Friday, May 20th | 20 Iyyar 5782

June 1, 2021 12:40 pm

New York Times Corrects Its Headline Claim That Gaza Dead Were ‘Mostly Civilians’

avatar by Ira Stoll


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

The New York Times is retreating from its claim, made in a top-of-the-front page six-column headline, that the recent Israel-Gaza war left “More Than 250 Dead, Mostly Civilians.”

A correction published by the Times in the June 1 newspaper confesses that the paper can’t substantiate the May 21 headline’s unattributed claim. “A headline with an article on May 21 about the conflict between Israel and Hamas overstated the death toll in the conflict. As the article correctly stated, more than 240 people were killed in Gaza and Israel, not more than 250, according to local officials, and it is not known whether most of those killed were civilians,” the correction says. It offers readers no explanation of how the erroneous claim made its way into the headline.

The Times correction itself, in addition to being defensive, is itself erroneous, or at least imprecisely worded: the article, which carried the names of six of the paper’s journalists, didn’t “correctly state” that it wasn’t known whether most of those killed were civilians. Rather, it passed along to Times readers Hamas claims that “The Israeli aerial and artillery campaign has killed more than 230 people in Gaza, many of them civilians, according to the Gaza Health Ministry.”

The Algemeiner flagged the headline as false back on May 26. I wrote then:

For example, a top-of-the-front page headline on Friday reported, “More than 250 Dead, Mostly Civilians.” An article by Ronen Bergman in Sunday’s New York Times reported that Israel “claims to have killed about 200 Hamas operatives.” The math is hard to reconcile, unless the Times is double-counting as “civilians” the people Israel is describing as “Hamas operatives.” That’s certainly possible, given that Hamas is not a uniformed conventional military force but rather an Iranian-backed terrorist group that also controls religious and civil affairs in Gaza. But describing Hamas operatives merely as “civilians” could convey to Times readers the false impression that they were innocent people killed by Israel either deliberately in a war crime or accidentally in a mistake or as collateral damage. The Times cited no source for the headline claim that the dead were “mostly civilians.”

As The Algemeiner has reported, a preliminary analysis by the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center found that of 74 named fatalities reported by Palestinian sources during May 10 to 12, 16 were killed “during an unsuccessful launch of rockets at Israel.” Of the remaining 58, “at least 42 (about two-thirds) were terrorist operatives,” the analysis found.

“The Hamas administration is trying to create a false impression that the vast majority of those killed were uninvolved civilians,” the Israeli report said. The terrorist group implacably committed to Israel’s destruction couldn’t have asked for much better help than that top-of-the-front-page New York Times headline.

The correction 11 days later is better than nothing, but almost certainly far fewer people will see the correction than saw the original erroneous banner headline.

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

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