NYT bombshell alleging Hamas sexual violence debunked once again

NYT bombshell alleging Hamas sexual violence debunked once again

NYT’s “Screams Without Words” galvanized the Israeli war effort at a time when even some allies were expressing concern over its large-scale killing of civilians

The story has already been discredited… new details below implicate the Times’ upper echelons

Inside the newsroom, the article was met with praise from editorial leaders but skepticism from other Times journalists. The paper’s podcast attempt to turn the article into an episode failed the fact check…

Forensic evidence of sexual violence was non-existent… If this has happened in so many places, how can it be that there is no forensic evidence? How can it be that there is no documentation? How can it be that there are no records? A report?

The Times’s mission appeared to be to bolster a predetermined narrative…

By Jeremy Scahill, Ryan Grim, Daniel Boguslaw, text reposted from the Intercept (photos added by IAK)

Anat Schwartz had a problem. The Israeli filmmaker and former air force intelligence official had been assigned by the New York Times to work with her partner’s nephew Adam Sella and veteran Times reporter Jeffrey Gettleman on an investigation into sexual violence by Hamas on October 7 that could reshape the way the world understood Israel’s ongoing war in the Gaza Strip. By November, global opposition was mounting against Israel’s military campaign, which had already killed thousands of children, women, and the elderly. On her social media feed, which the Times has since said it is reviewing, Schwartz liked a tweet saying that Israel needed to “turn the strip into a slaughterhouse.”

“Violate any norm, on the way to victory,” read the post. “Those in front of us are human animals who do not hesitate to violate minimal rules.”

The New York Times, however, does have rules and norms. Schwartz had no prior reporting experience. Her reporting partner Gettleman explained the basics to her, Schwartz said in a podcast interview on January 3, produced by Israel’s Channel 12 and conducted in Hebrew.

Gettleman, she said, was concerned they “get at least two sources for every detail we put into the article, cross-check information. Do we have forensic evidence? Do we have visual evidence? Apart from telling our reader ‘this happened,’ what can we say? Can we tell what happened to whom?”

Schwartz said she was initially reluctant to take the assignment because she did not want to look at visual images of potential assaults and because she lacked the expertise to conduct such an investigation.

Victims of sexual assault are women who have experienced something, and then to come and sit in front of such a woman — who am I anyway?” she said. “I have no qualifications.”

Nonetheless, she began working with Gettleman on the story, she explained in the podcast interview. Gettleman, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter, is an international correspondent, and when he is sent to a bureau, he works with news assistants and freelancers on stories. In this case, several newsroom sources familiar with the process said, Schwartz and Sella did the vast majority of the ground reporting, while Gettleman focused on the framing and writing.

The resulting report, published in late December, was headlined “‘Screams Without Words’: How Hamas Weaponized Sexual Violence on Oct. 7.” It was a bombshell and galvanized the Israeli war effort at a time when even some of Israel’s allies were expressing concern over its large-scale killing of civilians in Gaza. Inside the newsroom, the article was met with praise from editorial leaders but skepticism from other Times journalists.

The paper’s flagship podcast “The Daily” attempted to turn the article into an episode, but it didn’t manage to get through a fact check, as The Intercept previously reported. (In a statement received after publication, a Times spokesperson said, “No Daily episode was killed due to fact checking failures.”)

The fear among Times staffers who have been critical of the paper’s Gaza coverage is that Schwartz will become a scapegoat for what is a much deeper failure. She may harbor animosity toward Palestinians, lack the experience with investigative journalism, and feel conflicting pressures between being a supporter of Israel’s war effort and a Times reporter, but Schwartz did not commission herself and Sella to report one of the most consequential stories of the war. Senior leadership at the New York Times did.

Schwartz said as much in an interview with Israeli Army Radio on December 31. “The New York Times said, ‘Let’s do an investigation into sexual violence’ — it was more a case of them having to convince me,” she said. Her host cut her off: “It was a proposal of The New York Times, the entire thing?”

“Unequivocally. Unequivocally. Obviously. Of course,” she said. “The paper stood behind us 200 percent and gave us the time, the investment, the resources to go in-depth with this investigation as much as needed.”

Shortly after the war broke out, some editors and reporters complained that Times standards barred them from referring to Hamas as “terrorists.” The rationale from the standards department, run for 14 years by Philip Corbett, had long been that Hamas was the de facto administrator of a specific territory, rather than a stateless terror group. Deliberately killing civilians, went the argument, was not enough to label a group terrorists, as that label could apply quite broadly.

Pressure to soften coverage in Israel’s favor

Corbett, after October 7, defended the policy in the face of pressure, newsroom sources said, but he lost. On October 19, an email went out on behalf of Executive Editor Joe Kahn saying that Corbett had asked to step back from his position. “After 14 years as the embodiment of Times standards, Phil Corbett has told us he’d like to step back a bit and let someone else take the leading role in this crucial effort,” Times leadership explained.

New York Times’ Executive Editor Joe Kahn, son of Staples founder Leo Kahn known for promoting Holocaust education. The Times in reporting Kahn’s elevation to Editor said father and son enjoyed dissecting newspaper coverage together. (photo)

Three newsroom sources said the move was tied to the pressure he was under to soften coverage in Israel’s favor. One of the social media posts that Schwartz liked, triggering the Times review, made the case that, for Israeli propaganda purposes, Hamas should be likened at all times to the Islamic State.

A Times spokesperson told The Intercept, “Your understanding about Phil Corbett is flatly untrue.” In a statement received after publication, “Phil had asked to change roles before Joe Kahn even became executive editor in June 2022. And it had absolutely nothing to do with a dispute over coverage.”

Since the revelations regarding Schwartz’s recent social media activity, her byline has not appeared in the paper and she has not attended editorial meetings. The paper said that a review into her social media “likes” is ongoing. “Those ‘likes’’ are unacceptable violations of our company policy,” said a Times spokesperson.

The bigger scandal may be the reporting itself, the process that allowed it into print, and the life-altering impact the reporting had for thousands of Palestinians whose deaths were justified by the alleged systematic sexual violence orchestrated by Hamas the paper claimed to have exposed.

Another frustrated Times reporter who has also worked as an editor there said, “A lot of focus will understandably, rightfully, be directed at Schwartz but this is most clearly poor editorial decision making that undermines all the other great work being tirelessly done across the paper — both related and completely unrelated to the war — that manages to challenge our readers and meet our standards.”

The Channel 12 podcast interview with Schwartz, which The Intercept translated from Hebrew, opens a window into the reporting process on the controversial story and suggests that The New York Times’s mission was to bolster a predetermined narrative.

In a response to The Intercept’s questions about Schwartz’s podcast interview, a spokesperson for the New York Times walked back the blockbuster article’s framing that evidence shows Hamas had weaponized sexual violence to a softer claim that “there may have been systematic use of sexual assault.”

Times International editor Phil Pan said in a statement that he stands by the work. “Ms. Schwartz was part of a rigorous reporting and editing process,” he said. “She made valuable contributions and we saw no evidence of bias in her work. We remain confident in the accuracy of our reporting and stand by the team’s investigation. But as we have said, her ‘likes’ of offensive and opinionated social media posts, predating her work with us, are unacceptable.”

After this story was published, Schwartz, who did not respond to a request for comment, tweeted to thank the Times for “standing behind the important stories we have published.” She added, “The recent attacks against me will not deter me from continuing my work.” Addressing her social media activity, Schwartz said, “I understand why people who do not know me were offended by the inadvertent ‘like’ I pressed on 10/7 and I apologize for that.” At least three of her “likes” have been the subject of public scrutiny.

In the podcast interview, Schwartz details her extensive efforts to get confirmation from Israeli hospitals, rape crisis centers, trauma recovery facilities, and sex assault hotlines in Israel, as well as her inability to get a single confirmation from any of them. “She was told there had been no complaints made of sexual assaults,” the Times spokesperson acknowledged after The Intercept brought the Channel 12 podcast episode to the paper’s attention. “This however was just the very first step of her research. She then describes the unfolding of evidence, testimonies, and eventual evidence that there may have been systematic use of sexual assault,” the spokesperson asserted. “She details her research steps and emphasizes the Times’s strict standards to corroborate evidence, and meetings with reporters and editors to discuss probing questions and think critically about the story.”

The question has never been whether individual acts of sexual assault may have occurred on October 7. Rape is not uncommon in war, and there were also several hundred civilians who poured into Israel from Gaza that day in a “second wave,” contributing to and participating in the mayhem and violence. The central issue is whether the New York Times presented solid evidence to support its claim that there were newly reported details “establishing that the attacks against women were not isolated events but part of a broader pattern of gender-based violence on Oct. 7” — a claim stated in the headline that Hamas deliberately deployed sexual violence as a weapon of war…[read more]

The independent site October 7 Fact CheckMondoweiss, and journalists Ali Abunimah of Electronic Intifada and Max Blumenthal of The Grayzone previously also flagged numerous inconsistencies and contradictions in the stories told in the Times report


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