Profs Urge NYT to Probe False Oct. 7 Rape Story

More than 50 journalism professors call for an independent review into the debunked NYT story “Screams Without Words.”

The New York Times headquarters, 620 Eighth Avenue, 2019. (Ajay Suresh, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons)

By Julia Conley
Common Dreams

Nothing can “reverse the damage done to Palestine and to Palestinians,” said the professors, “but the Times could still reverse some of the damage it has done to itself with its silence.”

A front-page New York Times story that Israel used to galvanize public support for its U.S.-backed assault on Gaza must be subject to an independent review, more than 50 journalism professors said in a letter to the newspaper on Monday, as growing protests signified widespread outrage over the destruction that followed the bombshell article.

The professors, many of whom worked as full-time journalists before turning to academia, wrote to Times publisher A.G. Sulzberger, executive editor Joe Kahn, and international editor Philip Pan, calling for a “thorough and independent review” into the article “Screams Without Words: Sexual Violence on Oct. 7.”

The letter urged the newspaper to form a commission made up of journalism experts to examine the “reporting, editing, and publishing processes” for the story.

The article came under scrutiny shortly after it was published, having been reported by not only international correspondent Jeffrey Gettleman but also two inexperienced freelancers based in Israel. One, Anat Schwartz, is a “former air force intelligence official” with whom the Times cut ties after it was revealed that she had “liked” a social media post calling for Gaza to be turned into a “slaughterhouse.”

“It appears that extraordinary trust was invested in these individuals and the Times would benefit from publicly explaining the circumstances that justified such unusual reliance on freelancers for such an important story,” the professors wrote. The academics included Mohamad Bazzi of New York University, Shahan Mufti of University of Richmond, and Jeff Cohen, who retired from Ithaca College.

Mufti joined Northwestern University assistant professor Steven Thrasher in gathering the signatures. He told The Washington Post that after “serious consideration and deliberation,” the academics “came to the conclusion that this is necessary.”

‘Facts’ Without Evidence

In addition to questions that have been raised about Schwartz’s and Sella’s experience and bias, the professors pointed to the newspaper’s acknowledgment on March 26 that “new video evidence ‘undercut’ some important details” in “Screams Without Words,” as well as Gettleman’s comment suggesting he did not view the information in the story as hard “evidence.”

“Can the paper ‘establish’ fact if its own reporter does not consider his information ‘evidence’?” asked the professors.

In March, a spokesperson for Kibbutz Be’eri told The Intercept that victims of the Hamas-led attack on southern Israel were not sexually assaulted, and the family of one woman who was a key figure in “Screams Without Words” has denied the report’s graphic details of sexual abuse were true.

The Intercept also wrote that in reporting on the alleged sexual assaults, Schwartz relied on interviews with a rescue group that was “documented to have mishandled evidence and spread multiple false stories about the events of October 7, including debunked allegations of Hamas operatives beheading babies.”

Al Jazeera journalist Laila Al-Arian called Monday’s letter a “major development” and urged the Times to “do the right thing.”

The methods used by Schwartz, The Intercept noted earlier this month, were the building blocks for a story that “instantly served as a powerful reference in a mounting campaign waged by Israel and its supporters” to excuse Israel’s assault on Gaza.

“The impact of The New York Times story is impossible to fathom,” the professors wrote.

“This is wartime and in the minds of many people, the Times’ story fueled the fire at a pivotal moment when there might have been an opportunity to contain it before, as the International Court of Justice has ruled, the situation devolved into the ‘plausible’ realm of genocide. Considering these grave circumstances, we believe that the Times must waste no time in extending an invitation for an independent review.”

External Review ‘Appropriate’

An missile attack on Gaza in October, 2023. (Ali Hamad of APAimages for WAFA, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0)

The article, said one signatory, Sandy Tolan of the University of Southern California, was published “as the death toll mounted in Gaza, and criticism was beginning to focus more on Israel.”

“Being cognizant of the potential damages of and consequences of the timing,” Tolan told the Post, “given that it didn’t appear to be as well-reported as it should have been, there’s all the more reason why an external review is appropriate.”

The signatories pointed out that there is significant precedent for newspapers conducting independent reviews of articles that have raised questions about bias and veracity.

“If an independent review finds that the Times did nothing gravely wrong, then it will be a win not just for the Times but for all journalism,” the professors wrote.

“In the worst case, if an investigation does find remarkable errors or negligence in the way the newsroom operated, nothing that the Times would do in response could ever reverse the damage done to Palestine and to Palestinians but the Times could still reverse some of the damage it has done to itself with its silence.”

“Doing nothing, however,” they added, “and allowing a cloud of doubt to hang over this historically consequential story will ensure that all the journalism that The New York Times produces in the course of this conflict will remain under a dark shadow.”

Julia Conley is a staff writer for Common Dreams.

Views expressed in this article and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.

24 comments for “Profs Urge NYT to Probe False Oct. 7 Rape Story

  1. Vera Gottlieb
    May 1, 2024 at 09:48

    How much longer is this RAG newspaper going to be tolerated? How much longer before it is finally taken down from a pedestal it doesn’t deserve to be on? Let me guess…Jewish ownership.

  2. DMCP
    May 1, 2024 at 05:11

    And now in today’s NYT, Bret Stephens piles on more of the same hysterical atrocity propaganda:


    This time in association with a film based on the false allegations of the earlier article.

    May 1, 2024 at 05:04

    He that pays the piper calls the tune.

  4. Jim
    May 1, 2024 at 01:23

    It’s a shame that this article missed an important attribution. The first and most comprehensive takedown of the Times story was done by The Grayzone (not The Intercept). The Grayzone is an exemplar of the journalistic methods that will replace the dying and discredited legacy media.

    • Tim N
      May 1, 2024 at 11:05

      Yes, the Intercept is getting credit for original reporting done by the Greyzone. There are people on the left who don’t like the Greyzone, and would rather look to the Intercept.

    • Daniel
      May 1, 2024 at 11:52


  5. Ted Scott
    April 30, 2024 at 23:50

    Reminds me of the Judith Miller stories in the NYT about wms in Iraq.

  6. wildthange
    April 30, 2024 at 20:51

    Big lies have been used extensively throughout history. One big one is the Christian defamation of an undocumented crucifixion and more likely a story to benefit Roman occupation that story and defamation of character has also reverberated throughout history. Looking at the nature of weaponization today helps in reinterpretation of innumerable lies for wars. Character defamation of leaders continues today in defining evil doers and reading headers soullessness.
    Yes a reevaluation of lies now and all lies past would be helpful in ridding the world of disinformation and character assassination and defamation.
    For world civilization all conflicts between peoples may require reconciliation councils.

  7. bardamu
    April 30, 2024 at 17:41

    It’s past time the academic world did something of this nature, though of course this is just a start.

    We are out here, most all of us, teaching a system of vetting and verification that is dependent on a 19th and 20th century system of business institutions that, in the first years of the 21st Century, died a violent death with respect to journalism.

    Specifically, we teach that large institutions, despite being vulnerable to hypocrisy, retain a strong vested interest in safeguarding their legitimacy–a financial interest. This worked as follows:

    1. Media company presents content to capture audience attention.
    2. Company sells audience attention to advertisers
    3. Company invests advertising capital to procure and process content.

    When this business model began to fail, as printed periodicals were replaced by two-way discourse in linked and networked electronic media, sources of news information reached out and captured the heritage media by producing and paying for content directly. The entities that could and wanted to do this were large corporations and government interests with severe public relations problems–purveyors of poisons, destruction, poverty, and death; Bayer-Monsanto, Exxon and GM, movements against socializing care of people, the MIC.

    Heritage journalism almost exclusively owes allegiance to these institutions and to groups within these.

    Student after student now passes through the secondary and university systems with some training to imagine the current media universe as different, almost the inverse of what it now is. Would that the actions against faculty as well as students at Colombia and George Washington and other embattled universities motivate a divergence by faculties from these teachings that have grown false. We do not really have time for a generation or two to politely die before a fresh idea takes hold.

    • Tom
      May 1, 2024 at 10:47

      The students are pawns, like we were in the 70’s. The people that took over building at CU were not students. I have not seen one interview of a student who knew the relationships with Hamas, Iran, Israel and the faiths involved, The long-term history and relationships with all of these countries and faiths. I pray every day for peace. If our institutions and or people want change: We must start with character. These college leaderships that have riots have none. Protect the students there to learn not people that get in others faces (bullies). They can’t do this because they are the problem.

  8. John Z
    April 30, 2024 at 17:09

    What goes around, comes around. The NYT is condemning itself to the garbage dump of history. Adios, and good riddance.

    • Randal Marlin
      May 1, 2024 at 08:22

      The faults of the NYT are many, but they produce the best, well-researched, obituaries of any widely circulating newspaper. Some things I would not want to see relegated to the garbage dump of history.

      • Anaisanesse
        May 1, 2024 at 10:46

        How many thousands of obituaries of Palestinians killed in Gaza in the last 6 months have been published in the paper of record?

      • Tim N
        May 1, 2024 at 11:06

        Do they?

  9. John Trout
    April 30, 2024 at 17:08

    The big lie, so outrageous and repeated so often, it must be true. By the time it is exposed the damage has been done and its goal reached. The USS LIBERTY, WMDs in Iraq, R2P in Libya, the mastermind of 911 in Afghanistan–all proven to be lies, but the goals of the criminal Zionists who control the USA reached.

  10. Lois Gagnon
    April 30, 2024 at 16:43

    I think the NYT has cast its lot with the crumbling US led Western Empire. I would be shocked if it takes up the challenge posed by the professors. The die is cast. Every establishment institution has been captured by Wall Street and the national security state that maintains it. The empire managers have drunk the Kool-Aide that they can salvage what is already lost.

    It is up to the public to support the youth in their insistence on accountability from our government (if you want to call it that) for its arming and financing genocide.

  11. Dienne
    April 30, 2024 at 15:50

    “The article, said one signatory, Sandy Tolan of the University of Southern California, was published “as the death toll mounted in Gaza, and criticism was beginning to focus more on Israel.””

    Which was perfectly intentional and which is why NYT will never retract the story. They did their job and they did it well.

  12. Piotr Berman
    April 30, 2024 at 15:48

    There is a long string of gruesome tales produced to justify invasions (Iraq), fomenting civil wars (Libya, Syria), and hostile policies in respect to China and Russia, leading to the most bloody war of this century. However, New York Times story is the strong contender for the worst propagandistic atrocity, considering visceral impact and the bloody consequences were totally clear by the time it was published.

    Melodramatic title and hideous narrative: rape as a weapon on MASS SCALE. Horrific details. None true, no reliable sources. From the leaks, it is apparent the no decent or semi-decent journalist of NYT wanted to touch that assignment. The letter of journalist professors raises hope that journalism has a future in USA.

  13. Randal Marlin
    April 30, 2024 at 15:46

    Yes, it is necessary to have a credible, independent investigation, so as to dissuade future propagandists from lying.
    Without such an investigation, the conclusion to be drawn is: Go ahead and lie to news media. Once they print the lies, they will be too embarrassed to tell the truth if they find they were duped.
    With such an investigation, the conclusion may well be: check facts all the more carefully when they are clearly incitement to violence.
    Opposing the investigation shows priority given to reputation, with truth taking second place. But ultimately credibility depends on truth and readership depends on credibility. With the rise of social media, and sources like CN, the NYT’s credibility is clearly in jeopardy — once again (recall Judith Miller et al.).

  14. Luis RodriguezAbaaad
    April 30, 2024 at 15:45

    The NYT reporting on the genocidal assault against the Palestinian people will leave a long lasting scar on the trust many reader, as I, have had on its ethical and professional posture.

  15. April 30, 2024 at 15:32

    It is likely that the NYT will totally ignore the call to investigate its publication of “Screams without Words” as it has ignored calls to retract many of its reports on Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction that led the US falsely into the Iraq war. The NYT has a history of publishing false reports that makes me wonder why anyone would bother reading it much less paying good money for it.

    As far as I can determine, the NYT has no redeeming value. (It doesn’t even have comics.)

    • S. Siebert
      May 1, 2024 at 18:44

      You’ve forgotten the crossword puzzle – valuable until the clues become propaganda.

  16. Drew Hunkins
    April 30, 2024 at 15:01

    It’s beautiful that these professors are taking this righteous stance. Support it 100%.

    But one wonders where they were when all the distortions, half-truths, and outright lies permeated throughout our establishment press from 2016 through the present pertaining to Russia “hacking” elections, Putin directing the murder of Navalny, the Skripal bs story, Russian bounties on US soldiers’ heads in Afghanistan, Russia deliberately blowing up Nordstream, Bucha massacre, Vermont energy sabotage; I could go on, but at the moment I’m forgetting some of the lies.

  17. Tom
    April 30, 2024 at 14:53

    We can only believe what we know to be true.

Comments are closed.