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Media Analyses





The Gray Lady Doth Protest Too Much


Amid Promises of "Fact-Based" Journalism, the Record Shows Something Else

Fact-checking season is in full swing. Whether the conversation is about "fake news," "alternative facts," or any other euphemism for false information, there's a renewed media focus on examining the veracity of claims.

The New York Times is trying to capitalize on public concerns about accuracy with an online advertisement that states, "In a world of fake news, independent, fact-based journalism stands apart." Then, in large font, is the hard sell: "Truth. It comes at a cost."


A New York Times advertisement on Twitter promises "fact-based journalism."

The ad campaign comes in the face of a particularly costly truth: Among Democrats, Independents, and Republicans, confidence in the mass media has plummeted to all-time lows. Most Americans just don't trust that the media will report the news fully, accurately, and fairly.

The New York Times certainly hasn't been immune to those trends. So the advertisement's focus on "facts" and "truth" may be an attempt to reverse its own falling fortunes, first by branding the newspaper as a reliable and accurate source of information, and second by refocusing the public's distrust onto political discourse, and by positioning itself as a foil to perceived dishonesty in politics.

But readers, regardless of how much they trust or distrust government, should be skeptical of the newspaper's repeated assurances that it can be relied on for accurate and impartial reporting. In fact, as measured by its reporting on one particular hot-button issue, the Arab-Israeli conflict, The New York Times has if anything shown an increasing tendency to circulate fake news and alternative facts of its own.

Falsehood: The Palestinian Authority Supports "Two States for Two Peoples"

The falsehoods in recent weeks have been fast and flagrant. In late December, Times journalist Max Fisher told readers that the Palestinian Authority supports "two states for two peoples" — the idea that the conflict should be resolved with a Jewish state and a Palestinian state living side by side in peace. It's an egregious falsehood. Palestinian leaders in the West Bank have accepted two states, but have explicitly and forcefully rejected the part about two peoples. The formula is "unacceptable," says Palestinian official Nabil Shaath. "The story of 'two states for two peoples' means that there will be a Jewish people over there and a Palestinian people here. We will never accept this."


American trust in newspapers has plummeted.

His boss, Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas, has been equally clear. "I've said it before, and I'll say it again. I will never recognize the Jewishness of the state, or a 'Jewish state.'"

New York Times editors have refused to set readers straight with a correction — despite repeated requests from CAMERA that they do so. 

Falsehood: Donald Trump "Vowed to Support Israel No Matter What"

An article published in January opens with the claim that Donald Trump "has vowed to support Israel no matter what." When asked about the provenance of this claim, editors admitted the article was not referencing any specific statement by Trump. Instead, they insisted, the "vow" is a sort of composite of his collective statements. In other words, reporters told readers of a vow that did not really exist.

The newspaper has refused to correct the misinformation.

Falsehood: A Paris Communiqué Called for "A Return to the 1967 Boundaries"

In that same news story, readers were told that, at the end of an international meeting in Paris about the two-state solution, "countries issued a joint communiqué that reaffirmed support for … a return to the 1967 boundaries between the Israelis and Palestinians, including the removal of Israeli settlements from the West Bank."

In fact, the communiqué says nothing at all about a return to specific boundaries, nor does it reference the removal of settlements.

Editors insisted no correction is warranted.

Falsehood: Settlement Land is Objectively "Palestinian Territory."

The New York Times has also taken to insisting that Israeli settlements in general are built on "Palestinian territory." But even according to formal agreements between Israel and the Palestinians, the status of these lands is to be determined in negotiations between the parties. The newspaper has taken a partisan position, then, and dressed it up as an objective fact.

Editors have stood by this misrepresentation, and have even indicated that the newspaper, as a matter of policy, refuses to describe the disputed land as "disputed." Other disputed territory across the globe, meanwhile, is routinely described as disputed in the pages of The New York Times.

It's easy to make lofty promises about "fact-based journalism" and "truth." But an examination of what the newspaper publishes shows something else entirely. It shows fabricated provisions of a communiqué. It shows nonexistent vows attributed to the US president even while actual vows by the Palestinian leadership to "never accept" a Jewish state are ignored, and worse, turned on their head.

In each of the cases discussed above, the newspaper insisted that it made no errors. In a sense, this is true. The word "error" suggests a mistake. But with the newspaper defending its misreporting, one is left to conclude that the falsehoods were not made in error. They were intentional.
 
There's little doubt that, in a world of fake news, the public would be served by a scrupulous organization that confronts fiction with facts. Until the New York Times can get its own facts straight, its claim to be that organization should be seen as more false advertising.

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