Journalism professors urge New York Times to re-examine accuracy of October 7 report

Investigative piece ‘Screams Without Words: Sexual Violence on Oct 7' was published in December

A bomb shelter where people sought refuge before being killed during the October 7 attacks. Reuters
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More than 50 tenured journalism professors and scholars from leading US universities have called for a comprehensive external review of The New York Times' investigative front-page story on sexual violence perpetrated during the October 7 Hamas attacks on Israel.

The professors, hailing from institutions including New York University, the University of Pennsylvania, Northwestern and the University of Texas, urged the newspaper to commission a group of journalism experts to conduct a thorough and full independent review of the reporting, editorial procedures and overall publication process for the story, and to release a report of findings.

The lengthy investigative story "‘Screams Without Words’: Sexual Violence on Oct 7”, which was published in December under the byline of international correspondent Jeffrey Gettleman and two freelancers, detailed how Hamas used sexual assault during the attacks.

Shortly after the story was published, questions arose about its accuracy.

Family members of one of the women killed in the attack, who was prominently featured in the report, challenged the claim that she had been raped.

Discrepancies in the testimony provided by a witness cited in the article drew further scrutiny.

The decision to send the letter came after persistent criticism from external observers and growing dissatisfaction within the Times' own ranks about the credibility of the story.

The letter, obtained by The National, was sent on Monday to Times publisher AG Sulzberger, executive editor Joe Kahn and international editor Philip Pan.

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Signatories include Mohamad Bazzi from New York University, Andrew Butters from University of Texas at Austin, AJ Christian from Northwestern University, Larry Gross from University of Southern California and Sarah J Jackson from the University of Pennsylvania, among others.

Shahan Mufti, a professor at the University of Richmond, told The National that the intent behind the letter was to prompt the publication to “eventually concede that there are problems with the story and retract it or at least correct it”.

“But for some reason the Times is digging its heels deeper and deeper even as the story continues to disintegrate,” he said.

“The stakes are just so high with this particular story because of what it was about and the time at which it was published.

“As we point out in the letter, when the International Court of Justice is talking about plausible genocide and UN agencies are warning of man-made famine, then it’s all the more important that any errors with previous reporting are recognised and corrected quickly.”

The letter conceded that it is an “impossible task” to produce “perfectly accurate drafts of history in real time”.

The letter stated that if an independent review clears the publication of serious wrongdoing, it will benefit not only the Times but journalism as a whole.

It added that, if the investigation uncovers significant errors or negligence, the publication would not be able to “reverse the damage done to Palestine and to Palestinians, but ... could still reverse some of the damage it has done to itself with its silence”.

Either way, the letter concluded, an immediate review “is the only responsible and credible thing to do”.

“Whether we like it or not, for better or worse, the Times often sets the bar for journalistic standards in America,” Mr Mufti said.

“If the Times starts lowering ethical standards, you can be sure that others will, too.”

Updated: April 29, 2024, 5:14 PM