Saturday, February 5, 2011

A Journalist's Tale: Covering Terrorism Upside-Down

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By Barry Rubin

My articles on media coverage have prompted a number of letters from journalists about their own experiences. Here's my favorite, slightly rewritten to protect anonymity:

"Thought I'd share with you the time in 2002 I identified on the spot the fact that a dead Palestinian, spread across both sides of the street in many pieces in Hebron's market, was not killed by Israelis as the locals were passionately wanting us to believe (including some Hamas types at the scene) but the dead man was actually a suicide bomber on a mission who'd accidentally blown up.

"The locals claimed Israeli rockets were used to kill the man, either fired from helicopters or from the Jewish quarter--there were conflicting stories of course. I pointed out that there was no point of impact for any rockets; and there were some other things that to me clearly indicated that he just blew up. CNN and others were reporting he'd been killed by Israelis that morning after we were on the scene.

"Turns out I was right. Later in the day we met with a Hamas leader with his armed entourage and he admitted to us that something "technically went wrong.' CNN and others originally reported that the man had been shot and killed by Israel (without provocaiton, of course) eventually changed the report that day to say he was a suicide bomber who had accidentally detonated."

Back to me: Now multiply that by thousands of stories in most of which the correction was never made or done so grudgingly (and with such an emphasis on discrediting the critics) as to be of little improvement.

Imagine if no Western reporter had observed the event BUT nonetheless reported it as the highly partisan Palestinians claimed. This is precisely what happened in the Muhammad al-Dura affair--in which millions of people believe that Israel murdered a boy in a situation that was at the least a phony manufactured event--and in the Goldstone Report (which basically retold the Hamas propaganda version of the story), and most recently in the tear-gas-is-poison-gas scenario that has just unfolded.

This brings to mind the time when the Los Angeles Times reported that people in the Gaza Strip were suffering greatly from Israeli restrictions on providing power, an article published before the changes were implemented. Or the time when it was widely reported that the Gaza "parliament" was holding meetings by candle light when there was no power, though photos showed it was daylight and the curtains had been closed to stage the scene.

It's endless.

The weak point here is not what Israel says or does--since even documented reports are ignored or ridiculed--but the credulity, unprofessional behavior, and sometimes malice of the journalists involved.

My usual guidelines apply here: Many journalists and media outlets do a good job; the problem is with relatively few though often from the widest-circulation, most "respectable" publications.

How to counter such nonsense? Read this article and send it to lots of people.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center is at and of his blog, Rubin Reports,

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