On Labor Day the The New York Times reported that the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), an “influential pro-Israel lobby group,” was pushing Congress to bomb Syria. By the time the story appeared in Tuesday’s newsprint edition, however, all references to AIPAC had been quietly excised. The websites NewsDiffs and News Sniffer show that the piece was entirely rewritten, more or less. What happened here?
In the original version, reporters Jackie Calmes and Michael Gordon cited AIPAC’s fear of Iran’s arsenal:
Administration officials said the influential pro-Israel lobby group AIPAC was already at work pressing for military action against the government of President Bashar al-Assad, fearing that if Syria escapes American retribution for its use of chemical weapons, Iran might be emboldened in the future to attack Israel.
Quoting an unnamed “administration official,” the pair described the group as an “800-pound gorilla”:
One administration official, who, like others, declined to be identified discussing White House strategy, called AIPAC “the 800-pound gorilla in the room,” and said its allies in Congress had to be saying, “If the White House is not capable of enforcing this red line” against the catastrophic use of chemical weapons, “we’re in trouble.”
Times editors replaced these passages with a few words by Israel President Shimon Peres, who voiced support on Monday for President Obama’s “‘moral and operational’ position” and his confidence that “the United States will respond appropriately to Syria.” Meanwhile the only official to address the looming threat of Iran, in the new version, is Secretary of State John Kerry:
Democrats said [Kerry] had portrayed not only the horrors of chemical weapons inflicted on Syrian civilians in the Aug. 21 attacks outside Damascus, but also the potential threat, if left unanswered, that such weapons posed to regional allies like Israel, Jordan and Turkey. Mr. Kerry argued that inaction could embolden Iran or nonstate terrorists to strike those allies, and further encourage Iran and North Korea to press ahead with their nuclear programs.
In an email to Gawker, a spokeswoman for the paper said that “we regularly edit web stories for the print paper this particular change was made to avoid repeating the same thought which ran in a page one story on Monday,” referring to a story written by the same reporters and published in Labor Day’s edition. (That thought was AIPAC being an “800-pound gorilla,” which was reproduced in full.) But the paper declined to explain why the other passage, about AIPAC “pressing for military action,” disappeared without notice.
The only other clue came from Times political reporter Michael Barbaro, who sniped at The Huffington Post’s Michael Calderone for noting the piece’s hidden evolution:
@mikiebarb Be dismissive if you like. But people question when NYT significantly rewrites stories/ removes quotes with no mention of changes— Michael Calderone (@mlcalderone) September 3, 2013
In an follow-up email addressing the rewrite, the same spokesman told Gawker: “We regularly edit web stories for print for space. We do not note changes in the stories unless there was an error.”