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The New York Times Probes Its Staffers Over Leaks About Sexual Violence Investigation on October 7

Misbar's Editorial Team Misbar's Editorial Team
18th March 2024
The New York Times Probes Its Staffers Over Leaks About Sexual Violence Investigation on October 7
The New York Times started an investigation about leaks (Getty)

Following the release of the renowned investigative report titled "‘Screams Without Words’: How Hamas Weaponized Sexual Violence on Oct. 7," concerns were raised regarding the reliability of the testimonies presented in the investigation. Critics highlighted the absence of victim testimonies and the reliance on narratives from entities and organizations known for fabricating claims during the ongoing war. The recent controversy involved correspondent Anat Schwartz, who collaborated on the report with Jeffrey Gettleman and Adam Sella. It has come to light that Schwartz had endorsed posts advocating for the genocide of Palestinians and lacked sufficient experience for such a sensitive investigation.

In the latest developments regarding the aftermath of the investigation, Vanity Fair magazine revealed days ago that The New York Times is conducting an internal investigation into the leak of a report to The Intercept about a yet-to-be-aired episode of The Daily podcast produced by the newspaper. The episode was supposed to critically examine the controversial allegations of sexual violence attributed to Hamas on October 7. However, the episode was withheld from airing following pressure from the Israeli media monitoring organization known as "CAMERA."

Based on information provided to Vanity Fair by multiple sources, The New York Times management has recently called upon at least two dozen staffers, including Daily producers, for meetings. These meetings are aimed at unraveling the mystery of how internal information regarding the podcast's editorial process was leaked. The investigation is being overseen by Charlotte Behrendt, who serves as the paper's director of policy and internal investigations.

What Happened Inside the New York Times Newsroom?

In late January, The Intercept reported that The New York Times planned to air an episode of The Daily podcast based on an investigation previously published by the newspaper weeks earlier in late December. The investigation, led by Pulitzer Prize-winning international editor Jeffrey Gettleman and coauthored by freelancers Anat Schwartz and Adam Sella, examined how "Hamas weaponized sexual violence” in the October 7 attack on Israel.

The New York Times investigation on the use of sexual violence as a weapon in the October 7 attack
The New York Times investigation on the use of sexual violence as a weapon in the October 7 attack

According to insiders speaking to The Intercept, a new script was drafted for the podcast episode that “offered major caveats, allowed for uncertainty, and asked open-ended questions that were absent from the original article, which presented its findings as definitive evidence of the systematic use of sexual violence as a weapon of war.” But the paper shelved that episode “amid a furious internal debate about the strength of the paper’s original reporting on the subject.”

At that time, investigative journalists Daniel Boguslaw and Ryan Grim from The Intercept raised an important dilemma faced by podcast producers and newspaper management: whether to closely adhere to the previously published story and potentially reiterate significant mistakes, or to publish a significantly toned-down version, which could cast doubt on the newspaper's commitment to the original report. However, Times spokesperson Charlie Stadtlander informed The Intercept that the newspaper refrains from commenting on ongoing reporting, emphasizing that "there is only one 'version' of any piece of audio journalism: the one that is published."

The New York Times' decision to conduct a leak investigation is considered highly unusual, as multiple staffers conveyed to Vanity Fair that this is the first such internal probe they can recall taking place. "It's not something we typically do," mentioned one staffer, "and that kind of pursuit is truly worrisome."

While internal leaks have occurred in the past, which is somewhat expected in a large and influential newsroom like The New York Times, staffers who spoke to Vanity Fair suggest that this particular disclosure should have a deeper impact because it revealed internal decision-making processes regarding a story that had yet to be published.

“We aren’t going to comment on internal matters,” The New York Times spokesperson Danielle Rhoades Ha said in a statement to Vanity Fair when asked about the leak investigation. “I can tell you that the work of our newsroom requires trust and collaboration, and we expect all of our colleagues to adhere to these values.”

The New York Times Continues Its Approach Since the Beginning of the War

In late February, The Intercept published an article by Jeremy Scahill, Ryan Grim, and Daniel Boguslaw, which also questioned the accuracy of The New York Times' investigation and highlighted flaws in its reporting process. The article mainly relied on comments made by Schwartz during a recent podcast interview with an Israeli channel. In response, the newspaper issued a statement to The Intercept, asserting that the quotes were "taken out of context."

Recently, there has been scrutiny over Schwartz's social media activity. The Daily Beast previously reported that the journalist had liked multiple X posts indicating a blatant bias towards Israel, including one calling for Israel to turn Gaza into a slaughterhouse. This appeared to violate The New York Times' social media guidelines, which warn journalists that all posts and likes “must not express partisan opinions, promote political views…, make offensive comments, or do anything else that undercuts The Times’s journalistic reputation.” 

The New York Times spokesperson, Danielle Rhodes Ha, said in a statement to The Daily Beast at the time that Schwartz's “‘likes’ were unacceptable violations of our company policy. We are currently reviewing the matter.”

The post that Schwartz liked, which calls for turning Gaza into a slaughterhouse (X)
The post that Schwartz liked, which calls for turning Gaza into a slaughterhouse (X)

The coverage of the war on Gaza exposed tensions within various newsrooms, including The New York Times. Debates emerged regarding how staffers publicly reacted to the war and the framing of the Israeli military's retaliation following Hamas's initial surprise attack on October 7, during which nearly 1,200 people were killed and hundreds were taken hostage. Since then, tens of thousands of Palestinians have been killed, and approximately two million have been internally displaced.

Since the start of the Israeli war on Gaza, The New York Times has been scrutinized for its perceived bias towards the Israeli narrative, often without thorough examination or accountability, while comparatively providing less coverage to the Palestinian perspective. In late October, a rare memo was circulated to editors, urging them to remove Israel's name from the headline in the newspaper's reporting on the bombing of Al-Ahli Arab Hospital.

A month later, The New York Times Magazine writer Jazmine Hughes abruptly left the company after signing an open letter condemning Israel's actions in Gaza calling them "an attempt to conduct genocide against the Palestinian people."

The letter also criticized media coverage of the war, including The New York Times editorial that endorsed what it termed as Israel's right to defend itself militarily while urging it to protect civilians. It later became apparent that signing such a petition violated the newspaper's policy, which states that staffers "should not sign petitions taking positions on public issues or lend their names to campaigns... if doing so might reasonably raise doubts about their or the newspaper's ability to operate impartially in news coverage."

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