June 13th, 2024

US academics demand independent review of the New York Times' controversial story

A group of esteemed journalism professors from across the U.S. challenges The New York Times over the integrity of a front-page story on sexual violence. They urge the newspaper to conduct an independent review to uphold journalistic standards amidst wartime reporting.

The letter calls for the immediate commissioning of a group of journalism experts to conduct a full independent review of the entire process behind the story (Photo by Beyzanur K. via Pexels).
The letter calls for the immediate commissioning of a group of journalism experts to conduct a full independent review of the entire process behind the story (Photo by Beyzanur K. via Pexels).

A collective of American journalism professors has sent a public letter to The New York Times, expressing deep concern over a front-page story published by the newspaper on December 31, 2023, titled “‘Screams Without Words’: Sexual Violence on Oct. 7.”

The academics, from various prestigious institutions, are challenging the integrity of the report and urging the newspaper to undertake an independent review of its reporting and editorial processes.

Driving the News: The group, comprising professors and scholars in journalism and media studies, highlights that the The New York Times has remained mostly silent despite ongoing reports and social media discussions questioning the story's accuracy. Their concern is accentuated by the historical consequences of the report, especially since it appeared during a sensitive wartime context.

  • The Big Picture: According to the letter, the story in question, which deals with allegations of sexual violence, may have profoundly influenced public perception and policy responses at a critical time. This makes the demand for scrutiny and transparency even more urgent.

The New York Times front-page story published on December 31, 2023.
The New York Times front-page story published on December 31, 2023.

Details: The letter calls for the immediate commissioning of a group of journalism experts to conduct a full independent review of the entire process behind the story — from reporting and editing to publishing — and to make the findings public.

  • Zoom in: Among the troubling points raised is the involvement of freelancers with limited journalism experience in critical reporting tasks. The professors single out Anat Schwartz, an Israeli filmmaker and former air force intelligence official, and Adam Sella, reportedly related to Schwartz's partner, who contributed significantly to the report. The professors question the vetting process and editorial decisions that allowed such contributors to heavily influence a front-page story.

What They’re Saying: "The integrity of journalism is at stake here. We cannot afford silence when the stakes are this high," says the letter. This sentiment underscores the academic community's view on maintaining journalistic standards, particularly in reports that can sway public opinion during conflicts.

"These are only a handful of many questions swirling around this story. Again, we urge The New York Times to quickly, with breaking-news-swiftness, commission an independent review of this story and the entire process that led up to its publication. It is the only responsible and credible thing to do," the professors said in the letter.

  • Between the Lines: This is not the first time the The New York Times has faced scrutiny over its editorial choices. The letter references previous incidents, like the Jayson Blair scandal and the re-examination of its Iraq war coverage, suggesting a pattern that might be concerning if left unaddressed.

What’s Next: The group urges the The New York Times to act with the urgency of breaking news to address these issues, hinting that any delay could further erode trust in its reporting, particularly regarding the ongoing conflict.