And the NYTimes’s Second Attempt is Lacking
Admitting an error in judgment isn’t the same as apologizing for it. I thought that the New York Times would know the difference between the two, but can it distinguish between an “error in judgment” and a simple “we are sorry?” The issue involves an anti-Semitic political cartoon with caricatures of President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that appeared in its Thursday International print edition (the cartoon was later deleted).
On Saturday, the New York Times opinion Twitter page issued the following retraction:
If you search for how many other media outlets characterized the Time’s retraction, you’ll find that initial search results display headlines like, “New York Times apologizes….” The only problem is that there is no apology. Rather, as you’ve read in the retraction, the words “error in judgment,” “offensive,” and “anti-Semitic tropes” appear. Those statements are accurate but are self-referential. In other words, the Times is apologizing to its readers for a mistaken editorial judgment that reflects poorly on itself. A storied publication like the New York Times aspires to the highest standards of professional journalism and when it stumbles badly it’s embarrassed for its bruised reputation. That’s a kind way of saying that the New York Times displayed empathy for its own good reputation and not for the admittedly anti-Jewish propaganda that it disseminated and perpetuated. I did not conduct an exhaustive online search but to the credit of The Times of Israel, it notes that “the paper did not explicitly apologize for carrying the cartoon.”
Here’s how simply an admission of an “error in judgment” could and should have been turned into an immediate apology. “We apologize for an anti-Semitic (words in bold are mine) political cartoon in the international print edition of the New York Times…” and the rest of its belated retraction could have stood. This slight modification would have helped to restore not only the Time’s desired credibility as a trusted journalistic source but its sincerity to remain so. By leading with the words, “We apologize,” the Times would have shown empathy toward those who were horrified by the cartoon. That means Jews who were deeply offended by a prestigious publication giving its imprimatur to anti-Semitic tropes, and any person who is against hatred, bigotry, and all kinds of fears of “the other.”
Also, note that this cartoon appeared in the Times International Edition. As a reader of the International Edition, the Times has given me a broader understanding of significant positive and negative worldwide trends, including global warming, political hotspots, oppressed people who otherwise would be anonymous, and anti-Semitism’s global rise. There have been significant increases in anti-Semitic vandalism, verbal harassment, and physical assault in Eastern and Western Europe, Asia, and The Americas. For example, Great Britain’s Labor Party, until recently a warm home to the majority of British Jews, has instead become an incubator and enabler of anti-Semites. In France, Alain Finkielkraut, a leading French intellectual who is Jewish recently said that he “can no longer show my face on the street” (as reported by the Jewish Telegrapic Agency on April 25, 2019)
This New York Times cartoon controversy coincided with a tragic attack in another synagogue about 25 miles north of San Diego on Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath and the last day of Passover. The attacker murdered a 60-year-old woman and wounded three others. On the last day of Passover, as with many other Jewish holy days, Jews recite a memorial service called Yizkor, during which congregants remember loved ones who have died. Future Yizkor services will add the name of another person who was murdered in a synagogue during prayer.
While Saturday’s synagogue investigation is ongoing, the gunman allegedly claims to have been inspired by the massacre of 50 Muslims who were gunned down during prayer in two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand about six weeks ago. That’s why the New York Times must do far better than admit to a professional “error in judgment.” It owes an apology to all who believe that people are entitled equally to practice their religion, or to practice no religion, without fear of being murdered by people who hold opposite beliefs. Hatred may initially focus on one group, but it metastasizes to include other groups at accelerating rates because of social media. So memo to The New York Times: consider that your “error in judgment” may contribute to the next fanatical fatality and apologize for the cartoon now.
Update: The NYTimes’s second attempt (see @nytopinion) is overdue but still incomplete. They apologize for dropping their journalistic standards, but not to Jewish and non-Jewish readers who oppose bigoted journalism. Empathy for their audience, remorse for fueling hatred that contributes to fatalities, would be a sincere apology.