New York Times: All Around the World, It's the 'Right-Wing Media' That Takes the Blame

December 3rd, 2014 10:07 PM

The New York Times' labeling bias isn't just aimed at U.S. conservatives; the Times' global reach and bias extends overseas, as demonstrated in Wednesday's edition, crammed with dangerous and unpleasant right-wingers in Europe, Asia, and of course Israel, both among politicians and the media (who knew the "right-wing media" were so powerful?).

The headline to a front-page story by Martin Fackler on a controversy over Japanese "comfort women" from World War II read: "Rewriting War, Japanese Right Goes on Attack." "Ultranationalist" was an apparently insufficient label for the bad guys in the story; Fackler eagerly identified them as "conservative" and "right-wing" at every junction.

Takashi Uemura was 33 when he wrote the article that would make his career. Then an investigative reporter for The Asahi Shimbun, Japan’s second-largest newspaper, he examined whether the Imperial Army had forced women to work in military brothels during World War II. His report, under the headline “Remembering Still Brings Tears,” was one of the first to tell the story of a former “comfort woman” from Korea.

Fast-forward a quarter century, and that article has made Mr. Uemura, now 56 and retired from journalism, a target of Japan’s political right. Tabloids brand him a traitor for disseminating “Korean lies” that they say were part of a smear campaign aimed at settling old scores with Japan. Threats of violence, Mr. Uemura says, have cost him one university teaching job and could soon rob him of a second. Ultranationalists have even gone after his children, posting Internet messages urging people to drive his teenage daughter to suicide.

The threats are part of a broad, vitriolic assault by the right-wing news media and politicians here on The Asahi, which has long been the newspaper that Japanese conservatives love to hate. The battle is also the most recent salvo in a long-raging dispute over Japan’s culpability for its wartime behavior that has flared under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s right-leaning government.

(There's a history of bias out of the region. Traditionally in the Times, the leaders of democratic South Korea are portrayed in "conservative" terms, while the tyrannical murderous rulers of communist North Korea are merely "leaders," or an "enigmatic strongman.")

Elsewhere in Wednesday's edition, the Times' Rick Lyman issued backhanded compliments to "conservative" Poland for electing a gay mayor to a rather small city that wouldn't ordinarily merit such attention:

In the end, the fact that Robert Biedron is one of Poland’s most prominent gay-rights activists seemed to play almost no role in his election as the new mayor of Slusk, a conservative city of 97,000 near the Pomeranian coast.

“There is no reason to think that Mr. Biedron’s private life was an advantage, but it looks like it wasn’t a disadvantage, either,” said Jaroslaw Flis, a sociologist and political commentator. “Sexual orientation didn’t matter for the voters in Slusk.”

In conservative Poland, where the Roman Catholic Church wields enormous political power, that amounts to a sea change.

“Poland is not the most progressive European country, of course, on this issue,” Mr. Biedron said Tuesday in an interview. “There is a lot of conservatism and homophobia and prejudice. But Poland is also on the track to change. The lesson of tolerance is being learned, and Polish society is changing.”

Just as in Japan, watch the "right-wing media" come in for blame.

Other than in a few fusillades from the right-wing media, Mr. Biedron’s sexual orientation barely came up during the campaign. Instead, the focus was on local issues like potholes and transportation, as well as a growing discontent with the financially struggling city’s political establishment.

Naturally there was labeling bias in a dispatch by Isabel Kirshner from Israel, where Times coverage has always been decidedly sympathetic to the Palestinian side and hostile to Israel. News that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has fired ministers and called for elections sparked barely concealed outrage, and as usual, the paper's chosen bad guy (Netanyahu) is on the right.

With the firings, the occasional quarreling and simmering tensions that have characterized the 20-month-old coalition government broke into an all-out shouting match, as Mr. Netanyahu, seeking to move the nation toward the right, used harsh language to criticize his rivals, and they responded in kind.

The divide between Mr. Netanyahu, the leader of the conservative Likud Party, and the centrist parties in the government widened after the breakdown of American-brokered peace negotiations with the Palestinians in the spring. In addition, Ms. Livni and Mr. Lapid have denounced Mr. Netanyahu’s announcements of settlement construction plans, blaming him for inviting international condemnation.

Lately, centrists have clashed with Mr. Netanyahu over his backing of a hard-line version of a nationality bill emphasizing Israel’s Jewish character above its democratic principles. And Mr. Netanyahu began sparring with Mr. Lapid over economic policies.