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How The New York Times’ Misreporting Has Distorted History

avatar by Ashley Rindsberg

Opinion

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

The Gray Lady Winked: How the New York Times’s Misreporting, Distortions and Fabrications Radically Alter History by Ashley Rindsberg (Midnight Oil Publishers, 2021)

In his new book, Israel-based American author Ashley Rindsberg demonstrates the extent to which “interest and ideology” have skewed The New York Times‘ reporting on major world historical events — such as World War II, the Holocaust, the Second Intifada, Stalin’s Russia, and, most recently, the hotly criticized 1619 Project. The book has received much fanfare from prominent figures as diverse as Glenn Greenwald, Daniel Pipes, Mark Crispin Miller, and Jenny Holland. 

Below are selected excerpts from The Gray Lady Winked:

The New York Times is quite likely the most powerful news organization in the world. Its reach and influence are staggering. And its prestige is unparalleled. I experienced firsthand the tremendous influence of the Times, and the dynasty that owns it, as I wrote and published … my book on how the Times’ misreporting changes history (and not for the better).

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The seed for the book was planted when I stumbled across a footnote in a work of history about the Second World War, William Shirer’s famed “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich.” In the footnote, Shirer mentions that on the eve of the outbreak of the war, The New York Times erroneously reported that Poland had invaded Germany. I was shocked by this barely noticed fact.

The story (told in horrifying detail in Chapter 1) opened my eyes to a different understanding of The New York Times than the one I had held for years.

From Chapter 1 — Canned Goods: “Minding the Nazis Less Than Most”

(About Coverage of World War II)

Guido Enderis was still writing and assigning articles that were sympathetic, if not outright supportive, of the Nazi regime. It got so bad that, according to Laurel Leff’s “Buried by The Times,” members of the Times’ own staff started to protest Times reporting coming out of Germany. A city-desk reporter at the Times named Warren Irvin, who later became a part-time correspondent in Geneva, found Enderis’s articles on Nazi Germany too much to handle. Irvin was so outraged by the articles that he did something the autocratically run Times considered almost blasphemous: Irvin wrote a letter to the Times’ then-publisher, and patriarch of the Ochs-Sulzberger family that owns the paper, Arthur Sulzberger.

In the letter, Irvin asked the Times publisher a simple but daring question about Guido Enderis: “Don’t you think it’s time that The New York Times did something about it’s [sic] Nazi correspondent in Berlin?”

Irvin went on in the letter to accuse Enderis of a “loud-mouthed defense of Nazism,” which he found so damaging and offensive that he threatened to go public with the information. “I don’t want to do anything to hurt my own paper; but I feel my loyalty to my country comes first, and if some action is not taken I shall feel compelled to publish these facts,” Irvin wrote to Sulzberger.

According to Leff, Irvin later said the reason he was compelled to write the letter in the first place was that, listening to official Nazi broadcasts as part of his job reporting for the BBC, he continually heard Nazi news announcers citing New York Times articles by Enderis in their reports.

Sulzberger wrote back after receiving advice from another employee who told him that firing Enderis was not an option, since that would effectively shut down the Times’ Berlin operation. Instead, the publisher issued a strong response to Irvin, including a suggestion that if Irvin were to go public with his Nazi allegations about Enderis he might be slapped with a libel suit. Irvin wrote back saying that “Enderis has made no secret of his pro-Nazi sympathies.” He went on: “I don’t question the usefulness and value of Mr. Enderis to The New York Times. I do question the right of the greatest American newspaper to maintain a pro-Nazi as its chief correspondent in Berlin in times like these.”

From Chapter 5 — The White Taffeta Gown: “People Who Happen to Be Jewish”

(About Coverage of the Holocaust)

The Sulzberger wedding, complete with the bride’s “gown of white taffeta … with a full bouffant skirt,” took place as the Ponary massacres had begun to unfold. But only one of those two stories made it into the next day’s issue of The New York Times — and it was not the bloodshed at Ponary that was covered.

In fact, in all of its coverage of the war, the Times mentioned the Ponary massacres only once, in only one article out of thousands upon thousands of articles about the war but also about coal, police demerits, sporting events, and, of course, elite New York weddings. With this in mind, the questions of what Arthur Hays Sulzberger thought or how he acted as an individual become painfully irrelevant. The only question that remains is not whether Sulzberger failed as publisher of America’s most prominent newspaper. The failure is clear and unquestionable. The real question we have to ask is how badly the Times failed, what effect this failure had, and why it occurred.

From Chapter 7 — Mideast Martyr: “A Young Symbol of Violence”

(About Coverage of Israel)

France 2 and Charles Enderlin lost the case. But by this point, the libel case was of only secondary importance to the findings of the independent French expert who concluded that Muhammad Al-Dura could not possibly have been shot or killed by Israeli gunfire.

Seven years after the incident that created a “symbol” of hatred and provided a nearly universal thirst for vengeance among the world’s jihadists, an independent French expert had found not that it was simply unlikely or improbable that Israeli fire killed Al Dura but that it was impossible. The strange and inexplicable “anomalies” regarding the video, the fact that the famous fifty-five seconds were narrated by someone who had not been present during the incident (and that audiences were not made aware of this fact) and the Israeli investigation all foreshadowed what the independent French expert eventually concluded.

The question, then, is how The New York Times — which so emphatically insisted on the Palestinian narrative of the incident in the early days of the intifada, which proclaimed Al-Dura a symbol and which published stories from multiple writers who all maintained Israeli soldiers murdered an innocent boy — reacted to the findings. What, any Times reader who had followed the story would be compelled to ask, would The New York Times say? Would it print a retraction? Would it run a story about the French court’s findings? Would it run a series about the progression of the case and what came to be known as the Al-Dura affair?

The answer to all of those questions was “no.” The New York Times did not publish a single story about the appeals case or its findings. It ran only a small blog post about it, which neglected to quote from the French expert’s report or its findings. None of the reporters who wrote about Al-Dura in 2000 and in the following years bothered to return to the topic when the truth surfaced. There was neither a retraction, nor a correction, nor an editorial printed in the Times. It seemed that after the paper’s initial frenzy of unsubstantiated Al-Dura reporting, it had nothing more to say on the topic.

Ashley Rindsberg is an author, essayist and freelance journalist. In 2010, Rindsberg traveled to Nicaragua to investigate the disappearance and death of his best friend, an experience that inspired his novel, He Falls Alone.

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