UPDATE Tuesday: Margaret Sullivan, the fine NYT public editor, has now weighed in. (Please jump to my original post below.) She quotes from my piece, finds fault with some aspects of the caption but after a few phone calls rejects my claim that it is "disgraceful" and maybe Orwellian--and points to criticism of the photo from another angle, as being an example of "anti-Israel bias" (which she rightly rejects).
I'll offer a full response in stages, and there are already some good comments up at her blog. For now: 1) Hicks reports that the school was not, as I suggested, destroyed by a missile but only damaged enough to keep it from re-opening. I get the difference but the reason I had written that it was destroyed were photos such as this, also from Hicks (go to #19 in the slide show), and especially these (#1, #3 and #4 in gallery), again from Hicks. These photos apparently were viewed by Times editors, and now Sullivan. Note the captions in these (online) cases clearly label the school closed due to damage.
2) Sullivan reports: "Douglas Schorzman, an assistant foreign editor, told me that it wasn’t
clear to editors in New York how damaged the building was. 'If it was
leveled, we just should have said so,' he said. But 'on deadline and
in the moment, we may not have known that.' And in fact, it wasn’t
leveled, so it made sense to be cautious." This, of course, is absurd. The caption did not even mention that the school was damaged in any way, before jumping to its Hamas focus.
3) "In addition," Sullivan writes, "the brief caption was serving a second purpose – as a way
to direct readers to an inside page where several articles were
displayed, including one about the prospects for peace talks and the
role of Hamas." So the fact that it served this "second purpose" meant the caption could not be accurate and complete? (Earlier she had cited "the caption’s multiple purpose"). And the articles inside did not cover school closings or damage.
4) Someone at the Times, I hope not Sullivan, has picked as her post's only highlighted Comment so far one from a reader who hints that the entire photo was a "set up," that the building may not have even been a school, and maybe the girls sent there merely for a photo op. Now that's disgraceful.
5) Please note my "Orwellian" was preceded by "maybe."
Original post on Sunday: This image (above) was the top front-page photo, by the great Tyler Hicks, in the NYT print edition today: kids returning to their school in Gaza and finding it shut down, for some reason. Disgraceful, some might say Orwellian, Times caption: "Girls at a Gaza school were stunned to find it closed. An emboldened Hamas may lead Israel to harden its stance." Why closed? You had to go to other photos way over at the NYT site to find out that the school was completely destroyed by an Israeli air strike. The caption might even suggest to some that Hamas had shut down a lightly damaged school. While prominent placement of the photo might draw criticism from Israelis, the caption seemed aimed at softening that.
Greg Mitchell is the author of more than a dozen books (see right rail of this blog). His latest, on the Obama-Romney battle, is "Tricks, Lies, and Videotape."