02/06/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

NY Times Responds Weakly Today to Israel's 'Incursion' -- As Shells Kill Dozens at U.N. School

Even as its news pages offer generally balanced coverage of Israel's attacks in Gaza -- with many chilling accounts of civilian casualties -- The New York Times' editorial page continued its role today as a key outside enabler. Its editorial today merely declared that the paper is "concerned" about the ongoing invasion -- or "incursion," in the paper's softened terminology -- not alarmed or even angry.

The headline over the belated editorial could not be more bland: "Incursion Into Gaza."

Now Haaretz, the Israeli daily, reports that 30 to 40 civilians were killed today at a United Nations school hit by shells fired by Israeli tanks. A second U.N. school may also have been hit. The Times itself, in its latest news account, notes that "Israel has been criticized in the past for the inaccuracy of its shelling. The Israeli Army has repeatedly emphasized that its operation is not aimed at Gaza's residents, amid sensitivity to deep opposition worldwide to the toll on civilians in Gaza. But parts of Gaza, a narrow coastal strip with a population of 1.5 million, are among the most densely crowded areas in the world, and artillery and tank fire can easily cause collateral damage."

Still, until today, The New York Times carried only one editorial since the massive Israeli air strikes began more than eleven days ago; took three days to respond to Saturday's invasion; has published in all this time only two op-eds (one already published elsewhere) and two pieces by regular columnists - by the conservatives Kristol and Brooks, both backing Israel's air war and attacks.

Now the paper's editorial today soft-pedals the invasion as a mere "incursion." It says it can "sympathize" with the attempt to "decimate" Hamas and "wrest Gaza from its grip," despite much expert commentary that this would do more harm than good in the long run (especially since Hamas did win a democratic election).

The Times does seem to recognize this, in its warning that Israel should not overdo its assaults and instead "try to end" (as opposed to "must end") this conflict as soon as possible. But on what grounds? A nearly, if not clearly, decimated Hamas, with its arsenals destroyed. In return, Gaza gets international monitoring of a ceasefire and increased flow of goods from Israel.

It takes until paragraph #8 for the Times, the leading newspaper in the U.S., to mention that, by the way, Israel "must" allow foreign journalists access to Gaza, especially since its highest court so ordered. Why didn't the paper run a full editorial about this days ago?

Meanwhile, the United Nations today has declared that Gaza is in the grip of a "full-blown" humanitarian crisis and Haaretz reports:

Israel Defense Forces tank fire killed up to 40 Palestinians at a United Nations school in the Gaza Strip on Tuesday, medical sources at two hospitals said. The attack brought the Palestinian death toll to nearly 600 in Israel's 11-day offensive on the Hamas-ruled coastal territory.

Two tank shells exploded outside the Gaza school, spraying shrapnel on people inside and outside the building, where hundreds of Palestinians had sought refuge from fighting between Israeli soldiers and Hamas militants. In addition to the dead, several dozen people were wounded, the officials said. Medical officials said all the dead were either people sheltering in the school or local residents.

That's some kind of "incursion."

Greg Mitchell is editor of Editor & Publisher. His current book on Iraq and the media is "So Wrong for So Long."