The U.S. election campaigns and their news coverage are generally embarrassing. But this incident of miss-coverage by the acclaimed paper of record beats many others. While attempting to criticize a candidate's lack of awareness or knowledge the NYT author and his editors demonstrate four times that they have neither.
The libertarian candidate Gary Johnson was asked a question of foreign policy relevance and did not know the answer. The question was about a city in Syria but, like it or not, no city in Syria has significant relevance in the general context of the U.S. presidential elections.
“What is Aleppo?” Mr. Johnson asked after he did not get some question about it.
The New York Times, which mocks any candidate but Hillary Clinton, found that small lapses remarkable enough to write a whole piece about it. But its reporter and his editors show a bigger lack on knowledge than Johnson did. The headline: ‘What Is Aleppo?’ Gary Johnson Asks, in an Interview Stumble. The reporter, one Alan Rappeport, did not know either. Here is the first version he and his editors put out:
“What is Aleppo?” Mr. Johnson said when asked on MSNBC how, as president, he would address the refugee crisis in the Syrian city that is the de facto capital of the Islamic State.
No. Aleppo is not the de facto capital of the Islamic State.
Some time later the NYT editors were made aware of that and changed the text. But check the result:
“What is Aleppo?” Mr. Johnson said when asked on MSNBC how, as president, he would address the refugee crisis in the Syrian city that is a stronghold of the Islamic State.
This new version in the NYT was just as wrong as the first one. The largest parts of Aleppo city, as well as of its population, are within the realm of the Syrian government. Parts of east-Aleppo are in the hands of al-Qaeda. The Islamic State, an enemy of both the government and al-Qaeda, has no significant presence (if any at all) in any part of the city.
Later on someone told the editors that the once corrected version was just as wrong as the original one. Another correction was applied:
“What is Aleppo?” Mr. Johnson said when asked on MSNBC how, as president, he would address the refugee crisis in the war-torn Syrian city.
That at least fits. But all the corrections do not explain why the NYT author describes Aleppo as especially significant to the refugee crisis. True, a lot of people have moved out of al-Qaeda infested east-Aleppo. But most of the moved into the government held west-Aleppo, not abroad. Other Syrian cities, like Idleb or Raqqa, have proportionally lost many more of their original population than Aleppo city did.
No immediate Correction note was added when the first change of the original text was made. (No Correction note was added for the second change.) Some time after the first correction was made the NYT added this note:
An earlier version of this article misidentified the de facto capital of the Islamic State. It is Raqqa, in northern Syria, not Aleppo, the Syrian capital.
Yes, the editors botched the Correction note. Aleppo is not the Syrian capital, Damascus is.
About an hour later this minor fact was made known to the NYT staff and a Correction of the Correction was added.
The NYT exhibits a serious lack of knowledge in a piece that is supposed to ridicule a politician for his lack of knowledge. It is:
- making a major mistake in a central fact of the original piece,
- applying a correction that is just as wrong as the original version,
- applying a second correction but still getting the major basic fact wrong and
- applying a correction note with a huge mistake that again demonstrates a basic lack of factual knowledge.
This embarrassing episode shows again that neither U.S. politicians nor U.S. media have any real knowledge of issues beyond U.S. borders. Despite that sorry fact deadly instruments of U.S. power are used abroad without much thought whenever this or that foreign interest bribes the right people in Washington DC. U.S. powers are often used simply because they can be used, not because it makes any sense to use them.
There is no reason for any U.S. politician to know about Aleppo but for the sorry fact that the U.S., through its proxies, kills the people of that city.
The U.S. should stop all interventions in foreign affairs. If only to spare its politicians, "experts" and media such demonstrations of their absurd incompetence.
Disclaimer: The views expressed here are the author's personal views, and do not necessarily represent the views of Newsclick