Updated: The Globe and Mail’s False Witness

June 28 update follows.

June 23–When freelance writer Barbara Stewart wrote in the Boston Globe about a Canadian seal hunt as if she were there, when in fact that hunt hadn’t yet taken place, the paper issued a lengthy retraction and discontinued use of that writer. The April 19, 2005 editor’s note read:

An article by a freelance writer based in Halifax, Nova Scotia, in Wednesday’s Globe said that the season’s hunt for baby seals off Newfoundland had begun the previous day. In fact, the hunt did not begin that day; it was delayed by bad weather, and is scheduled to begin today, weather permitting. The article included details of the day’s hunt as if it had taken place and without attribution or other sourcing, as if the writer had witnessed the scene personally. Details included the number of hunters, a description of the scene, and the approximate age of the cubs. The author’s failure to accurately report the status of the hunt and her fabrication of details at the scene are clear violations of the Globe’s journalistic standards. Because the freelancer was not reporting from the scene, Globe editors should have demanded attribution for any details she provided about the hunt itself. The story should not have been published in the Globe, and the Globe has discontinued use of the freelancer.

Similarly, the Los Angeles Times fired Eric Slater after numerous errors in a story about university hazing were uncovered, leading the Times to suspect that he never visited the university. Likewise, Detroit Free Press sports columnist Mitch Albom was recently suspended when he wrote about a college basketball game before it took place. He was reinstated only after he apologized.

What do all of these cases of journalistic malfeasance have in common? Journalists pretended to attend an event which they hadn’t, and their papers imposed serious punative measures, such as dismissals and suspensions. In short, they fabricated and paid the price.

In the latest such scandal, the Globe and Mail of Toronto yesterday published a news article on the meeting between Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas (“Meeting tests truce between Sharon, Abbas”), in which freelance writer Carolynne Wheeler reported in detail as if she were on the scene: “Palestinian leaders left the meeting in Mr. Sharon’s flag-draped residence in the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City grim-faced, appearing only briefly before reporters in Ramallah to announce their disappointment.”

Wheeler blatantly fabricated the Old City scene with draped flags and grim faces, as the summit took place in Prime Minister Sharon’s official residence in the Jewish neighborhood of Rehavia in the western part of Jerusalem. 

As the Web site of WAFA, the official Palestinian press agency reported the day of the summit:

President Mahmoud Abbas will meet today in West Jerusalem with the Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

Likewise, AFP reported the same day:

Palestinian prime minister Ahmed Qorei, who also attended the talks at Sharon’s west Jerusalem residence, told a post-summit news conference…(“Bitter Abbas-Sharon summit makes little headway”).

And numerous press photos taken yesterday show police securing the area outside Sharon’s western Jerusalem residence in Rehavia.

The Muslim Quarter, as well as the entire Old City of Jerusalem, are located in eastern Jerusalem.

Wheeler’s scandalous fabrication is amplified when she expounds, again inaccurately, on the supposed Old City venue. She writes:

…this meeting of just under three hours was held on disputed home turf.

Mr. Sharon’s purchase of the stately Old City stone home in 1987, and the subsequent removal of its Arab tenants, created great controversy at the time.

Contrary to Wheeler’s claim, Arab tenants were not “subsequent[ly] removed” after Sharon purchased the residence. As reported by Thomas Friedman for the New York Times on Dec. 31, 1987:

About nine months ago Mr. Sharon bought from the Ateret Cohanim Yeshiva, the rights to an apartment in the Moslem quarter that had been owned by Jews for 103 years, but occupied by Arabs since 1948. The apartment had been willed to the Yeshiva, which bought out the Arab family living in it in order to make it available for Mr. Sharon.

It should be noted that Arab residents took over the apartment, and all other Jewish homes in the Old City, after Arab forces expelled the Old City’s Jewish inhabitants in 1948.

Yesterday, CAMERA staff contacted the Globe and Mail to correct Wheeler’s fabrication, and the following correction was published today:

The meeting between Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas took place in the official prime minister’s residence in the Rehavia neighbourhood of west-central Jerusalem. Mr. Sharon’s East Jerusalem home, which was incorrectly reported as the meeting site, was purchased from its Arab occupants in 1987.

However, a simple correction in this case is inadequate, as it seems that Wheeler’s misinformation was not a matter of a simple “error.” After all, Stewart, Slater and Albom did not get off scott free. Why should Wheeler?

UPDATE: June 28, 2005

Today the Jerusalem Post ran a letter from Tamar Sternthal, the director of CAMERA’s Israel office, concerning the Wheeler fabrication. The letter, entitled “‘Being There’ When You’re Not,” follows:

Sir, – Guy Nicholson, interim foreign editor of the Toronto’s Globe and Mail, downplayed freelancer Carolyn Wheeler’s fabrication that she had been on the scene of the Abbas-Sharon summit when she had not (“Paper error causes Canadian readers to cry foul,” Ju ne 24). “It’s getting a little bit blown out of proportion,” Nicholson objected.

But is it? As noted on CAMERA’s Web site (www.camera.org), Wheeler’s journalistic foul play is consistent with other cases in which journalists covered events as if they had been there, even though they weren’t.

Freelancer Barbara Stewart, writing for the Boston Globe, Eric Slater of The Los Angeles Times, and Detroit Free Press sports columnist Mitch Albom have all been discontinued, dismissed or suspended, respectively, in recent months. Yet no comparable action has been taken by the Globe and Mail’s editors against Wheeler.

Director, Israel Office

Ron Podolny of the National Post (Canada) published a column yesterday noting Wheeler’s misconduct.

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