Ever since the atrocities of October 7, many of us in the Jewish community have spent our days following the news cycle very closely indeed. Some are trapped in the maelstrom of horrifying sights that the Zaka volunteers cannot show. Others hope for a sliver of news of the 212 hostages kidnapped by Hamas, especially the children.
We have been hurt deeply and are left wondering what we can do to help the Israeli people. They are bearing and coping with the massacre with grim stoicism and gritty unity that belies the argumentative stereotype. That is the contradiction of Israel: the same person elbowing in front of you at the ATM will invite you for Shabbat dinner. As President of the American Association of Jewish Lawyers, I have been inundated with requests to help—especially on one of the biggest battlegrounds: the safety of American Jewish students on campus.
On October 17th, there was an explosion at the Al-Ahli hospital in Gaza. The New York Times rushed to get its story out online and across social media platforms, accusing the IDF of purposefully striking a hospital where 500 civilians allegedly died. The world was outraged, placards were hastily written, and those taking full advantage of colleges’ extra-constitutional interpretation of ‘freedom of speech’ called openly for the genocide of both Israelis and Jews. All the while, NYT basked in righteous indignation.
There was a slight problem. Yes, when I say “slight,” I’m being very British. The problem was huge. The sole source of NYT was none other than Hamas. A major news outlet took the word of a bloodthirsty cult, whose sole existence and mandate is to murder as many Jews as possible, and any of its people that may lead to the murder of more Jews.
You might accuse me of being cynical here and say, “Well. They may be medieval rapists, but that doesn’t mean they are liars.” That works for Monty Python, but not in the real world. For the New York Times to fail to corroborate this story in any manner whatsoever, just so it could be the first to criticize the state of Israel, is worse than incompetence. It is worse than negligence. It is downright dishonest.
Several Arab countries condemned Israel, and thousands of protesters gathered in Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Egypt, Tunisia and Ramallah, calling for the murder of Jews.
Had the New York Times waited just a little, they would have found out that in fact, a car park next to the hospital had been hit by a rocket launched from Islamic Jihad. This missile, launched from a civilian area, aimed at Israel, misfired and hit next to the hospital, and the true amount of those hurt or injured is unknown. The IDF provided a briefing, and their findings were corroborated and confirmed by the Pentagon, French intelligence, British intelligence and would you have it, Canadian intelligence. (Nobody has ever accused the Canadians of doing anything bad.)
Over the last 15 years, there has been a rising tide of hate speech, denouncing and delegitimizing Jews through the façade of boycotting Israel, ably assisted by a number of academics. Jewish students have become increasingly afraid of being identified as Jewish at college for fear of being bullied by peers and professors alike. Even as recently as October 6th, I received a hackneyed response from the president of the University of Pennsylvania that all speech is respected on campus. In light of the bloodbath in Israel, I invited Liz Magill to rethink the position of UPenn. I am not holding my breath.
This battleground depends upon credible information, as posts and reposts are the slings and arrows of modern public discourse. Both in years gone by and today, the major news outlets wield significant influence as real-time news coverage profoundly affects foreign policy. This is known as the CNN Effect. However, the world has an opinion, and “facts” are only quoted if they assist a cause. “Counter-facts,” or as we used to call them, “lies,” are just as useful to the other side—even in the face of unassailable eyewitness accounts. The major news outlets know it, and speed gives them primacy in the race for reposts, retweets and likes as stories circle the globe faster than the satellite relaying them.
When I first moved to America, one of the strange phenomena I found was that the news, wherever it came from, was actually biased to the right or left. CNN was perfect for bashing the right, and I would watch Fox News for comedy value. To get my actual news, I watched The Daily Show because Jon Stewart ridiculed everybody equally.
This is where I must disclose a bias. Several years ago, when living in New York, I was compelled to cancel my New York Times subscription despite the addictive Vows section. The paper could barely restrain its desire to skew every story about Israel to the negative, and its reporting on the Middle East was simply not objective. This is not a phenomenon that is particular to just NYT. The BBC in the United Kingdom has been accused of being institutionally antisemitic for refusing to call Hamas “terrorists”—declining to call the beheading spade a spade. This has been allowed to run amok by the British regulator OFCOM, unsurprising as its Director of Online Safety Supervision was recently suspended for antisemitism.
So, when the New York Times published its retraction, notably not one front and center, did it admit that its methodology was fundamentally flawed? Did it concede that in a rush to condemn Israel, in accordance with its self-imposed mandate, it failed to adhere to basic journalistic standards? Did it acknowledge that its reporting is far from impartial? Absolutely not.
Did it even concede that it was asinine to rely upon Hamas, to take Hamas at its word, that it would be like asking for crypto predictions from SBF? Of course not. NYT gave itself the benefit of all the doubt it should have given Israel and massaged its failings in that it “relied too heavily on claims by Hamas” and “did not make clear that those claims could not immediately be verified.” Why not just say, “We were wrong”?
While NYT said, “editors should have taken more care with the initial presentation,” what happened to those editors? Who are they? What happened to those journalists? Were they fired or sanctioned at all? If not, why not?
In this information war, words matter. When a major news outlet accuses Israel of war crimes, the antisemites in America look to punish the Jewish community. Moreover, misinformation gives fodder to academics just looking for excuses to vilify Israel even more. Self-regulation did not work here. NYT didn’t even come close to adhering to basic journalistic standards, and it couldn’t fact check because NYT had neither the facts, the ability, nor the desire to check anything.
Importantly, The New York Times didn’t even say “sorry.” If they want to apologize properly, NYT should publish a 212-page special on the kidnapped Israelis and start a campaign against rape being used as a tool of war by Hamas.