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Middle East Issues





Dissembling Wins Out Over Accuracy at the New Yorker


The well-known literary magazine,The New Yorker, has a viewpoint decidedly to the left in politics. But despite its obvious political slant, it's articles are often well-researched. Such was seemingly the case with a Nov. 9, 2009 piece by noted author Lawrence Wright describing the Israeli military operation in Gaza from Dec. 27, 2008 through Jan. 18, 2009.
 
The first half of the fourteen page piece presents a well organized overview of  the events leading up to the Cast Lead military operation. But when he gets around to recounting the fighting and its aftermath, the piece resembles cobbled together lecture notes from Hamas spokesmen and various "human rights" organizations known for their pro-Palestinian partisanship.
 
CAMERA brought a number of factual errors and distortions to the attention of the editor - and presumably Mr. Wright - but eventually all requests for corrections were rejected.
 
It is understood that journalists are given a certain amount of leeway with how they tell their stories and assemble facts, however, The New Yorker's reputation as a literary magazine suggests it places importance on using words carefully. CAMERA chose to focus its complaint on one particular  distortion relating to Wright's blanket application of the term "destroyed" to describe the damage done to structures in Gaza. Wright wrote:
According to various international agencies, fourteen percent of the buildings in Gaza were partially or completely destroyed, including twenty-one thousand homes, seven hundred factories and businesses, sixteen hospitals, thirty-eight primary health-care centers, and eighty schools.
CAMERA asserted that Mr. Wright's use of the term "partially or completely destroyed" distorts what actually happened.  The term "destroyed" implies a degree of damage where functioning and structural integrity is undermined. Such a term conjures up an image to the reader of Israel targeting these buildings or using force with such disregard that it inadvertently caused the full or partial collapse of these structures. The term "damage" is less specific and less serious. Particularly with regard to the hospitals, one can envision Israeli forces battling Hamas forces in proximity to the hospitals resulting in shell fragments and percussion from explosions causing superficial damage. These differing scenarios imply different Israeli conduct in the fighting. It is Israel's alleged conduct that formed the basis for the Goldstone mission, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, charging Israel with war crimes. These are all sources Mr. Wright relied upon.
 
Mr. Wright's description is more extreme than those by organizations hostile to Israel and unswervingly sympathetic to the Palestinians. Oddly enough, these other sources appear to take more care in their terminology than The New Yorker, distinguishing between destroyed and damaged structures.
 
The Arab League's official report on Gaza clearly separates out those that were destroyed and those that were damaged, stating,
There was substantial destruction of, and damage to property during the offensive. Over 3,000 homes were destroyed and over 11,000 damaged; 215 factories and 700 private businesses were seriously damaged or destroyed; 15 hospitals and 43 primary health care centres were destroyed or damaged; ... 10 schools were destroyed and 168 damaged;...
The Arab League report cites other organizations.
 
A United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) survey found 3,354 houses were“completely destroyed” during the conflict, with more than 11,100 being partially damaged (emphasis added).
 
The World Health Organization (WHO) reported that during the conflict over half (15 of 27) of the hospitals in Gaza were damaged.
 
The Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict reported: damage was reported in 14 of the 27 hospitals in Gaza.
 
 .... observed that the hospitals were all fully functioning within days of the end of the conflict, which is consistent with limited damage, not with destruction or even partial destruction.  
 
The New Yorker ultimately rejected CAMERA's request for a correction by stating that
The sixteen hospitals were partially destroyed, and this is supported by the UN’s OCHA report that “a total of 16 hospitals ...were damaged during the hostilities.” To your point about their continuing to function: being partially destroyed and functioning are not mutually exclusive.
Even The New Yorker's reason for rejecting CAMERA's request cites the term damaged rather than destroyed. The absurdity of this position becomes clear if one considers a familiar situation commonly encountered. If one's windshield is cracked by a pebble or side door receives a dent, what would the response be of an insurance adjustor, if one were to assert that the car had been partially destroyed. A bewildered look most likely. Photographs of some of the hospitals damaged in Gaza also reveal superficial damage, walls that appear pock-marked and broken windows. The structure of these buildings and apparently the functioning remained intact. Which term fits better, "destroyed" or "damaged."
 

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