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The New York Times stands by its reporting on the Hamas terror attack after questions are raised

Analysis by Oliver Darcy, CNN

New York (CNN) — Editor’s Note: A version of this article first appeared in the “Reliable Sources” newsletter. Sign up for the daily digest chronicling the evolving media landscape here.

The New York Times is facing questions about a sweeping investigative story it published on the Israel-Hamas war back in December.

The high-profile piece — which carried the headline “‘Screams Without Words’: How Hamas Weaponized Sexual Violence on Oct. 7” — sowed together a number of atrocities Hamas committed against women during its heinous terror attack to conclude that they were “not isolated events but part of a broader pattern of gender-based violence on Oct. 7.”

There is significant evidence to indicate that Hamas carried out sexual violence against women during the surprise assault that killed at least 1,200 Israelis, as CNN and other outlets have repeatedly reported. But key elements of The Times’ reporting in telling that larger story have since fallen under the microscope.

The Intercept, which has adversarially insinuated news organizations are reporting on the war with a pro-Israel bias, on Wednesday night published an approximately 7,000-word article scrutinizing how The Times’ piece was reported, questioning elements of the story, which was authored by Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Jeffrey Gettleman, along with freelancers Anat Schwartz and Adam Sella.

The Times earlier this week publicly condemned Schwartz’ decision to “like” various pro-Israel posts about the war on social media, including a post on X that endorsed turning the Gaza Strip into a “slaughterhouse.” The Times said that doing so amounted to “unacceptable violations” of its company policy and that it was “currently reviewing the matter.”

But the issues with the reporting runs deeper than Schwartz’s social media activity. Most notably, the opening anecdote in The Times’ story has been called into question — including by the very family of the victim.

The piece opened with a disturbing scene. The reporters detailed a video that captured a woman, Gal Abdush, “lying on her back, dress torn, legs spread, vagina exposed.” The authors stated, “based largely on video evidence,” that unnamed Israeli “police officials said they believed” Abdush had been raped.

No other evidence was provided by The Times to substantiate the claim. And, as The Intercept’s Jeremy Scahill, Ryan Grim, and Daniel Boguslaw pointed out in their story, “The Times report mentions WhatsApp messages from Abdush and her husband to their family, but doesn’t mention that some family members believe that the crucial messages make the Israeli officials’ claims implausible.” In a subsequent story published a month later, The Times noted that some members of the Abdush family “have denied or cast doubt on that possibility, including another brother-in-law who said he spoke to Ms. Abdush’s husband before he was killed.”

The Abdush family later asserted in interviews that they had not been told that Gal was raped during the Oct. 7 attack until after being contacted by The Times.

“We weren’t aware of the rape initially; we were informed only when The New York Times’ journalist approached us,” her mother told the Israeli outlet YNet.
“They said they cross-referenced the testimonies and said that Gal had undergone a sexual assault. Even now. we don’t know exactly what happened.”

“It was only following the New York Times investigation that we learned from the journalists that my sister had been raped,” Abdush’s brother added to YNet.

The Intercept previously reported that it wasn’t just members of Abdush’s family that harbored concerns about parts of The NYT’s reporting. In late January, Boguslaw and Grim reported that an episode of “The Daily” podcast had been shelved “amid a furious internal debate about the strength of the paper’s original reporting on the subject.”

In a Thursday statement, a spokesperson for The Times said, “We remain confident in the accuracy of our reporting and stand by the team’s investigation which was rigorously reported, sourced and edited.” In an email to The Intercept seeking corrections, The Times also disputed a number of assertions the outlet made in its Wednesday story, including how the Times’ reporting was conducted, characterizations of Schwartz’ military service, the claim that “forensic evidence of sexual violence was non-existent,” and denying that an episode of “The Daily” was “killed due to fact checking failures.”

As The Times and The Intercept question each other’s reporting, the Gray Lady’s management is also trying to stem leaks. Vanity Fair’s Charlotte Klein reported Thursday that the newspaper had taken the rare step of launching a leak investigation, questioning “at least two dozen staffers” about “how internal details about the podcasts’s editorial process got out.”

The Times spokesperson didn’t dispute Klein’s reporting, only saying in a statement, “We aren’t going to comment on internal matters. I can tell you that the work of our newsroom requires trust and collaboration, and we expect all of our colleagues to adhere to these values.”

Regardless, the entire affair serves as yet another reminder of how crucial it is for reputable newsrooms to ensure their reporting is airtight prior to publication. When key elements of a story are not supported with transparent and unimpeachable evidence, or when a reporter publicly engages in inappropriate behavior on social media, it can damage a news organization’s vital credibility. The resulting effect is that audiences are left to wonder whether larger narratives are, in fact, true.

In this case, there is a large volume of evidence to indicate that Hamas carried out sexual assaults during the October 7 attack. But the Times, by opening its story with an anecdote later called into question by the victim’s family, along with the troubling actions of a freelancer, has left critics with plenty of material to sow doubt.

That’s corrosive not only for the Gray Lady, but the public record at large.

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