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Stealing the Voice of Authority

A conversation with the editors of the New York War Crimes
Someone reads a copy of the

Last month, around 150 protesters occupied the lobby of the New York Times building, holding signs that said “LIES” and “STOP THE PRESSES, FREE PALESTINE.” Hours earlier, an affiliated group of protesters chained themselves together and blocked roads with debris to temporarily prevent distribution trucks from leaving the Times printing facility in Queens.

This was not the first time since October 7 that the New York Times had been targeted for its coverage of what the paper invariably calls the “Israel-Hamas War.” Its lobby was also occupied on November 9, and both online and guerrilla publications distributed around the city have accused the Times of biased coverage that manufactures consent for Israel’s genocidal campaign in Gaza. Since November, protesters have published six issues of and launched a website for the New York War Crimes, a paper that looks conspicuously like the Times itself and contains essays, interviews, criticism, and the names of Palestinians killed by Israeli forces since October 7.

I spoke to members of the editors of the New York War Crimes—who requested to speak as a collective—about their project late last month over Zoom and then Signal. The following interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

—Arielle Isack


Arielle Isack: Tell me a little bit about what the New York War Crimes is.

NYWC: The New York War Crimes is two things right now: we are a newspaper that began as a piece of agitprop for protest against the New York Times, and we are now becoming more of a movement outlet. We also launched a website to present the case against the Times systematically, including detailed analysis of their Palestine coverage and extensive historical background of their complicity with U.S. empire from Guatemala to Iran to Vietnam.

AI: How did the idea for the agitprop come about?

NYWC: In November, the Gaza Health Ministry had just published the names of around seven thousand people killed by Zionist forces since October 7. So we printed three broadsheets of those names, essentially to print what the Times would not print. There were two reference points, visually: One is the ACT UP’s New York Crimes project, where they made a replacement—or a satirical, whatever you want to call it—version of the New York Times to implicate its malfeasance in the mass death episode that was the AIDS epidemic. The other is the cover of the actual New York Times’ special issue that came out when the U.S. Covid death toll [neared] one hundred thousand in [May] 2020. They printed columns and columns of names of the dead—precisely the kind of thing that they obviously don’t do for murdered Palestinians. So it started there, and has become this sort of multipronged, evolving project that is grounded in trying to do justice to a movement that is both under-covered and villainized in the Western press.

AI: All forms of Palestinian resistance are demonized and villainized in practically all of the Western press. Why go after the Times in particular? Why are they the primary object of critique?

NYWC: The New York Times is the paper of record in the United States and in the Western world writ large. It is exemplary of the Western media’s malfeasance, but it is also singular in its prestige and in its function. It’s cited by Israeli and Zionist officials all the time to justify horrific crimes. We target the New York Times for the same reason one targets the U.S. State Department—not because one thinks that the State Department is a site of legitimacy that can be influenced for the better but because it is an engine of mass death and global evil. The New York Times is essentially state media, they have the same consent-manufacturing function, but they operate under a conceit of independence, journalistic integrity, and the pursuit of noble truth or whatever. They are very effective at maintaining their exemplary reputation, and it’s also in the interest of the state, which they are mouthpieces of, that this illusion is maintained.

AI: How does the Times’s prestige play into its malfeasance?

NYWC: The Times has an exceptional reputation in the media ecosystem, which has fostered a kind of rigidity among the public for many, many years now. Their credibility has dulled people’s instincts and their basic reading comprehension. For instance, when there’s no way to write a headline that will otherwise exculpate the Israeli army, they’ll just print a headline with no verbs. They regularly produce crazy language that would, in any other context, be recognizable even to an American liberal. But because it comes from the Times and not Fox, there is a complete inability to apply a very basic standard of reading comprehension. As a result, the Times has printed things [about Palestine] that are more obscene than other media institutions. They have gone beyond complicity in the ongoing genocide. They are accountable. There are examples as vivid as the Times owning part of a building that was stolen from a Palestinian family. It works as metaphor, but it’s literal. We are diligent in analyzing the institution and making it shameful to be part of it. You know, it’s not an honor to write for the New York Times. It’s embarrassing.

AI: How does being writers and media workers yourselves influence the critique you’re leveling against the Times?

NYWC: We don’t want to speak for all of the people who organize with us, but many of us hold the political belief that we should organize where we work. Many of us have experience in labor organizing. We target the institutions we work at because that is the most effective thing we can do. For the longest time, we culture workers have been reduced to being part of these big institutions that give us no say in shaping or controlling things like funding or what is published. But now, there’s been a shift on the labor front—workers are more empowered to agree or disagree with institutional decisions, and choose what they want to be part of. Anne Boyer resigned as the poetry editor at the Times four months ago, for instance. When we say we want to make writing for the Times embarrassing, we want to assert that we aren’t just cogs in their machine. There is agency in the role we play, even if that role looks like refusal. As media workers, we are able to go beyond refusal and create an alternative publication.

If we can do it, why can’t one of the biggest media companies in the world do it?

There is an interview done by one of the members of our collective with a member of the Palestinian Journalists’ Syndicate, Shuruq As’ad, where she characterizes Western media coverage of the genocide by saying that their words are as dangerous as bullets. That is a diagnosis and indictment of the media as a whole, not just of the Times, whose words are particularly dangerous. It’s important to take seriously the possibility that sometimes weapons are necessary as tools of resistance that can be used justly, which means it’s also important to take seriously the possibility that one’s words can be used in service of solidarity with resistance, as weapons on the right side of history, to use a grandiose term.

Many people—writers, journalists, thinkers—have been engaged for years in this struggle. There would be no New York War Crimes website if outlets like Mondoweiss and The Electronic Intifada had not been publishing data and investigations into the malfeasance of the Times. They have been crucial in debunking the mass rape claims made in the “Screams without Words” article. [The Electronic Intifada] also broke the story, like ten years ago, about how Ethan Bronner, then the Times’s Jerusalem bureau chief, had a son serving in the IDF.

AI: Tell me about the visual language of the New York War Crimes. Why make it resemble the object of critique?

NYWC: We are weaponizing the widespread visual recognition of the Times as a voice of authority. The power of the double take is essential to so much leftist propaganda. When you have to look twice, you look differently. Avram Finkelstein, an artist and member of ACT UP who created the first issue of the New York Crimes, has a quote from our interview with him where he talks about stealing the voice of authority. In fact, appropriation and expropriation are two of the most profound tools of anti-colonial, anti-imperial resistance in history—without going too far down a rabbit hole, so many of the literal weapons of Palestinian resistance used to be Israeli weapons.

[The NYWC] is constitutively a form of media critique. We are effectively printing things the Times won’t print, like Palestinian people, who are made invisible in the Times. If we’re going to say that a paper like the Times should be putting forth self-authored narratives of Palestinians, it’s important to show how easily they could do that. We have put tremendous effort and many sleepless nights toward printing everything in our papers on a shoestring budget. If we can do it, why can’t one of the biggest media companies in the world do it?

AI: It seems that the War Crimes has pivoted from pure media critique to a bonafide alternative publication with a wider scope. Can you speak a little to that development?

NYWC: The issues are borne out of and distributed within the Palestine movement in New York, and each issue marks a particular moment in our resistance. We are highly organized in our particular struggle, and it’s crucial to record the ways our resistance has developed and changed in the months since October 7. When our first issue came out on November 9, ceasefire was the immediate demand. That feels like a lifetime ago. And [ceasefire] is still an immediate demand, but the longer that there is no ceasefire, the more people come to the understanding that a ceasefire is only the beginning.

Last week, we distributed physical copies of our latest issue in an action that happened in and outside the lobby of the New York Times. This connected the abstract cultural work we’re doing to a concrete material movement that is happening on the ground. The young generation that’s taking to the streets for Palestine are fairly alienated from traditional print media and are incredibly excited about the New York War Crimes. We’ve joked that we’re bringing print back; people ask for copies all the time. People trust and gravitate toward [the NYWC] because it comes from people who are organizing alongside them, not from the top of some institution. We’ve walked into bodegas and seen copies of the War Crimes stashed between all these horrible fascist papers.

There has also been a profound shift in public opinion about Israel. For the first time in decades, it seems Israel is losing what they call the media war, and what we’ve done is cement all these ideas about how the state, media, and public opinion converge in print. Consciousness has grown enormously. One of our major critiques of the Times isn’t just how they speak, but to whom they speak. The New York War Crimes speaks to this other city, a city that is not reflected in the pages of the Times—the bodegas and the leftist bookstores, the Students for Justice in Palestine, the subways. Seeing our paper find its audience and its people makes us think Oh, this is New York City. This is what it looks like. It is really beautiful.