After Pulitzer Win, N.Y. Times Contributor Criticizes Gaza Coverage

From a Washington Post story by Will Sommer headlined “After Pulitzer win, N.Y. Times contributor criticizes Gaza coverage”:

As journalist and illustrator Mona Chalabi sat through the ceremony last month where she would officially receive her Pulitzer Prize, she leaned over to her editor, Jake Silverstein of the New York Times, to show him her latest work.

It was a chart she had posted on Instagram, presenting data to suggest that the Times devotes less attention to Palestinian deaths than Israeli deaths in the ongoing Gaza conflict — and calling out the Times for “bias.”

She told The Washington Post she was late to the ceremony because she was rushing to post the chart first.

“Before I sat next to my editor at the New York Times to accept this prize, I wanted to publish this critique of the New York Times,” Chalabi said.

This week, in the latest flare-up of newsroom tensions over the Israel-Gaza war, the freelance contributor to the Times ramped up her criticism of the newspaper for which she won journalism’s biggest prize, in interviews and social media posts saying she believes the Times coverage of the war has favored the Israeli perspective over the Palestinian. She also took aim at the Pulitzers, saying she felt the plight of Palestinian journalists and civilians was overlooked during speeches.

On Thursday, Chalabi announced on Instagram, where she has 468,000 followers, that she donated the $15,000 that came with her Pulitzer win to a Palestinian journalists group to help fight what she sees as an “asymmetry” that elevates Israeli voices over Palestinian ones in the media.

“Journalists have been questioning this institution and the way this is reported for a very long time,” Chalabi said. “It’s just that this conversation has finally made its way into the newsroom of the New York Times.”

The Times declined to comment. Pulitzer administrator Marjorie Miller also declined to comment, saying through a spokesman that she hadn’t yet had time to listen to the episode of the Longform journalism podcast where Chalabi first made many of her remarks.

Chalabi’s criticism comes at a time when discontent has simmered within some major newsrooms over media coverage of the Israel-Gaza war. Last week, hundreds of journalists — some flouting newsroom policies against espousing public political stances — signed an open letter calling for Israel to end military actions that have killed Palestinian journalists and warning western media organizations about “dehumanizing rhetoric that has served to justify ethnic cleansing of Palestinians.” Semafor reported that the Los Angeles Times told reporters who signed the letter that they will be restricted from writing about the war for three months.

New York Times Magazine writer Jazmine Hughes resigned this month after signing another open letter accusing Israel of “genocide,” an action Silverstein called a “clear violation” of Times rules. On Thursday, the magazine’s poetry editor resigned, saying she couldn’t write about poetry amid “warmongering lies.”

At the same time, the Times and other news organizations have firmly denied allegations from a pro-Israel advocacy group — and echoed by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) — that its Gaza-based freelance photographers had advance knowledge of the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel. The advocacy group later conceded it had no evidence for its claims.

Chalabi, won her Pulitzer in the category of “Illustrated Reporting and Commentary,” for drawings that used quirky and striking comparisons to highlight “the immense wealth and economic power of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos,” as the Pulitzer committee put it. (Bezos is the owner of The Post.)

Though a freelancer for the Times, her Pulitzer win offers an unusually high profile — and more freedom, she says, to criticize it. If she loses work because of her stance, she said, she has money saved up to support herself.

“Having a Pulitzer does give me a little bit more credibility to be able to say this is not factually correct,” Chalabi, who also works as a data editor at Guardian US, said.

In her Longform appearance, Chalabi took her criticism beyond what she has read of the Times’s coverage of Gaza and made allegations about its treatment of staff. She said that Arab reporters for the Times have told her they are often suspected of having inappropriate sympathies for Palestinians. She also said she thinks Jewish reporters do not face that same scrutiny. She speculated that some of those reporters may have enjoyed free government-funded trips to Israel in their youth through the Birthright Israel program, which she said should raise questions about their ability to be objective about Israel.

However, she conceded that she had no data to back the claim that Times reporters had taken such trips.

She also noted the controversy at Hearst Magazines, after Harper’s Bazaar editor Samira Nasr drew backlash for calling the Israeli decision to cut water and electricity to Gaza “the most inhuman thing I’ve seen in my life” in an Instagram post and later apologized. Hearst later instituted a restrictive new social media policy for staffers. “That shows you just how constrained the parameters are,” Chalabi said.

While a Pulitzer Prize can mark the pinnacle of a journalist’s career, Chalabi has also been unusually critical of the Oct. 19 ceremony.

Pulitzer winners typically don’t give speeches, but after hearing presenters mention the “Israel-Gaza war,” she raised an objection.

“I don’t think it’s the ‘Israel-Gaza War,’ I think it’s the ‘Israel-Palestine War,’” she told the audience. “And no one in this room is willing to mention the ‘P-word,’ and I think it’s really important. I’m sorry, I know I’m not supposed to make speeches here, but it felt important.”

News organizations have differed in their terminology for the conflict. The Washington Post describes it as the Israel-Gaza war.

Chalabi said she also felt uncomfortable when a Pulitzer board member asked her if she was related to Ahmed Chalabi, the Iraqi exile whose false claims about weapons of mass destruction helped drive the invasion of Iraq. She is not. (“Kudos to you, you know one other Iraqi with that name,” she recalled thinking.)

Video of the Pulitzer ceremony shows Chalabi crying during a group photo with other winners.

She noted that many attendees wore buttons calling for the release of Evan Gershkovich, a Wall Street Journal reporter who has been detained in Russia since March, while she felt the plight of journalists in Gaza was overlooked. As of Thursday, 37 Palestinian media workers have been killed, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

“Some forms of protest are being permitted and some are not,” Chalabi said.

Will Sommer is a media reporter for the Post Style section. He’s the author of “Trust the Plan: The Rise of QAnon and the Conspiracy That Unhinged America,” a book covering the QAnon movement.

Speak Your Mind