I was one of the many readers who jumped (in my case, at "Will the Gaza Precedent Haunt Israel?") on seeing this passage recently in the New York Times:
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Wednesday [Aug. 17] offered sympathy for the Israeli settlers who are being removed from their homes in Gaza but also made it clear that she expected Israel and the Palestinians to take further steps in short order toward the creation of a Palestinian state. "Everyone empathizes with what the Israelis are facing," Ms. Rice said in an interview. But she added, "It cannot be Gaza only."
It turns out that this is a massive distortion of her words and meaning. In another instance of the blogosphere catching out the mainstream media, Rick Richman shows in "Condoleezza Rice and The New York Times" how the two Times interviewers, Joel Brinkley and Steven Weisman, manufactured the above quote.
Drawing on the full transcript of the interview, as provided on the State Department website, Richman shows that the first sentence of the quote comes from this statement by Rice:
Let me say, first, a word about Gaza disengagement and the withdrawal that's going on. First of all, it is an enormously courageous decision on the part of Ariel Sharon and his government. And it is a decision that, in having talked to these people a lot, they took because they believe it is the right thing for the Israeli people and that it is going to improve the security of Israel. I know, in having talked to them and watched how hard and I think everybody empathizes with what every Israeli has to be feeling and with people uprooting from homes that they have been in for a generation and the difficulty and the pain that that causes. And so I watched Prime Minister Sharon's address to the nation and it was really remarkable statesmanship.
(Note the inaccuracies in wording of the New York Times version.) The second part comes 1,378 words later, from here:
QUESTION: Do you think you'll go back there [the Middle East] in the fall to keep the momentum going?
SECRETARY RICE: Let's see, you know, what's required. We will have a Quartet in New York because the world comes here for the UNGA. And we'll certainly have a Quartet meeting at that time. There's a Quartet envoys meeting that's scheduled for this week and part of their job is to kind of prepare the meeting of the Quartet and I think we'll look at where we are. But by no means do I think that this is the end. The other thing is, just to close off this question, the question has been put repeatedly to the Israelis and to us that it cannot be Gaza only and everybody says no, it cannot be Gaza only. There is, after all, even a link to the West Bank and the four settlements that are going to be dismantled in the West Bank. Everybody, I believe, understands that what we're trying to do is to create momentum toward reenergizing the roadmap and through that momentum toward the eventual establishment of a Palestinian state.
Alex Safian of the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA) explains the difference between the Times version and the actual interview:
What the Times portrays as Ms. Rice's statement was actually her recounting of what others are saying "to the Israelis and to us." Yes, she expresses the US position in favor of the Roadmap and the "the eventual establishment of a Palestinian state," but that's a far cry from immediate pressure on Israel to go beyond the Gaza withdrawal, which is what "It cannot be Gaza only" clearly means in this context.
Safian then goes on to document "outright inventions" in other parts of the Times reportage.
Comments: (1) One finds oneself wondering if the mainstream media was always this fraudulent and in the pre-internet age one just did not find out; or whether it has degenerated as partisanship has taken hold. I suspect the latter.
(2) Acquired habits of credence must be shed; the New York Times and like sources of information now must be read with an "interesting if true" spirit.
(3) Most mysterious: Why did the secretary of state's office, which surely noted this mangled quotation, not correct it? (August 27, 2005)
Sep. 1, 2005 update: A reader responds to the first comment with a reminder about Walter Duranty's cover up for Lenin and Stalin and Herbert Matthews' fabrications on behalf of Fidel Castro, concluding: "So as you can see your first supposition in the comment was correct." Those were indeed wretched – and far greater – sins than this one. Still, I wonder if in those days New York Times reporters would distort an interview with the secretary of state in like fashion.
Sep. 4, 2005 update: There has been no correction forthcoming from the New York Times but Steven Weisman quietly changed his reporting on Rice's statement in a news item today, "Hoping to Buttress Sharon, U.S. Urges Allies' Restraint." Quite contrary to the interview, Weisman reports here that the U.S. government does not want to pressure Israel for further concessions:
The Bush administration, hoping to strengthen Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in the Israeli turmoil after the Gaza withdrawal, is urging allies of the United States to refrain from pressing Israel to make new concessions to Palestinians, senior American officials said this week. …
A senior administration official also said: "There's no question that we are aware of the toll that the whole disengagement debate took on Israelis. In our view, the message to Prime Minister Sharon from people in New York [the UN] should be one of congratulations, not one of new pressures."
Comment: It's good to see this implicit correction, but it should be made explicit.
Sep. 5, 2005 update: Rick Richman takes up my third comment above, where I ask why Rice did not correct the record immediately. At "Condi and the NYT -- The Last Word," he points out that on August 18, the day the interview appeared, two things happened: an Israeli minister called Rice on it and the quote was the subject of a contentious exchange at the State Department's daily press briefing. Then, five days later, President Bush obliquely addressed this issue. Richman concludes from this:
Between August 18 (when the Times story appeared) and August 23 (when the President next spoke with the press) -- there was undoubtedly a discussion between Bush and Rice about how to correct the misimpression the Times had created, and do so in a manner that would leave no doubt about the U.S. position. Secretaries of State do not write letters to the editor. The mangled quote was corrected by the Chief of State.
To my mind, this explanation is too convoluted. There was no need for a letter to the editor – the department press briefer on August 18, assuming with Richman that he was aware of the problem, easily could have corrected the record and dispatched the problem within hours of its appearance.
Why did he not do so? I suspect because he and the secretary did not want to embarrass the Times reporters. Government officials and the press who cover them must work together and rudely to expose so egregious an error could sour relations. Better a small diplomatic storm, went the implicit calculation at State, than to make important journalists look bad.
Sep. 9, 2005 update: CAMERA reports on a letter from Steven Weisman to a reader sent sometime before his Sep. 4 correction:
Thanks for your note. We are not issuing a correction.... [Secretary Rice] called on Israel to pull forces out of five cities in the West Bank, to dismantle the four settlements in the West Bank and to carry out other steps in the Sharm el-Sheikh accord of earlier this year, and not wait for the Palestinians to take their steps. I'm afraid that your quarrel is with her, not us...