Time's shoddy journalism
Time's shoddy journalism
"Unspeakable" is the headline for a powerful article on rape as an instrument of war that appears in the February 22 issue of Time magazine. Using current events in Bosnia-Herzegovina as his starting point, Senior Writer Lance Morrow reflects on the use of rape by various military forces, e.g. the Soviet Red Army, the Japanese army and Pakistani troops, as a "policy to scorch the enemy's emotional earth." Illustrating the article are three photos--two of them from the war in Bosnia. The third photograph (its source is listed as Ghetto Fighters House, Israel) shows an obviously terrified nude girl and is captioned as follows: "Traditions of atrocity: A Jewish girl raped by Ukrainians in Lvov, Poland, in 1945." That and nothing more. Naturally, the reader is prompted to look for more information on this unspeakable horror within the accompanying text. But there is none. Nowhere in the article is there any mention of Ukrainian soldiers committing any atrocities. The photo and its cryptic caption stand alone.
Therefore, one takes another look at the information in the caption. What does it tell us? What does it imply? That there is a tradition of atrocities perpetrated by Ukrainians against Jews? That Ukrainians regularly went around raping Jewish women?
Furthermore, what the caption does tell us is either inaccurate or incomplete. To begin with the inaccurate: "Lvov, Poland, in 1945." As Prof. Danylo Husar Struk, editor-in-chief of the Encyclopedia of Ukraine points out in his letter to Time, "What we have in the caption is a Russian name for the city, which is placed in Poland, where Ukrainians commit the atrocities! In 1945 the city was part of Soviet Ukraine, not Poland; it is called Lviv in Ukrainian, Lvov in Russian, and Lwow in Polish. So perhaps it really was not 1945, nor Poland, nor Lvov, nor a Jewish girl, nor Ukrainians? How does one know which of the five facts in the caption are really true?"
Quite simply, Time is wrong. By 1945--after the Red Army had occupied western Ukraine in the summer of 1944--Lviv was part of Soviet Ukraine. Furthermore, it is well documented that these Soviet troops terrorized all segments of the region's population.
After several frustrating phone calls to Time magazine in hopes of learning more about this photo, The Weekly was told by the photo editor who had researched the caption that all she knew was the following: the picture is of a Jewish victim raped by Ukrainians (a mob, she explained, when asked to specify) in Lvov, Poland (she insisted it was in Poland) towards the end of the war. But wait, where did the date, 1945, come from? The photo editor said she did not know--that was the work of another person, a writer who contributed to the story.
As it appears then, Time had no more information about the photo. So why then did it publish such a photo with such an inflammatory and incomplete caption? Could it be, as Prof. Struk surmises, that "someone at Time is not too keen on Jewish-Ukrainian rapprochement"? "How else can you explain the apparently Ukrainophobic attitude of the person who selected a picture, tangentially at best relevant to the text, but full of reprehensible innuendo and inaccuracies?" he writes.
Editor Marco Levytsky of Ukrainian News (Edmonton) wrote to Time: "This picture had no relation to the story, as there was absolutely no mention of Ukrainians in it. ... Bearing in mind the journalistic irrelevance of that caption, its gross inaccuracies and its blatant slander of an entire nation, the motivation for its publication can only be the desire to spread hatred against an identifiable national group and to sow discord among communities."
As published, the photo caption is both a disservice to Time readers, who have a right to expect journalistic integrity, and a defamation of Ukrainians, who have a right to fair treatment by the media. It is also a violation of simple journalistic principles and practices. For example, the Associated Press Stylebook lists the following among questions to be asked when writing a caption: Is it complete? Does it identify fully and clearly? Does it tell what's in the picture? Is it specific? The time caption, quite clearly, fails this test.
So, what would have been the ethical thing for Time to do in this case? Considering the lack of specific information about the photo and the inflammatory and libelous nature of the caption, Time editors should have rejected it. The dramatic impact of the photo is far outweighed by the damage inflicted on Ukrainians, on Ukrainian-Jewish relations, and on Time's reputation. Publishing the photo thus captioned should have been unthinkable.
Readers are urged to convey their opinions by writing to Time Magazine Letters, Time & Life Building, Rockefeller Center, New York, NY 10020; or by faxing the magazine at (212) 522-0601.