National Geographic Magazine Says It Erred in Syrian Jewry Article

For the first time in 86 years, the National Geographic Magazine–in its Nov. issue out today–tells its nine million readers it “erred” in an earlier article, the American Jewish Congress reported. In a new column by editor Gilbert M. Grosvenor, the magazine states that its April article on Damascus “failed to reflect the true situation” of Syrian Jews.

The admission of error by the National Geographic follows a six-month protest by the AJ Congress, which charged that the April article misled readers into believing the Syrian government was tolerant of Syrian Jews when, in fact, they are persecuted and harassed.

In his column on Page 587, the first time the magazine has provided a forum for reader reaction, Grosvenor declares: “Our objective–to keep current, to remain factual, to report without speculating–is most challenging in the field of human society….But occasionally, events move too fast for us and we must pay the price. Such was the case with the Robert Azzi article on Damascus in April, 1974, a portion of which described the dwindling Jewish community in that Arab capital.”

Noting the “difficulty of obtaining reliable, non-partisan information,” Grosvenor said Azzi had “reported a good deal of tolerance in Syria’s treatment of its Jewish minority.” Grosvenor added: “Many of our Jewish members sharply criticized us for not delineating in greater detail the harsh conditions under which that small community has been forced to exist since 1968. We began to wonder if we had unwittingly failed to reflect the true situation. Now, after months of carefully reviewing the evidence, we have concluded that our critics were right. We erred.”

MAGAZINE’S DECISION HAILED BY AJCONGRESS

In a comment today, Phil Baum, associate executive director of the AJCongress, who led a picket line at the National Geographic’s Washington headquarters early in June, after the editors’ initial refusal to print a correction, declared: “The Geographic deserves commendation for its decision, albeit some months late, to concede the inadequacies of its original treatment….This was a gross misrepresentation and unless corrected, might seriously have damaged efforts to make the world aware of the ongoing and urgent danger to the safety of Syrian Jews.”

Baum gave special credit for the protests leading to the National Geographic’s decision to print a correction to the AJCongress’ national capital chapter in Washington and to the Jewish Community Relations Council of Kansas City.

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