dispatch from Ethan Bronner (left) in Monday's paper undoubtedly further raised already-arched eyebrows.
It concerned a mall of sorts, which sprang up in Gaza City. Bronner's writing was anything but objective, more critical than observational. True, he put the mall in its proper context and sorted through the rhetoric on both sides about its significance. The problem: the tone in his writing was more strident than what should appear in the front of the A section and read like something that belonged more in the back, where the op-eds and columnists are. To wit:

To the commentators who have never been here, certain points need to be cleared up. To those who contend the mall is proof that Gaza has construction materials: the building is 20 years old. To those who have described the mall as “gigantic” and “futuristic”: it is small and a bit old-fashioned. To Danny Ayalon, Israel’s deputy foreign minister, who wrote that the mall “would not look out of place in any capital in Europe”: it would.

This is commentary, not reportage, plain and simple. Again, Bronner may be on target with his observations. The problem is in how they are presented. And this:

But the broader point many of these advocates are making — that the poverty of Gaza is often misconstrued, willfully or inadvertently — is correct. The despair here is not that of Haiti or Somalia. It is a misery of dependence, immobility and hopelessness, not of grinding want. The flotilla movement is not about material aid; it is about Palestinian freedom and defiance of Israeli power.

Says who? Says you?
In the above passage, Bronner has not only tipped the balance, he's teetered over the edge to pure opinion. A reporter shouldn't be telling us when something is correct. That's for us to decide. And however you feel about the flotilla mess--and many American Jews are deeply conflicted over this--there remain two sides to this issue. By not acknowledging that, Bronner has compromised himself as a reporter. Then again, this dispatch indicates he's grown tired of that job. However, the front of the A section is no place to audition for a spot in the back.

Stop The Insanity. Then Go Back to Sleep

Does New York Need Four Local 4:30 a.m. Newscasts? Does It Need Any?

New York TV stations will soon get to really find out just how many insomniacs, early risers, and stoners are out there, with word that WABC-TV, the Nielsen news king, will join the scrum jockeying for droopy eyelids with a newscast at 4:30 a.m.
Bear in mind that channels, 4, 5, and 11 are already squaring off at that unholy hour. The question is why.
The easy answer is that the infrastructure is already in place. The talent is already in the building. Just bring them in a half-hour earlier, recycle packages from the 11 p.m. cast, and, poof, instant show.
If you thought the anchors were too perky at 5 a.m., just wait.
Stations get to keep all the moola from spots sold. In contrast, channels 4 and 7--home of WABC--have to forego some of that with the network shows now on.
But how many people really are out there? I first encountered the 4:30 phenomenon in Los Angeles a couple of years ago, when I had to get up way early for a flight. KABC was chugging along. But out there, it's a tad more understandable. People commute from insane distances because it's otherwise too expensive. And those commutes start early and last a while.
I doubt, however, the number of denizens on the pre-dawn patrol is as large in New York. Granted, train lines have added more service before 6 a.m. to accommodate demand. But still. It's a small slice of TV pie, at that hour. Not to mention that WPIX, channel 11, will now bump up its start time to, wait for it, 4 a.m., which will give it a five-hour block of morning news and a lot of pissed-off staffers.
As for me, I'm fine with "Morning Edition" on NPR, thank you, eternally grateful that the stellar crew there wakes up in the middle of the night and I don't have to.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Steven Slater Blowback Has Begun

Just When You Thought You Found Your Latest Folk Hero, His 15 Minutes May Be Going Down the Chute Faster Than He Did

OK, I'll admit it, I was ready to anoint Jet Blue flight attendant-gone-bonkers Steven Slater my fave guy of the week in that Howard Beale-esque way of his. We all need a little flair of the dramatic now and then, especially when he got to fulfill the fantasies so many of us have had. And grabbing two beers while he alit from the back of the plane. Classic. Just classic.
But not so fast, thanks (or thanks for nothing, killjoys) to the Wall Street Journal, which found passengers who said Slater instigated the confrontation that led to his big-time hissy fit and was a douche to another woman who asked for help cleaning up coffee someone had spilled on her seat.
Yes, yes, two sides to every story, and we've more or less heard Slater's version. It got him liked in a big way on Facebook. But it may not be the only version. Or the correct one. And anyone who's ever been treated rudely by a flight attendant (fortunately, few and far between for me, but those few have been doozies) can understand why.
Given the cattle-car nature that typifies flying nowadays, you can also understand how someone like Slater could boil over. But that doesn't mean we have to applaud him in the process.