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NYT vs RFI Over Made-Up Quotes


The New York Times stands accused of altering a quotation from a survivor of the Charlie Hebdo massacre, thereby soft-peddling the Islamist fervor of killers Saïd and Chérif Kouachi.

While it is always great fun to take a stick to the New York Times, the charge of mendacious cowardice appears to be unfounded.

However, contemporaneous French media accounts indicate the New York Times' first report – rather than its third edited version – may be closer to the truth. The French media are sticking to their version of events. It is the New York Times that is the outlier on this story.

The controversy over “who said what” arose from statements made to Radio France International (RFI) by Sigolène Vinson, one of the few survivors of the Jan 7, 2015, Paris magazine massacre. A published novelist and freelance writer, Vinson happened to be at the office that day to discuss a freelance contribution to the satirical magazine when the attack began.

In its article “Charlie Hebdo: ce qu’on sait de l’attentat et de l’enquête,” RFI stated:

Quelques instants après le drame, Sigolène Vinson se confiait à RFI. « Je suis Sigolène, je suis en vie. Mais c’est horrible, il ya des morts [pleurs]. » Si Sigolène Vinson est encore en vie, c’est parce qu’elle est une femme. L’un des agresseurs a dit : « On ne tue pas les femmes, mais tu dois te convertir à l’islam et te voiler », avant de crier « Allah Akbar ».

Shortly after the tragedy Sigolène Vinson spoke to RFI. "I am Sigolène, I am alive. But this is horrible. There are dead people [tears]." If Sigolène Vinson is still alive, it is because she is a woman. One of the attackers said: "We do not kill women, but you have to convert to Islam and veil yourself," before shouting "Allah Akbar".

Nb: One could also say “conceal” or “cover” yourself in the last line.

In its first report of the shootings, the New York Times cited Vinson’s comments stating:

Sigolène Vinson, a freelancer who had decided to come in that morning to take part in the meeting, thought she would be killed when one of the men approached her.

Instead, she told French news media, the man said, “I’m not going to kill you because you’re a woman, we don’t kill women, but you must convert to Islam, read the Quran and cover yourself,” she recalled.

The article entitled, "Recounting a Bustling Office at Charlie Hebdo, Then a ‘Vision of Horror,’” was then altered on the Times' website. The paragraphs concerning Vinson now stated:

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