UPDATED: Papal Visit in Israel Tests the LA Times

May 14 Update: The Los Angeles Times partially corrects. See details below.

May 11, 2009 — The Los Angeles Times carries several articles today on the Pope’s visit to Israel, including one by Jerusalem bureau chief Richard Boudreaux whose headline in the print edition is “Tensions in Israel will test the pope.” But the papal trip also presents a challenge for the Los Angeles paper, which today printed a number of basic factual errors about Israel, including some it has already corrected in the past.

Packing in multiple errors, Duke Helfand erroneously states in his article “Pope bears a message of Catholic-Jewish Cooperation”:

Benedict’s Middle East pilgrimage began in Jordan and will also take him to the West Bank, where he’ll visit the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial and Jerusalem’s Western Wall, Judaism’s holiest site.

Starting with the most obvious, neither Yad Vashem nor the Western Wall are in the West Bank. Both are in Jerusalem, which is not part of the West Bank. Yad Vashem is in the western part of the city, which was under Israeli control even before 1967, and the Western Wall, is in the Old City, in the eastern part of Jerusalem.

Helfand’s next error, although maybe less obvious to some, should not be new to the Times, since it already ran a correction on the very same point several years ago. Namely,  the Western Wall is not “Judaism’s holiest site” — the Temple Mount is. The Western Wall’s holiness, in fact, is derived from its proximity to the location on the Temple Mount where the Jewish temples stood. As a Nov. 14, 2003, Los Angeles Times correction stated:

Holy site – An Oct. 12 wire report in Section A about Israeli-Palestinian violence incorrectly indicated Judaism’s holiest site. It is the Temple Mount, not the Western Wall.

More recently, the BBC recently corrected a mistaken reference to the Western Wall as the holiest site in Judaism. A complaint summary on the BBC Web site notes:

ECU Ruling: Fate of Obama note alarms rabbis, BBC News Online
Publication date: 20 January 2009


A reader of this report about an aspect of Barack Obama’s visit to Israel complained that it had incorrectly described the Western Wall as “the holiest place in Judaism”.


Although the Western Wall is the holiest of those places whose locations are known and accessible, the site of the Holy of Holies of the Temple (which is on Temple Mount, though its exact location is not known) is regarded by religious authorities as the holiest place in Judaism.

Further action

This story has been amended, and changes are also being made to the special background guide on this subject. Staff will be reminded of the appropriate terminology.

Helfand frequently covers religion in California and might rely on flawed stories by wire services such as AFP to fill in his knowledge gaps about Israel. You’d expect more from the Jerusalem bureau chief Richard Boudreaux, but he too repeats an error that has already been corrected by his paper. Unfortunately, he incorrectly stated today:

Coming and going from Bethlehem on Wednesday, Benedict will move through a checkpoint in the towering concrete wall Israel has built to separate itself from much of the West Bank.

To describe the barrier that Israel built to separate itself from much of the West Bank “as a towering concrete wall,” is false and misleading, given that less than ten percent of the barrier is a towering concrete wall. Less than a year ago, the Los Angeles Times corrected an article which used very similar erroneous language. The July 7, 2008 Ashraf Khalil article stated:

In the meantime, Israelis, who feel safer thanks to a massive concrete barrier sealing off their nation from much of the West Bank, are openly debating what many believe is a renewed threat from within.

The Times correction, just four days later, read:

West Bank barrier: An article in Monday’s Section A about divisions between Jews and Arabs in Jerusalem said a ‘massive concrete barrier’ separates Israel from much of the West Bank. The barrier is a series of walls, trenches and fences and is not all concrete.

It is impossible to eliminate all factual errors in reporting, but Times coverage would no doubt improve were reporters to study up before their next “test” of a major media event in Israel. Lucky for them, a cheat sheet, in the form of past LA Times corrections on Israel, is user-friendly and free-of-charge to boot.

May 14, 2009 Update: Today’s Partial Correction Falls Short

The Times’  correction today corrects the location of the Western Wall and the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial, but does not address the errors concerning the Western Wall’s status in Judaism and the make-up of the West Bank barrier. The paper’s failure to correct these errors is inexplicable, given these were two errors corrected in the past. Do editors believe that their 2003 and 2008 corrections were wrong? Today’s correction reads:

Pope Benedict XVI: The Beliefs column in Monday’s Section A about the pope’s visit to Israel and the West Bank suggested that the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial and the Western Wall are on the West Bank. Yad Vashem is in West Jerusalem, the Western Wall is in the contested Old City of Jerusalem.

Reporter Duke Helfand informed CAMERA that the error concerning the location of Yad Vashem and the Western Wall was an editing error, not a reporting error.

Partial corrections are not new to the Los Angeles Times. Last month, CAMERA blogged and contacted editors about two errors in Nicholas Golberg’s April 5, 2009 Op-Ed “Is this a new Benjamin Netanyahu?” As a result, the following correction appeared April 9:

Error (Los Angeles Times, Nicholas Goldberg, 4/5/09): Particularly damaging was a series of riots and shootouts with Palestinians after the Israeli government [under Netanyahu] opened an ancient tunnel to tourists beneath the Western Wall and the Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem.

Correction (4/9/09): Israel: A Sunday Op-Ed about Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu mentioned an ancient tunnel reopened beneath the Western Wall and the Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. The tunnel runs adjacent to the wall. The same article said that Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman rejects the idea of a Palestinian state. Lieberman has said that he rejects the idea that Israel has committed itself to a two-state solution.

The correction fails to note that the tunnel does not run underneath the Al Aqsa Mosque, but is in fact 200 meters away from the mosque.

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