Opinion: Viciously anti-Israel commenters flood New York Times website

How much of the Times’ subscription revenue comes from readers with these views, and how strong is the temptation at the Times to cater to them with articles that they will click on and share?

By Ira Stoll, The Algemeiner

The New York Times is allowing its reader comments section to turn into an anti-Israel cesspool.

The first three “Reader Picks” comments on a recent Times news article about Iran’s nuclear program are all pretty vicious.

“We cannot let Israel run our country,” insists the top “reader pick” comment, echoing a classical anti-Semitic paranoia about undue Jewish influence and winning a “recommend” vote from 128 other Times readers.

“Israel is a one-way ally — only taking. Blind support of Israel is contrary to US long-term interests,” according to the second “reader pick” comment, winning the recommend upvote of 110 other Times readers despite the blatant inaccuracy.

The third reader pick comment asserts, “Seems Israel would like nothing more than to provoke another Middle East war with US troops. While we pay them $3B to this day for weapons.” That won 88 “recommend” votes from Times readers, who seem oblivious to the fact that Israel has reportedly been degrading Iran’s nuclear program quite effectively without involving any US troops, or to the fact that the military aid supports American defense industry jobs.

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Reader comments have been a persistent problem area for the Times.

In 2017, the paper awarded a gold ribbon “NYT Pick” to a reader comment claiming that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “likes to control the US Congress,” describing American supporters of Israel as a disloyal “fifth column” and calling the Israeli leader a “parasitic thug.” After the Algemeiner reported about it and the advocacy group Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting and Analysis complained, the Times deleted the comment, saying it had been posted inadvertently.

In 2018, the Times posted reader comments calling Israel “barbaric” and blaming Jews for anti-Semitism.

Also in 2018, a Times reader comment describing Israel as “bloodthirsty” drew an astonishing 494 “thumbs-up” votes from the paper’s readers.

In 2020, a Times article about a Jewish wedding attracted reader comments directed at Orthodox Jews. “One of the most selfish, arrogant, demagogic, chauvinistic, contemptuous, narcissistic, uncaring and un-American groups in existence” was one comment, recommended with an upvote by 33 readers. Another comment accused the Hasidic Jewish community of attempting “to wage biological warfare on the rest of humanity.”

Defenders of the Times might observe that the views expressed in the comments section are those of the readers, not the paper’s journalists, and that online comments sections in general attract an unruly lot. Those are fair points, but nonetheless the Times is fond of holding other publications and platforms, such as Breitbart.com, and other political groups like the Republicans or Prime Minister Netanyahu’s governing coalition, responsible for the views of the most extreme tangentially related person.

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One might reasonably wonder what the Times is doing to attract these hundreds of anti-Israel commenters. Why do people with such views choose to lurk at the Times rather than, say, in the comments section of Makor Rishon? How much of the Times’ subscription revenue comes from readers with these views, and how strong is the temptation at the Times to cater to them with articles that they will click on and share?

This is a dynamic that Times star journalist Bari Weiss wrote about in her letter resigning from the paper: “Stories are chosen and told in a way to satisfy the narrowest of audiences… Why edit something challenging to our readers, or write something bold only to go through the numbing process of making it ideologically kosher, when we can assure ourselves of job security (and clicks) by publishing our 4000th op-ed arguing that Donald Trump is a unique danger to the country and the world?”

“We cannot let Israel run our country,” the Times commenter contended. The danger is that the Times management will allow the anti-Israel, anti-Semitic-comment-writing mob of paying readers to run the newspaper — or at least to shape the editorial product in a way that undercuts the newspaper’s ostensible claim to journalistic objectivity.

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At the New York Times, the anti-Israel commenters are the paying customers who pay the editors’ and reporters’ salaries. As the paper increasingly seeks a global audience, those readers may not even be American anti-Israel commenters—they may be paying Times customers in longstanding bastions of Jew-hatred or anti-Israel sentiment overseas.