Yesterday the Washington Post carried a refreshingly candid story under the headline “New York Times corrects its curious example of a ‘far-right conspiracy’.” The article, which goes into considerable detail about the Times’s gaffe, reads almost like a mea culpa by the Post — which is appropriate.
Both of these highly influential dailies have run corrections in recent years that go well beyond the miscaptioning of a photo. The latest Times correction, as a case in point, reads:
An earlier version of this article erroneously included a reference to Palestinian actions as an example of the sort of far-right conspiracy stories that have plagued Facebook. In fact, Palestinian officials have acknowledged providing payments to the families of Palestinians killed while carrying out attacks on Israelis or convicted of terrorist acts and imprisoned in Israel; that is not a conspiracy theory.
This “apology” is as brief as it is disingenuous. To illustrate the point, Post writer Erik Wemple (who is one of the more even-handed journalists writing today) provides several examples of information that were readily available to Nellie Bowles, who authored the error-ridden Times piece:
Liel Leibovitz wrote in Tablet Magazine, “Read the real news, and you’ll learn that, in 2017, the [Palestinian Authority] doled out more than $347 million to families of terrorists who had murdered Jews, increasing the amount to $403 million this year. Between 2013 and 2017, the PA spent $1.12 billion on supporting terrorists and their families, as Yosef Kuperwasser, the former head of the IDF intelligence’s research branch, reported in Tablet last May.”
The claim has undergone scrutiny before. In a March 14 piece, Glenn Kessler of The Post’s Fact Checker examined a statement by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: “Raise your hands high if you agree with me that [Palestinian] President [Mahmoud] Abbas should stop paying terrorists to murder Jews. You know how much he pays? He pays about $350 million a year to terrorists and their families. Each year. That’s about a little less than 10 percent of the total Palestinian budget.” A detailed analysis concluded that the numbers are fuzzy. However, wrote Kessler: “Yet even if one accepts Palestinian complaints about due process, there is little doubt that the system allows people to be rewarded for what many Americans would call terrorism.” The piece awarded the statement “Two Pinocchios,” which is reserved for statements with “Significant omissions and/or exaggerations. Some factual error may be involved but not necessarily.”
It seems obvious that Bowles approached the task of writing her article with a preconceived liberal narrative that she felt duty-bound to follow to the letter. In her leftist worldview, the Palestinians are hapless victims of Israel’s imperialism. The thought of the Palestinian Authority arranging to pay the families of “martyrs” is unthinkable to progressives.
The result is articles like Bowles’s, which are sometimes — albeit not invariably — followed by corrections like the one above.
Wherein lies the problem. The number of readers who see the original article is far greater than the number who are likely to notice the correction in a later edition. That’s a fact of journalism. By the time the correction appears, the damage is already done.
But when the error is committed deliberately and callously, as it was in this case, the damage is compounded.
At a time when the charge of fake news is leveled daily against one news organization or another, it is incumbent on major outlets like the Times and Post to do better. The Times knows this all to well, having run this ad campaign in the early days of the Trump administration.
Shame on them for not living up their own standards.