THUMBS UP to Hartford Courant associate editor and reader representative Elissa Papirno for a Dec. 3, 2000, column in which she examines recent errors by Courant writer Amy Pagnozzi regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In her piece, entitled "Pagnozzi on The Palestinians," Papirno reminds readers that "opinion writing, like any writing in the newspaper, must rest on an accurate depiction of reality, and there [Pagnozzi’s] columns fell short."
The president of the worldwide Organization of News Ombudsmen, Papirno speaks with authority when she suggests that it is an editor’s responsibility to fact-check opinion columns. She adds: "By relying on unverified information, [Pagnozzi’s columns] shortchanged readers and the newspaper that published them unchallenged."
Papirno listed a number of Pagnozzi’s factual errors, many of which were subsequently corrected in the Courant. According to the reader representative, in her Oct. 3 column, Pagnozzi falsely characterized two Israeli soldiers lynched in Ramallah as undercover agents and juxtaposed their murders against the death of a Palestinian, whom she claims was brutally slaughtered by Israeli settlers. In fact, an investigation released by Physicians for Human Rights before the publication of Pagnozzi’s error found that the Palestinian in question died in a car accident. In addition, the lynching of the two Israeli soldiers was captured on film, revealing that the two were at least partially clad in Israeli army uniforms – hardly the plausible disguise for undercover agents. To its credit, the paper corrected these errors.
While some ombudsmen are prone to defending the errors of their news reporters and opinion writers, Papirno is to be much commended for her straightforward criticism of the egregious statements of her colleague.