Christian Century Magazine Allows Wall Error

On the bottom of page 9 in the Feb. 7 issue of Christian Century is a small box with the following correction:

Because of an editor’s mistake, the German church mentioned in Donald W. Shriver’s “Counting the Dead” (Jan. 10) was misidentified. The memorial inscription referred to is found not at St. Nicolaus Church in Wismar but at the Cistercian monastery church in Bad Doberan.

One might think the bi-weekly magazine’s readiness to correct this (rather inconsequential) error proves its adherence to the journalistic standards agreed upon by the American media. One of those tenets calls for  the forthright correction of errors.

But the Christian Century‘s refusal to correct another, much more substantial factual error reveals that–at least when it comes to Israel–the magazine’s editors are not so concerned with factual accuracy.  

In the December 13, 2005 issue of the magazine, a column by former editor and regular contributor James M. Wall claimed that “Israel’s security wall … completely surrounds Bethlehem.” Both Wall, who regularly assails Israel while glossing over Palestinian violence, and his editors at the magazine would have needed only to consult a map of Israel’s security barrier to learn that Bethlehem is by no means completely surrounded by a “wall.”

Israel's map

As the official Israeli government map of the security fence shows, the barrier runs along the north of Bethlehem to protect Jerusalem–the target of dozens of deadly suicide bombings–from infiltration. It wraps around to the west of the city as it appoximates the path of the “Green Line,” the armistice line dividing the West Bank and Israel.

Official Map of Security Barrier

Or if Wall had hesitations about relying on an official government source, he could have turned to a map published by B’tselem, an organization known for its rigid opposition to Israeli policies.

btselem map

B’tselem Map of Security Barrier

PLO map

Even the PLO Negotiations Affairs Department’s map clearly depicts the barrier route running alongside the north and west of Bethlehem, and not surrounding the city.

PLO Map of Security Barrier

When a responsible news organization errs, especially when reporting on such an emotive topic, it is expected to readily correct that error. Thus, when USA Today erroneously claimed, as did Wall, that Israel’s barrier surrounds Bethlehem, the newspaper published the following correction:

A Dec. 14 story about new Israeli security facilities should have said a 24-foot-high barrier separates Bethlehem from Jerusalem, but does not surround the entire town.

By contrast, editors at Christian Century have made clear they have no intention of correcting their error. An editor explained that the decision not to correct was based solely on the columnist’s insistence that he “stands by his observation” on the purorted path of the barrier. This, despite the fact that this particular columnist regularly demonstrates his antipathy towards Israel, and that his “observation” is clearly belied by the facts on the ground.

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