The New York Times walked back its initial coverage on the explosion that killed hundreds of Palestinians at a Gaza Strip hospital last week, saying in an editors’ note that the newspaper “relied too heavily on claims” made by the Hamas militant group.
Soon after a huge blast rocked the al-Ahli Hospital on Tuesday, finger-pointing over its source began.
Hamas, which has been battling Israel since its Oct. 7 surprise attack on Israeli soil, called the blast a “horrific massacre” and blamed the Israeli government. Israel, however, blamed the Islamic Jihad, a smaller, more radical group that often works with Hamas.
Several news outlets, including The Times, Reuters and The Associated Press faced criticism for publishing Hamas’ viewpoint prominently in articles and on social media.
“The Times’s initial accounts attributed the claim of Israeli responsibility to Palestinian officials, and noted that the Israeli military said it was investigating the blast,” reads the Times’ editors’ note published on Monday. Early coverage “relied too heavily on claims by Hamas, and did not make clear that those claims could not immediately be verified.”
The newspaper’s coverage had a clear impact, according to the note: “The report left readers with an incorrect impression about what was known and how credible the account was.”
It’s still unclear exactly how the explosion at the hospital occurred, but it doesn’t appear that Israel was at fault.
An Associated Press analysis found that a rocket fired from within Palestinian territory that broke up while in the air likely fell onto the hospital, causing the catastrophe. Citing U.S. intelligence, President Joe Biden told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday that it looks like “the other team did it.”
“While we continue to collect information, our current assessment, based on analysis of overhead imagery, intercepts and open source information, is that Israel is not responsible for the explosion at the hospital in Gaza yesterday,” National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson tweeted after Biden’s statement.
The Times stopped short of an apology for its initial coverage but said editors should have been more careful with the way the blast was represented.
“Given the sensitive nature of the news during a widening conflict, and the prominent promotion it received, Times editors should have taken more care with the initial presentation, and been more explicit about what information could be verified,” the note reads.