November 2012

One phenomenon that intrigues me is the representation of articles that appear in the press, and their appearance in electronic form on the Web. One might expect the New York Times, for instance, with its slogan ‘All the News That’s Fit To Print’, to take very seriously the journalistic record that it commits to posterity. Yet its editors sometimes display an unnervingly cavalier attitude to stories that have already appeared in the printed newspaper, emending the text  ̶  not always to reflect the evolution of the news, but to sanitize or even censor what has been published. On Sunday, November 25, the Times published a story titled ‘Israel and Hamas Are United in Seeing Scant Value in Compromise’. It included comments from Efraim Halevy, former chief of Mossad. The text ran as follows:                                                                                                                                   ‘Efraim Halevy, former chief of Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency, said that Israel had three alternatives in Gaza: to destroy Hamas, leaving the enclave to its more radical groups; to reoccupy the area, which it evacuated in 2005; or to start a process where the hostile environment is slowly reduced by preventing the influx of new weapons into Gaza while allowing Hamas to increase its civilian political role. “After the elections are over, Israel will have to sit down and ask itself, ‘Where do we go from here?’ ” Mr. Halevy said in an interview.  “If you aim for deterrence rather than trying to destroy your enemy,” he added, “that means you accept his legitimacy, I think.”’

Yet the on-line version has been dramatically changed (see http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/25/world/middleeast/israel-and-hamas-are-united-in-seeing-scant-value-in-compromise.html?pagewanted=1&_r=0&smid=tw-nytimes&partner=rss&emc=rss. Among the changes is the omission of Mr. Halevy’s last remark about deterrence, one that could be considered quite controversial.  I questioned the Editors about this apparent act of censorship, but got nowhere. The Public Editor (who represents the readers, and writes a regular column), was a little more outgoing and sympathetic, through her assistant Joseph Burgess. He initially suggested that it had been removed ‘for space considerations’, but the final response I received from him was: “As The Times said to you earlier, The Times routinely adds and removes information throughout the day as a story develops.”

This is patently nonsense. There are no space limits on-line, and the extended quotation had nothing to do with the development of the story. I suspect someone drew attention to the fact that Mr. Halevy’s comments could be considered as being unduly hawkish and thus ‘unhelpful’ to the peace process. I suspect the editors of the paper thought it was something they could get away with.                                                                                                                                                               (November 30, 2012)

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