Now, More Than Ever, Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word


The Oct. 7 raid on villages in Israel by Hamas was dreadful. But this is a culture column, not a directly political one. What concerns me is the casual indifference to truth by the media in all of this. My column is (generally) an opinion one. I give my “thumbs up, thumbs down” on movies, television, etc.

When facts are concerned, however, the media should at least try to pretend an interest in truth.

And so many “respectable” sources have proven to be irresponsible and worse, stubborn liars. There was a song some years ago, “Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word.” And we are watching sources many of us trusted all our lives not only printing lies but, when caught out, not apologizing and promising to do better, but pretending that instead of wronging some people, they are somehow correct.

The New York Times is supposed to be “the newspaper of record.” But when there was an explosion near a hospital in Gaza, it immediately accepted the Hamas report that the Israelis bombed a hospital. It showed videos of dozens of bodies being carried away. Before the ink had dried, the Israelis claimed it was an errant rocket from a Hamas-affiliated group rocket. Further evidence from U.S. and European sources agreed with the Israelis, and it was clear the hospital still stood, but there was a hole in a nearby parking lot, one almost certainly from a misfired rocket. Meanwhile, the number of dead dropped from 500 to probably closer to 50. You would think important newspapers would apologize.

It’s sad, so sad
It’s a sad, sad situation
And it’s getting more
And more absurd
It’s sad, so sad
Why can’t we talk it over?
Oh, it seems to me
That sorry seems to be
The hardest word

But the “respectable sources” instead of apologizing decided that U.S., Israeli and European specialists were not good enough. So many held off on those apologies and worked their way around toward “sort of” accepting that maybe, just possibly, that Hamas had lied.

It was particularly tough on the people at The Times. They have had a long history dealing with antisemitism. A reporter for that paper, Cyril Brown, interviewed Adolph Hitler in 1922 and did not see fit to mention antisemitism at that time. Then during the 1930s, the paper depended on Guido Enderis, who was very close to the higher ranks of the Nazis. The current editors talk about being objective, just as their predecessors did with Enderis and did not go after Hitler to a large degree at the start of the Holocaust but waited for true enmity until their guy went after Stalin. Keeping to that tradition, their Gaza reporter waited a while to finally come clean.

A few sources apologized; quite a few did not. There have been all sorts of explanations. But the story has legs. There have been dozens of anti-Israel and antisemitic riots while correspondents dithered. The BBC, of course, refused to call the people who killed children by setting them on fire and raping women terrorists. They might invite those charmers to tea.

The Associated Press has been accused of “fauxtography” in past incidents between Israel and its neighbors because it set up fake photos that impugned Israel, the most famous being a pile of rubble with an upside-down bicycle on top, wheels still turning. Someone took pictures as the pile was built up; there had been no such real damage. But they at least have an excuse: their reporters come from the places they are covering. A truly objective reporter in Gaza might get the same treatment given to Israelis.

At a time when many formerly reputable sources are coming under attack for their censorship of views they do not like, it does not help when they are caught in lies. When the lies are really damaging it makes it far worse. We need reports to be better, to be accurate. Too many get news from biased sources. That makes intelligent discussion almost impossible. And that might well be the point.