In response to:
The Press on Trial from the February 26, 1987 issue
To the Editors:
In his discussion of the libel case of Ariel Sharon against Time Inc. [NYR, Feb. 26], Ronald Dworkin writes, “William Smith, a Time writer in New York, then changed Halevy’s phrase, about giving the Gemayels the feeling that Israel understood their need for revenge, to the rather different claim, which Time published, that Sharon ‘discussed’ revenge with them.”
That statement is incorrect. The pertinent portion of Correspondent David Halevy’s dispatch from Jerusalem, as contained within an internal “world-wide memo” item, is as follows: “Sharon indicated in advance to the Gemayels that the Israeli army was moving into West Beirut and that he expected them, the Force Lebanese, to go into all the Palestinian refugee camps. He also gave them the feeling after the Gemayels’ questioning, that he understood their need to take revenge for the assassination of Bashir and assured them that the Israeli army would neither hinder them nor try to stop them.” This passage, taken in its entirety, clearly implied that a conversation of some kind had taken place. Mr. Dworkin might also have noted that, as is our practice, the full text of the edited article was telexed before publication to Jerusalem for the approval of the correspondents who had contributed to it.
This same mistake—that, for whatever reason, I turned “gave them the feeling” into “discussed”—has been made before, mainly by those who had an interest in retailing it. In the course of the trial (see transcript, page 2408), Milton Gould, Sharon’s chief attorney, said to me, “You mean ‘discuss’ is the equivalent of ‘gave them the feeling’ or has a different meaning?” to which Judge Abraham Sofaer interrupted Mr. Gould to say, “There is more to the world-wide memo than ‘gave them the feeling.’ We have been through this and I won’t let you go through it again.” When Gould replied, “I didn’t want to go through it again, Your Honor,” Sofaer told him, “Well, I am stopping you whether you were going through it or not.”
William E. Smith
New York City
Ronald Dworkin replies:
Smith’s rewrite was, as I said, “rather different” from Halevy’s initial report, because Halevy’s statement, that after questioning Sharon gave the Gemayels the “feeling” that he understood their need for revenge, does not imply that Sharon actually said anything about revenge, or that anyone explicitly mentioned it. Smith’s rewrite implies both. Halevy himself emphasized the difference in his deposition and testimony. He said that he had chosen his words carefully because his source had indicated that Sharon had not put his views into words, but only used “body language” to express them. I did not suggest that Smith acted irresponsibly in making this change, and therefore did not describe his clearing the change with the Jerusalem bureau.