A mysterious error at the Star Tribune

Kate Parry is the Star Tribune “reader’s representative.” I almost always find her to be writing from inside the perspective of the Star Tribune’s reporters and editors, and therefore operating more as a “reporter’s enabler” or “public relations spokesman” than a “reader’s representative.” The Star Tribune’s perspective on the Arab/Israeli conflict has traditionally skewed strongly against Israel. Today in her weekly column, Parry describes a mysterious error that appeared in the caption for a photo that tends to undermine the usual MSM line on Israel:

John Kingery had doubts about the motives behind a photo caption last Sunday that read “Palestinians ran through the Erez border crossing Saturday, fleeing the Gaza Strip after Hamas’ takeover. Crowds converged on the border checkpoint, but only a small number were allowed through to Egypt.”
The problem, he wrote, was that the Erez border crossing goes to Israel, not Egypt. What’s more, Kingery located the original Associated Press photo and caption, and saw that the caption the AP provided had correctly said “Palestinians run as they try to cross to the Israel side at the Erez Crossing . …”I reached the conclusion it was either incompetence or bias” that prompted the Star Tribune to change the destination of the fleeing Palestinians, Kingery said. He suspected bias against Israel.
“So the writers/editors of the Star Tribune intentionally changed the caption on an AP photo to read to their bias, completely changing the significance of the photo,” Kingery said.
Nan Williams, the copy editor who wrote the errant caption, said it was far less complex: “I was helping out on deadline. We were crunched. It was a stupid mistake.” A correction about the caption is scheduled to run today.

The reader postulates “incompetence or bias” as the cause of the error. I think that a combination of the two provides an obvious explanation for the error. Contrary to the gist of Parry’s presentation of the episode, the copy editor’s pleading to “a stupid mistake” is consistent with the reader’s explanation. It does not necessarily belie it. Here is the Star Tribune’s correction:

A photo caption on Page A4 last Sunday incorrectly described where Palestinians leaving the Gaza Strip after the Hamas takeover were going. The Palestinians were fleeing to Israel at the Erez border crossing.

Why not add “not to Egypt, as the caption stated.” I think the reader’s explanation may account for the Star Tribune’s obscure correction as well as for the error.
JOHN adds: This really is an interesting one. This is evidently the photo in question; the caption is lengthy and was not quoted in full by Ms. Parry. Note that it mentions Israel three times, and never mentions Egypt:

Palestinians run as they try to cross to the Israel side at the Erez Crossing, in the northern Gaza Strip, Saturday, June 16, 2007. Dozens of Palestinians converged on the Erez crossing with Israel on Saturday, trying to leave the Gaza Strip following Hamas’ takeover. At the same time, hundreds of people looted police positions on the Palestinian side of Erez, and at one point Israeli troops fired in the air to keep the crowd at bay. The looters walked off with furniture and scrap metal. (AP Photo/Hatem Moussa)

The Star Tribune copy editor shortened the caption considerably, which was probably necessary in view of the caption’s length. The main impact of the abridgment was to eliminate all reference to looting or other misbehavior by the Palestinians. As modified by the Star Tribune, the Palestinians are victims: “Crowds converged” but only a “small number were allowed through.” Assuming I’ve identified the right picture, and I couldn’t find any other candidates, the modification of the caption arguably reflects a set of attitudes and assumptions about the Middle East that is broadly typical of the Star Tribune. The substitution of “Egypt” for “Israel,” notwithstanding the three mentions of Israel in the text, is consistent with these attitudes and assumptions. If it occurred inadvertently as a result of haste, it perhaps represents what liberals like to call “unconscious bias.”
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