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Media Analyses





When is a Correction in Error? When The Washington Post Says So


When is a correction an error? Apparently, when The Washington Post changes its mind.

When is an error not correctable? Apparently, when The Washington Post decides it's not erroneous.

In neither case did relevant facts change. Trumping them, it seems, is common mis-usage—not if one misidentifies a friar as a monk, of course, but certainly if one confuses armistice line for border or disputed territories for Palestinian.

Example one, “The Case of the So-Called ‘Palestinian Territories”: On Sept. 5, 2014 The Post labeled the West Bank Israeli-occupied “Palestinian land.” CAMERA requested a correction, pointing out that the status of the territories is disputed, not Palestinian. The Post commendably published a correction in the next day's print addition and online. The update read in part “the Israeli-occupied territories are disputed lands that Palestinians want as a future state.”

That was then. More recently, on Jan. 2, 2015, The Post referred to the West Bank and Gaza Strip as “the Palestinian territories” in a headline and cutline, but not in the article “Bound for the big time; The underdog soccer team representing the Palestinian territories [emphasis added] is about to play in its most prestigious tournament to date, the Asian Cup.”

CAMERA requested another correction, and reminded Post editors and reporters of their Sept. 6, 2014 action informing readers that the West Bank is “disputed territory,” not Palestinian. Last September's request stressed that since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in World War I no power has exercised recognized sovereignty over the land. Therefore, its “status is to be resolved by negotiations anticipated by U.N. Security Council resolutions 242 (1967) and 338 (1973), the 1995 Israeli-Palestinian interim accords, the 2003 international ‘road map' and related diplomatic efforts taking 242 and 338 as reference points.”

The correction request observed that “The Post often has referred to the West Bank as ‘territory Palestinians want for a future state.' This is correct. And many Israelis also want at least some of it [widely known as Judea and Samaria before being renamed the West Bank in 1950 under Jordanian occupation and still frequently referred to by those names in modern Hebrew] to be annexed to Israel. …”

This January's request added “as has been the case since 1967, the status of both the West Bank and Gaza Strip remains to be determined by Israeli-Arab negotiations. The maps accompanying the territories in the CIA World Fact Book make that clear.”

Depends on the meaning of ‘error'—today

However, instead of correcting the error in 24 hours, as The Post did in September, it did nothing for five days. CAMERA sent a follow-up query on January 7. The Post's reply on January 8 ignored the fact of the paper's Sept. 6, 2014 correction. Instead, an editor wrote “we won't be correcting this. The term ‘Palestinian territories' is incredibly widely used; it's appeared in our pages at least 1,000 times in the past year.”

Conceding CAMERA is “right that the land is disputed,” the editor continued, “but that term [Palestinian territories] doesn't necessarily imply otherwise—it can also be interpreted to mean that Palestinians make up the most of the people who live in them. Similarly, we won't be correcting ‘Jewish settlement' or “Israeli settlement,' which also regularly appear in our pages, though those settlements are built on disputed land.”

CAMERA responded immediately. “The Post is deciding not to correct an error it previously corrected. Does that imply the previous correction was wrong then, or has been factually overtaken? If the latter, what are the new facts?”

Further, incredibly wide use of “Palestinian territories … does not make it correct. Jaywalkers are rarely apprehended, but when they are it's because they are in the wrong. … ‘Palestinian territories' may well imply a Palestinian Arab majority, but it does not say it.”

For most readers the likely understanding will be that the territories belong to the Palestinian Arabs, which—given their legal status as disputed and the need for negotiations to resolve the matter—they currently do not. In the meantime, “relying on possible reader interpretation is a needless step away from the precision necessary for accuracy,” CAMERA replied.

As for The Post's odd reference to “Jewish settlements,” that is what they are. “Whether The Post writes ‘Jewish settlements, ‘Jewish communities' or ‘Jewish towns' implies nothing about their legitimacy,” CAMERA noted. “‘The Palestinian city of Nablus' is accurate without implying anything regarding eventual sovereignty over that part of the West Bank occupied by Nablus.”

‘Borders' the CIA can't find

Example two, the related “Case of the So-Called ‘67 Borders'”: The Dec. 31, 2014 print edition of The Post carried a news report “Call for Israel to withdraw rejected; Palestinian resolution setting timeline for peace deal fails at U.N.” The article referred to a rejected Security Council resolution that would have called on “Israel to withdraw to its 1967 borders ….” and to “borders that existed before the 1967 war in which Israel won control of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip.” Similar wording appeared in a dispatch headlined “Palestinians to ask U.N. to set 2017 deadline on statehood, Israeli withdrawal” in The Post's December 30 print edition.

On December 31, CAMERA requested publication of a clarification noting “there were no internationally recognized borders between Israel and the West Bank or Israel and the Gaza Strip before the 1967 Six-Day War. The West Bank and Gaza frontiers were demarcated by the temporary 1949 Israeli-Jordanian armistice line and the 1950 Israeli-Egyptian armistice line, respectively. U.N. Security Council Resolution 242 (adopted several months after the 1967 war) called for negotiations to reach Arab-Israeli peace including 'recognized and secure boundaries,' since they did not then exist. Security Council Resolution 338 (1973) reiterated 242's call for such talks.

“That borders have not existed and do not now exist between Israel and the disputed territories is noted by the CIA World Fact Book, for example. The map showing the West Bank includes the legend 'the West Bank is Israeli occupied with current status subject to the Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement, permanent status to be determined through further negotiations.' The Gaza map includes the legend 'the status of the Gaza Strip is a final status issue to be resolved through negotiations.'”

CAMERA's clarification request also pointed out that the article “ 'Call for Israel to withdraw rejected' “potentially misled readers by stating that borders existed between Israel and the territories.” Prompt publication of a clarification reminding readers “that what separates Israel from the West Bank and Gaza Strip are armistice lines, not borders” was requested. The Post did not respond.

As CAMERA has noted previously, The Post regularly publishes a small notice on page A-2, where corrections normally appear, stating “The Washington Post is committed to correcting errors that appear in the newspaper.” And it is, to a certain extent.

A January 6 correction having to do with Israel's capital told readers “a photo caption with a Jan. 5 A-section article about archaeologists' discovery in Jerusalem of the remains of a palace where the trial of Jesus may have taken place incorrectly described two unnamed people shown walking past the Tower of David. They were Franciscan friars, not monks.”

Unnamed friars, not unidentified monks. If that distinction is important enough to publish, then how much more so armistice lines, not borders and disputed, not Palestinian territories?

(For more detail on The Post's Sept. 5, 2014 correction regarding the disputed West Bank, click here.)

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