The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release
Contact: Steve Rendall,,Tel: 212-633-6700 x13

Does the NY Times Factcheck Op-Eds?

Bogus evidence showing Arab apathy towards Palestinians


On August 2, the New York Times published an
op-ed arguing that Arabs do not care much about Palestinians--and that
this is a good thing, especially for Palestinians. But the argument
relied on a "poll" of the Arab world that does not exist.

The piece,
by historian Efraim Karsh, intended to show that the "conventional
wisdom" about the Israel-Palestine conflict--that Arabs "are so
passionate about the Palestine problem"--is wrong. His main evidence is
this: "What, then, are we to make of a recent survey for the Al Arabiya
television network finding that a staggering 71 percent of the Arabic
respondents have no interest in the Palestinian/Israeli peace talks?"

But the "survey" was actually a website readers'
poll, the kind one might find on many news websites--and the kind of
thing no one would take as a serious expression of public sentiment on
any issue.

Even this largely meaningless data was
misrepresented by Karsh, as he conflated concern about "the Palestine
problem" with interest in "Palestinian/Israeli peace talks." As James
Zogby of the Arab-American Institute (Huffington Post, 8/2/10) pointed out:

The actual question
makes no mention of "Palestine" or "Palestinians." Rather, it asks
respondents about their level of interest in the "Middle East peace
process"--to which 71 percent indicate "no interest." Given the lack of
results and the repeated disappointments and frustrations experienced
during just the last two decades of the so-called "Middle East peace
process," this lack of interest displayed by respondents in the Al Arabiya website question is hardly surprising.

After recalling various incidents where Arab
governments have abused Palestinians, Karsh closed the piece by arguing
that "it is a positive sign that so many Arabs have apparently grown so
apathetic about the Palestinian/Israeli conflict"--a clear misreading of
the unscientific "poll" Karsh was citing. He concluded that "the sooner
the Palestinians recognize that their cause is theirs alone, the sooner
they are likely to make peace with the existence of the State of Israel
and to understand the need for a negotiated settlement."

Karsh's claim that the Arab public is presently
"apathetic" about the plight of Palestinians rests on an unreliable
Internet poll, and on excluding other polling that would suggest
precisely the opposite. According to the Zogby/University of Maryland
poll of Arab public opinion (5/09),
76 percent of respondents put "the Palestinian issue" as either the
"most important" issue or as one of their "top 3 priorities."

In a piece about how the Times edits op-ed contributions (7/31/05),
the section's editor David Shipley assured readers that articles are
fact-checked: "While it is the author's responsibility to ensure that
everything written for us is accurate, we still check facts--names,
dates, places, quotations. We also check assertions. If news
articles--from the Times and other publications--are at odds with a point or an example in an essay, we need to resolve whatever discrepancy exists."

The Times should adhere to that standard in this case.


Ask the New York Times to publish a
correction pointing out that Efraim Karsh's August 1 op-ed about Arab
ambivalence towards Palestinians erroneously treated an unscientific
website poll as if it were a meaningful survey of public opinion, and
misrepresented even its findings.

New York Times
Op-Ed Page Editor
David Shipley

FAIR, the national media watch group, has been offering well-documented criticism of media bias and censorship since 1986. We work to invigorate the First Amendment by advocating for greater diversity in the press and by scrutinizing media practices that marginalize public interest, minority and dissenting viewpoints.