The imperative “never apologize, never explain” has been attributed to various eminences from Queen Victoria to Disraeli and the Duke of Wellington. Whether following that injunction is good for one’s character is perhaps debatable; certainly it is advice from a more unbending era. How differently we manage these things today! Consider the correction pages of The New York Times. They provide a fascinating study in the politics of apology. Remember when the Times published a photograph of a bloodied young man cowering beneath a wild-eyed, baton-wielding Israeli policeman? The caption identified the young man as a Palestinian victim, the implication being that the Israeli policeman was responsible for his wounds. Alas, the father of the victim, Dr. Aaron Grossman of Chicago, recognized his son and wrote the paper:

Regarding your picture on page A5 of the Israeli soldier and the Palestinian on the Temple Mount—that Palestinian is actually my son, Tuvia Grossman, a Jewish student from Chicago. He, and two of his friends, were pulled from their taxicab while traveling in Jerusalem, by a mob of Palestinian Arabs, and were severely beaten and stabbed.

Oh dear. The Times published a first correction that identified the young man as “an American student in Israel.” Only in response to public outrage did the paper finally reprint the photo with the correct caption and an explanation of what really happened.

It is often as amusing as it is instructive to see what sorts of errors and inaccuracies the Times perpetrates that it is then called upon to correct. There is, we think, a discernible pattern to the mistakes. A few weeks ago, for example, the paper reported that it had erroneously described the American Jewish Committee as a “conservative advocacy group.” In fact, the Times conceded, the AJC’s stance on issues “ranges across the political spectrum; it is not ‘conservative.’” Noted. And then there was the delicious correction that appeared in January about a story from April 2006 about a woman in El Salvador who received a thirty-year jail sentence for, according to the Times, having a clandestine abortion. In fact, the Times acknowledged in January, the court record revealed that the woman in question was given the thirty-year sentence for infanticide of a newborn, not abortion. The article, the Times said, was “not thoroughly researched.” Right. But why not? Could it, just possibly, be that the editors wanted the wretched Salvadoran woman to have been put away by beastly fundamentalists for exercising what they would doubtless call her “reproductive rights”? It reminds us of an item from an unnamed American newspaper that Edward Burne-Jones related to one of his correspondents: “Instead of being arrested, as we stated, for kicking his wife down a flight of stairs and hurling a lighted kerosene lamp after her, the Revd. James P. Wellman died unmarried four years ago.”

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This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 25 Number 7, on page 3
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