Thursday, August 13, 2009

AP's Coverage of the Fatah Congress: A Case Study in Media Bias and Misinformation

By Barry Rubin

How did the Associated Press, the main source for the world’s English-language media, report on the Fatah Congress? It’s a tale of two dispatches.

Here are AP's themes:

--Fatah: moderate, pragmatic, wants peace, pro-American, youthful. (Problems are presented: conflict with Hamas, corruption, internal conflicts, but these are more attributed to the past.)

--Israel: hardline, reluctant about peace, trouble for U.S. government, only takes forward steps when pressured by the United States

AP started out ok, on August 9, with Mohammed Daraghmeh, “Fatah reappoints Abbas as its leader,” which is very factual, the way a wire service is supposed to be.

The article states that the convention, ended by “giving him a new mandate for peace talks with Israel - if he can heal divisions among his people….But the movement has lost its shine over the last five years. Its old guard has been accused of rampant corruption and nepotism, and it has suffered military humiliation at the hands of rival Hamas.”

This is a fair description in brief. It then quotes Abbas’s speech:

"This convention must be a new beginning for the Fatah movement….In our history, we've had many launches and setbacks. Sometimes, we have reached the edge of the abyss - but we have always returned stronger."

The article continues:

“Abbas pledged to lead Palestinians to statehood, but he faces many challenges. On Abbas' watch, Fatah was trounced by Hamas in 2006 parliamentary elections, partly because of its corruption-tainted image. A year later, Hamas seized the Gaza Strip by force, politically splitting the Palestinian territories. The Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority rules the West Bank only, and Abbas has not been able to foster reconciliation. Without a rapprochment, Abbas' claim to represent all Palestinians in peace negotiations with Israel is shaky. And the indications of unity within his own movement so far, judging by the Fatah conference, are not promising.”

But then comes his summary article on August 12 which is cheerleading and highly politicized as revealed by the title, “Fatah election brings new faces and fresh hopes.” Here’s the lead:

“Fatah has elected a rejuvenated leadership that will likely bring the mainstream Palestinian movement more in line with President Obama's vision for an Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement, according to unofficial results released yesterday.

“But a reluctant Israel and Hamas' stranglehold on the Gaza Strip pose formidable obstacles to a peace pact.”

This is far worse. First, Fatah’s problems are not attributed to internal issues but to external ones. Second, without in any way providing evidence, Israel is characterized as “reluctant” to make peace. The latter point is biased. Third, note the gratuitous references to Obama in order to make the group look better in the eyes of the American public.

His presentation on the elections is also misleading, albeit in line with general media coverage:

“The vote appeared to present a new Fatah leadership that removed some of the old-time exiled revolutionaries who urged armed struggle in favor of pragmatic, younger grass-roots activists who grew up in the West Bank and Gaza and support negotiating a peace treaty with Israel. While many of the victors are familiar Fatah figures, some say their rise to the highest ranks will revive Fatah.”

At least he included the last sentence but in fact serious study of the election and meeting results shows the contrary, here and here.

 Despite media coverage there is no evidence of the “pragmatic” or “grass-roots” factors. In fact, the only “grass-roots” figure is Marwan Barghouti, in an Israeli jail for large numbers of killings done under his direction as the organizer of the intifadah that began in 2000—at a time when Israel was offering an independent Palestinian state with its capital in east Jerusalem.

My analysis shows that one-third of the members are very hardline and not necessarily even supportive of real negotiations with Israel and the other two-thirds, with one or two exceptions, support the same line Fatah has held for the last 15 years.

This article states: The “ascendancy [of younger leaders] gives a boost to Obama's hoped-for Mideast breakthrough, giving the mainstream, secular Fatah more credibility among Palestinians who threw their traditional Fatah leaders out of power in 2006 elections, charging them with corruption, nepotism, and inefficiency.”

There is a humorous element here since the “traditional Fatah leaders” thrown out in the 2006 elections are the exact same people generally as those elected in this meeting! And even those who were not elected continue to hold high posts in Fatah and to set policy.

While noting that, “It is assumed there can be no peace accord until the West Bank and Gaza are reunited,” which is a good point, the article also takes a gratuitous slam at Israel’s government:

“Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu takes a hard line toward the Palestinians. Obama wrung from Netanyahu a reluctant endorsement of creation of a Palestinian state, but for decades he has backed Israeli control over the West

While the media simply can’t conceive of this—because of the pigeonholing of Netanyahu as “hardline,” though he has far more claim on being a “pragmatist” than Fatah leaders, the Israeli prime minister accepted a two-state solution as an outcome of successful negotiations when he last became prime minister in 1996.

Finally, the article ends with another sentence aimed to show how pro-American Fatah is:

“Obama's administration is said to be within weeks of presenting a new Mideast peace plan, and a reinvigorated Palestinian leadership would be a significant boost.”

Now, if you are getting your news from most newspapers, radio, or television stations—which are dependent on Associated Press for their coverage—what are you NOT being told? Here are just some key points:

1. The declaration that Fatah is ready to return to armed struggle if it isn’t happy with the negotiations.

2. The official adoption of the al-Aqsa Brigades as Fatah’s armed wing, a connection which Fatah and the media have previously denied. The Brigades have committed many terrorist acts and killed scores of Israeli civilians. Fatah is not taking official responsibility for these murders, many of which have taken place in the last eight years.

3. The introduction from the podium as heroes and cheering for terrorists who have murdered Israeli civilians.

4. The officially adopted conspiracy theory that Israel murdered Fatah’s previous leader Yasir Arafat.

5. Perhaps most important of all Fatah’s selection as its next leader Muhammad Ghaneim, a Fatah official so hardline that he has still not accepted the 1993 peace agreement (Oslo accords), meaning that he has never recognized Israel and openly seeks its destruction.

You have been told that Fatah is a moderate, pro-American group—more moderate and pro-American than Israel’s government—without hearing things that went on in the meeting that show the contrary to be true. To paraphrase the poet John Dunne, Ask not for whom the coverage is biased, because it’s biased for you.

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