Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Paper boycotted, accused of anti-Semitism

The New York Times' Jesse McKinley reports that a small but vociferous group of critics have launched a boycott of the weekly Berkeley Daily Planet, accusing editor and co-owner Becky O'Malley (pictured, foreground) of publishing too many letters and opinion pieces critical of Israel. McKinley writes:
    Those accusations are the basis of a campaign to drive away the paper’s advertisers and a Web site that strongly suggests The Planet and its editor are anti-Semitic. 
    “We think that Ms. O’Malley is addicted to anti-Israel expression just as an alcoholic is to drinking,” Jim Sinkinson, who has led the campaign to discourage advertisers, wrote in an e-mail message. He is the publisher of Infocom Group, a media relations company. “If she wants to serve and please the East Bay Jewish community, she would be safer avoiding the subject entirely.” 
    Ms. O’Malley denies any personal or editorial bias, and bristles at the suggestion that she should not publish letters about Israel in a city like Berkeley, which has a sizable Jewish community and a populace — and City Council — that often weigh in on Middle East and international affairs. 
    “Frankly, the term that crossed my mind was ‘protection racket,’ ” Ms. O’Malley said. “I think that is unusual to say the least that anybody would think that they could dictate a whole area of the world that is simply off limits for discussion.” 
    Whether right or wrong, Mr. Sinkinson’s campaign has left The Planet — a weekly already hammered by the recession — gasping for breath. Advertising sales revenue is down some 60 percent from last year, Ms. O’Malley says. In October, the paper trimmed its skeleton crew of full-time reporters to one from three, and has begun a fund-raising drive to keep publishing. 
    Still, she says she has no intention of stopping the publication of submitted letters, citing a commitment to free speech that is a legacy of the city where the Free Speech Movement was born in the 1960s.
O'Malley admits that she does not fact-check letters, saying it is well beyond the paper's resources.

The Times says both sides met to discuss a resolution to their dispute, "but it was unclear if progress was made." (Photo credit: Monica Almeida/The New York Times)


Anonymous said...

The Israel letter writers are obsessed with the issue to the exclusion of all else. Trying to shut up the opposition seems more like a Democrat election tactic than a proper regard to press freedoms.

Anonymous said...

It's surprising to see how little editing O'Malley admits to doing. If she's going to allow all sorts of anti-Semitic stuff, then where does she draw the line? Will she allow pedophiles to use her news columns to find victims? Would she let scammers who want to steal the savings of retirees to say whatever they want? There's a role for an editor, and a lack of editing (or good judgment) may be why her paper is suffering.