By Sharon Zhang / Truthout

Dozens of tenured journalism professors at top schools across the U.S. have raised concerns that The New York Times is risking its own credibility, as well as the credibility of journalism at large, with its inaction on an article about sexual violence on October 7 that has come under scrutiny in recent months due to its reliance on questionable — and, in some cases, debunked — evidence.

In a letter sent to The New York Times Company Chairperson A.G. Sulzberger, the group of over 50 professors say that The New York Times must “immediately commission a group of journalism experts to conduct a thorough and full independent review of the reporting, editing and publishing processes for this story and release a report of the findings.”

The story, entitled “‘Screams Without Words’: Sexual Violence on Oct. 7,” was widely circulated after its publication in December and has been used by government officials and Zionist groups to supposedly justify Israel’s genocidal brutality against Palestinians in Gaza.

The story made a number of allegations about systemic sexual and gender-based violence against Israeli women by Hamas fighters during the October 7 attack. But investigations by The Intercept and testimony reported on by other journalists found that Times journalists internally questioned the quality of the reporting behind “Screams Without Words,” raising concerns that it didn’t meet the paper’s standards for evidence and fact-gathering and rather served to boost the paper’s pro-Israel slant.

In their letter, first published by The Washington Post, the professors say that “Screams Without Words” has had an immeasurable effect on Palestinians, who are forced to bear the consequences of the manufactured consent drummed up by The Times and other outlets in the months since October 7.

“The impact of The New York Times story is impossible to fathom. 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,” the professors wrote. “Considering these grave circumstances, we believe that The Times must waste no time in extending an invitation for an independent review.”

Reports have indeed raised grave concerns over The Times’s fact checking and freelancing process. Former Israeli air force intelligence official Anat Schwartz, one of two people responsible for gathering evidence for the story who had no previous reporting experience, has openly described a highly questionable process, saying that she contacted dozens of health facilities and rape crisis centers and found no evidence of the sexual violence that The Times had reported on.

In fact, as the professors point out, Jeffrey Gettleman, responsible for framing and writing the story, had said of the story that he didn’t “want to even use the word evidence” to describe elements of the story because “evidence is almost like a legal term that suggests you’re trying to prove an allegation or prove a case in court.”

The letter raises examples of previous times that outlets have done investigations into grave errors made in reports, like The Times’s investigation into former staff reporter Jayson Blair, a plagiarist and fabulist who resigned in 2003; and Rolling Stones’s probe into its reporting process for a 2014 story about a sexual assault at the University of Virginia that ultimately had to be retracted due to a lack of substantial evidence.

An investigation and report on “Screams Without Words” would be “the only responsible and credible thing to do” in response to findings about the story, the professors say.

“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,” they wrote.

“Doing nothing, however, 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.”

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Sharon Zhang

Sharon Zhang is a news writer at Truthout covering politics, climate and labor. Before coming to Truthout, Sharon had written stories for Pacific StandardThe New Republic, and more. She has a master’s degree in environmental studies. She can be found on Twitter: @zhang_sharon.

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