New York Times Columnist Under Fire Over Claim that Israel Targets Journalists, Public Editor Mulls Response

November 28, 2012 8:55 pm 0 comments

The spray-painted car carrying terror operatives that was targeted by the IDF. Photo: IDF.

A New York Times columnist, who covers media and culture, has come under fire for falsely suggesting in a recent column that Israel deliberately targets journalists that it doesn’t agree with.

Referring to Israel’s recent “Pillar of Defense” operation, David Carr, who gained recognition for his role in the documentary Page One: Inside the New York Times, wrote in a Nov 25th column entitled Using War as Cover to Target Journalists:

“…three employees of news organizations were killed in Gaza by Israeli missiles. Rather than suggesting it was a mistake, or denying responsibility, an Israeli Defense Forces spokeswoman, Lt. Col. Avital Leibovich, told The Associated Press, ‘The targets are people who have relevance to terror activity.’”

“…Mahmoud al-Kumi and Hussam Salama worked as cameramen for Al-Aqsa TV, which is run by Hamas and whose reporting frequently reflects that affiliation. They were covering events in central Gaza when a missile struck their car, which, according to Al-Aqsa, was clearly marked with the letters “TV.” (The car just in front of them was carrying a translator and driver for The New York Times, so the execution hit close to our organization.) And Mohamed Abu Aisha, director of the private Al-Quds Educational Radio, was also in a car when it was hit by a missile.”

“…While it is true that news media operations have become one more arrow in the quiver of modern warfare, a direct attack on information gatherers of any stripe is deeply troubling. And such attacks are hardly restricted to Israel: recall that in the United States assault on Baghdad, television stations were early targets.”

The IDF however asserts that they were targeting a high level terror operative in the strike. An IDF spokesperson confirmed to The Algemeiner that Muhammed Shamalah who was in the car, was a ”commander of Hamas forces in the Southern strip and head of the Hamas militant training programs.” This “places him as a pivotal figure in force buildup and the execution of operations in the area,” Eytan Buchman, another IDF spokesman confirmed in an email.

“We knew who it was that was in the car,” said the spokesperson, “there was the proper intelligence and confirmation to back it up before we hit the car.”

They  spray painted the letters TV on his car in a cynical effort to “exploit the cover of journalism,” Buchman wrote.

Anonymous pro-Israel blogger Elder of Ziyon added:

“In the case of Mohamed Abu Aisha, he clearly was a uniform-wearing member of Islamic Jihad. Islamic Jihad doesn’t describe him as a journalist, but as an instructor for the Mujahideen of Al-Quds Brigades in Deir al-Balah Battalion Brigade.

Similarly, Hamas message boards refer to Hussam Salama as a “mujahid.” That is not a word used to describe civilians.”

Bloggers and pundits from various publications roundly criticized Carr. Elder of Ziyon wrote, “Carr is making a really sickening assumption: that when the IDF targets so-called “journalists” that they are trying to stifle the free exchange of ideas. It doesn’t even cross his mind that the “journalists” themselves are actually militants.”

“Of course, Carr’s not wrong to want to defend journalists. But what about the truth?” wrote Adam Chandler in Tablet Magazine.

Responding to the allegations in an email to Tablet Magazine, Carr wrote:

“The three men who died in missile strikes in cars on Nov. 20 that I wrote about were identified as working journalists by Reuters, AP, AFP, and the Washington Post and many other news outlets. The Committee to Protect Journalists, which I treat as a reliable source in these matters, identified them as journalists as well. (as did Reporters without Borders.) I also ran my column by reporters and editors at our shop who are in narrative with current events in the region before I printed it. I don’t believe that an ID made by the IDF is dispostive or obviates what news outlets have printed. Doesn’t mean that I could not have gotten it wrong, only that the evidence so far suggests that they were journalists, however partisan.”

Carr’s critics responded to his defense sharply. In a post entitled NYT journalist has a laughable defense of his anti-Israel libel, Elder of Ziyon wrote:

“Carr – a journalist, mind you – is using proof by assertion to double down that the people targeted were nothing but innocent journalists themselves”

Commentary’s Alana Goodman went further, writing:

“So because another news organization reported it, that automatically makes it accurate? Carr never even informs readers that he was relying on the reporting of other news outlets, and doesn’t attribute his information to the AP, AFP or the Washington Post (as the New York Times ethics policy requires). Instead, readers are given the impression that Carr verified the information himself.

Carr claims he used the Committee to Protect Journalists as a “primary source,” even though he didn’t cite the organization. The problem is, if you check the CPJ website, it never independently confirmed that the terrorists killed in the Israeli strike were journalists. It clearly noted that it was citing outside news organizations, which means it wasn’t a primary source in this case.”

Contacted by The Algemeiner regarding the matter, the New York Times’ Public Editor Margaret Sullivan said she is familiar with the matter and is deciding as to whether or how to approach it. ”I haven’t looked at it very hard,” she said, ”I may write about it at some point.”

Reached on the phone, media desk editor Bruce Headlam declined to comment on the matter saying that his associate, Asst Business Editor Bill Brink was responsible for editing the column.  At the time of publication Brink has not responded to The Algemeiner’s request for comment.

Danielle Rhoades-ha, Director of Communications at The New York Times Company also declined to comment.

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