A newspaper printing a correction is nothing new. From small-town weeklies to papers with global reach, corrections are an uncomfortable but required piece of journalism when warranted.
When a newspaper has to admit it printed the equivalent of “fake news” in a story about “fake news,” it’s ripe with irony. When that newspaper turns out to be The New York Times, you can bet there will be more than a few guffaws coming from conservatives everywhere.
The “fake news” in question first appeared Saturday in a Times profile of Campbell Brown, once a reporter and anchor for NBC and CNN who now holds the title of Head of News Partnerships at Facebook.
The Times piece was designed to give insight into Brown’s professional background and her role at Facebook, including the challenges she faces in helping the social-media giant determine the oft-criticized relationship between Facebook and the companies whose news coverage it favors over others.
At some point in the feature, Times reporter Nellie Bowles detailed some of the upcoming projects Brown was working on at Facebook.
“… Ms. Brown wants to use Facebook’s existing Watch product — a service introduced in 2017 as a premium product with more curation that has nonetheless been flooded with far-right conspiracy programming like ‘Palestinians Pay $400 million Pensions For Terrorist Families’ — to be a breaking news destination. The result would be something akin to an online competitor to cable news.”
The problem with that sentence is the notion of payments to the families of Palestinian terrorists isn’t exactly a conspiracy theory. It’s a proven fact.
By Monday, Times editors had taken out the reference to the Palestinian “conspiracy theory” and added a correction at the end of the story.
“An earlier version of this article erroneously included a reference to Palestinian actions as an example of the sort of far-right conspiracy stories that have plagued Facebook,” the correction reads. “In fact, Palestinian officials have acknowledged providing payments to the families of Palestinians killed while carrying out attacks on Israelis or convicted of terrorist acts and imprisoned in Israel; that is not a conspiracy theory.”
In other words, “We’re sorry about the fake news that appeared in our story about fake news.”
The corrected version of the story now reads, “… Ms. Brown wants to use Facebook’s existing Watch product — a service introduced in 2017 as a premium product with more curation that has nonetheless been flooded with far-right conspiracy programming — to be a breaking news destination. The result would be something akin to an online competitor to cable news.”
The amazing thing about Bowles’ claim of a conspiracy theory is the fact several high-ranking officials have confirmed the practice, including the president of the Palestinian Authority.
Mahmoud Abbas has not only confirmed such a practice exists, he even stated publicly last year that he has no intention of ending the payment program.
“I don’t intend to cease payment for families of prisoner martyrs, even if it costs me my seat, I will continue to pay them until my last day,” Abbas said, using the term “martyrs” to refer to the jailed Palestinians.
While The Washington Post has admitted the actual amount the Palestinian Authority has paid out is tough to pin down, “there is little doubt that the system allows people to be rewarded for what many Americans would call terrorism.”
While the Times deserves credit for correcting its mistake, the fact one of its reporters considered something that’s been admitted by the Palestinian Authority to be a conspiracy theory is a bit troubling.
And when The Times is preoccupied with attacking its opponents as “fake news” and “conspiracy theorists,” rather than on the truth, embarrassing mistakes like this are bound to happen again and again.
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