A New York Times freelancer asked an interviewee “insulting and demeaning questions” about his Jewish faith, the source told the Times public editor Margaret Sullivan.
The freelancer, Ronnie Cohen, essentially put him through “a Jewish litmus test,” the source Ph.D. candidate David McCleary complained. Questions asked included whether he “looked Jewish” and if he had been bar mitzvahed, McCleary told Sullivan. The article for which he was interviewed, even though his comments never made it to print, addressed “efforts on college campuses to pressure Israel over its policies toward Palestinians and its occupation of the West Bank.”
Times national editor Alison Mitchell told Sullivan that “If [the reporter] indeed pursued that line of questioning, it was inappropriate.” Likewise, Sullivan called them “unprofessional and unacceptable.”
McCleary told iMediaEthics that “New York Times Public Editor Margaret Sullivan’s response for the most part was necessary, but hardly sufficient.” He explained why he thinks this: “I feel it is unfair for her and National Editor Alison Mitchell to place all blame on Ronnie Cohen, whom they publicly disown as just a ‘stringer’ or ‘freelancer’, when Ronnie was clearly following instructions from other New York Times staff.”
McCleary went on, “She [Ronnie Cohen] often read questions verbatim that she said were sent to her from those writing the story, which were equally unprofessional and clearly designed to produce a predetermined narrative.”
McCleary also said he gave Sullivan text messages from a Times staffer which he says “repeatedly trying to skew my responses to fit what ended up being the faulty premise of the piece.” iMediaEthics saw those text messages in which Cohen asks McCleary if he is the only Jew in Students for Justice in Palestine and if only a few Jews are involved, and he says no and that he won’t give her a “phrase to minimize Jewish participation” because there are “a disproportionately large number of Jews in SJP based on campus demographics.”
McCleary writes that he doesn’t have “much confidence in the even-handedness of this story to follow, and certainly not in your ability to quote me accurately.” He added that “I hope I’m quoted accurately…the questioning of my Jewish identity was deeply troubling.”
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In addition to his complaints about the interview, McCleary is also upset about the article coverage and what he sees as “the continual failure of the New York Times to amplify Palestinian voices in favor of BDS, and its failure to provide accurate coverage of Israel’s illegal and deadly occupation and blockade of Palestinian territory and the racist practices carried out against non-Jewish citizens of Israel,” he wrote. “I hope Margaret Sullivan will address these much more serious concerns in the future.”
Others were also upset about the May 9 article, “Campus Debates on Israel Drive a Wedge between Jews and Minorities,” Sullivan reported.There were complaints about a “lack of evidence” and because the article didn’t feature any interviews with Jewish students supporting the Boycott, Divestmen and Sanctions (BDS) movement, Sullivan reported.
Times editor Mitchell argued that the story covered a “very emotional issue.” Sullivan noted that the Times often fields complaints over its reporting on Israel and Palestine. But, the Times should have featured Jewish voices backing BDS, Sullivan wrote.
The Electronic Infitada reported May 12 that “some students” complained about their interviews.
iMediaEthics has asked the Times‘ Cohen for comment.
Bloomberg’s Mark Halperin apologized to Ted Cruz last week for asking him a series of questions about his ancestry, including what his favorite Cuban food and music is and telling him to speak Spanish.