LOS ANGELES, May 15 (JTA) — Charges that the Los Angeles Times has a pro-Palestinian bias in its coverage have prompted an unusual meeting. In an effort to thrash out the issue, four Jewish officials visited the newspaper´s headquarters to share with the top editorial brass the widespread feeling in the Jewish community that the paper´s day-by-day leans markedly in favor of the Palestinians, and against Israel. Last month, in a move coordinated with local Jewish community leaders, at least 1,000 of the newspaper´s subscribers suspended home delivery for at least one day to protest what was viewed as the Times´ anti-Israel tilt. Jewish readers launched similar boycotts recently against The New York Times and The Washington Post. Rabbis Marvin Hier and Abraham Cooper of the Simon Wiesenthal Center; Aaron Levinson, interim regional director of the Anti-Defamation League; and John Fishel, president of the Jewish Federation of Los Angeles, represented the Jewish community at last Friday´s meeting. Facing them across the conference table were Editor John Carroll, Managing Editor Dean Baquet and Assistant Managing Editor Miriam Pawel. "We addressed the widespread perception in our community that in its general reporting, headlines, photos and opinion pages, the Times showed a lack of objectivity and that the editors must find a way to address this perception," Levinson said after the meeting. By way of example, Hier pointed out that "We get constant stories on the Israel lobby and AIPAC, but none on how the Arab and Muslim states use the U.N. General Assembly to attack Israel." Fishel joined in the criticism, but said later, "The Times people" are "smart" and "articulate." He added: "I believe that when you deal with sincere people, you put your thoughts on the table and give them a chance to think things through. I hope they will act on our suggestions." At the meeting, and in a later interview, Carroll attempted to dispel the notion that the paper holds itself aloof from reader criticism. "The volume of complaints" charging an anti-Israel bias "has been such that I haven´t been able to read it all. But I realize the depth of feeling in the Jewish community," Carroll said. Jewish subscribers are not only ardent but sophisticated readers, he said, adding that "If all our readers were as sophisticated on all subjects, we´d have the greatest audience in the world." Because most Jewish complaints centered on the paper´s Middle East coverage, Carroll was asked why the paper´s foreign editor didn´t participate in the meeting. He responded that outgoing Foreign Editor Simon Li, the object of considerable criticism, and his successor, Marjorie Miller, were attending separate conferences abroad. Miller has spent the past 18 years as a foreign correspondent, including a lengthy stint in Israel. The Times´ extensive focus on the Middle East conflict may be partly explained by the fact that its staff in Israel is larger than in any other foreign city in the world, according to the editors. The meeting ended on a suggestion from the editors that the community´s grievances against the newspaper not be piled up for an annual Day of Atonement, but be reported as soon as the perceived transgression occurs. It is probably safe to say that Jewish readers will take the Times up on its offer.
Tom Tugend is JTA's Los Angeles correspondent. A veteran journalist, he also writes for the Jerusalem Post, the Los Angeles Jewish Journal and the London Jewish Chronicle.