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Does The Times Regret the Error? Probably Not

The New York Times reported Sunday on the second stage of the Gilad Shalit prisoner exchange, in which Israel released 477 more Palestinian prisoners to bring the total to 1,027. The Times covered the event mostly as a happy homecoming. One released prisoner was identified specifically; the point, evidently, was to emphasize what minor offenses most of those in Round II had been convicted of:

At the Palestinian presidential compound in Ramallah, music blared and hundreds of Palestinians waved flags, waiting for the buses to arrive. Palestinian youths threw stones at Israeli troops at a checkpoint as the release began.

The soldiers responded with tear gas and rubber bullets. More than a dozen injuries were reported among the Palestinians, and one soldier was hurt.

Sarah Abu Sneineh came with her family to greet her grandson Izzedine Abu Sneineh, who was arrested three years ago at age 15 for throwing stones and hanging Palestinian flags from telephone poles.

“He was just a schoolkid when he was arrested,” she said as she waited for him outside the tomb of Yasir Arafat. “We want him to go back to school. Only education is the way forward.”

Throwing stones and hanging flags from telephone poles! The boy was merely a patriot, and those nasty Israelis swept him off the street! No, wait–hold the presses.

Today’s paper makes three corrections to the article, including this one:

And the article misstated Israeli charges against one of the freed prisoners, Izzedine Abu Sneineh, who had been arrested three years ago at age 15. Israel had accused him of weapons training, attempted murder and possession of explosives — not throwing stones and hanging Palestinian flags from telephone poles.

It is not hard to see what happened here. The Times article is by Ethan Bronner, and it also credits two individuals whom I take to be stringers: Khaled Abu Aker in Ramallah, and Fares Akram in Gaza. Since the incident described here was in Ramallah, the information presumably came from Khaled Abu Aker, a Palestinian journalist. Further, he interviewed Sneineh’s grandmother, and it seems safe to assume that she was the source of the misinformation about the charges against her grandson. Israeli officials could have supplied the real facts, but evidently no one asked them.

Thus was a lie perpetrated; one of many that are disseminated every day through a compliant news media. It sometimes seems that the motto of the modern reporter is: If it accords with my biases, why should I check it?

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