the candler blog

How The New York Times Handles Israeli Censorship

Journalism, Link

Jodi Rudoren, Jerusalem bureau chief for The New York Times, on the appearance of a military censor disclaimer in one of her recent stories:

Any censorship is a huge compromise. In these cases, though, the actual cost to readers’ understanding was limited.

The short of it: The Times withheld the relationship of Second Lt. Hadar Goldin, initially thought kidnapped, to defense minister Moshe Ya’alon. This sounds less like censorship and more like an abundance of caution for the safety of a prisoner of war.1

But it is still censorship. Good on Rudoren for being transparent about the process.

  1. One day after word of his abduction ground a 72-hour cease fire attempt to a halt, the Israeli military announced that Lieutenant Goldin had been killed in action.

A Flat-Out Sensational Lie


Almost three years ago, while taking another writer to task for an unprovoked swipe at Heeb (where I used to serve as Arts Editor), I referred to Tablet Magazine as “The New Yorker of the Jewish publishing world.” In the ensuing years, though, this description hasn’t really held up. The outlet has turned into a home for linkbait and short, traffic-jacking posts. Does Tablet publish any good content anymore? Yes. Does it excuse their offenses (which I find to be more numerous)? Of course not.

I feel compelled to call out Tablet for a cowardly, false and unconscionable article published August 1st.1 Titled “New York Times Slams Its Own Pulitzer-Prize Winning Photographer In Gaza, [subhead:] Says Legendary Photojournalist Tyler Hicks is Bad at His Job,” the piece was published unsigned, using only the tag “Staff Notes” to mark any form of authorship. The headline is a sensational lie that doesn’t even match the article’s own broken logic.

The baseless headline comes from the following statement given to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency by Eileen Murphy, the Times’ head of communications,2 when asked why there are so few photos of Hamas militants in the Times:

Our photo editor went through all of our pictures recently and out of many hundreds, she found 2 very distant poor quality images that were captioned Hamas fighters by our photographer on the ground. It is very difficult to identify Hamas because they don’t have uniforms or any visible insignia; our photographer hasn’t even seen anyone carrying a gun.

I would add that we would not withhold photos of Hamas militants. We eagerly pursue photographs from both sides of the conflict, but we are limited by what our photographers have access to.

In no way does Murphy even come close to suggesting Hicks is “bad at his job.” Regardless of your opinion as to whether or not the statement is accurate or representative, calling it a “slam” is a flat-out lie.

And that says nothing of the piece itself which asserts right up front, pseudo-couched in the falsehood that a New York Times spokesperson said as much, “Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Tyler Hicks really sucks at his job.”

Tyler Hicks, who photographed the Syrian uprisings before carrying the body of his colleague Anthony Shadid out of Syria, really sucks at his job. Tyler Hicks, who ran into Westgate mall in Nairobi when he heard shots fired and captured the horror and panic of a terrorist attack in progress, really sucks at his job. Tyler Hicks, who, while covering the overthrow of Qaddafi in Libya, was held prisoner and told by his captor, “You have a beautiful head. I’m going to remove it and put it on mine. I’m going to cut it off,” really sucks at his job.

Hicks’ many plaudits and experiences do not shield him from criticism. But perhaps they should give one pause before lobbing baseless ad hominem attacks because his work does not fit your narrative.

Tablet’s unnamed author hooks on to the word “access” in Eileen Murphy’s statement.

How does being dependent on Hamas for your daily access–not to mention your life–potentially impact coverage? Well, the fact that the Times has only two distant, grainy, unusable images of Hamas gunmen from Tyler Hicks tells you all you need to know, doesn’t it.[sic]

I’m not sure what the author sees as the alternative, here. Hicks’ access isn’t limited in the way an entertainment journalist’s access is limited, i.e. the interview is over if you bring up the starlet’s ex-husband. “Access” in a war zone means life or death. A photojournalist cannot work if s/he is dead. The top priority, always, should be getting home with the story in tow.3

Today, in an interview with James Estrin on the Times’ Lens Blog, Hicks roundly answers critics of his work, like Tablet:

This is a war fought largely behind the scenes. Hamas fighters are not able to expose themselves. If they were to even step a foot on the street they would be spotted by an Israeli drone and immediately blown up. We don’t see those fighters. They are operating out of buildings and homes and at night. They are moving around very carefully. You don’t see any signs of authority on the streets. If you can imagine every police officer, every person of authority in America gone, this is what that would look like.

If we had access to them, we would be photographing them. I never saw a single device for launching the rockets to Israel. It’s as if they don’t exist.

Sometimes people assume that you can have access to everything, that you can see everything. But the fighters are virtually invisible to us. What we do as photographers is document what we can to show that side of the war. There are funerals, there are people being rushed to the hospital, but you can’t differentiate the fighters from the civilians. They are not wearing uniforms. If there is someone coming into the hospital injured, you can’t tell if that’s just a shopkeeper or if this is someone who just fired a rocket towards Israel. It’s impossible to know who’s who. We tried to cover this as objectively as possible.

Perhaps this won’t satisfy critics of either Hicks or the New York Times, but I think it offers fascinating insight into the conflict on the whole. Critics of Israel will often point to the lopsided casualty count (a gruesome metric, indeed) on the Israeli and Palestinian sides, while supporters will say the Israeli Defense Forces have no choice but to operate as they do because the rockets are launched from civilian areas. This is exactly in line with Hicks’ statement. He can’t photograph what he can’t see. And if the Israeli military itself has trouble locating and neutralizing rockets, how could a photojournalist fare any better?

In the end, though, Tablet’s article was false when they published it and has now been dismantled. It’s shameful to see anyone put this drivel out into the world, and all the more shocking and sad that it should come from an outlet that once showed so much promise. A retraction or at the very least an editorial comment is in order, but I doubt we’ll see one. One can’t expect much from a writer who doesn’t even sign his or her own work.

  1. Journalism professor Jay Rosen was kinder and called the piece “unwise.”

  2. Murphy is listed as “Vice President, Corporate Communications” on LinkedIn and is often quoted as a “spokeswoman for The Times.” I have chosen to use the job title on her Twitter bio, head of communications.

  3. It’s worth noting that on the same day as Tablet’s Hicks article, the Times itself was informed that a published story would become subject to military censorship by Israel.

Ten Years Since The Day Of


Ten years ago today Danny Ocean and his band of misfits attempted to steal the Fabergé Imperial Coronation Egg before being picked up by the FBI.

The soundtrack to Ocean’s Twelve, early candler blog contributor Sunrise Tippeconnie’s favorite film of the previous decade, is still among my favorite albums. I listen to it often, especially while writing. The David Holmes track “7-29-04 The Day Of” is always a good starting place for me. So happy tenth birthday to a great song with the date of a fictional heist in its title.

While we’re on the subject, the Ocean’s Twelve soundtrack is missing one of the most memorable songs from the film, La Caution’s “Thé à la menthe,” from the scene in which Vincent Cassel’s François Toulour dances through the laser field. The “Lazer Dance” instrumental version featured in the movie is wonderful, but I’ve grown quite fond of the original over the years. Give it a listen:

You can buy both the Ocean’s Twelve Soundtrack and La Caution’s Peines de Maures/Arc-en-ciel pour Daltoniens double album, featuring both versions of “Thé à la menthe,” on iTunes.

Explore Your Creativity Mac App Store Sale

Apps, Technology

The Mac App Store has a great promotion going on right now called “Explore Your Creativity.” Some really powerful apps are 50% off. A few of my favorites:1

I use Ulysses III almost every day. Check out my review for more on how I use it; it’s only gotten better since. Before Ulysses I was a huge Scrivener user. I still go back to it from time to time, especially when I have to organize an inordinate amount of data, like planning what I’m going to see at a film festival.2

Slugline and Highland are both excellent Fountain writing and previewing apps. If you write screenplays in Fountain, buy both. You won’t be sorry. And if you still think you need it in your arsenal, even Final Draft 9 is on sale for $125.

Pixelmator is regularly a steal, but $16 is downright criminal for such a powerful photo editing app.

So if price has been the barrier to getting any of these apps, you’re out of excuses. Sale ends July 24.

  1. This list (and only this list) contains Mac App Store affiliate links and current promotional sale prices. I thank you in advance.

  2. iA’s Writer Pro is also on sale, but I left it off my list because, you know.

Gilbert Gottfried Talks to Robert Osborne

Link, Movies

I realize my last link almost two weeks ago was to a Gilbert Gottfried piece, but this is too good not to link to for fear of over-Gilberting the site. The comedian’s new podcast has quickly become my weekly favorite, and the latest episode with Robert Osborne is just plain great. Enjoy.

The Apology Epidemic

Link, Technology

Gilbert Gottfried for Playboy1:

You could slap somebody hard in the face and they’d say, “Well, that was weird. Can we discuss this further?” But tell a joke on Twitter that somebody doesn’t find funny and they’ll howl for your blood. […]

The internet gives everybody the illusion of power. Everyone’s a commentator, everyone’s a writer, everyone’s a movie critic, everyone’s a moral activist. And as a result, everyone is a fucking idiot.

Preach, Pope Gilbert.

Related: shortly after Gottfried was fired from Aflac for making jokes about the Tsunami in Japan I interviewed him over sushi. Heeb just resurfaced the interview yesterday so I’ve got Gilbert on the mind.

  1. Consider this your official warning: you’ll see bare tushies alongside Gilbert’s piece.

Spitting Underwater


I haven’t been publishing here (or anywhere) lately. The strange thing is that I’ve been writing plenty. It’s just that all of that writing is offline, usually by hand. I write and write until I lose steam and then second guess my ability to publish what I set out to compose in the first place.

I’ve started and stopped the “why I’m not publishing” piece countless times in the past year (or two). Trouble is: I don’t really have a great reason. My goto answer when friends ask me why the hell I don’t publish more often1 has been some speech on the futility of web publishing.

That’s part feint, part conviction. The web has gotten bigger and dumber since I started publishing regularly in 2006. Back then I was only spitting into the wind; now I’m spitting underwater.

The publishing landscape is just plain awful today. Sites game clicks out of crap and people fall for it. (Every. Damn. Time.) The better outlets still have to play along and add shitboxes, those little “Around the Web” paid click dinguses, below decent content, sending their readers out into the viral2 web to lose their minds over diet pill results or eleven celebrities you never knew were famous (or whatever).

We put up with it because it’s all we know. The battle was lost right at the beginning of the web, when publishers started selling ads against traffic. If only the forebears of the Internet knew back then what social would ultimately wreak. The humble click has been blown wide open by curiosity and outrage.

Of course, I’m culpable of all of the tricks that annoy the hell out of me. I’ve made mistakes on this journey of writing the web, but I’ve also done my part to call out the nonsense. I don’t have an answer to the crap web, but I know this: if I stop publishing then I’m doing nothing. And if I do nothing then the shitboxes win.

I’m not relaunching or redesigning the site. I’m not starting a new project. There is no new plan or editorial schedule. I don’t even know what the next post will be.

I just wanted to light a fire under my ass and confront my fear of publishing this piece.

So here I go again, spitting underwater.

  1. I’m lucky to have people who care enough to prod.

  2. Ugh, viral.