There were many ignoble candidates for this year's Dishonest Reporting "Award", based on a survey of tens of thousands of news articles relating to the Mideast conflict. HonestReporting.com the judges took many factors into account: Was there a policy of deliberate bias? Were reports based on unreliable sources or no sources at all? Did the reporter or publication refuse to admit its errors?
The collective awardee is the British media, mainly for its hook, line and sinker acceptance of the Palestinian version of a "massacre" in Jenin this past April.
(Scroll down to see the "Dishonorable Mentions," listed in alphabetical order.)
The British media reported "facts" of IDF massacres, atrocities, summary executions, and mass graves -- which in the end were shown by United Nations and Human Rights Watch reports to have been fabricated by overzealous Palestinian "witnesses."
Here are a few examples of how the British media reported on Jenin:
"We are talking here of massacre, and a cover-up, of genocide..." -- London Evening Standard
"Rarely, in more than a decade of war reporting from Bosnia, Chechnya, Sierra Leone, Kosovo, have I seen such deliberate destruction, such disrespect for human life." -- The Times of London
Israel's actions in Jenin were "every bit as repellent" as Osama Bin Laden's attack on New York on September 11. -- The Guardian
"Hundreds of victims 'were buried by bulldozer in mass grave'." -- Daily Telegraph
Why the overzealous reaction based on spurious evidence?
Alon Ben-David, a veteran military correspondent for the Israeli Broadcasting Authority (and currently at Harvard), told UPI: "A large part of the European media regards itself as not just reporters but as ideological crusaders. They are in the business of journalism not just for the business. They want to do good in the world. They have agendas."
Looking back, the alarmist Jenin coverage has impacted the Mideast conflict in three key respects:
1) Palestinian Mythology
By allowing unfounded rumors to be reported as factual, the media has helped create a false Palestinian mythology over the battle of Jenin: i.e. the few fought the many and bravely chose to die in battle rather than surrender. Just as plenty of people are willing to believe that the Israeli Mossad was somehow behind September 11, plenty are willing to believe that the IDF got away with murder in Jenin, too.
This slipshod coverage adds fuel to the fire of those who falsely accuse the IDF of using excessive force. In reality, by using ground troops instead of an aerial assault, IDF troops put themselves in danger in order to spare Palestinian casualties -- and lost 23 soldiers in Jenin.
Since these myths are now part of Palestinian lore, true reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians becomes more difficult. Palestinians will resurrect and spuriously compare Jenin to Sabra and Shatilla (where Christian Phalangists indeed massacred hundreds of Palestinian refugees), proving how poor media coverage of can further widen the Israeli-Palestinian gulf.
2) Residual References
Even after the allegations of a "massacre" were proven false, some of the media can't seem to let go. In August, Peter Cave of Australia's ABC insisted:
"I personally saw 30 Palestinian corpses at the hospital on April the 20th, and with dozens of other foreign reporters, watched them being buried at a mass grave just up the road from the hospital... Just as in Tiananmen Square, the power of the gun and the tank ensured there was no proper body count or accounting. Just as happened in Tiananmen Square, the uninformed and those with their own agenda, are now claiming there was no massacre. There was a massacre, a considerable number of human beings were indiscriminately and unnecessarily slaughtered..."
The media continues to trump up the Jenin charges in other ways. In November, when former IDF chief of staff Shaul Mofaz was appointed Defense Minister, BBC reported that Mofaz "directed some of Israel's most controversial operations in the West Bank earlier this year, including Jenin -- where Palestinians claim a massacre took place -- and Ramallah."
After HonestReporting complaints, BBC subsequently changed the wording to "Jenin -- where a Palestinian refugee camp was all but demolished…" This, too, is biased wording, as fighting only took place in a 200-square-meter area -- about 6% of the total area of the camp.
3) Credibility of Palestinian Spokesmen
HonestReporting has encouraged the media to challenge specious and inaccurate claims made by Palestinian spokesmen, particularly the charges of massacres. On April 14, Saeb Erekat was challenged by CNN's Bill Hemmer: "You said specifically, and others said 500 in Jenin... Where are you getting evidence that shows 500 people were killed there? ...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?"
(We're still waiting.)
With so many Palestinian spokesmen issuing false accusations about Jenin, this calls into question the general advisability of the media relying on Palestinian claims.
In April, Palestinian spokesman Nabil Sha'ath went on CNN to report that 30 Palestinian women died in labor at Israeli checkpoints. The canard joins other Palestinian claims of Israel using radioactive ammunition, Nazi tactics, and nerve gas, along with the charges that Jewish settlers tortured Palestinians (though investigations later revealed they had actually died in traffic accidents or were executed by Palestinians as "collaborators").
Also in April, Palestinian spokesmen claimed that documents confiscated from Arafat's compound in Ramallah, detailing Arafat's senior advisors' involvement in suicide bombings and terrorism, were fraudulent forgeries. Abdel Rahman told CNN: "This is a fraud by the Israeli intelligence, sir. The Israelis have a department that specializes in putting out lies." And Nasser Al-Kidwa (Palestinian representative to the UN) told CNN: "...some kind of James Bond activities... bits and pieces of rumors and unsubstantiated claims."
If Palestinian spokespeople repeatedly use the media as a platform to promote outright lies, doesn't the media have a responsibility to ban that spokesperson, and to generally be wary of unquestionably swallowing Palestinian claims?
It may take years for the Jenin dust to settle. But one thing we have learned: The British media will not hesitate to promote a biased anti-Israel agenda, whether or not the facts are there to back it up.
We recall how the global chorus of condemnation prompted UN Secretary General Kofi Annan to call on Israel on to halt its military operations. "Can the whole world be wrong?" he asked.
In fact, the whole world was wrong. Phil Reeves of The Independent, known as a frequent critic of Israel, wrote of Jenin: "Even journalists have to admit they're wrong sometimes."
But it was too little, too late. The damage had been done. And for that, the British media deserves the Dishonest Reporting Award 2002.
ASSOCIATED PRESS HEADLINE WRITERS
In January 2002, two separate incidents occurred on the same day: 1) A Palestinian terrorist sprayed machine-gun fire on shoppers in downtown Jerusalem, and 2) Israel uncovered a bomb factory in the West Bank, subsequently killing the 4 Hamas terrorists who operated it. In a vile case of "moral equivalency," the Associated Press ran the following headline: "ISRAEL KILLS 4, PALESTINIAN WOUNDS 8".
A few days later, a Palestinian rampaged through central Israel in stolen cars for 3 hours, driving over police, soldiers and pedestrians, before finally being shot. A terribly misleading headline appeared on an Associated Press story (in the Times of London): "PALESTINIAN SHOT DEAD IN TEL AVIV".
Earlier that week, AP delivered another botched headline, in reporting on Israel's incursion into the town of Tulkarem: "ISRAEL TAKES OVER ENTIRE WEST BANK".
Extrapolate from there and you'll get an idea of the bias that AP headline writers were engaging in all year.
Last year's winner of the Dishonest Reporting Award received a slew of nominations again this year. Members particularly criticized B BC for being caught altering a quote by White House spokesman Ari Fleischer, substituting the word "terror" with the word "violence" in reference to Palestinians. Does BBC still believe that terror only occurs in the British Isles?
Canadian members nominated correspondent Neil MacDonald of the CBC for trying to disprove comments made by Hezbollah's Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, in which he promised to export "martyrdom operations" worldwide. The comments -- reported by journalist Paul Martin -- sparked a Canadian ban on Hezbollah. MacDonald suggested that Martin fabricated the comments -- prompting Martin to file a defamation suit against CBC.
Also in April, CBC devoted three days to intensive broadcasting on the Middle East, presenting documentaries rehashing the 1982 Sabra and Shatilla massacre ("The Accused"), glorifying Arafat ("Arafat: The Struggle for Palestine"), a personal profile of a homicide bomber ("Suicide As a Weapon"), and showing aggressive Israeli military actions against Palestinians ("The Ugly War: Israel Undercover"). The films were accompanied by the "Counterspin" talk show that gave forum to anti-Israel voices.
In May, HonestReporting members took CNN to task for originally giving more airtime to the family of a suicide bomber, than to the Israeli victims' family. Resentment built up more after founder Ted Turner equated Israeli security measures with Palestinian terror. Israeli satellite TV companies nearly dropped the network in favor of Fox News, and CNN instituted some sweeping editorial changes. The New York Times cited HonestReporting for its role in affecting policy, and the Jerusalem Post reported that "HonestReporting.com readers sent up to 6,000 e-mails a day to CNN executives, effectively paralyzing their internal e-mail system."
MSNBC ombudsman Dan Fisher wrote that "reporters and producers have been instructed not to use [the term 'terrorism'] in news reports on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict except in direct quotations."
When HonestReporting criticized this bizarre policy, MSNBC columnist Michael Moran wrote that HonestReporting is "aimed at muzzling free speech," and sensationalized that HonestReporting "has urged its subscribers to vent their collective spleen by pelting the accused with angry e-mails demanding that we fall into line, or else."
Calling for journalistic accountability is hardly equated with muzzling free speech, and surely the vast majority of HonestReporting members have non-vented spleens.
MSNBC.com also featured a web log by Eric Alterman, who called the arch-terrorist Marwan Barghouti "the very definition of a freedom fighter," and said that Ariel Sharon is "like Hamas" and is leading the "horrifying spiral of death."
Most NPR nominations singled out for censure "The Mideast: A Century in Conflict," a seven-part historical series by Mike Schuster. The October broadcast "whitewashed a history of Arab violence and extremism while attempting to paint Israel as a colonial power," as one member succinctly wrote.
NEW YORK TIMES
Among the many nominations for the NY Times, an April report by Joel Greenberg stood out. "2 Girls, Divided by War, Joined in Carnage" shocked readers with moral equivalence between Rachel Levy, killed while shopping for the Sabbath, and Ayat al-Akhras, who blew herself up, killing Levy and a security guard. (A Newsweek cover story made the same side-by-side comparison.)
In January 2002, the first woman suicide bomber, Wafa Idris blew herself up on Jaffa Road in Jerusalem. In a gross example of misplaced sympathy, The Times described Idris as "chestnut hair curling past her shoulders... [who] raised doves and adored children." This despite the fact that she had killed or wounded 150 innocent civilians.
For weeks, outrage poured in from UK, Australia and South African over Pilger's documentary, "Palestine is Still the Issue." In the UK, the documentary aired immediately after Yom Kippur, exacerbating the ill-will. Even Michael Green, chairman of Carlton Television which produced the documentary, called Pilger's show, "factually incorrect, historically incorrect," and a "tragedy for Israel so far as accuracy is concerned."
Reuters reported on the deportation of two Palestinians to the Gaza Strip, saying that they were "dumped... to fend for themselves." Reuters made no mention of the fact that Israel arranged a family reunion prior to the deportation, and gave them food and bottled water, plus 1000 shekels each for relocation assistance, and that they spent the night comfortably at a Red Cross facility in Gaza. A far cry from "dumped to fend for themselves."
Covering Operation Defensive Wall, Geraldo Rivera told Fox viewers: "When you use tanks and F-16s, and these sledgehammers against thickly populated civilian towns and cities, that's not fighting terrorism. That is inflicting terrorism... I have been a Zionist my entire life. I would die for Israel. But watching the suffering of the Palestinian people, I'm also becoming a Palestinian-ist..." Rivera said he received 18,000 emails in response to his comment.
Top Hamas terrorist Nasser Jarrar lost both his legs and an arm last year when a bomb he was making exploded; he then continued to organize suicide bombings. In August, when Israel made a pinpoint strike against Jarrar, the Washington Post published the following distorted headline: "DISABLED MILITANT'S DEFIANT LAST BATTLE: LEGLESS, ONE-ARMED PALESTINIAN DIES SHOOTING." Writer Molly Moore glorified Jarrar as some type of folk hero, referring to his "resilient career," and only in the final paragraph mentioned how Jarrar's bomb-making caused the loss of his own limbs.