Saturday, April 25, 2009

Media Column: Unreliable Sources; Tailored "Facts"

I do a weekly media column usually focusing on Associated Press coverage. Sometimes there are good articles which I am pleased to praise but more often I'm genuinely disappointed by the contents. Here's this week's example. Not sure why I can't embed the links so I've written them out at the end:

By Barry Rubin

In reading AP dispatches on the Middle East, the bias is so obvious and the same themes are endlessly repeated that it starts to seem as if a satire.

Here’s a gem from Karin Laub’s "Palestinian teen killed by Israeli Troops" April 18, 2009. (1) The headline could just as easily have been “Palestinians attack Jewish Settlement” but somehow one can predict that AP would pick the first headline. (There’s a short account of such an attack but it is not, of course, the story’s focus.) What are we told about the main topic which AP has chosen for the story?

“A Palestinian man was killed after he was struck in the chest by a tear gas canister fired by Israeli troops dispersing a protest against Israel's West Bank separation barrier.

“The military said protesters had been hurling rocks at troops, but video footage obtained Saturday by The Associated Press showed a small group of protesters shouting at troops but not throwing anything in the minutes leading up to the firing of the tear gas.”

Aha! So it was an unprovoked, albeit accidental, murder? In fact there’s film of it:

“After troops opened fire, some of the protesters took cover behind riot shields, the film showed. Suddenly, 31-year-old Bassem Abu Rahmeh is seen after taking a hit to the chest, then rolling down a small incline and coming to a stop at the bottom, where he lay unresponsive, blood spreading over the front of his green Fiat shirt.”

No doubt the veteran professional journalist and camera crew from AP, handpicked for their fairness and accuracy, made this video? Not exactly:

“The film was supplied to AP Television News by Israel-based Anarchists Against the Wall. The military said Saturday that troops opened fire to disperse a violent, three-hour protest that was taking place in a closed military zone.”

Now that sounds like a reliable unbiased source, doesn’t it? In fact, it's a group dedicated to Israel's elimination. And no doubt they provided a full, accurate, and unedited film of the three-hour protest showing the demonstrators' violence.

Well, no, apparently they had a clip of perhaps five minutes showing what a highly partisan political group which wanted to make Israel look bad made for AP to see. AP has no way of verifying the video's accuracy.

The story ends by mentioning: “Israel and Egypt have kept Gaza's borders virtually sealed since the Islamic militant Hamas seized the territory by force in June 2007.”

How did I know before reading this that they weren’t going to tell you why the border has been sealed? Rockets, mortars, cross-border attacks, open declarations of war, for example.

Then there’s another often repeated theme by Karin Laub in “Palestinians ask Obama envoy to pressure Israel,” (2) April 17. Right. They know this is the only way they are going to get a state is if the United States forces unilateral concessions from Israel since the Palestinians will never make any of their own nor show themselves to be so peace-oriented as to persuade Israel to give them a lot on its own.

This one-sidedness is also apparent in how she defines the Arab (Saudi, Beirut Arab summit) peace initiative, saying that it:

“offers Israel full recognition by the Arab world in exchange for full withdrawal from occupied territories, should be part of future peace efforts.

She doesn’t mention a little provision about letting a few million Palestinians live in Israel. Nor does she mention that Israeli governments have been positive about the initiative in general but point out the full withdrawal and influx of the Palestinians are two provisions they don’t accept.

The aforementioned Laub writes a long story about every critic she can find in “Rights groups cry whitewash over army's Gaza probe,” (3) April 22. Not a shred of evidence is provided, of course. I haven’t found yet the story that fairly and accurately presents what the Probe did say and which quotes people explaining why it is accurate. But readers are being conditioned to reject it. All this might make more sense if there was any real evidence against Israel yet, despite all the wild charges and passionate denunciations, there isn't.

Oh, wait, I'm wrong, sort of. There is such an article that presents the probe. The only problem that while the Lamb article is 100 percent about condemnations of Israel and the probe, the Heller article only devotes 80 percent of its space to doing the same thing. And even the 20 percent that does discuss the probe is all spent on trying to make Israel look bad rather than the explanations of why certain events did'happen and why many claims of "war crimes" weren't true.

Precisely one sentence is devoted to the explanation of context, and even that doesn't include the probe's most important point: that there is no proof of any deliberate killings of civilians and if there was they would be fully prosecuted.

And what is the title of this article that is supposed to present Israel's statement that its army acted honorably in the Gaza Strip? Why, of course, "Israel denies violating international law in Gaza," by Aron Heller, April 22. (4)

By the way, when Heller informs us of the causes of the war he never mentions that Hamas unilaterally abrogated the ceasefire which had been in place (albeit often not observed by Hamas), triggering the crisis that led to the fighting.

Finally, who is Israel’s prime minister?

Answer 1: Benjamin Netanyahu

Answer 2: “A hard-liner when it comes to negotiating and has routinely opposed giving up territory captured by Israel in the 1967 war or sharing Jerusalem as a capital for both the Israelis and the Palestinians.

If your answer is "B" you’ve been reading Steven R. Hurst, Obama invites Mideast leaders for separate talks, (5) April 21, 2009.

It makes Netanyahu sound like the mean rabbit in the Winnie the Pooh book who refuses to share his crops with his little forest friends who didn’t plant anything themselves. If Netanyahu has “routinely opposed” giving up territory why did he accept more than 12 years ago the Oslo agreements?

The real point—which the AP doesn’t want you to know about—is that Netanyahu and many others ask: Why should we give up territory in exchange for nothing? Why should we make a deal for a Palestinian state if it demands we take hundreds of thousands of Palestinians into Israel and immediately starts attacking us? There can be no two-state solution unless and until we know that this would be a permanent, stable peace.

In contrast to his distortions about Israel's stance, Hurst makes it sound as if Arab regimes are pleading with Israel to make peace:

“Arab regimes throughout the region have vowed to recognize Israel and make peace if the captured territory is returned and Jerusalem is a shared capital.”

They “vowed”? Wow, that sounds pretty sincere. No more worries on that front, I guess. If Netanyahu was just not in office the AP would have you believe that peace would be secured in a few weeks. Note also the failure to mention those three million Palestinians coming to Israel here either.

A number of newspapers ran editorials after the Durban-2 Conference decrying the boundless hatred of Israel and Jews expressed by people like Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Yet where does all this hatred and slander come from, in the West at least, but large elements of the media misinforming people about events in the Middle East?






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