Despite admissions from editors that the paper was wrong to illustrate a story about the murder of an IDF soldier with a photo of the murder’s mother, and countless complaints from readers that the admissions do not go far enough, New York Times is digging its heels in and refusing the replace the offending photo.
By doing so, the paper has produced an enduring monument to the perils of false “balance” and its own moral ambiguity.
In a second column by the Times’ public editor, Margaret Sullivan and in a personal email to HonestReporting, Philip B. Corbett, the associate managing editor for standards, said replacing the photo would be a violation of the paper’s policy against changing published materials after they have been published.
To do so, Corbett claimed, would damage the paper’s archives:
First off, our corrections column is intended primarily to correct errors of fact. There’s no question of a factual error here.
Others have also raised the idea of changing the photo presentation after the fact. But except to correct factual errors, we very rarely change or delete published content. The stories that remain accessible through our website constitute our electronic archive of what The Times has actually published, parallel to the print and microfilm versions of our archive that we have always maintained.
My colleagues and I frequently receive requests to alter or delete published material from our archive, for a wide range of reasons. We explain that our policy is not to do so. Other than for factual errors, if we routinely went back into a story published days, weeks or years earlier — rewriting, re-editing, adding or deleting photos or other elements — pretty soon our archive would cease to be an archive at all.
Corbett was responding to an email from HonestReporting suggesting that the paper add a link to the original post directing readers to the public editor’s statement that using the photo was wrong.
His statement contains two issues that require consideration. The first is his statement that no correction is needed because corrections apply only to errors of fact. He is, in essence, marking the distinction between fact and meaning. One tells the reader what took place, the other allows him to place that information in the proper context.
While no mistakes of fact were made, even the paper’s own editors admit using the photo was wrong. But if the facts warrant no correction, what was wrong? The meaning. The reader is misled by the photo to sympathy for the mother of a murderer at the expense of the sympathy that should go to the victim and his family.
If misleading readers’ emotions does not justify a correction, it’s hard to believe the paper is genuinely concerned with getting the story right in the first place. And that is the essence of bias.
The second issue worth looking at critically is the claim that adding a link to the digital version of the story would degrade the paper’s digital archives, which are ” parallel to the print and microfilm versions.” In reality, however, the digital medium, which is fluid, is fundamentally different from the print and microfilm versions, which are static. Suggesting that there is no way to add a note from an editor explaining relevant developments while allowing that reader to understand what was published when reflects a lack of will and imagination, not a lack of technical possibility.
As it stands, however, the article and the picture that went with it remains online as a classic illustration of the bias against Israel that’s prevalent in the mainstream press.
Incidentally, it’s not the first time the New York Times has focused on the mothers of terrorists. Check out the video below: