A “Hezbollah neighborhood,” the latest New York Times fiction

You won’t find the headline above on the New York Times website. It has been deleted. But thanks to journalist Rami Al Amine, who took a series of screenshots and posted them on Faebook, we know it existed and what happened next. After Al Amine complained, the headline was changed.

Perhaps no one in New York could defend the use of the invented term “Hezbollah neighborhood.” What does it mean anyway? Is there such a thing as a neighborhood where every resident is a member of the same political party? Did the Times check if every teenager going for a walk that day and every person shopping for vegetables was Hezbollah? Worse, would that mean the killing and inuring of dozens of innocent people could somehow be justified or ‘understood’ because of their geography?

The Times then changed the headline to this:

But how did the New York Times “know” the bomber’s intentions? No information was released to indicate the target and now authorities believe the culprit may be dead. Does The Times ‘just know’ what was on the mind of a dead man?

Al Amine wrote on Facebook: Just like any terrorist bombing, be it against Americans or Iraqis or Lebanese, the target is AIMED at civilians not combatants, that’s what terrorism is.”

Finally the headline was changed to this:

But The Times just loves the word Hezbollah, doesn’t it? It has to be in there, in every draft. It can’t just be a southern Beirut neighborhood where a lot of human beings like you and I live. No, The Times has to sell papers, and like sex, Hezbollah sells.
The reporter also changed the wording in her article. Here it is “a neighborhood populated by supporters of Hezbollah” 
Yet later it becomes: “a mixed neighborhood”:

In a letter to Al Amine the reporter says it was not her fault.

“i don’t write the headlines! I agree with you and the language in the actual story i filed reflects that, i believe. i’ve asked them to change the headline language, they often write headlines like that, it’s a kind of shorthand but i understand why it upsets people.”

But since when is stereotyping and irresponsible reporting considered “short hand,” especially in a paper that hails itself as the world’s greatest? Then, perplexingly, there is no apology and none of this back story about the three headlines and various lead sentences is explained to readers.

It reminded me of earlier this year when The Times published an utterly false, baseless and sectarian headline: “Hezbollah makes vow to step up fight against Sunnis.” Ironically, the story was about a speech by Hezbollah’s leader who actually vowed not to be fighting “the Sunnis” at all. Needless to say the headline was quickly changed following my observation, just as was the case with Al Amine.

I think all this proves one thing. Sex sells, Hezbollah sells and sectarianism sells.

And let’s no forget stereotyping– always a plus. Last month another Times reporter decided to stereotype the entire population of Lebanon several times, making a series of absolutely groundless and unverified claims about public opinion toward Syrian refugees, painting “the Lebanese” as accepting if not complicit in their miserable living conditions.

So to sum it all up: sex, Hezbollah, sectarianism and stereotyping. I’m beginning to wonder if reading the New York Times is actually healthy. Because at least in Lebanon, it seems to be doing a lot more harm than good lately. Thankfully there are people out there who are watching and influencing the coverage through the power of social media.