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March 29, 2019 2:12 pm

New York Times Corrections Column Tells a Sad Story on Israel Coverage

avatar by Ira Stoll


The headquarters of The New York Times. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

For a clear view of just how much trouble The New York Times has covering Israel and Jewish issues, keep an eye on the corrections column.

The March 29 Times carries this one: “An article on Wednesday about Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s comments on the implications of President Trump recognizing Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights misstated the West Bank’s Palestinian population. It is 2.8 million, not 1.8 million.”

That correction might itself merit a correction. The CIA World Factbook puts the “West Bank” population at 2.8 million but that includes about 592,200 of what the CIA calls “Israeli settlers.” A 2018 essay in Mosaic cited research indicating that “the actual Arab population in the West Bank (without eastern Jerusalem) is at about 1,800,000.” The left-wing Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported in 2018, “According to Prof. Sergio Della Pergolla, a demographer at the Institute of Contemporary Jewry at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, there were 2.4 million Palestinians living in the West Bank in 2015. Della Pergolla claims that Palestinian figures overstate the number of Palestinians by 600,000 — half because they don’t exist and half because they are East Jerusalem residents who have already been counted by Israel.” For the Times to simply assert the 2.8 million, without citing a source or indicating that it is a hotly debated question, is not so much a correction, but a new inaccuracy.

It’s also just the latest in a series of recent Times corrections on Israel-related issues.

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The March 27 Times carried this one, prompted by a complaint from the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA): “An obituary on Monday about the Israeli spymaster Rafi Eitan referred incorrectly to the disappearance in the late 1960s of enriched uranium from a nuclear fuel plant in the Pittsburgh area. Though many believed that Israeli agents had stolen the material and diverted it to their country to help its nuclear weapons program, that allegation was never proved. And though Mr. Eitan visited the plant around the time of the disappearance, it was never shown conclusively that he had had an important role in it.”

And the March 26 Times carried this one: “Because of an editing error, an article on Sunday about the annual Aipac conference referred incorrectly to Senator Amy Klobuchar. It is not the case that she will be speaking this year at the annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.”

Some argue that the willingness of the Times to publish corrections of these errors, rather than letting them slide uncorrected, is a sign of the newspaper’s quality. Others might focus critically on the fact that the mistakes were allowed to make it through the process to begin with without being caught by an editor. Yet others may point out that the publication of these minor corrections themselves convey the false impression that the remainder of the as-yet-uncorrected material published by the Times is accurate and true. There’s some validity to all of these observations.

It’s also true, however, that the idea of a corrections columns dates to the time when people got the newspaper in print and could read that column daily to revise the information they had gotten from the previous day’s newspaper. In today’s internet-centric news world, when people see Times articles shared on social media, it’s harder for a correction to chase down people who read the original incorrect story. The correction gets appended to the online version of the article, but not many readers make a habit of re-reading for a second time articles that they already read once online.

Ira Stoll was managing editor of The Forward and North American editor of The Jerusalem Post. More of his media critique, a regular Algemeiner feature, can be found here.

The opinions presented by Algemeiner bloggers are solely theirs and do not represent those of The Algemeiner, its publishers or editors. If you would like to share your views with a blog post on The Algemeiner, please be in touch through our Contact page.

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