Aug
04
2010

Does the NY Times Factcheck Op-Eds?

Bogus evidence showing Arab apathy towards Palestinians

On August 2, the New York Times published an op-ed arguing that Arabs do not care much about Palestinians--and that this is a good thing, especially for Palestinians. But the argument relied on a "poll" of the Arab world that does not exist.

The piece, by historian Efraim Karsh, intended to show that the "conventional wisdom" about the Israel-Palestine conflict--that Arabs "are so passionate about the Palestine problem"--is wrong. His main evidence is this: "What, then, are we to make of a recent survey for the Al Arabiya television network finding that a staggering 71 percent of the Arabic respondents have no interest in the Palestinian/Israeli peace talks?"

But the "survey" was actually a website readers' poll, the kind one might find on many news websites--and the kind of thing no one would take as a serious expression of public sentiment on any issue.

Even this largely meaningless data was misrepresented by Karsh, as he conflated concern about "the Palestine problem" with interest in "Palestinian/Israeli peace talks." As James Zogby of the Arab-American Institute (Huffington Post, 8/2/10) pointed out:

The actual question makes no mention of "Palestine" or "Palestinians." Rather, it asks respondents about their level of interest in the "Middle East peace process"--to which 71 percent indicate "no interest." Given the lack of results and the repeated disappointments and frustrations experienced during just the last two decades of the so-called "Middle East peace process," this lack of interest displayed by respondents in the Al Arabiya website question is hardly surprising.

After recalling various incidents where Arab governments have abused Palestinians, Karsh closed the piece by arguing that "it is a positive sign that so many Arabs have apparently grown so apathetic about the Palestinian/Israeli conflict"--a clear misreading of the unscientific "poll" Karsh was citing. He concluded that "the sooner the Palestinians recognize that their cause is theirs alone, the sooner they are likely to make peace with the existence of the State of Israel and to understand the need for a negotiated settlement."

Karsh's claim that the Arab public is presently "apathetic" about the plight of Palestinians rests on an unreliable Internet poll, and on excluding other polling that would suggest precisely the opposite. According to the Zogby/University of Maryland poll of Arab public opinion (5/09), 76 percent of respondents put "the Palestinian issue" as either the "most important" issue or as one of their "top 3 priorities."

In a piece about how the Times edits op-ed contributions (7/31/05), the section's editor David Shipley assured readers that articles are fact-checked: "While it is the author's responsibility to ensure that everything written for us is accurate, we still check facts--names, dates, places, quotations. We also check assertions. If news articles--from the Times and other publications--are at odds with a point or an example in an essay, we need to resolve whatever discrepancy exists."

The Times should adhere to that standard in this case.

ACTION:

Ask the New York Times to publish a correction pointing out that Efraim Karsh's August 1 op-ed about Arab ambivalence towards Palestinians erroneously treated an unscientific website poll as if it were a meaningful survey of public opinion, and misrepresented even its findings.

CONTACT:

New York Times

Op-Ed Page Editor

David Shipley

shipley@nytimes.com