Last week, Brent Sasley and I had an op-ed in the Christian Science Monitor on Israel-Turkey relations. A few days ago, I noticed that one of the commenters on the article said that he had stopped reading after seeing the phrase “nine Turkish human rights activists aboard the Mavi Marmara.” This struck me as odd, because that is not how I have ever described the nine people who died on the Mavi Marmara, I was sure that neither Brent nor I had written that phrase, and I didn’t even recall reading it. Yet there it was, right in the first paragraph.
I went back and looked at the draft that we had sent CSM, and my memory was indeed correct – we had not used such a loaded phrase. The phrase we had written was “the Turkish citizens killed on the Mavi Marmara,” which was deliberate because it did not include a value judgment or indicate that we were taking sides between the Israeli version of “terrorists” and the Turkish version of “human rights activists.” In fact, I would never describe the nine people killed on board the Mavi Marmara as human rights activists for three reasons. First, there is no question that they were armed with clubs, chains, knives, and other similar weapons, which is not how one would characterize human rights activists. Second, some of the Israeli soldiers suffered gunshot wounds, which is also an unlikely move on the part of human rights activists. Third, the members of the flotilla initially refused Israel’s offer to inspect their cargo and then send it along to Gaza, which indicates that there were other motives at play here aside from simply alleviating suffering in Gaza. Furthermore, I have written about or mentioned the flotilla numerous times on this blog, and anyone is welcome to go back through the archives and look; nowhere will you find me ever describing the people who died on board as human rights activists, or any variant thereof. My record on this is both extensive and clear.
So, how did the phrase “Turkish human rights activists” get published under our bylines? As part of the editing process, some things got removed, others rewritten, and different sections of the piece were moved around, and both Brent and I somehow missed this crucial change, partially because it got moved from where we had it in the piece to the very top. I can give you some good excuses for why neither of us caught this – Brent was in Israel at the time with nothing but an iPad to work on, and I had a 3 week old baby at home and was running on less than my usual amount of sleep – but the bottom line is that this is entirely on us. It is not the Christian Science Monitor’s fault, but ours alone, and we have to deal with the fact that we were sloppy. This is an unfortunate but sobering lesson on the vital importance of triple checking everything that ever goes out under your name, and all I can do at this point is set the record straight here.