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NYT’s Carr Defends Article Accusing Israel of Targeting Journalists

New York Times reporter David Carr has responded to criticism from Contentions and elsewhere that he failed to identify several so-called “journalists” killed in Israeli strikes as terrorists in a recent article. BuzzFeed has the interview:

New York Times media reporter David Carr defended his Monday column accusing Israel of killing journalists in Gaza on Monday, after Israeli officials and their allies accused him of conflating Hamas operatives and reporters.

“The three men who died in missile strikes in cars on Nov. 20 were identified by Reuters, AP, AFP, and Washington Post and many other news outlets as journalists,” Carr told BuzzFeed in an email. “The Committee to Protect Journalists, which I treat as a reliable, primary source in these matters, identified them as journalists. (as did Reporters without Borders.)” 

“I ran my column by reporters and editors at our shop familiar with current events in the region before I printed it,” Carr said. “And I don’t believe that an ID made by the IDF is dispostive or obviates what the others said. Doesn’t mean that I could not have gotten it wrong, only that the evidence so far suggests that they were journalists, however partisan.” 

So because another news organization reported it, that automatically makes it accurate? Carr never even informs readers that he was relying on the reporting of other news outlets, and doesn’t attribute his information to the AP, AFP or the Washington Post (as the New York Times ethics policy requires). Instead, readers are given the impression that Carr verified the information himself.

Carr claims he used the Committee to Protect Journalists as a “primary source,” even though he didn’t cite the organization. The problem is, if you check the CPJ website, it never independently confirmed that the terrorists killed in the Israeli strike were journalists. It clearly noted that it was citing outside news organizations, which means it wasn’t a primary source in this case. Here’s the CPJ story

Two Israeli airstrikes killed three journalists in the Gaza Strip today, according to news reports. The fatal attacks followed a series of Israeli strikes earlier in the week that injured at least nine journalists and damaged news outlets.

Mahmoud al-Kumi and Hussam Salama, cameramen for the Hamas-run Al-Aqsa TV, were covering events in the Al-Shifaa neighborhood of central Gaza when a missile hit their vehicle at around 6 p.m., according to a statement by Al-Aqsa TV. The statement said the journalists’ car was marked “TV” with neon-colored letters. The journalists suffered severe burns and died in a nearby hospital, the statement said. Ashraf al-Qudra, spokesman for the Gaza health ministry, confirmed the journalists’ deaths to Agence France-Presse.

A third journalist was killed when his car was hit by a missile this evening, The Associated Press reported citing a Gaza official. Initial local news reports identified the journalist as Mohamed Abu Aisha, director of the private Al-Quds Educational Radio. The reports said his vehicle was hit while he was driving in the Deir al-Balah neighborhood, but did not say whether Abu Aisha was reporting at the time. CPJ continues to investigate the circumstances of his death.

The CPJ posted this on November 20. That same day, the IDF publicly identified one of the “journalists” as Hamas military commander Muhammed Shamalah. Carr published his story six days later, yet does not cite the IDF’s identification of Shamalah at all. Carr is correct when he says the Israeli government’s ID of Shamalah shouldn’t necessarily “obviate” other information — it’s reasonable for journalists to be skeptical of information released by governments. The problem is, Carr’s “other information” came solely from other news organizations (and the CPJ citing other news organizations). The Israeli government is actually a primary source when it comes to identifying terrorists, while these other media outlets were not. It’s mind-boggling that Carr wouldn’t at the very least include the IDF’s statement.

Elder of Ziyon sums it up:

Real journalists are supposed to be skeptical. They are supposed to be spending their time uncovering the truth. They are supposed to be honest enough to admit when they are wrong, to revisit the story when facts indicate they are mistaken, because the real story should be more important than their egos. 

This is not just an indictment of Carr. This is a systemic problem in the entire profession. The smugness that they are infallible, and the groupthink that they can rely on others’ work without double-checking it, all indicate that there is some significant daylight between how many journalists do their work and what the truth really is.

New York Times readers deserve a better explanation than the one Carr has given.