The news that The Philadelphia Inquirer is closing its Jerusalem bureau is, for many friends of Israel, a mixed bag. On the one hand, the lack of original material with a Jerusalem dateline in the area's paper of record will diminish audience understanding of the region. On the other, there will be one less potential source of bias against Israel.
To summarize the work of the Inqy's Jerusalem bureau since it opened in 1983 as mere bias is a bit unfair. Inquirer journalists have done many informative stories about Israel. Just this week, the current, and apparently last, Inquirer Jerusalem bureau chief Ned Warwick contributed an excellent story about American olim serving in the Israel Defense Force.
But most of the material on Israel published in the Inquirer over the years did not meet this high standard. And if many readers were dissatisfied with the paper's repetition of many of the common misnomers about land, refugees and the nature of Israel's foes, it was no accident. The Inquirer's coverage tended to be slanted in the same way as that of much of the media, with problems such as no grounding in historical facts, a lack of context about the story in question and gullibility about Palestinian sources. Combined with the Inquirer's editorial slant on the conflict, which tends to, at best, view the democratic State of Israel and the terrorists who wish to destroy it as morally equivalent, and it's no wonder that the paper's reputation on this topic remains so poor.
But the problem with this — as with the trend around the country with other significant papers, like The Boston Globe making similar decisions to close foreign bureaus — is that it will magnify the significance of those that remain. Considering that the sources that will replace the Inqy's own stories will probably be the Associated Press or The New York Times, there will plenty for local friends of Israel to complain about.
It may well be that this trend says more about the decline of daily newspapers than it does about Israel. Even though independent sources of information exist on the Internet, the influence of local dailies holds strong. At a time of war, when the need for Americans to understand the Middle East is greater than ever, the financially motivated decision of our large dailies to de-emphasize foreign news is very bad news indeed.