Chronicle apology doesnt erase bias, Jewish leaders say

The San Francisco Chronicle apologized. But many Jewish leaders say it's inadequate.

Furthermore, many Jews still allege that the daily newspaper continues to be biased against Israel.

The apology ran Sunday in the middle of an op-ed column by Dick Rogers, the Chronicle's readers' representative. In it, he admitted "the paper made a bad call" by failing to cover an April 14 pro-Israel rally that attracted 5,000 to 7,000 demonstrators to San Francisco's Justin Herman Plaza.

"This wasn't fair and balanced coverage," he wrote.

He also wrote that there was not "a good explanation" for the Chronicle's failure to cover the rally. The decision was made by the city desk, the result of an absence of violence and a mistaken belief that "it wasn't all that big," which Rogers said were "valid criteria in some cases, but not in this one."

But Yossi Amrani, the regional Israeli consul general, said Rogers' confession has "failed to convince me that the Chronicle is a fair newspaper."

Instead, he said, "it is a professionally and politically biased, pro-Palestinian newspaper. I also read the vast description given to the pro-Palestinian rally in the same [Sunday] paper…the cover story with huge photos. Looking at the way they covered that rally, one can't help but laugh at their half-explanation for not covering ours."

Rabbi Doug Kahn, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council, agreed with Amrani. He said the apology, "juxtaposed with the front-page spread on the anti-American rally that included criticism of U.S. policy in the Middle East, did nothing to diminish the concerns," that the Chronicle is biased.

He said that he and other Jewish community leaders will be meeting with Chronicle executives next week to address the issue further.

But Rogers, in a telephone interview, said the mere fact that executives are meeting with Jewish community leaders indicates that the daily newspaper is trying to offer fair coverage on the Mideast crisis. "If we had a single-minded editorial staff that was trying to be biased, we would say we don't need to meet.

"Like any other news organization this paper makes some mistakes," he added. "But I disagree that there's an attempt to twist and form the news to reflect a pro-Israel or pro-Palestinian view."

Rogers said he sometimes receives up to 200 phone calls and e-mails a day accusing the paper of being biased against either the Israelis or the Palestinians. His Sunday column discussed complaints the Chronicle has received from both sides. His apology for not covering the large Jewish rally took only four paragraphs that appeared in the middle of his 17-paragraph column.

"People are always going to see things through their own filter," Rogers said. "It's an enormously divisive, emotional issue."

Similarly, the Chronicle's metro editor, Wendy Miller, said: "Our job is to be objective." As for accusations that the newsroom knowingly treats Israel unfairly, she said: "Oh God no!

"We have had accusations on both sides," she added. "When you have a situation as heated as this one you can hardly avoid those accusations."

Regardless, at least one Jewish community member has decided to "send a message to the Chronicle that matters," by encouraging Bay Area Jews to consider an alternative daily news source.

Robert White, an attorney from San Francisco, said he hopes to take out an ad in the Jewish Bulletin asking Chronicle subscribers to make a switch to the Mercury News.

"We spend serious money on a newspaper that is not going to mend its ways," said White.

A similar effort has occurred in Southern California, where at least 1,000 people suspended their subscriptions to the Los Angeles Times, claiming the newspaper's coverage of the Middle East conflict is biased toward Palestinians.

White, a past president at San Francisco's Congregation Beth Sholom, noted that during the past six weeks "my gut started churning every time I read the Chronicle." He said the paper constantly "minimizes the deaths of Israelis" and plays up those of Palestinians.

For the past few weeks, White has been comparing the treatment of Mideast issues in the Chronicle and the Mercury News. It's "incredible what the comparison yields. You would think you're on a different planet, the difference is so dramatic."

For example, while the front page of the Chronicle on Monday ran the headline "Misery in Ramallah," the Mercury News ran "Sharon Declares End of Army Occupation."

Also, "The Mercury News covered our rally and the Chronicle didn't," he said. "That should tell you something since the Mercury News is a San Jose paper and the Chronicle is San Francisco's.

"I'm not looking for a knee-jerk reaction or for the Chronicle to become pro-Israel," added White. "I just want some balance in its coverage."

Amrani agreed. "I don't expect the Chronicle to echo my point of view. But the newspaper seems determined to convey an anti-Israel message."

And because of the bias, he said, "I'm not reading the Chronicle anymore."