The New York Times last week confirmed - yet again - what a decidedly unreliable news source it's become, particularly for readers old-fashioned enough to put a premium on careful and accurate reporting.
In a story headlined "After Gaza Attack, Bush Rebukes Arafat," Times reporter Christopher Marquis wrote, "President Bush condemned the assault that killed three Americans in Gaza on Wednesday and blamed Yasir Arafat, the chairman of the Palestinian Authority, for blocking security reforms that could thwart such attacks."
So far, so good, and Marquis spent the next several paragraphs quoting directly from the official statements on the Gaza attack by Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell. But then, toward the end of the piece, Marquis suddenly dispensed with the use of quotation marks and paraphrased the final portion of Powell's remarks.
"Mr. Powell," wrote Marquis, "said he spoke with Israel's foreign minister, Silvan Shalom, and with Mr. Qurei on Wednesday. He called on both sides to end terrorism, but, in particular, he warned the Palestinians that their aspirations could be set back by violence."
What's this? He called on both sides to end terrorism? Was Powell accusing the Israelis of terrorism? If so, this would not only signal a departure from administration policy, but would fall under anybody's definition of moral equivalence run amok. But moral equivalence on the part of whom - the Times or Colin Powell?
The following is the salient portion of Powell's statement as released by the State Department - the closing three sentences that the Times chose not to quote, but rather to twist:
"Earlier today, I spoke with both Foreign Minister Shalom and Prime Minister Qurei and made clear to them, in the strongest possible terms, the need to move urgently to end terrorism. With Prime Minister Qurei, I made absolutely clear that we cannot move forward to a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict without eliminating violence and terrorism. I also made clear that we expect full cooperation in investigating this heinous act and in bringing the murderers to justice."
So what Powell really said - as opposed to what the Times reported to its readers that he said - was that he had conveyed to both sides the oft-stated U.S. position that terrorism must be eradicated, and quickly, before any progress can be made on the issue of Palestinian statehood.
Any possible doubt as to which "side" Powell had in mind when he referred to terrorism should have been dispelled by his demand that the Palestinian Authority extend "full cooperation in investigating" the Gaza attack "and in bringing the murderers to justice."
Which of course begs the question: Is Christopher Marquis merely dense, or did he purposely misreport Secretary Powell's remarks? Either way, his getting a story this important this wrong is only the latest stumble for a news organization that, against all the evidence, still would have us believe it is the "newspaper of record."
In any event, the Times obviously received some uncomplimentary feedback on the Marquis article, because the following Saturday the paper published a retraction of sorts in its "Corrections" box.
"An article on Wednesday," the Times told its readers, "about President Bush 's condemnation of the assault that killed three Americans in Gaza referred imprecisely to comments by Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, who called the Israeli foreign minister and the Palestinian prime minister to express outrage. While he said he 'made clear to them, in the strongest possible terms, the need to move urgently to end terrorism,' he did not call on 'both' sides to end terrorism or otherwise suggest that Israel was supporting terrorist activities."
Ladies and gentlemen, your new New York Times - "All the News We Fit to Print."