By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

In Haaretz, Laurel Leff raises questions about an open letter signed by journalism profs

Writing in the liberal Israeli newspaper Haaretz, my Northeastern journalism colleague Laurel Leff raises some questions about a recent open letter signed by more than 50 journalism and communication studies professors calling on The New York Times to conduct an independent review of a December story on Hamas’ use of sexual assault as a weapon of war.

The story, “Screams Without Words: How Hamas Weaponized Sexual Violence on Oct. 7,” came under scrutiny after The Intercept reported that the Times had relied in part on a freelancer who had liked tweets advocating extreme violence in the Gaza Strip and that some of the harrowing details in the Times story couldn’t be corroborated. Leff, though, observes that a United Nations investigation found “clear and convincing information” that Hamas had raped and tortured Israelis on Oct. 7 as well as some of the more than 200 hostages it took, a few of whom it is still holding. She writes:

In this case, the gist of the story has held up; no clear evidence of journalistic wrongdoing has emerged, and the Times has exhibited some willingness to respond to criticisms. The professors calling for an investigation therefore seem more interested in joining an ongoing propaganda war, than in righting a journalistic wrong. That’s no place for a journalism professor to be.

Leff’s column is not behind Haaretz’s paywall, but you may need to register in order to read it. The Washington Post recently reported on the letter (free link), which you can read in full here. This is a fraught issue, obviously, and I urge you to read all the relevant documents, including the Times’ original story (free link) and The Intercept article.

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1 Comment

  1. As someone who has taught journalism courses for years, I find that the most difficult thing is to get students to be “fair to the facts” when they already have strong emotions about what they think the facts are (or should be). In the case of the war in Gaza, I read a lot of papers in which students want to reduce what’s happening to “one side is good/the other side is bad,” or they want to insert their own opinion about Netanyahu or Biden (or Hamas, for that matter) into a piece that is supposed to be about campus protests. Meanwhile, I applaud the student journalists who are doing commendable work covering the protests on their campuses (including at Northeastern). I’m simply saying it can be an ongoing challenge to get students to step back from their own feelings about the Middle East and stick to what is happening when they report about campus news. Are there techniques you use to make sure students remain objective, even when they don’t want to be?

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