When there was an explosion at the parking lot at the Al-Ahli Baptist Hospital in Gaza last week, the New York Times was quick — much too quick, rather — heedless, off the mark, claiming that an Israeli airstrike was to blame for the attack “on the hospital,” and that nearly 500 people were killed. How did the Times know? It didn’t. It simply acted as a dutiful amanuensis, transcribing what Hamas dictated to its reporters. It ran with their account of the incident, without waiting for the Israelis to provide their detailed explanation of the blast. Within a matter of hours, Israel responded with its version of events: first, it said that an errant rocket fired by Palestinian Islamic Jihad had caused the explosion; second, the explosion was not in the hospital, which was largely unscathed, but in the parking lot of the hospital; third, that while it could not provide an exact figure, it believed there were far fewer than 500 people killed. But the damage was done. The Times had put out the story as Hamas wanted it, and Israel suffered terribly in the kangaroo court of public opinion.
Now, many days after it became crystal clear, through visual and audio evidence, including a view of the very small depression left by the blast, and after the American government, conducting its own forensic investigation, determined that Israel’s version of the incident was correct, the Grey Lady finally, albeit reluctantly, has had to admit it was wrong. The Times did not, of course, apologize for such an egregious and grievous error, nor take note of the likely violent consequences of disseminating that false claim, which in fact cam quickly to pass, with violent anti-Israel demonstrations all over the Arab and Muslim world. The Times is far too arrogant an institution to do that. More on how the high-and-mighty New York Times was brought low when it had to admit its error in the way it had covered the “hospital blast” story, can be found here: “NYT admits error in Gaza hospital report,” by Matt Berg, Politico, October 23, 2023:
The New York Times walked back its initial coverage on the explosion that killed hundreds of Palestinians at a Gaza Strip hospital last week, saying in an editors’ note that the newspaper “relied too heavily on claims” made by the Hamas militant group.
Just “an editors’ note”? On an inside page? The admission of its error ought by rights to have appeared where the misleading report had appeared — that is, on the front page, and in the same size type as the original.
Soon after a huge blast rocked the al-Ahli Hospital on Tuesday, finger-pointing over its source began.
Hamas, which has been battling Israel since its Oct. 7 surprise attack on Israeli soil, called the blast a “horrific massacre” and blamed the Israeli government. Israel, however, blamed the Islamic Jihad, a smaller, more radical group that often works with Hamas….
“The Times’s initial accounts attributed the claim of Israeli responsibility to Palestinian officials, and noted that the Israeli military said it was investigating the blast,” reads the Times’ editors’ note published on Monday. Early coverage “relied too heavily on claims by Hamas, and did not make clear that those claims could not immediately be verified.”
It took the Times six full days, from when the Israeli and American governments had presented their separate conclusions that Israel was blameless and that an errant rocket, launched from Gaza by Palestinian Islamic Jihad, had caused the “parking lot blast.” Why so long? What is it that makes the Times so reluctant to own up to its errors?
The newspaper’s coverage had a clear impact, according to the note: “The report left readers with an incorrect impression about what was known and how credible the account was.”…
That’s too weak. Make it stronger: “All the evidence supports Israel’s version of the incident.” Israel has explained, and provided the evidence, for what happened. The visuals show the rocket coming from Gaza toward Israel, and then suddenly breaking up, then heading downward and landing on the ground where the light of an explosion can be seen. And we have, too, the recorded telephone conversation of two Hamas operatives, discussing the fact that the rocket was fired by Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Why doesn’t the Times mention any of that in its “Editors’ Note”?
Five days ago, PBS presented Israel’s version of the cause of the blast. Three days ago the AP accepted Israel’s version after Washington had confirmed it. Two days ago, it was CNN that held Israel blameless. But the New York Times waited until six days had passed, long after everyone in the Western world had learned that the American government, having conducted its own investigation, had concluded that Israel was blameless.
Here was what National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson tweeted the day after the blast: “While we continue to collect information, our current assessment, based on analysis of overhead imagery, intercepts and open source information, is that Israel is not responsible for the explosion at the hospital in Gaza yesterday.”
The Times stopped short of an apology for its initial coverage but said editors should have been more careful with the way the blast was represented….
Here’s what one would have wished from the Times: a full-throated, unbegrudging apology for the haste of its initial report, its credulous acceptance of a Hamas libel, and its unwillingness to wait just a few hours for Israel’s response. Surely it knew that putting the blame on Israel was likely to cause, and did cause, outbursts of anti-Israel hate all over the Arab and Muslim lands. Nor does the Times explain why the admission of its mistake came so many days after everyone else had admitted that Israel’s explanation of the blast was correct. Why was that? Perhaps the Times can assign a reporter to provide an “anatomy of an error ” to supplement that “Editor’s Note,” so that readers can find out exactly how, and why, that initial mistaken report came to be.
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