March 13, 2001
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The New York Times this morning runs a curious correction: "A picture caption in Arts & Ideas on Saturday about the Vienna Freud Society's cancellation of a lecture by Prof. Edward Said of Columbia University, after members saw a photograph of him throwing a stone, misstated his target. He was aiming toward an Israeli guardhouse at the Lebanese border, not at Israeli soldiers."
This correction raises more questions than it answers. How can the Times know for sure what Mr. Said was aiming at? Isn't "aiming," within certain bounds, one of those things in the category of "state of mind," about which a newspaper can never really report accurately other than by simply reporting what someone says about his or her state of mind, and labeling it as such a description? Was the Israeli guardhouse unmanned or were there Israeli soldiers in it at the time? How does the Times know that?
The Saturday Times article itself described a claim by Mr. Said that he wasn't essentially aiming at anything and that "there was nobody there" but that rather he was engaged in a stone-throwing contest with his son.
The Washington Post has quoted an eyewitness account in the Lebanese newspaper As-Safir that said Mr. Said, as the Washington Post put it, "stood a short distance away from Israeli soldiers in a two-story watchtower decked out with blue-and-white Israeli flags. With his family by his side, the newspaper said, Said heaved a rock over the border toward the soldiers. It struck a barbed-wire barrier."
Maybe the Times went back and interviewed other witnesses, including Israeli border guards. But if the Times really believes its own correction, how can it justify running a letter to the editor in today's paper that states, "The photograph accompanying the article of Mr. Said hurling a rock at Israeli border soldiers shows a reprehensible act"?
Blowing Smoke: An editorial in today's New York Times endorses a City Council ordinance that would, the editorial says, "shift smokers out of the city's eateries altogether." Smoking is bad for you, but that's not the issue. The Times editorial doesn't even try to explain why the decision on restaurant smoking policies should rest with the city government rather than with restaurant owners. Or with customers and employees who can set their own policies by their decisions to patronize or work at establishments that are smoky or smoke-free.
Can't Spell: An article about California politics in the national section of today's New York Times refers to "Sherry Bibitch Jeffee, a political scientist at the University of Southern California." This may be a new low in New York Times name spelling, because the newspaper has managed to misspell two of the professor's three names. The correct spelling is Sherry Bebitch Jeffe.
Can't Spell: An article and photo cutline in the international section of today's New York Times refer to President "Muhammad" Khatami of Iran. An item in the World Briefing column refers to President "Mohammad" Khatami. Smartertimes.com understands that spelling of foreign names in English can vary, but one would think that the Times would choose one spelling of this man's name and stick with it, at least for all uses within one day's issue of the paper.
Not Dead Yet: The Washington Post catches a New York Times whopper; click to read the Post column here.
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