Last week I mentioned briefly that The New York Times apparently wasn’t feeling the need to correct a reference in an obituary that referred to the famous “Napalm girl” photo that won a Pulitzer Prize during the Vietnam War. The village had been mistakenly napalmed by a American-built plane flown by the South Vietnamese Air Force. The Times referred to it as an American plane.
When you or I hear American plane, we think of one flown by Americans and part of the U.S. Armed Forces. In stories like this, no one refers to the manufacturer of the plane, they always refer to the military flying it. For example, if the U.S. and the Iranians got in a shooting war in the Persian gulf, and an Iranian F-14 or F-4 bombed an American warship, would the Times write that an American plane attacked an American ship, killing X and wounding Y? Of course not, but that was their defense in refusing to make that correction.
(The Iranian Air Force still has some old American jets they purchased from the U.S. before the 1979 revolution overthrowing the shah.)
The next day, the Times issues a “sort-of correction,” that didn’t make those who complained about it—including a retired AP correspondent—happy.
“[T]he phrasing — ‘while the planes that carried out the attack were “American planes” in the sense that they were made in the United States, they were flown by the South Vietnamese Air Force, not American forces’ — makes it sound like a bunch of teenagers borrowing daddy’s car.”
The Times is far more interested in their narrative than the truth.