Toronto Star Corrects "Misquote Gone Wild"

August 10, 2009


  Toronto Star Corrects “Misquote Gone Wild”
August 10, 2009
By: Mike Fegelman, Executive Director
Dear HonestReporting Canada Subscriber,

It’s amazing how a mishandled quote can take on a life of its own, even over a period of many years. A case in point is a “comment” falsely attributed to former Israeli Defense Forces chief of staff, Moshe Yaalon, now an Israeli cabinet minister.

The story of this bogus quote goes back to 2003. Referring to Israeli claims that it had no negotiating partner among the Palestinians, Henry Siegman, wrote in the New York Review of Books:

“This consensus has enabled Prime Minister Sharon’s government to maintain that its only option is to wage an unrelenting war against the Palestinians that, in the words of the Israeli Defense Force’s chief of staff, Lieutenant General Moshe Yaalon, will “sear deep into the consciousness of Palestinians that they are a defeated people” before any political process can begin.

The Siegman version of the quote was “cited” by Gary Fields (a professor of communications, no less) in the Chicago Tribune and by Toronto Star editorial page editor emeritus Haroon Siddiqui in 2004. It was picked up again in 2006 by Boston Globe columnist H.D.S. Greenway; Siegman repeated it in 2007, this time in the London Review of Books.

But the “quote” didn’t get the scrutiny it deserved until last January, when Columbia professor Rashid Khalidi “cited” it in the NY Times. That’s when our colleagues at CAMERA (Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting) raised the first red flag. CAMERA pointed out a 2002 interview where Yaalon told Haaretz (see parts one and two) something far different than what Siegman, Fields, Siddiqui and Greenway presented. Yaalon told journalist Ari Shavit:

Shavit: “Do you have a definition of victory? Is it clear to you what Israel’s goal in this war is?”

Yaalon:I defined it from the beginning of the confrontation: the very deep internalization by the Palestinians that terrorism and violence will not defeat us, will not make us fold. If that deep internalization does not exist at the end of the confrontation, we will have a strategic problem with an existential threat to Israel. If that [lesson] is not burned into the Palestinian and Arab consciousness, there will be no end to their demands of us.”

Yaalon later added:

The facts that are being determined in this confrontation — in terms of what will be burned into the Palestinian consciousness — are fateful. If we end the confrontation in a way that makes it clear to every Palestinian that terrorism does not lead to agreements, that will improve our strategic position.

How a quote about terror not defeating Israelis morphed into a comment that the Palestinians must be utterly defeated is still unknown. Notwithstanding, the Times and the Globe corrected their online commentaries, and the Tribune issued this correction. This past Saturday, the Toronto Star also issued an unprecedented mea culpa with Siddiqui explaining:

“The statement attributed to (Yaalon) was not just in the blogosphere but was widely quoted in mainstream, respected publications,” explained Siddiqui. “There had been no correction or clarification sought or given that I was aware of. So I had no reason to think it was not a valid quote.”

Appearing prominently on page two, Oakland Ross, the Star’s Mideast bureau chief, commendably reported on the “Tale of a misquote gone wild.” The Star gave almost 1,000 words and four column inches to ensure that their readers actually saw and read the corrective.

Additionally, the Star issued a formal correction notice immediately below Ross’ article which stated the following:


Some might like to argue that the damage had already been done. Others might contend that this effort is better late than never. Either way, what’s worth taking into account is how the Toronto Star acted responsibly to remedy the erroneous content that had appeared in their pages.

How You Can Make A Difference:

We’re more likely to criticize than to commend, but considering the Star’s efforts to set the record straight on this unverified quotation which was falsely attributed to Yaalon, HonestReporting Canada asks its members to commend the Toronto Star and its Public Editor, Ms. Kathy English, for their commitment to accuracy and fairness.

Please refer to Oakland Ross’ August 8 article entitled “Tale of a misquote gone wild” and the Star’s August 8 correction notice. Please send letters of commendation to:

This communiqu? was adapted from HonestReporting’s Media Backspin blog. Click on the image below to proceed to Backspin directly.




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