CNN has announced a series of major policy changes which will greatly shift public perception of the Arab-Israel conflict in general, and the role of Palestinian suicide bombers in particular.
This week, CNN.com unveiled a special section devoted to Israeli victims of terror. It features victims' names, bios and description of the attack, a timeline of terror attacks, a chart featuring the equivalent death ratios in other countries, and interviews with a victim's family. See it at:
Meanwhile, CNN's Wolf Blitzer is in Israel this week doing special reports on Israeli victims of terror, to be broadcast on primetime on CNN International every evening.
CNN even set up a special email box for viewers to write - firstname.lastname@example.org.
CNN will go to extremes to avoid any suggestion of moral equivalence between terrorists and their victims.
Eason Jordan, CNN's Chief News Executive, who also flew to Israel, announced that he has issued a directive ordering staff to "go to extremes" to avoid any impression the company sees moral equivalence between terror victims and their attackers. (This on the heels of President Bush's speech placing the blame for the region's ills squarely on Arafat’s shoulders.)
CNN has also announced that, barring an "extraordinarily compelling situation," CNN will refuse to air any videotape or statements of suicide bombers or their families. This aligns CNN with the widespread media policy against broadcasting videotaped statements by Osama Bin Laden.
The dramatic CNN turnaround can be attributed to two factors:
- Pressure from media-watch groups like HonestReporting.com.
Eason Jordan, the chief news executive of CNN, was quoted in The New York Times as saying that he could find up to 6,000 e-mail messages protesting coverage in his in-box in a single day.
- Recent public relations disasters at CNN, for example:
In an interview published last week in the UK Guardian, CNN founder Ted Turner accused Israel of “terrorism" against the Palestinians.
CNN issued a statement saying that Turner "has no operational or editorial oversight of CNN" and was speaking for himself. Without excusing the stupidity of Turner's comments, CNN noted that his comments were made two months ago, at the height of the Jenin media frenzy, and Turner has since backtracked.
To the family's shock, CNN devoted the bulk of the interview to the mother of the terrorist.
[The Guardian, by the way, should be taken for task for misreporting on June 18 when the Turner interview took place: "Ted Turner, the billionaire founder of CNN, accuses Israel today (sic) of engaging in 'terrorism' against the Palestinians."]
Another PR nightmare occurred in May when CNN interviewed an Israeli woman whose mother and daughter were tragically killed by a Palestinian suicide bomber. To the family's shock, CNN International broadcast only a short snippet of the interview, and devoted the bulk of the time to an interview with the mother of the terrorist who carried out the mass murder.
Within days, CNN had backtracked. They broadcast the Israeli interview in full and issued a statement that "CNN deeply regrets any extra anguish the [Israeli] family has suffered as a result of CNN's broadcast... It was a mistake not to air the full international version of the interview immediately..."
Now for the Bad News
We find a "different story" in the reports filed by Mike Hanna, Jerrold Kessel, Christiane Amanpour, Rula Amin and other CNN correspondents in the region. For example, Sheila MacVicar's first report from last week's Gilo bombing, as the burnt bodies were being removed from the bus, noted that Palestinians consider Gilo an "illegal settlement."
(In fact, the blast didn't take place in Gilo, but rather within pre-1967 Jerusalem, or at least in "no-man's land." But either way, MacVicar's reference to "illegal settlement" gives an element of legitimacy to this mass murder.)
As burnt bodies were being removed from the bus, CNN noted that Palestinians consider Gilo an illegal settlement.
We suspect that CNN policy is often driven by the foreign bureaus, rather than by CNN's headquarters. As senior CNN executives visit Israel this week, we hope and expect that to change.
The following are some recent actions taken by CNN-Atlanta to challenge or correct reporting from its Mideast reporters:
-- In April, when Palestinian spokesman Saeb Erekat claimed that 500 Palestinians were massacred in Jenin, Atlanta-based anchor Bill Hemmer demanded to see proof, and challenged him: If [Israel's] numbers are right and your initial numbers are wrong, will you come back here on our network and retract what you said?"
Erekat replied: "Absolutely." (Though we are still waiting for that public retraction on CNN.)
-- On April 16, the height of the media frenzy in Jenin, CNN's U.S.-based anchors repeatedly challenged CNN correspondent Rula Amin and a UN official, reminding them that no proof had been presented of a massacre.
CNN's Daryn Kagan, for example, told Rula Amin: "Clearly what we are looking at is a different perception here. Rula, I am sure, as we can see from the pictures, a number of homes have been destroyed. But the Israelis would point out that they believe there were gunman and fighters holing out in those houses, and that's why they had to be attacked so fiercely."
-- On April 9, New York-based anchor, Paula Zahn, interrupted Rula Amin's report: "All right, Rula, by the same token, the Israelis argue there's a very good reason why they went into Jenin in the first place, that they know that men who are very active in the Palestinian Authority's violence against Israel are located there."
While we are encouraged by the positive developments, CNN still has a long way to go to restore the trust of the consumer public. CNN's coverage has already led many viewers to switch to competitors, and in Israel, the local cable company announced last week that it will begin carrying Fox News.
And there are more unresolved problems. For example, CNN's bio of Yasser Arafat woefully under-reports his history of terror. "I am one of the victims," CNN quotes Arafat as saying. See the bio:
Recommendations for media activists:
- Continue to monitor CNN's coverage.
- Discuss CNN's coverage with your local cable station directors and advertisers.
- Email polite criticism and comments to CNN. Praise as well as complain, when appropriate. Send to: Eason.Jordan@Turner.com