The New York Times’s public editor Liz Spayd on Tuesday criticized the paper’s op-ed department for its failure to list the terror crimes that earned Palestinian terrorist Marwan Barghouti five life sentences in prison, saying such skimping on opinion writers’ biographical information is a repeated fault that discredits the paper.
Barghouti wrote a New York Times piece Sunday in defense of the mass hunger strike by Palestinian security prisoners he initiated on Monday. The op-ed’s tag line described Barghouti as a “parliamentarian and leader” but did not mention the terror attacks for which he was convicted.
“I see no reason to skimp on this, while failing to do so risks the credibility of the author and the Op-Ed pages,” Spayd wrote in a piece titled “An Op-Ed Author Omits His Crimes, and The Times Does Too.”
Spayd noted that she had spoken personally with Jim Dao, editor of the Op-Ed pages, about the omission of Barghouti’s past.
“This isn’t a new issue for the Opinion section,” she wrote. “I have written before on the need to more fully identify the biography and credentials of authors, especially details that help people make judgments about the opinions they’re reading. Do the authors of the pieces have any conflicts of interest that could challenge their credibility? Are they who they say they are, and can editors vouch for their fidelity?”
The Barghouti piece drew outrage from Israeli officials including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who said that referring to Barghouti solely as a politician, as The New York Times did, was akin to calling Syrian President Bashar Assad “a pediatrician.” (In fact, Assad trained as an eye doctor.)
The NY Times issued a clarification on Monday, saying, “This article explained the writer’s prison sentence but neglected to provide sufficient context by stating the offenses of which he was convicted. They were five counts of murder and membership in a terrorist organization,” the paper wrote. “Mr. Barghouti declined to offer a defense at his trial and refused to recognize the Israeli court’s jurisdiction and legitimacy.” This text was appended early Tuesday to the online version of Barghouti’s Op-ed.
“In this case, I’m pleased to see the editors responding to the complaints, and moving to correct the issue rather than resist it. Hopefully, it’s a sign that fuller disclosure will become regular practice,” wrote Spayd, whose job at the paper entails looking at the journalistic integrity of the publication.
How much should you know about Marwan Barghouti? More than you were told https://t.co/VwfMUGmUsn
— Liz Spayd (@spaydl) April 18, 2017
Barghouti is the former leader of the Tanzim armed wing of Fatah and the founder of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, a Fatah terror group. He was convicted in an Israeli civilian court in 2004 on five counts of murder and one attempted murder, and was implicated in and held responsible for four other terror attacks. He is serving five life terms for the murders, and an additional 40 years for attempted murder.
Other Israeli politicians had already criticized the New York Times for failing to say why Barghouti was jailed.
In an op-ed published in The Times of Israel on Monday, Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid decried what he called The New York Times’ “intentional deception” of its readers by omitting any mention of Barghouti’s past.
Barghouti has remained politically active from behind bars, and is often touted as one of a few likely successors to the 82-year-old Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
Many Palestinians see Barghouti’s move to call a mass hunger strike as chiefly an internal power play in an attempt to send a message specifically to the Fatah leadership and to Abbas, who excluded Barghouti’s loyalists from a recent Central Committee meeting and did not give Barghouti the anticipated position of deputy head of the PA.