Columns by Steven Stalinsky in The Wall Street Journal and Thomas Friedman in The New York Times offer case studies of unethical journalism, write Mischa Geracoulis and Heidi Boghosian.
By Mischa Geracoulis and Heidi Boghosian
Special to Consortium News
Editorials and op-eds often have a greater influence on public consciousness than news articles because they can express authoritative opinion, provide in-depth analysis and advocate for specific viewpoints.
Emotional appeals and rhetoric have the potential to engage readers on a deeper level and to shape public opinion more effectively.
When irresponsibly written, however, echoing government propaganda or lacking a basis in fact, opinion pieces can turn from a public service to a detriment to democracy.
On Feb. 2, The Wall Street Journal published an opinion piece by Steven Stalinsky, titled “Welcome to Dearborn, America’s Jihad Capital.” The headline sums up Stalinsky’s intent to portray Dearborn, Michigan, as a hotbed of terrorism.
He lazily digs up old 9/11-era messaging from the Justice and State departments that claimed Dearborn accommodated “possible sleeper cells.” Stalinsky goes on to quote social media messaging from unverified accounts on X (formerly Twitter) and Telegram, and concludes with an ominous admonition that “what’s happening in Dearborn…is potentially a national-security issue affecting all Americans.”
This is disgusting. @WSJ should be ashamed of itself for promoting this kind of Islamophobic BS, and should immediately apologize to the residents of Dearborn and to Muslims everywhere. Thank you @AHammoudMI for your leadership as Mayor. https://t.co/QmtLrG6M8a
— Rep. Pramila Jayapal (@RepJayapal) February 4, 2024
The Wall Street Journal’s editorial guidelines advise making a strong argument on an issue in the news. In the case of Stalinsky’s piece, presumably the “issue in the news” that he’s arguing is with Dearborn’s Mayor Abdullah Hammoud’s decision to not meet with President Joe Biden’s campaign manager, Julie Chavez Rodriguez, during Biden’s Feb. 1 trip to Michigan.
Instead of discussing electoral politics with campaigners, Hammoud asked for meaningful dialogue with senior policymakers who have the power to make decisions. Stalinsky asserts that “Dearborn’s radical politics are complicating Mr. Biden’s path to re-election” without providing a reasonable explanation for the remark. Is he suggesting that the mayor’s request for meaningful dialogue exemplifies “Dearborn’s radical politics?”
President Biden’s national campaign manager was sent to Michigan to meet with a group of Arab and Muslim American leaders on Friday. I was invited to attend.
— Abdullah H. Hammoud (@AHammoudMI) January 26, 2024
Scapegoating Dearborn is hardly novel. The city that’s home to the largest percentage of Arab Americans in the United States has long been an easy target for right-wing media that feed on fear, suspicion and divisiveness.
— PALESTINE ONLINE ?? (@OnlinePalEng) January 28, 2024
Stalinsky mentions “open support for Hamas” and that “protests have occurred in major American cities featuring pro-jihadist imagery, chants and slogans,” yet offers no facts to back that up. Asserting this within the context of his grievances with Dearborn implies that such protests were happening there during Biden’s campaign visit.
— Abdullah H. Hammoud (@AHammoudMI) February 3, 2024
On Feb. 2, the same day of Stalinsky’s op-ed, Democracy Now! interviewed Mayor Hammoud and showed peaceful marches calling for a ceasefire. Equating Americans’ revered practice of engaging in protest with support for Hamas and terrorism does a grave disservice to the First Amendment.
Since Stalinsky’s op-ed, Dearborn has had to ramp up law enforcement protection at major infrastructure points around the city. Is this the potential national security issue that Stalinsky thinks Americans should be worried about?
Friedman’s Middle East ‘Animal Kingdom’
Also on Feb. 2, The New York Times published opinion writer Thomas L. Friedman’s “Understanding the Middle East through the Animal Kingdom.”
Friedman starts out by taking a guess that the “U.S. will probably retaliate against pro-Iranian forces and Iranian agents in the Middle East that Washington believes are responsible for the attack on a U.S. base in Jordan that killed three soldiers on Jan. 28.”
He follows with a list of other events that he imagines could happen in the coming week involving the Middle East. His preference, he says, is to think about these things by drawing parallels to nature.
In his imaginings, the Middle East is a “jungle.” He likens Iran to a “parasitoid wasp,” Lebanon, Yemen, Syria and Iraq are “caterpillars,” Houthis, Hezbollah, Hamas are “eggs that hatch inside the host,” but Hamas is also equated to a “trap-door spider.”
Friedman analogizes Benyamin Netanyahu to a “sifaka lemur,” digresses into a clause about seeing one in Madagascar, before stating that lemur-like Netanyahu may need to make a decision in the week ahead.
According to The New York Times’ standards and ethics, their readers’ trust is essential and renewable every day through their actions and decisions in the media and public sphere.
The Times also claims to hold itself accountable to its strict standards and ethics guidelines. Former editor of the opinion pages, Andy Rosenthal, says that NYT editorial writers are highly experienced, most are former reporters, and each has a responsibility to their expertise.
Rosenthal explains in a video on how to write an editorial that a solid opinion piece should take a position that can be strongly and persuasively argued, is based on principles and facts, and should either propose a solution to a problem or defend a position. How does the Freidman piece meet any of those guidelines?
Neither the The Wall Street Journal nor the Times op-ed demonstrates thoughtful analysis, logical argumentation, or documentation of facts. They offer no substantive or moral value to the national discourse on Hamas and Israel.
— Adnan Ahmed (@adnanmsp) February 3, 2024
Instead, both illustrate the corporate media’s overt biases and provide excellent case studies of unethical journalism.
Opinion writing, arguably, is not journalism. However, in the case of these two writers — one the executive director of the Middle East Media Research Institute, and the other an author, reporter, and, regular columnist for The New York Times — their work should, at a minimum, adhere to the standards and ethics of their publications and to the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics.
Although hateful, hurtful, and dehumanizing speech and writing may be protected by the First Amendment and Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it breaks the journalistic ethics code of minimizing harm. Stalinsky and Friedman have chosen to compromise the standards of their publishers, and to prioritize incendiary writing over the public’s need for information.
Such opining is more irresponsible given Americans’ difficulty distinguishing fact from opinion. Journalism professor Kevin M. Lerner notes in The Conversation that news consumers do not always make the necessary distinction between what’s published in the “news” section versus “opinion.” As opinion blends into news, particularly when expressed by established reporters and experts, ideas around credibility are compromised.
Considering the already-blurred lines between legacy media and social media, journalistic gaffes do more than undermine the role and reputation of journalism in a democracy; they jeopardize democracy itself. The Pulitzer Prize-winning national newspapers of record bear greater responsibility than social media in this democratic project.
Heidi Boghosian is an attorney and is the executive director of the A.J. Muste Memorial Institute. Previously she was the executive director of the National Lawyers Guild. She wrote I Have Nothing to Hide and 20 Other Myths About Surveillance and Privacy (2021), and co-hosts the weekly civil liberties show Law and Disorder on Pacifica Radio’s WBAI in New York and broadcast on more than 120 stations.
Mischa Geracoulis is a media literacy expert, writer, and educator, serving as Project Censored’s curriculum development coordinator, and on the editorial boards of the Censored Press and The Markaz Review.
Views expressed in this article may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.