Monday, May 27th | 22 Iyyar 5779

March 16, 2017 2:40 pm

The New York Times Moves to Hide Its Corrections From Readers

avatar by Ira Stoll

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The New York Times. Photo: Wikipedia.

The New York Times has yet another correction today — the latest in a string of such published acknowledgments of errors — concerning a basic fact about Judaism.

This Times correction reads:

An article on Feb. 13 about a couple who competed in a worldwide Bible competition in Jerusalem misstated how the Hebrew Bible — the Tanakh — correlates with the Christian Old Testament. The contents of the Hebrew Bible are identical to the Old Testament in some Christian denominations, but the order of the books differs and some books have different titles. (Other denominations use an Old Testament containing a few additional books not included in the Tanakh.) This correction was delayed for research.

As we’ve noted here in the past, the corrections column is a terrific place to spot how clumsy and inaccurate the Times is when attempting to deal with basic Jewish facts.

There was the classic correction for having “incorrectly implied that beef tenderloin is kosher and appropriate for Passover.” There was another correction, this one declaring, “An article on April 6 about the first Italian translation of the Babylonian Talmud referred imprecisely to its number of pages. While it is 5,422 pages long if both sides of a page are counted, it contains only 2,711 individual pages, not 5,422.”

There was the Times correction that said:

The Personal Health column on Tuesday, about resilience after the death of a spouse, misstated the length of the Jewish period of mourning for a spouse. It is 30 days, not a year. (The one-year period is for those who have lost a parent.)

And then there was this one:

Because of an editing error, an article on Aug. 29 about a crackdown by Israel’s culture ministry on immodest dress at government-sponsored musical events misidentified the strain of Judaism that is holding more influence in the current Israeli government. It is Orthodox Judaism, not Conservative Judaism.

In just the past week, the Times issued an online-only correction to an editorial, acknowledging:

An earlier version of this editorial incorrectly stated the United States’ position on settlement building in the occupied territories. It has been highly critical of the activity, but has not consistent held it to be illegal. [sic].

All of these corrections have appeared in just the past year. It’s no wonder that even the top editor at the Times, Dean Baquet, recently acknowledged publicly, “We don’t get religion. We don’t get the role of religion in people’s lives.”

Instead of moving to repair the problem, however, the Times seems to be moving to obscure it, by making the corrections column more difficult for readers to find in the print newspaper. For decades — for at least the 35 years or so that I have been reading the paper regularly — the Times corrections were published on page 2 of the newspaper. Readers knew where to look for the Times’ mistakes. Earlier this month, though, the Times started moving the corrections column around, like some kind of sidewalk magician hiding things under three upside down paper cups. Today’s corrections appeared on page A19, the page directly before the editorial page. But, alas, for Times readers, neither the page number nor even the position of the corrections is any longer a predictable, consistent thing.

On Wednesday, March 8, the corrections were on page A21, the page directly before the editorial page.

On Thursday, March 8, the corrections moved to page A25, the page directly before the editorial page.

On Friday, March 10, the corrections were on page A27, the page directly before the editorial page.

On Saturday, March 11, the corrections were on page A21, also directly before the editorial page. On Sunday, March 12, the corrections were on page 4.

On Monday, March 13, the paper carried no corrections at all. On Tuesday, March 14, the corrections were on page A19, directly before the editorial page. On Wednesday, March 15, they moved to page A20, two pages before the editorial page, and in the “New York” section, even though the corrections themselves concerned national, sports and obituary news.

One day, the corrections even showed up on the back page of the front section, two pages after the editorials.

On page 2, where the corrections belong, the Times has managed instead to find a consistent spot for the names of two dozen of its managers, along with a daily article promoting how great the newspaper is (even one of those had to be corrected today after the newspaper patted itself on the back for its supposedly perfect performance on a snowy day when it actually failed to deliver the newspaper to thousands of paying customers).

The instinct to hide the corrections but find space for the names of the Times managers and for articles congratulating the newspaper on its own performance is an example of the Times at its worst. It is inward focused, putting the egos of its employees ahead of serving its readers and journalistic accuracy.

No one expects the Times to be perfect. But the least it can do is publish its errors in the same place every day. That, at least, makes it easy for readers to see when the newspaper screws up, as it so often does when covering the Jewish story.

More of Ira Stoll’s media critique, a regular Algemeiner feature, can be found here.

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