NYT “explains” changing headlines about hospital bombings as a result of taking what Hamas says as “news”

October 19, 2023 • 10:45 am

The other day I reproduced the montage of headlines below from The Free Press, a montage showing how New York Times headlines about the Gazan hospital “explosion” changed from day to day. First it was an “Israeli strike” that killed hundreds in the hospital, then just a “strike” (there must have been some doubt then about Israel being the striker), and then “strike” was changed to “blast”.  Now everyone knows that Hamas isn’t exactly a purveyor of the truth, so even the NYT had to qualify all three headlines with “Palestinians say”.

But to reprint assertions, even with the qualifier “Palestinians say” (does every reader know that the Palestinian media is full of lies?), seems to me like bad journalism. Why not, for the first headline, at least, say “Palestinians claim that strike on hospital kills hundreds”?  That still has a lie in it (the death toll), but leaves out the “Israeli strike”, which is simply an assertion made up by Hamas for propaganda purposes. And “strike” in the second headline implies an Israeli strike, not an errant terrorist missile, which of course wasn’t a possibility mentioned in any of the headlines but was eminently possible.

As we see below, even the NYT had to issue an “explanation” for its revolving-door headlines, and they admit that this kind of journalism was damaging.

The article below  in today’s NYT (click to read) is an apologia of sorts for the changing headlines. If they think they were doing good journalism, why would they have to go into depth to explain it? And they admit that already after the first headline, taken solely from the mouth of Hamas, the damage had been done:

You see below that they keep emphasizing, tediously, how hard it is to report accurately during war, and yet they NEVER mention in the piece above that the Palestinian spokespeople are known for repeated and ubiquitous lies. Isn’t that something we should know, and something that they should have highlighted. Where is the vaunted “context” of these reports?

Here are some excepts. I’ve put in bold the bit that shows the damage of instantaneous and unverified reporting, and of taking the word of liars for truth:

The shifting coverage about a deadly explosion at a hospital in Gaza highlighted the difficulties of reporting on a fast-moving war in which few journalists remain on the ground while claims fly freely on social media.

The first reports of a strike at the Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza City came early Tuesday afternoon Eastern time. A spokeswoman for the Gaza health ministry said an Israeli airstrike had caused the explosion, killing at least 200 people. In a televised interview, a health ministry spokesman later said the death toll exceeded 500 — which the ministry later changed to “hundreds.”

The news changed quickly over a couple of hours. Many Western news organizations, including The New York Times, reported the Gazan claims in prominent headlines and articles. They adjusted the coverage after the Israeli military issued a statement urging “caution” about the Gazan allegation. The news organizations then reported the Israeli military’s assertion that the blast was the result of a failed rocket launch by Palestinian Islamic Jihad, an armed group aligned with Hamas.

On Wednesday, American officials agreed with Israel, saying early intelligence indicated that the launch did not come from Israel and instead was caused by the armed Palestinian group. Most of the coverage about the blast on Wednesday focused on the U.S. analysis.

But many supporters of each side had already made up their minds in the ensuing hours. Much of the Arab world united in support of Palestinians, with thousands of protesters marching in cities across the Middle East on Tuesday night and Wednesday, blaming Israel for the deaths of civilians at the hospital.

Yep, the entire Middle East now thinks that the strike came from Israel. There’s rioting all over the West Bank, and they’ve canceled the summit in Jordan that Biden was supposed to attend—solely because of Hamas’s lies.

Now you can say that the NYT (the most influential newspaper in the English-speaking world) played no role in the turmoil all over the world involving Israel’s supposed “strike” on the hospital, which turned out to be a lie, but I say that the paper abjured its responsibility.

Here are more excuses:

Kathleen Carroll, a former executive editor of The Associated Press, said the situation in Gaza was tough for news organizations to handle because they could not always get firsthand or verified accounts. As Israel prepares for a ground assault in Gaza, most Western journalists have evacuated the area, and reporters that remain face shellings and shortages of water, food and electricity.

The Committee to Protect Journalists said on Wednesday that at least 19 journalists had been killed during the conflict, 15 of them Palestinian.

“It’s extremely difficult,” Ms. Carroll said. “In Gaza, there are so few news organizations able to be on the ground and getting the kind of eyewitness reporting that helps.”

Here the paper is implying, “Well, we had to reproduce what Hamas told us because we weren’t there and WE COULD GET KILLED IF WE WERE.”  I am playing the world’s smallest violin for the paper.

Finally, here’s another excuse: “Everybody else did it, too.”  

The coverage of this week’s hospital blast generally represented what had been said about the explosion at the time of publication. The BBC’s initial breaking news report said, “Hundreds feared dead or injured in Israeli airstrike on hospital in Gaza, Palestinian officials say.” A later headline was “Israel denies airstrike on hospital in Gaza, saying failed militant rocket to blame.”

Excuse me, but that’s not a reason for shoddy journalism. Isn’t the NYT supposed to try harder than these other papers?

Now some readers will disagree with me and consider this responsible journalism, even though it had to be “explained”.  That’s fine, for viewpoints differ. But I can’t help but think that the NYT is trying to justify its rapidly-changing headlines after their initial irresponsible report, which did all the damage, had been taken from the donkey’s mouth. They didn’t even mention that the death count may also be inaccurate because Hamas lies and also includes terrorists in “civilian” death tolls.

Now, how did the paper deal with the increasing evidence that the hospital wasn’t seriously damaged, that it was a misfired rocket, that it fell in a parking lot, and that certainly 500 people were NOT killed? How do they deal with this text from the article above?:

On Wednesday, American officials agreed with Israel, saying early intelligence indicated that the launch did not come from Israel and instead was caused by the armed Palestinian group. Most of the coverage about the blast on Wednesday focused on the U.S. analysis.

Did they give it a big headline? Not that I can see. What I found is below (click to read), is inconspicuous on the page, and is one of those patronizing “here’s what we know” pieces, saying nothing in the headline about a terrorist rocket likely being responsible:

Here’s what we really know: the NYT is biased in its news coverage against Israel and towards Palestine, they get their news from the mouths of terrorists without adding that those terrorists are known liars (“Palestinians say” is what they write, and no, it was HAMAS, not “Palestinians”), and they are loath to correct misreporting, especially when that correction would exculpate Israel.

I’ll add a relevant tweet; expand to read, and watch the video of a terrorist rocket misfiring (and embarrassing the announcer):

28 thoughts on “NYT “explains” changing headlines about hospital bombings as a result of taking what Hamas says as “news”

  1. Gee, the headline heard ’round the world.

    Yeah, social media and AI are evil demons, and if you look at social media AI propaganda, you’re bad, so don’t look at social media, m’kay?

  2. What I found interesting about the initial erroneous news about the hospital strike was how instantaneously the Arab world believed it and went into a rage against Israel and the “west” before waiting for the evidence to pan-out. I will not be surprised to watch how slowly (if at all) they admit their error.

  3. To add: the photo of a destroyed building in the NYT’s first version is actually nothing to do with the hospital, and yet any reader glancing at the headline would presume that it was. The actual images of the scene (such as the burnt-out cars in the parking lot) are rather less “devastating”.

    The NYT might explain that at the time they didn’t have any images of the actual scene, but that’s not an excuse for running with an utterly misleading image, in concert with an utterly misleading headline.

    1. By the way, something that we all need to be aware of. Before long it will be possible for Hamas (or anyone) to turn to AI software and say: “ChatGPT, please make me a convincing video of an Israeli strike on a kids hospital”.

  4. An update. Or not.

    Marcus Ranum, a blogger at FreeThoughtBogs, STILL has his comment up claiming:

    “Meanwhile, 500+ dead in hospital bombing on Gaza strip.

    Over at Dkos, there are people seriously suggesting it might have been a Hamas rocket misfire

    Remember when they used to think they were arbiters of rationalism and skepticism, over there!

  5. It goes without saying that soon, with an utter lack of self-awareness, the NYT will publish an op-ed on the dangers of misinformation.

  6. Yes, it is hard to sort out what is happening in a war. It doesn’t seem to me that the NYT or others tried, though. Here was a chance to get past the nasty Hamas baby-killing and show that Israel was as bad or worse, and that fit their prejudices perfectly. Too many years of broadcasting into the echo-chamber has left them unprepared for actual journalism.

  7. The NYT piece says:

    It takes time to independently verify the claims from all sides. In the separate conflict between Russia and Ukraine, President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine initially blamed Russia for a deadly missile strike on Sept. 6 in eastern Ukraine. But a New York Times investigation, published 12 days later, found that an errant Ukrainian air defense missile was most likely the cause. The investigation relied on combing through satellite imagery, missile fragments, witness accounts and social media posts.

    All the more reason for the NYT to have exercised caution before reporting on the Gaza hospital incident, one would have thought. Do they not learn any lessons from this kind of situation?

  8. I’m sure it is very difficult to get accurate reporting in a war zone. Even in the Ukraine conflict most of the damage and casualty estimates are coming from Ukraine and Russia, neither of whom are impartial.

    What boggles me about the NYT’s coverage of this incident is that even in articles with accompanying images showing damage to a parking lot they are uncritically repeating the “hundreds of dead at a Gaza hospital” claim. Are they not capable of looking at the evidence and concluding that perhaps they are being fed misinformation?

  9. From one, rather widespread point of view, it doesn’t matter if the explosion in the hospital parking lot was actually a misfired Palestinian rocket. According to the logic of various Harvard student groups, the Democratic Socialists of America, a crowd of recent London demonstrators, and most of the Arab/Islamic world, the existence of Israel is responsible for Palestinian rocket attacks (and terrorist murder attacks) directed against Israel. It would follow that Israel is responsible for Palestinian rocket misfires.

    1. If Israel actually cared about Palestinians, then it would provide them RELIABLE rocket parts. That they don’t simply proves that Israel views Palestinians as enemies rather than neighbors, so the Palestinians respond accordingly. Only those who are willfully blind to the hegemonic and colonizing context here could fail to understand.


  10. My head is exploding I am so angry. “It’s hard?” That’s what NYT does- they report on events including wars. If you want to have the respect that goes with being known as the Gray Lady, you show the world how to do the hard work at the highest quality level.

    The headline should not have included any perpetrator since they couldn’t confirm. I don’t want to hear whiny excuses. “Other people did it too!” I want to know what news sources I can trust.

    1. One NYT excuse I might have bought: “Look, responsible journalism doesn’t produce click-bait, and we need click-bait to stay in business.”

  11. I think the NYT should produce a 9 point headline piece on the front page with their mea culpa all in bold. To be honest, their lame excuses sound like the whining of a high school newsletter. Worse than excuses politicians give.

  12. I wrote off the NYT as a bigoted hate-mongering rag back in the distant 2003 when it published a venomous op-ed by Maureen Dowd, titled “Bush’s Warsaw War Pact”. The author badmouthed my country (Bulgaria) and my people because we supported the US war in Iraq. In the twenty years since, I haven’t seen any reason to improve my opinion of this overrated media.

  13. A misfired rocket being the most probable, I would not put it beyond Hamas it was an intentional strike. Blaming it on Israel, so easy to do, would give these murderous terrorists some support, somehow.

  14. It is stuff like this that gives credence to trump’s claims of fake news. Same with NPR. I would yell at the radio “your just like Fox News.” and turn the radio off.

  15. NYT reporters consider themselves the scourge of “misinformation”. Presumably, reading their paper is the antidote you need against “fake news”. Don’t listen to OSINT bloggers or Twitter users! They may have been much more accurate, but what is that compared to having the proper political stance?

  16. Our national embarrassment of a prime minister—Trudeau—is refusing to say if he agrees that Israel did not bomb the hospital. The luetic bastard makes me cross.

  17. The NY times ran a photo of what was implied to be the shell of the bombed hospital. It appears now that the blast hit an adjacent parking lot. What exactly was the building in their photo then?

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