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'NYT' Public Ed. Responds to My Piece on 'Disgraceful' Caption for Gaza Photo | The Nation

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Greg Mitchell

Greg Mitchell

Media, politics and culture.

'NYT' Public Ed. Responds to My Piece on 'Disgraceful' Caption for Gaza Photo

On Sunday, I wrote a piece here about a top-of-the-front-page New York Times photo that morning by the great Tyler Hicks. The caption merely mentioned that these Gaza school kids had found their school “closed” with no explanation why. Then it jumped to a reference to an “emboldened” Hamas.

Margaret Sullivan, the fine NYT public editor, has now weighed in. (Please jump to my original post below.) She quotes from my piece, finds fault with some aspects of the caption, but after a few phone calls rejects my claim that it is “disgraceful” and maybe Orwellian—and points to criticism of the photo from another angle, as being an example of “anti-Israel bias” (which she rightly rejects).

I’ll offer a full response in stages. For now: (1) Hicks reports that the school was not, as I suggested, destroyed by a missile but only damaged enough to keep it from reopening. I get the difference, but the reason I had written that it was destroyed were photos such as this, also from Hicks (go to #19 in the slide show), and especially these (#1, #3 and #4 in gallery), again from Hicks. Note that the captions in these cases clearly label the school closed due to damage.

(2) Sullivan reports: “Douglas Schorzman, an assistant foreign editor, told me that it wasn’t clear to editors in New York how damaged the building was. ‘If it was leveled, we just should have said so,’ he said. But ‘on deadline and in the moment, we may not have known that.’ And in fact, it wasn’t leveled, so it made sense to be cautious.” This, of course, is absurd. The caption did not even mention that the school was damaged in any way, before jumping to its Hamas focus.

(3) “In addition,” Sullivan writes, “the brief caption was serving a second purpose—as a way to direct readers to an inside page where several articles were displayed, including one about the prospects for peace talks and the role of Hamas.” So the fact that it served this “second purpose” meant the caption could not be accurate and complete? And the articles inside did not cover school closings or damage.

4) Note that I raised the "Orwelllian" reference as a question, not an outright claim.

Original post on Sunday: This photo, at left, was the top front-page image (by the great Tyler Hicks) in The New York Times in print today: Young kids returning to their school in Gaza, which is out of the frame. Disgraceful Times caption: “Girls at a Gaza school were stunned to find it closed. An emboldened Hamas may lead Israel to harden its stance.”

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Why was the school closed? You had to go to other photos over at the NYT site to find that the school was completely destroyed by one of those precision Israeli missile strikes.

The “emboldened Hamas” part of the caption seems to betray another conscious effort to undercut the photographic image. One could even read the caption as suggesting that Hamas shut down a lightly damaged school, for some reason. While putting the photo in a prominent position might draw criticism from Israelis, the caption appears aimed at softening it.  The same caption—dare we call it Orwellian?—appeared online and has not been changed as this is written.

Greg Mitchell is author of more than a dozen books. His unique e-book on Obama-Romney race has just been published. Tricks, Lies, and Videotape covers the contest and aftermath right up to mid-November, and includes over 600 clickable links to the most important articles and videos.

Sharif Abdel Kouddous reports from the ground as Gazans recover from Israel’s attacks.

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