The New York Times’ return last month of the prestigious Peabody Award for the discredited 2018 “Caliphate” podcast series marked an inglorious and dramatic close for a year of shoddy reporting.
The once-feted series showcased the story of Pakistani-Canadian Shehroze Chaudry, who claimed to have carried out gruesome executions as a former ISIS terrorist in Syria. Chaudry was since charged in Canada with terrorism-hoax activity, and the paper now acknowledges it is unable to verify his tale. No evidence has surfaced confirming that he has ever stepped foot in Syria.
Times’ coverage of its own internal review acknowledged: “Journalists working in audio had less oversight from upper-level editors than reporters who work for the newspaper itself.”
While that is likely true, it’s a very low bar.
In its 2020 Israel-related coverage, the newspaper itself has been riddled with multiple false claims, many of which went uncorrected, although editors were alerted to the misinformation.
Moreover, editors even failed to amend items that The Times itself had previously corrected in years past, indicating a diminishing adherence to factual accuracy in the news pages.
For instance, in June, the paper falsely referred to a “longstanding American policy treating the settlements as illegal.” But, as a March 2017 correction of the identical error at the very same media outlet made clear, the US position “has been highly critical of [settlement] activity, but has not consistently held it to be illegal.” Similarly, a 2013 Times correction rightly clarified: “While much of the rest of the world considers them illegal, as the article noted, the United States has taken no formal position in the last several years on whether they are legal or illegal. (In a statement on Tuesday, the State Department said, ‘We do not accept the legitimacy of continued settlement activity.’)”
It is not the historical record that changed from 2013 to 2020, but The Times’ commitment to accuracy and accountability.
Similarly, Jesus’ identity as a Jew living in Judea (as opposed to Palestine) over 2,000 years ago did not change in recent history. Yet, in May 2020, The New York Times refused to clarify a book review, which erroneously referred to author Sue Monk Kidd “immers[ing] herself in books on Jesus and Palestine.” Indeed, in promotional material for the book, Monk Kidd researched every aspect of “first-century Palestine” for her novel on “historical Jesus.”
But, for all her research, both the author and her credulous Times reviewer missed the fact that during the time of Jesus, Bethlehem and Jerusalem were in what was commonly called Judea, and Nazareth was located in what was commonly known as the Galilee.
Indeed, the Times journalist did not have to look beyond her own publication to find reliable information. A 2008 correction clarified that an article about Aramaic, the language spoken by Jesus, “referred incorrectly to the name of the region where Jesus spent most of his time. It was Galilee — not Palestine, which derives from the word Palestina, the name that Roman conquerors gave to the region more than 100 years after Jesus’s death.” So, too, in 2019, the Times corrected an op-ed, stating that though he “lived in an area that later came to be known as Palestine, Jesus was a Jew who was born in Bethlehem.”
In another instance in which Times reporting this year contradicted its own archives, an art review in May referred to “Haifa, a coastal town on the Mediterranean in Israel where Palestinian and Arab citizens of the town were forced to leave or escaped during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War.”
Yet, an extensive examination of New York Times coverage from 1948 turns up no indication of forced expulsion of Haifa’s Arabs, no Jewish effort to drive them out. To the contrary, in 1948, the Times reported that it was the Arab leadership which opted for the evacuation of the city’s Arab residents. About a meeting of the Haganah and Arab commanders along with the British military commander and the district commissioner, an April 23, 1948 article stated: “The Arab commander departed to consult his colleagues and returned an hour and a half later, when evacuation was decided upon in lieu of the immediate application of truce terms.” Those terms, recounted the journalist reporting for The Times from Jerusalem at the time, included: “Safety of all citizens to be guaranteed by the Haganah.”
And yet, over 70 years later, when this writer sent editors the paper’s own archival reporting from the war, they declined to correct the false account of expulsion and escape supplied by a New York art writer, editor of a blog called, “Hyperallergic.”
It’s as if even its own editors no longer believe that The New York Times is still “The Paper of Record.”
Reflecting on the “Caliphate” affair in October, The Times’ Ben Smith keenly observed: “The paper is in the midst of an evolution from the stodgy paper of record into a juicy collection of great narratives, on the web and streaming services.”
Move over, Paper of Record. The Paper of Narrative is here.