The sentence appeared front-and-center on the NYT's home page this morning, highlighting Sam Dagher's dispatch from Baghdad about yesterday's car bombing that killed eight Iraqis.
If you read it quickly you might have missed some subtle but offensive moralizing about the Iraqi people, masquerading as a dispassionate news summary.
The story itself, under the headline "A Moment of Heroism After a Blast in Baghdad," recounted the rescue of a baby from the fiery aftermath of a car bomb that resulted in eight casualties, including the baby's mother. Dagher detailed the tears of a woman whose son pulled the baby from the car -- a classic tug-at-the-heartstrings account of a simple act of valor in times of war.
Here was how the NYT website summarized the story, under a photo of the woman feeding the baby in the wake of the blast: "The rescue of a baby from the wreckage of a bombing that killed eight seemed to be proof that Iraqis were still capable of extraordinary acts of humanity."
Does the NYT seriously contend that the rescue of a baby should lead readers to that condescending conclusion?
It seems to us that the rescue of a baby from a burning car -- in Baghdad, in New York City, in Tokyo, or anywhere in the world -- proves nothing except the good news that human nature still prevails over political agendas.
But the message of the NYT's absurd moral judgement -- smack in the middle of its home page -- is that for an Iraqi to commit such an act of humanity somehow would be less likely, given the events of the last six years, and thus worth noting as newsworthy.
Read the story and you'll see that what happened yesterday in Baghdad was notable only in that it showed acts of individual human courage. It demonstrated nothing about how Iraqis "were still capable of" anything -- aside from doing what any human being might do in a similar situation.
To implicitly suggest that a six-year war would turn ordinary Iraqis into heartless bastards who might leave a baby in a burning car is naive and grossly simplistic at best.
It's interesting, while coincidental, that on the day after the NYT launched its provocative new "Moral of the Story" blog by Ethicist Randy Cohen, it showcased a sentence in its news pages that implied its right to pass moral judgement on Iraqi citizens for their behavior.
Those sorts of judgements and conclusions may have their place in the NYT's opinion pages, but not in news stories that shape readers' perceptions of a country -- and their view of what moral acts its citizens may or may not be capable.