Monday, April 04, 2011

What Times-bashers won't tell you about the New York Times and Goldstone

Today's rapidly spreading Internet rumor is that the New York Times refused to publish Richard Goldstone's retraction of the central assertion in his 2009 report on the Gaza War. This rumor is spreading like brushfire via RW sites, and RW email. Why? Likely because it seems to confirm a central, yet unexamined, RW article of faith regarding the fundamental nature of the Times. Of course the Times hates Israel, goes the conspiracy-minded RW line of thought, so of course they suppressed an op-ed article that might have rehabilitated Israel's image, and of course they did this out of sheer bias, and explicit hatred of Israel. 

Only like most rapidly-spreading Internet rumors, the truth is more complicated.


The rumor about the Times's mendacity is based on a Yedioth Achronoth article that cites an anonymous source. That's right. Some of the same people who insist anonymous bloggers are unreliable simply because they are anonymous are in this case fully willing to accept the reliability of Yedioth's unnamed source. Here's how Ynet, owned by the same conglomerate as Yedioth, reports the story:
Yedioth Ahronoth reported Monday that a source close to Goldstone stated that in the past few days the judge had approached the editor of the New York Times opinion pages requesting to post the article he wrote in the paper – and was told his article was rejected.
Not very convincing stuff. Two specific problems: We're not told how the source uncovered this information ("Close to Goldstone" means only they are friends or acquaintances, not that Goldstone briefed the person on his dealings with the Times; also we're not told why the source refuses to be named. If we're not told why the source asked for anonymity, it becomes harder to rule out any ulterior motives he might have had for revealing the information. Unless we're provided with some other reason, "Refuses to be named... because he knows he's lying" remains a possibility.)

Meanwhile, Politico has dug up a different unnamed source who tells a completely different story
A source familiar with the paper's dealings with Goldstone says this report isn't true. The Times saw a very different op-ed by Goldstone about two weeks ago, just one in a series of articles he'd written trying to clarify and finesse the meaning of the report; the paper rejected it because it said nothing new, the source said.
Here, too, we're not told why the source elected to remain anonymous, so "refuses to be named... because he knows he's lying" is a possibility. However, Politico does do us the favor of  telling us how the source knows what he knows, making this anonymous claim slightly more credible. But, even if you don't agree with this assessment, you're still left with a draw: One anonymous source says X, the other anonymous source says Y, leaving us with no grounds to say what is or is not the truth. If you're biased against the Times, you'll believe they maliciously suppressed the retraction; if you're biased in favor of the Times, you'll believe they weren't actually offered a retraction, and for legitimate journalistic reasons rejected an op-ed that was substantivity different from the article that appeared in the Post.


The Times covered Goldstone's retraction as a news story. Here's the headline:
Head of U.N. Panel Regrets Saying Israel Intentionally Killed Gazans
and here is the lead paragraph:
The leader of a United Nations panel that investigated Israel’s invasion of Gaza two years ago has retracted the central and most explosive assertion of its report — that Israel intentionally killed Palestinian civilians there.
If  the Times spiked the op-ed for political reasons, or from some mendacious desire to hide the truth from the public, why did they print this article?


 Ben Smith 
@ FYI I've updated with an on-record confirmation from the Times.  -12:43 PM

UPDATE: Times spokeswoman Eileen Murphy emails, "We did in fact receive an Op-Ed submission from Richard Goldstone on March 22, but that piece bears no resemblance to the one that was published in the Washington Post on Sunday." 

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