The New York Times Sort of Corrects Distorted Rice Interview

Though many may have missed it due to continuing coverage of Hurricane Katrina, the New York Times has withdrawn its claims that after the Gaza withdrawal the Bush administration will demand further imminent concessions from Israel. In a stunning reversal, with no admission of error, the paper is now reporting the opposite.

The original claims came in the paper’s report of its exclusive August 17 interview with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Times reporters Joel Brinkley and Steven Weisman managed to distort and mangle virtually all of Rice’s statements about Israel and the Palestinians, sometimes even inventing assertions out of thin air to make it seem the senior official was critical of Israel. The Times reported, for example, that:

Ms. Rice has visited the region twice recently to ensure that the Gaza withdrawal proceeds smoothly. While she noted that the withdrawal would take several weeks to play out, soon after that, she insisted, Israel must take further steps, including loosening travel restrictions in the West Bank and withdrawing from more Palestinian cities.

This claim is utter nonsense – according to the interview transcript, it was the Times reporters who said essentially this, to which the Secretary replied “no.” (The transcript is available on the State Department website.)

Besides reporting things the Secretary did not actually say, the Times virtually ignored many things she did say, including her most emphatic assertions, which concerned Palestinian terrorism. Five times Rice stated the Palestinians had to dismantle terrorist groups, rather than try to coexist with them. Unfortunately the Times journalists gave no hint of this to their readers, greatly downplaying the Secretary’s forceful condemnation of Palestinian terrorism.

For the full details on how the Times distorted the interview, see the earlier CAMERA report.

When contacted by irate subscribers, the Times defended their report, denying that any correction was necessary. Here are excerpts from Steve Weisman’s response to one reader:

Thanks for your note. We are not issuing a correction…. [Secretary Rice] called on Israel to pull forces out of five cities in the West Bank, to dismantle the four settlements in the West Bank and to carry out other steps in the Sharm el-Sheikh accord of earlier this year, and not wait for the Palestinians to take their steps.

I’m afraid that your quarrel is with her, not us…

Just a few days later Weisman had changed his tune. In a Sept. 4th story headlined “Hoping to Buttress Sharon, U.S. Urges Allies’ Restraint,” Weisman contradicted his earlier reporting, now admitting that the US was indeed against any pressure on Israel for further concessions:

The Bush administration, hoping to strengthen Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in the Israeli turmoil after the Gaza withdrawal, is urging allies of the United States to refrain from pressing Israel to make new concessions to Palestinians, senior American officials said this week.

Since the pullout, Palestinian leaders, with some support in Europe and elsewhere, have urged Israel to take further action to stop the growth of settlements in the West Bank and make many other moves. The officials said President Bush and his top aides had begun emphasizing that the first priority in the Middle East was for Israel to complete the pullout from Gaza and for President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority to demonstrate control over security there.

Apparently when Weisman wrote that pressure on Israel for new concessions was coming from “Europe and elsewhere,” the elsewhere included his office at the New York Times!

It therefore must have been difficult for Weisman to admit the US wanted the message to Sharon to be congratulations rather than more pressure:

A senior administration official also said: “There’s no question that we are aware of the toll that the whole disengagement debate took on Israelis. In our view, the message to Prime Minister Sharon from people in New York should be one of congratulations, not one of new pressures.”

How did Weisman try to explain this reversal? By implying that it was not that the Times had got it wrong, but rather that the Bush administration had radically altered its policies.

But there had been no change in administration policies – the Times had got it terribly wrong. And the paper still owes its readers a full and fair correction of its gross mischaracterization of Rice’s assertions in the August 17 interview.

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