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)