New York Times Stealth-Corrects Claim that Jesus ‘Is Known in the Old Testament’
The New York Times devotes most of three broadsheet pages in Sunday’s paper — the SundayStyles front and two pages inside that section — to an article about a California-based “spiritual adviser” named Carissa Shumacher.
The print New York Times reports, “In late 2019, just as the world was on the precipice of a plague of biblical proportions, Ms. Schumacher said she began channeling Yeshua, or Jesus Christ as he is known in the Old Testament.”
The writing here is so imprecise that the meaning is hard to parse. The modifying phrase “in late 2019” is placed in the sentence so that a reader can’t tell what happened in late 2019, the interview (“said”) or the “channeling” or the being on the precipice (“was”) or some combination thereof. It’s also unclear whether the explanation of Yeshua as “Jesus Christ as he is known in the Old Testament” is something that Schumacher said, or something that the Times is adding in on its own to help readers understand.
Such sloppy placement of modifying phrases is, alas, a recurring problem at the paper. The newspaper did it the other day with the modifying phrase “with an automatic gun,” leaving it unclear to readers whether the person “with an automatic gun” was an Israeli tour guide or a Palestinian assailant.
The main New York Times Twitter account, @nytimes, which has 51 million followers, tweeted out the article with a version of that sentence: “The spiritual adviser Carissa Schumacher channels the dead for a celebrity clientele that includes Jennifer Aniston and Rooney Mara. In late 2019, she said she began channeling Yeshua, or Jesus as he is known in the Old Testament.” That tweet has not been deleted or corrected, at this writing.
Imprecise English grammar aside, the claim that Jesus, or Jesus Christ, “is known” in the “Old Testament” — a Christian version of and term for what Jews know as the Hebrew Bible or Tanakh — is troubling for Jewish readers. Christians claim that Jesus is foreshadowed in the Hebrew Bible, but Jews do not believe that. It’s one thing for Schumacher to make that claim, but the language could easily allow a reader to think the Times is endorsing that Christian reading.
In the online version of the article, the sentence has been altered, or “stealth-edited,” so that it now reads, “In late 2019, just as the world was on the precipice of a plague of biblical proportions, Ms. Schumacher said she began channeling Yeshua, a.k.a. Jesus Christ.” There is no correction appended to the online article as of this writing.
I emailed the author of the Times article, Irina Aleksander, to ask her what had happened, whether there’d be a correction, and why the article changed between print and online. She didn’t immediately respond to my query.
Some Times readers called the newspaper out on the mistake. “There is no mention of Jesus in the Hebrew Bible whether called Yeshua or anything else,” one reader tweeted. “Jesus is not present in the Tanakh,” another reader tweeted.
In an ideal world, or even in a semi-competent world, the Times would have editors knowledgeable enough about Judaism and the Bible to read articles like this and to catch and correct the mistakes before publication. The Times, however, has perhaps concluded that employing such editors is too expensive, and that it can make more money by putting sloppy, offensive, or inaccurate articles out on the internet and fixing them post-publication if necessary — letting readers on Twitter do the work that used to be done by skilled editors.
Such an approach has worked out okay so far for the Ochs-Sulzberger family that inherited the newspaper and controls it through a family trust that maintains control of the company through a special class of shares — they still own the paper, and plenty of family members (unlike the skilled editors) still have high-paying jobs there. But there’s a damage inflicted on the broader culture by publishing sentences like that, muddying what the Bible says and giving readers a bad example of how to write clear English. It’s as if the Times were some industrial polluter, reaping profits while spewing poison into a nearby stream. Perhaps the current Times management can ask Shumacher to channel the spirits of Carr Van Anda, Theodore Menline Bernstein, or Allan M. Siegal to advise on the concept and value of pre-publication editing.
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.