NY Times staffers were alarmed by the publication of an anti-Semitic cartoon

Over the weekend I wrote about the anti-Semitic cartoon published in the international edition of the NY Times. The fallout from that incident continues today with CNN’s Brian Stelter revealing there was some behind the scenes drama at the Times with staffers “alarmed” that the cartoon made it into print:

The controversy snowballed on social media into Sunday morning. CNN’s Jake Tapper said on “State of the Union” that the cartoon “could just have easily appeared in ISIS or neo-Nazi propaganda.”

Counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway — whose boss regularly assails The Times — told Tapper “I’m very concerned” that the paper “allowed the distribution” of the cartoon.

According to sources at the newspaper, who spoke on condition of anonymity, staffers were alarmed to see that the image was published — and dismayed that the initial editor’s note was so feeble. They wanted a more detailed explanation.

Finally on Sunday afternoon, the Times issued a statement saying “we are deeply sorry” for the cartoon, and “we are committed to making sure nothing like this happens again.”

Sunday, one of the Times own columnists, Bret Stephens, lashed out the paper for publishing the cartoon, suggesting it was part of a torrent of anti-Semitism from the progressive left:

The problem with the cartoon isn’t that its publication was a willful act of anti-Semitism. It wasn’t. The problem is that its publication was an astonishing act of ignorance of anti-Semitism — and that, at a publication that is otherwise hyper-alert to nearly every conceivable expression of prejudice, from mansplaining to racial microaggressions to transphobia.

Imagine, for instance, if the dog on a leash in the image hadn’t been the Israeli prime minister but instead a prominent woman such as Nancy Pelosi, a person of color such as John Lewis, or a Muslim such as Ilhan Omar. Would that have gone unnoticed by either the wire service that provides the Times with images or the editor who, even if he were working in haste, selected it?

The question answers itself. And it raises a follow-on: How have even the most blatant expressions of anti-Semitism become almost undetectable to editors who think it’s part of their job to stand up to bigotry?

The reason is the almost torrential criticism of Israel and the mainstreaming of anti-Zionism, including by this paper, which has become so common that people have been desensitized to its inherent bigotry. So long as anti-Semitic arguments or images are framed, however speciously, as commentary about Israel, there will be a tendency to view them as a form of political opinion, not ethnic prejudice. But as I noted in a Sunday Review essay in February, anti-Zionism is all but indistinguishable from anti-Semitism in practice and often in intent, however much progressives try to deny this.

Stephens goes on to say that he does not believe the Times as an institution is anti-Semitic but he also seems to be saying it engages in a lot of borderline anti-Semitic commentary. He’s walking a tightrope even saying this in the NY Times. But it’s clear he thinks the problem is much more than an accident. So how did this happen exactly? According to the Times, a single editor made the decision with no oversight:

The cartoon was drawn by the Portuguese cartoonist António Moreira Antunes and originally published by Expresso, a newspaper in Lisbon. It was then picked up by CartoonArts International, a syndicate for cartoons from around the world.

The New York Times Licensing Group sells content from CartoonArts and other publishers along with material from The New York Times to news sites and other customers.

The Times’s United States edition does not typically publish political cartoons and did not run this one, but the international edition frequently includes them. An editor from The Times’s Opinion section downloaded Mr. Antunes’s cartoon from the syndicate and made the decision to publish it, according to Ms. Murphy.

This description isn’t very clear. I get that the cartoon was picked up by a cartoon syndicate and that an editor for the international edition downloaded the cartoon from the syndicate. But what’s this about the New York Times Licensing Group? Does that mean the NY Times was selling this cartoon as part of its deal with CartoonArts? Who else did they sell it to? Maybe there’s nothing more to this story but it’s hard to tell from this description.

This issue keeps cropping up and then, a few weeks later, it crops up somewhere else. I think we all know what the left would say if this had been published by Fox News. CNN gets some credit for writing about it but I don’t see a lot of left-wing outlets eager to connect the dots in this case.