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Media Backspin
« November 2009 | Main | January 2010 »

Thursday, December 31 2009

Sometimes, the MSM Loves Sabra Experts, Part 2

Cathy Kelly of the Toronto Star picked up on (or perhaps coined?) a new buzzword:

"Israelis, unlike Canadians and Americans, don't take s--- from anybody. When the security agency in Israel (the ISA) started to tighten security and we had to wait in line for — not for hours — but 30 or 40 minutes, all hell broke loose here. We said, 'We're not going to do this. You're going to find a way that will take care of security without touching the efficiency of the airport."

That, in a nutshell is "Israelification" - a system that protects life and limb without annoying you to death.

Do read the whole article. I haven't seen Israeli experts on any topic get such positive press in awhile. If only the MSM would give sabras some credibility in issues of politics and the Mideast confict too.

Related reading: Sometimes, the MSM Loves Sabra Experts

The Village Claimed By Three Countries

The Media Line visits Ghajar, a complicated Alawite village claimed by Israel, Lebanon and Syria. Here's a synopsis of the conflicting claims.

Lebanon: Ghajar was always Lebanese.

Israel: Ghajar was captured from Syria. Returning it to Lebanon would embolden Hezbollah.

Syria: I'm not aware of any Syrian statements specifically regarding Ghajar, but Bashar Assad's regime is known to want all of the Golan returned. This would presumably include Ghajar.

Ghajar residents: They say they are Syrian, and no matter what political decision is made, Ghajar must not be divided.

On a recent IDF tour of the north for bloggers, an army spokeswoman told us the residents prefer to remain Israeli citizens, but would face reprisals if they said so publicly.

Related reading: Golan Village Divided By Fear

2009 Terror: By the Numbers

I'm happy to post that terror attacks in Israel declined this year. Stats from YNet News

0: Suicide attacks carried out against Israel.

15: Israelis killed in terror attacks.

566: Rockets launched from Gaza, mostly in January.

22: West Bank shooting attacks.

13: West Bank attacks using explosive devices.

578: West Bank attacks involving Molotov cocktails.

633: Overall number of West Bank terror incidents.

Dozens: People identifying with global jihad attempting to enter Israel from the Sinai.


Wednesday, December 30 2009

Sometimes, the MSM Loves Sabra Experts

It's interesting how people naturally relate to "Jewish wisdom" when an Israeli is interviewed about something other than politics or the Mideast conflict. It's been awhile since I've seen a "watchable sabra" on the air.

Just listen to the interplay between the Fox interview team and Isaac Yeffet.

Donald Macintyre's Tunnel Vision

Donald Macintyre looks at Gaza one year after the war in a special dispatch written for The New Statesman. One particular statement startles me, because Macintyre has been covering Israel for The Independent for several years. He writes:

The war was started with the stated purpose of ending the surge of rocket attacks on southern Israel by Gaza militants. These began when a ceasefire broke down, after an Israeli raid in November.

After discovering a 245 meter tunnel leading into Israel, which the Palestinians intended to use to kidnap IDF soldiers, the army launched an incursion to destroy the tunnel. Hamas responded with 35 Qassam rockets.

For those of us not afflicted with Macintyre's tunnel vision, the cease fire broke down when Hamas dug that tunnel.

UPDATE Dec. 30: The article was trimmed down, and this particular snippet isn't there anymore. Looks like I happened to get a peek at some content that wasn't intended to be published online; here's the note at the bottom of the page:

To read the full version of this piece, pick up a copy of this week's New Statesman, available in all good newsagents.

Andrew Sullivan Said What?

Reacting to Karni Eldad, Andrew Sullivan suggests Western military intervention against Israeli settlements:

Increasingly, it seems to me, NATO or US troops will have to intervene on the border to enforce a separation and an end to these settlements for good and all.

(Hat tip: Israel Matzav via Instapundit)


Tuesday, December 29 2009

Israelis 'Playing Mini-Mengele'


See HonestReporting's latest media critiques:

• British MP George Galloway recycles the Swedish blood libel to employ Holocaust analogy. Israelis "Playing Mini-Mengele"

• Headlines misrepresent IDF actions against terrorist murderers. Israel Killing "Activists" Not Terrorists

The Observer's journalist incorrectly identifies a major Israeli city as a "huge settlement". "Huge Settlement" = Huge Mess

Imagine the Outrage If Israel Did This To Gaza


China slowly began restoring phone and internet links between its western Xinjiang province and the rest of the world.

Without direct international access, people in Xinjiang have had to find creative approaches to reach the outside world. An article this month in Science magazine described researchers for the Chinese Academy of Sciences relying on express mail or travel to other parts of China to get online.

"My wife and I have had to sit here and endure a frustrating feeling that we are now living in the Stone Ages," one Xinjiang-based blogger, an American named Josh Summers, posted earlier this month. He wrote that ways around the shutdown remained, but he didn't give details.

The government cut the communication links to the province in July in response to July riots and ethnic tensions. The estimated population of 21 million had no access to international phone services, internet or text-messaging for half a year.

This was a classic example of collective punishment, yet there was no hue and cry from the human rights community, no UN investigations, no denunciations of significance, no headlines.

Now imagine the outrage if Israel did the same thing to Gaza . . .

Media Activism, PA Style

The PA issued an arrest warrant against the chairman of the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate, Naim Toubassi. He's charged with financial corruption and slander, but Khaled Abu Toameh writes:

The decision to arrest Toubassi came amid growing calls to hold new elections for the syndicate. Palestinian journalists said that Toubassi has long been the target of a "smear campaign" aimed at discrediting him, to prevent his reelection as chairman of the syndicate.

HonestReporting's Top Content of 2009

After posting Backspin's top 5 posts, it's time to check Google Analytics and HonestReporting's top content for the year.

1. UN Hypocrisy
This video about the UN Human Rights Council's embrace of the Goldstone report had more than 108,000 views, making it by far HonestReporting's most widely-seen content.

That's tremendous traffic for our web site, but the stat is bittersweet. Had we instead hosted the video on our YouTube channel, we would've lost all that web traffic to YouTube, but it probably would've gone viral.

This was part of a subscription drive, so attracting clicks wasn't the only consideration on where to host the video. In hindsight, we should've put this video on YouTube. Readers would've been able to more readily spread the word since it's so easy to post YouTube videos on Facebook, blogs, etc.

2. The Photo That Started It All
To our surprise, constant traffic in small numbers throughout the year added up to make the story of Tuvia Grossman and a botched photo-caption our highest ranking text material.

It's one of our oldest pages; StumbleUpon accounted for 40 percent of this year's clicks. Whoda thought?

Tuvia's now 29; last we heard, he made aliyah, got married, and is now a corporate lawyer in Tel Aviv.

3. Dishonest Reporter Award 2009
Only published a week ago, the annual awards are always popular. Interested bloggers and improvements in our email format boosted the awards.

4. The Big Lies
After a very successful launch during the Gaza war, this interactive feature looking at the decade's biggest Mideast media manipulations is another example of the cumulative power of small amounts of daily web traffic.

5. Moderate or Hardline?
Spotlighting the MSM's descriptions of Bibi and Abbas as "hardline" and "moderate," I think this video, like "UN Hypocrisy," should've been hosted on YouTube too.


Monday, December 28 2009

Who 'Occupies' Gaza?


An "expert" in international law, BBC bureau chief Jeremy Bowen, has concluded that Israel is still the legal occupier of Gaza, despite the 2005 disengagement. This statement is his own words:

But Israel, legally speaking, still has the responsibilities of an occupying power, even though it no longer has a permanent military presence in Gaza. These responsibilities include ensuring the welfare of the population, allowing the functioning of medical services, and maintaining respect for private property.

But international law isn't as clear cut as Bowen asserts. Last year, David Rivkin Jr. and Lee Casey laid out a powerful argument against the occupied status, writing in the Washington Post:

Israel, however, is not an occupying power, judging by traditional international legal tests. Although such tests have been articulated in various ways over time, they all boil down to this question: Does a state exercise effective governmental authority -- if only on a de facto basis -- over the territory? As early as 1899, the Hague Convention on the Laws and Customs of War on Land stated that "[t]erritory is considered occupied when it is actually placed under the authority of the hostile army. The occupation applies only to the territory where such authority is established, and in a position to assert itself." . . . .

It is because an occupying power exercises effective control over a territory that international law substantially restricts the measures, military or economic, it can bring to bear upon this territory, well beyond the limits that would be applicable before occupation, whether in wartime or peacetime.

The Israeli military does not control Gaza; nor does Israel exercise any government functions there. Claims that Israel continues to occupy Gaza suggest that a power having once occupied a territory must continue to behave toward the local population as an occupying power until all outstanding issues are resolved. This "principle" can be described only as an ingenious invention; it has no basis in traditional international law.

Rivkin and Casey also touch on the implications of Gaza's "occupied" status for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, so read the whole commentary.

International law doesn't adequately address the problem of fighting non-state actors (like Al-Qaida), criminal quasi-state actors (i.e., Hamas and Hezbollah electoral successes give them a veneer of legitimacy), and asymmetric warfare, which is partly why the Israeli government declared Gaza a "hostile territory" in 2007.

Strictly speaking, that statement's purposes were limited -- this designation has no legal standing. But it put Hamas and its supporters in the legal community -- which now includes Bowen -- on notice that Israel intends to make its way through unchartered areas of international law.

HonestReporting on the Radio

HonestReporting managing editor Simon Plosker was a guest on Rusty Mike Radio, where he discussed the 2009 Dishonest Reporting awards, anti-Semitism, the media, HR's work, and more.

 Download the conversation and listen in.



Sunday, December 27 2009

December 27 Links

Gazans Suffer, And Israel is Not the Reason
Tel Aviv Think Tank Studies "Hubs of Delegitimization"
Maclean’s Interview: Efraim Halevy
British anti-Semitism Returns With a Vengeance
Wild and Wacky Israeli Tales From '09

Bungled Headline of the Day

This AP headline sent out on the wires reads:

3 Fatah Activists Killed in Israeli Raid

You have to read the article to find out:  

The three men killed Saturday were identified as members of Fatah's violent Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, a group that carried out many shootings during the second Palestinian uprising, which erupted in 2000. The deputy governor of Nablus, Anan Attireh, said one of the men — Anan Subeh — had been accepted in Israel's amnesty program for Fatah gunmen, while two others, Ghassan Abu Sharah and Raed Suragji, were still on Israel's wanted list.

Most Fatah gunmen are dead, in prison or retired, but those who remain active threatened revenge.

They're only "activists" in the sense that they were still actively attacking Israelis before the army caught up with them.

Impossible to Verify, But We'll Publish It Anyway


We can't verify this horrifying accusation, but we'll publish it anyway. That's the gist of this snippet by Daily Telegraph reporter Adrian Blomfield. He writes from Gaza:

But reliving her son's death a year later, there is another, more harrowing detail that preys on Mrs Awaja's mind. She says that as she hid behind a wall while her husband limped away to find help, Israeli soldiers used Ibrahim's corpse, which was lying in a road, as target practice.

"Each time the bullets would hit, his body leapt up off the road a little bit," she said. "It was as though he could still feel the pain even though he was already dead."

It is allegations such as these - almost impossible to verify - that have caused much damage to Israel's international reputation.

Memo to Blomfield: It's not the allegations themselves that cause much damage to Israel's reputation. It's reporters like you who damage Israel's reputation by giving unverified allegations unwarranted credibility and publicity.  

What journalism value is met by including this in such a dispatch?

Ordinary Gazans like Kamal Awaja don't have the courage to tell reporters like Blomfield about the homes used as cover for rocket fire, the mosques used as weapons dumps, or the hospitals commandeered by Hamas leaders. This is another great example of what I call tear-jerking journalism.

Santa's Image Problem

The Palestinians hijacked Mickey Mouse. Is it any surprise they're creating not-so-jolly image problems for Santa too? Check out the latest photo stunt (via Gateway Pundit) which Reuters fell for.


A Palestinian demonstrator in a Santa Claus costume throws a stone at Israeli troops during a protest against the controversial Israeli barrier in the West Bank village of Bilin near Ramallah December 25, 2009. REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman

What next? Viktor the Viking, Florida's Albert the Gator and, -- perish the thought -- Hogettes showing up for Bilin's manufactured dissent?

Related Reading: Photo-Ops are Child's Play


Thursday, December 24 2009

BBC Watch is Back

It's been awhile since Trevor Asserson did an in-depth study of BBC coverage. But he posted a new report on Beeb bureau chief Jeremy Bowen's coverage of the Gaza war.

BBC Watch reports are available by request. The Jewish Chronicle sums up Asserson's findings:

The report claimed that Mr Bowen broadcast 58 reports, 38 of which were unbalanced. Of those 38, 98 per cent portrayed Israel in a negative light.

Mr Bowen posted 22 entries on a diary on the BBC website. The report claimed that 20 were unbalanced, all portraying Israel in a negative light.

“The Bowen Diary”, as it was called, also frequently offered up Mr Bowen’s personal opinion, an inclusion which, BBC Watch says, is in clear breach of BBC guidelines.

MSM Spotlight on Bethlehem

Bethlehem Don't overlook two fantastic articles on the status of Christians in Bethlehem.

In the Wall St. Journal, Daniel Schwammenthal picks up on Bethlehem's embattled Christian community:

On the rare occasion that Western media cover the plight of Christians in the Palestinian territories, it is often to denounce Israel and its security barrier. Yet until Palestinian terrorist groups turned Bethlehem into a safe haven for suicide bombers, Bethlehemites were free to enter Israel, just as many Israelis routinely visited Bethlehem.

The other truth usually ignored by the Western press is that the barrier helped restore calm and security not just in Israel, but also in the West Bank including Bethlehem. The Church of the Nativity, which Palestinian gunmen stormed and defiled in 2002 to escape from Israeli security forces, is now filled again with tourists and pilgrims from around the world.

See also Benny Avni's commentary in the NY Post:

Indeed, the Christian population of the entire West Bank -- mostly Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholic, with Copts, Russian Orthodox, Armenians and others -- is dwindling.

But, again, the story's the same in Egypt, Iraq and elsewhere in the Mideast. Practically the only place in the region where the Christian population is growing is in Israel.

In Bethlehem, Christians now feel besieged. Growing numbers of rural southern West Bankers from the Hebron area have moved north to Bethlehem in recent years. Many see the land as Waqf -- belonging to the Muslim nation. They increasingly buy or confiscate land -- and talk of laws to ban Christian landownership.

Related reading: 'Christian Groups in PA to Disappear'

MP Files Formal Complaint Against Channel 4

Conservative MP Daniel Kawczynski filed a formal complaint to Ofcom over Channel 4's Dispatches: Inside Britain's Israel Lobby. According to the Jewish Chronicle:

Mr Kawczynski called the programme a “witch hunt” and said it “failed to demonstrate any evidence or facts of substance, relying instead on implication, association and prejudice”.

He added that the “core arguments were grounded in antisemitic "the Jews control the world" myths, and used "Orwellian doublespeak to present these views in a more subversively ‘acceptable' way".

Donald Bostrom's Letter to Santa


Dear Santa,

Please send me hard evidence that the IDF stole organs from Palestinian kids. I don't have any, and Jewish bloggers are still breathing down my neck. Notwithstanding this Dishonest Reporting award, I still consider myself "nice."

Sir, let me remind you of your ties to the 2001 Alder Hey scandal. It's very curious that all the improperly harvested organs came from British kids on your "Designated Naughty Children" list.

It would be a real tragedy to see your image equated with the Israeli army amid calls for an international investigation, especially right before Christmas.

I look forward to your reply.

seasons greetings,

Donald Bostrom

Gaza Humanitarian Aid: By the Numbers

The Israel Project released an eye-opening collection of stats about Gaza. I'm just focusing on the humanitarian aid. Further figures about Hamas terror and the Iranian connection are all there, as are sources.

It's well documented, so check out the footnotes there. I'm just focusing on the humanitarian aid.

900: Percent increase in humanitarian aid delivered to Gaza in 2009, compared to 2008.

630,253: Tons of humanitarian aid delivered to the Gaza Strip, Jan. 19 – Dec. 13, 2009.

24.5 million: Gallons of heavy-duty diesel fuel delivered to the Gaza Strip, Jan. 19 – Oct. 31, 2009. (That's 92.7 million liters.)

10,346: Gaza residents who entered Israel for medical and humanitarian reasons, Jan.19 – Nov. 7, 2009.

57,295: Monthly average (in tons) of humanitarian aid entering Gaza since Operation Cast Lead, Jan. 19 – Dec. 5, 2009.

11,508: Monthly average (in tons) of humanitarian aid entering Gaza from February – June 2008, a period of intense rocket fire.

34,253: Monthly average (in tons) of humanitarian aid entering Gaza during period of calm, July - December 2008.

18,500: Permits Israel issued to Gaza residents to enter Israel or travel overseas in 2009.

28,400: Flowers from Gaza scheduled for export to Europe on Dec. 10, 2009.

250,000: Flowers from Gaza scheduled for export beginning Dec. 13, 2009.

17: Attacks on Gaza goods crossings by Palestinian terrorist groups in 2008.

8: Years Israel has endured rocket, missile and mortar fire from Gaza.

1: Israeli left in Gaza – Staff Sgt. Gilad Shalit, kidnapped by Hamas from Israel on June 25, 2006.


Wednesday, December 23 2009

The PA's Double Word Score

Memri flags the latest Palestinian spin games:

The Association of Arab News Agencies has tasked the Palestinian news agency Wafa with preparing a document setting the terminology to be used for Arab-Israeli conflict, with the aim of preventing the use of Israeli terms and of maintaining uniformity.

Reuters already did that.

Correcting the Record

I'm glad to see The Guardian distinguishes between unethical organ harvesting (which is akin to the Alder Hey scandal), and outright body snatching (as Donald Bostrom insists).

Check out this correction:

We should not have put the headline "Israel admits harvesting Palestinian organs" on a story about an admission, by the former head of the Abu Kabir forensic institute near Tel Aviv, that during the 1990s specialists at the institute harvested organs from the bodies of Israeli soldiers, Israeli citizens, Palestinians and foreign workers without getting permission from the families of the deceased (21 December, page 15). That headline did not match the article, which made clear that the organs were not taken only from Palestinians. This was a serious editing error and the headline has been changed online to reflect the text of the story written by the reporter.

Related reading: The Forensics File


Tuesday, December 22 2009

Dishonest Reporter Award 2009


Our annual recognition of the most skewed and biased coverage of the Mideast conflict. See HonestReporting's Dishonest Reporter Awards 2009

Anti-Zionist Lobby Bullies the Beeb Into Changing a Story


Harry's Place slams the BBC for being bullied into changing this story.

You wouldn't know from reading it now, but the anti-Semitic atmosphere was worse than the Beeb would now have you believe. Jonathan Hoffman blogged the BBC's explanation. I added the video link for background.

After publication it quickly became clear that there was more to what had happened in the meeting than was apparent from the video and Mr Hoffman’s allegations. As soon as that became clear the story was amended to reflect the differing views of those who had been at the meeting.

It is regrettable that the original story did not reflect a wider range of views and the journalist concerned has been made well aware of the requirement to do so in the future.

Do you think Peter Oborne -- who accused HonestReporting of bullying the BBC -- will investigate this?

Spinning Egypt's Security Barrier

According to the Jerusalem Post, Egypt’s new border wall with Gaza is sparking a crisis for Hamas. Reporter Khaled Abu Toameh concludes:

An all-out confrontation between Hamas and Egypt will undoubtedly undermine Mubarak, because it will make him appear as if he's helping Israel and the US in their war against the movement. A confrontation will also send the message that Mubarak is also involved in the "siege" on the Gaza Strip.

Hamas, on the other hand, stands to win from a standoff with a regime that is regarded by many Arabs and Muslims as a puppet in the hands of the Israelis and Americans. And any victory for Hamas is also a victory for Damascus and Teheran.

A look at LA Times coverage of the Egyptian security barrier shows that very spin game in action.


Monday, December 21 2009

The Forensics File


Western papers are picking up on this video aired on Israeli Channel 2 featuring an admission that personnel at Israel's Institute of Forensic Medicine (better known as simply Abu Kabir) harvested organs from Israelis and Palestinians without permission from the families.

The video was made in 2000 by Nancy Sheppard-Hughes, an anthropology professor at U. California-Berkeley, who was doing research there. According to AP, the professor released the video now because of the continuing controversy surrounding Donald Bostrom's Swedish blood libel claiming the IDF killed Palestinians for their organs. 

To its credit, The Guardian's coverage of the new video carefully noted:

However, there was no evidence that Israel had killed Palestinians to take their organs, as the Swedish paper reported.

Abu Kabir is a civilian institution overseen by the Ministry of Health, and Dr. Yehuda Hiss and his staff have a lot to answer for. This could also become an Israeli political hot potato in the health ministry too because organ harvesting was a dodgy issue for Hiss years ago.

The IDF was never linked to improper activity before Bostrom's baseless buzz. It's clearly an issue of terrible violations of medical ethics where Israelis and Palestinians were victimized by Abu Kabir staff. Nothing indicates nationalistic-motivated malice.

But none of these facts reached the editors of Australia's Daily Telegraph, who absolutely mangled this headline:


So did The Local, a Swedish-based English-language site:



Sunday, December 20 2009

The Beeb Shrugs

The BBC responded to listeners outraged by Michael White's recent comments on BBC Radio London's Breakfast Show. While discussing the attack on Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, White, who is The Guardian's associate editor, said:

In Israel they murder each other a great deal. The Israeli Defense Forces murder people because they don't like their political style and what they've got to say and it only means that people more extreme come in and take their place.

The Beeb's complaints dept. wrote back:

Having investigated your complaint, BBC London would like to apologise for any offence you might have felt on hearing Mr White's comments. However, we would point out that Mr White is not a BBC journalist, and he was clearly introduced to listeners as a commentator from the Guardian newspaper.

He was putting forward his own views with his own choice of words, and, as with other commentators, the listener is free to make up their own mind on the validity of his arguments. The BBC's advice to its own journalists would be to use plain and simple language, rather than make value judgements, but we cannot apply the same guidance to interviewees.

Mr White's comments about Israel were a brief aside, along with other remarks about Northern Ireland, during the interview about Signor Berlusconi. In these circumstances, the presenter had to judge whether to divert the interview into a discussion about what Israel calls 'targeted killing' or his comments about Northern Ireland rather than concentrate on the matter in hand.

Given this background and the incidental nature of Mr White's comments, we believe the presenters were right to concentrate on the substance of the interview.

Even if White was referring to targeted killings, that's not what came out in the interview. A sharp interviewer with a little chutzpah could've stopped White in his tracks and followed up on his silly accusation. But it didn't occur for the Breakfast Show hosts to do that because White's language is mainstream in the UK media.

Despite the BBC's reply, it's valuable that people complained. If the Beeb can't see past its own institutional bias, it's up to listeners to speak up.

The BBC is correct on one point: White was clearly introduced as a commentator from The Guardian, and we are waiting for the paper's readers' editor, Siobhain Butterworth, to respond to our concerns. HonestReporting was Cced on literally hundreds of emails to Butterworth, so she is surely aware of the problem.

The MSM Looks Back at the Decade


December always brings MSM year in review articles, commentaries, slide-shows, etc. Being that the year winding down is 2009, this means "decade in review" angles too.

Its very difficult to predict what kind of spin these decade look-backs will take. The tone and nuance of these big picture articles and photo essays will shed some light on how successful media watchdogs and bloggers have been in the last few years. Last week, I blogged MSNBC's encouraging sign regarding the Mohammed Dura affair.

My colleague, Mike Fegelman, who directs HonestReporting Canada, got me thinking more about this after we discussed one such article by veteran CBC journalist Neil MacDonald. At this post in HR Canada's blog, Headlines & Deadlines, Fegelman aptly addressed some surpisingly good points and some not-surprisingly bad points MacDonald raised; the writers of history's first draft may have shifted their mind-set ever-so-slightly.

There are a lot more decade in review features still in the MSM pipeline. Do you think they're significant, and what are your expectations?


Thursday, December 17 2009

Abbas Gets The Ultimate Bolster

As expected, the PLO Central Committee extended Mahmoud Abbas' presidency indefinitely.

This renders Abbas's public opinion ratings and the Israeli concessions bolstering them irrelevant.

A Blood Libel's Half-Life

The video's been disgraced, but the image of Mohammed Dura remains a powerful symbol. An MSNBC slide show titled The Decade in Pictures includes this still. (It's picture 58 of 59): 


Most notably, the caption doesn't single out the IDF for killing the boy. This tells me two things:

  • The image hasn't faded from the world's consciousness.

  • Media watchdogs and web activists are making an impact on "history's first draft."

Over the years, HonestReporting has confronted a number of false or exaggerated libels weighed against Israel. Some of the worst can be viewed on our interactive Big Lies feature. It's incumbent upon us all to fight back and ensure that the truth be an antidote to the poison of online lies.


Wednesday, December 16 2009

Media Restrictions One Year After the Gaza War

Gaza_war Discussion looking back at the Gaza war's media coverage must address head-on the thorny issue of Israeli press restrictions.

The roots of the policy go back to the 2006 war in Lebanon, when Hezbollah manipulated the press as a weapon against Israel. We saw staged photo ops, accusations that Israel spared Hezbollah rockets for P.R. purposes allegations of uranium shells, and of course, Reuters' own Adnan Hajj, the poster boy for Mideast "fauxtography."

Dispatches from Lebanon mostly failed to acknowledge Hezbollah's media restrictions, further distorting reports and violating media ethics.

Fast-forward to December, 2008. As rocket and mortar fire from Gaza escalated and Israel launched Operation Cast Lead, it's hardly surprising that the IDF barred journalists from entering the strip after learning hard lessons in Lebanon.

The two most common arguments raised for press restrictions in fact have more compelling counter-arguments:

• It's condescending to tell war correspondents that restrictions are for their safety.

• To claim journalists would get in the way of soldiers may certainly apply to specific military operations, but it's not the basis for a democratic state's blanket policy.

It must be noted that the restrictions could not -- and did not -- lead to an absolute blackout of coverage; plenty of Palestinian journalists were operating in Gaza when the war began. Al-Jazeera still maintained a bureau and took the unusual step of making its content freely available, leading to an astonishing 600 percent increase in web traffic. Other papers relied on stringers. Italian journalist Lorenzo Cremonesi simply entered Gaza from Egypt.


And what was the state of the press in Gaza? As CNN's Anderson Cooper said on Jan. 6:

"Inside Gaza press control by Hamas is heavy-handed. There are few press freedoms inside Gaza, and Hamas controls who reports from there and where they can go."

Heavy-handed indeed. Despite Israel's press curbs:


Press curbs didn't cripple Palestinian spin games, laying the groundwork for stories demonizing Israel throughout the year. So what kind of coverage would we have seen in the absence of any media limits?

Credit NY Times bureau chief Ethan Bronner for putting it succinctly. Bronner wrote:

But no matter what, Israel’s diplomats know that if journalists are given a choice between covering death and covering context, death wins. So in a war that they consider necessary but poorly understood, they have decided to keep the news media far away from the death.

In the final analysis of 2009, many in the press weren't simply "neutral observers." Both in cases where the MSM was used and in cases where the the MSM itself sought to influence events, big media became "participants." If this is a dynamic of asymmetric warfare, we have to ask if press coverage is now "warfare by other means."


Tuesday, December 15 2009

Sderot, One Year After the War

The anniversary of the Gaza war is soon approaching, and that means articles looking back at how Gaza has fared in the last year. A fair enough angle, as long as the MSM examines how the other victims -- in Sderot and the western Negev, that is -- are doing.

Credit NPR for this Sderot dispatch: Shell Shock Lingers For Israelis After Gaza War

Real estate prices have jumped 30 percent, and employment's at an all-time high as businesses return to the city.

But residents continue suffering trauma, and expect another rain of rockets:

"We went through a really, really tough period here," Dahan says. "Finally, I'm building the shelter. But I don't trust it. I think in Gaza they are preparing more advanced weapons that the shelter won't protect me from."

Guardian Ed: 'In Israel They Murder Each Other a Great Deal'

"The Israeli Defense Forces murder people because they don't like their political style . . ." See HonestReporting's latest communique: Guardian Ed: "In Israel They Murder Each Other a Great Deal"

Holy Smoke

Reading about the contemptible burning of a West Bank mosque brings to mind the destruction of Gaza synagogues after the disengagement. The media was much more forgiving of the vandals in 2005.


Related reading: What If A Synagogue Were Burnt and Other Silly Questions via Daled Amos.


Monday, December 14 2009

The Road Most Travelled

Hitting mid-December means it's time for some reporter to retrace the footsteps of Joseph and Mary Aleem Maqbool, Stephen Farrell, Matthew Price and Rory McCarthy from Nazareth to Bethlehem -- highlighting checkpoints, the security fence, and man on the street Palestinians.

Which papers still have an expense account for a trite Christmas road trip like this? Stay tuned . . .


Thursday, December 10 2009

Top 5 Blog Posts of 2009

I'm looking at Google Analytics and trying to make some sense of the five most-viewed blog posts in 2009. 

1. Goldstone Report's Online
I merely posted a link to the UN's pdf report. I suppose people appreciated being told where to see the it for themselves. Most of the readers came from Google, so I attribute this to the headline.

2. Evolution of An Outrage
This was a 2003 post, tracing how Goya's painting, "Saturn Devouring One of His Children," became a nasty cartoon of Ariel Sharon eating a Palestinian child. Nearly all the traffic came from Google Images. Until I get a better handle on this, I'm calling this "accidental SEO."

3. Idiot's Guide to Navigating BBC Complaints
This was also a top 5 post last year. Doesn't say much about the Beeb, does it?

4. Liveblogging the Media War, Jan. 8
I'm gratified liveblogging made the top 5 even though traffic was mostly limited to that specific day. Liveblogging was intense, and my biggest regret is that I didn't start it up when the airstrikes began on Dec. 27.

5. Palestinian Journalists: Death Toll Inflated
The divergence between the Israeli and Palestinian casualty figures is one of the most important stories of 2009. I'm happy to see readers got this message. This was the first post on an issue I addressed several times over the course of the year.


Wednesday, December 9 2009

UNRWA: Perpetuating the Misery


See HonestReporting's latest media critiques:

• Isn't it time for UNRWA's chief to do some soul searching and look beyond blaming Israel? UNRWA: Perpetuating the Misery

• The Guardian cites disputed casualty figures as fact: The Guardian's Dodgy Death Toll


Tuesday, December 8 2009

What Else is the UNRWA Not Telling Us?

This snippet from the Daily Telegraph raises a lot questions about the UNRWA:

The UN Relief and Works Agency lists nearly 400,000 Palestinian refugees in Lebanon but the number actually resident in the country has dwindled to between 250,000 and 270,000 as many have moved abroad, according to Lebanese and Palestinian officials.

It's still a difficult situation, but how does the UNRWA justify fundraising based on what appears to be a severely inflated number of refugees? What else is the UNRWA not telling us?

Related reading: Anonymous Sources on Resettling Refugees

Google and the Ostrich Effect

Google announced that it's personalizing its search results for all internet users. Most reactions I've seen, Tech Inciter for example, focus on internet privacy issues.

As a media watchdog, my initial reaction was uncertainty for the search engine optimization of HonestReporting and other web activism sites.

But another response -- a comment posted by Tedster, at Webmaster World (via The Register) -- resonates with another important point in HR's in-house chatter:

There's something about always getting personalized search results that is socially troubling, too. I can see it creating a kind of ostrich phenomenon, where the average user is less and less exposed to anything new. I noticed this happening in my own online news consumption several years ago, and took intentional steps to make sure I got out of my own preferential areas.

Will we web activists find ourselves increasingly preaching to the online choir? Will we have a harder time breaking through to the rest of the world? Will Google's personalized search results essentially reinforce peoples' insular views?

Exposing Excellence: Global National Profiles Israeli Victim of Terror

It's not often that the mainstream media reports on the stories of the hundreds of Victims of Palestinian terror. See HonestReporting Canada's latest communique: Exposing Excellence: Global National Profiles Israeli Victim of Terror


Monday, December 7 2009

Al-Manar Media Cover For Hezbollah Surveillance

Hezbollah blurred the line between its so-called "military" and "media" wings this weekend, and probably placed Western correspondents at greater risk.

Mehdi Kanso, the group's intelligence chief, who took part in the 2006 abduction of IDF reservists Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev was recently seen conducting surveillance of the Israeli-Lebanese border. Hezbollah's not supposed to operate near the border, so what did Kanso tell a UNIFIL patrol? According to Israeli media reports:

Kanso was apparently allowed into the border area with the equipment after telling UNIFIL troops that he was a reporter for Hizbullah's television station, Al-Manar.

This presents an interesting conundrum for the Committee to Protect Journalists. It's reasonable to expect the CPJ to denounce Kanso, whose stunt endangers journalists. But in 2006, the group idiotically denounced Israeli airstrikes on Al-Manar facilities, writing:

While Al-Manar may serve a propaganda function for Hezbollah, it does not appear based on a monitoring of its broadcasts today to be serving any discernible military function, according to CPJ’s analysis.

A Washington Times commentary I've referred to several times explains the flaw in the CPJ's logic:

But as the Treasury Department made clear, the issue is not al Manar's role as a television station but its role in facilitating the activities of Hezbollah, an organization that has killed more Americans than every other terrorist group save al Qaeda.

"Any entity maintained by a terrorist group -- whether masquerading as a charity, a business or a media outlet -- is as culpable as the terrorist group itself," said Treasury Undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Stuart Levey.

Related reading: Terrorist Television

Last Call For Dishonest Reporter Nominations


If you haven't sent us your nomination for the 2009 Dishonest Reporter award, this is your last chance.

Please nominate one reporter or news service along with a brief explanation why he/she/it deserves to receive our ignoble recognition. Then send your submission to

We’ll announce the results in a special upcoming communiqué. Due to the volume of mail, we can't acknowledge nominations. See previous "winners" -- and don’t forget to vote!


Sunday, December 6 2009

How Do You Correct Errors In Video Stories?


Raising more questions than answers, Professor Ken Kobre (via @NiemanLab)wonders about correcting errors in online videos:

However, what happens when there's an error in an online video story? Not as simple to fix! Depending on the nature of the gaffe, you probably have to yank it offline, and then... what? Excise the offending footage? Add explanatory chyron titles? Re-shoot new scenes or interviews? No matter what, re-editing a video is a lot more time-consuming and labor-intensive than re-editing a text story. Or should you just add a text correction next to the video? (But then what if that video is "shared" on Facebook, or embedded on another Website? The text Band-Aid won't accompany the flawed video.)

. . .

In short, given the enormous number of ways in which errors can creep into a video story, frankly we're amazed that, even after viewing thousands of non-fiction videos, we've never encountered a "video correction." Is it because they're all so perfect? Or because it's too much work to fix relatively minor errors, so they're just left in? Or because it's too much work to fix errors, and so the wayward video is just removed from the Website altogether? Or because the videos are fixed, and it's just not formally called to anybody's attention?

Read the whole thing.

Fact Checkers Draw a Yellow Card


Here's another reason not to believe everything you read: Recent reports that Zinedine Zidane was visiting Gaza as a goodwill ambassador for UNICEF were a hoax.

As the Jerusalem Post writes, this is a problem not just for the French soccer star and UNICEF, but for Israel and journalism as well:

This is extremely worrying for all concerned: UNICEF, UNDP, Zidane, the children of Gaza who expected a visit from a soccer legend and Israel.

And it is also troubling that so many journalists fell for it.

The quotes, which were so widely reported, specifically criticized Israel without blaming Hamas or any other Palestinian groups for the conflict.

They implied that Zidane, whose parents are Algerian-born Muslims, is willing to use his fame to slam Israel.

It appears that someone, or some organization, made a decision to create the entire story in order to smear Israel and garner support for the Palestinian cause.

And what did Zidane allegedly say that was so widely quoted?

"I will make every effort to give Gaza residents great big smiles on their faces. Gazans have suffered serious losses, damage, and injuries due to Israeli acts of violence."

Related reading: A Failure to Fact Check

Headline of the Day

Barghouti ain't Mandela, which is why my antennae are twitching over this headline in The Australian.


Thursday, December 3 2009

Press TV and the 'Truth' in Advertising

The UK's Advertising Standards Authority rules in favor of Press TV's questionable ad campaign. Details at The Guardian:

Four people complained to the advertising watchdog, saying the campaign was misleading because it did not make clear the channel was owned by the Iranian government.

They also said the claims "24/7 news truth" and "the full story" were misleading because they implied the channel offered unbiased reporting of news events, which they did not believe was the case.

But the ASA rejected the complaints, saying it was "not common practice" for news channels to state who they were owned or funded by.

The ASA added that the "24/7 truth" line would be seen as the "station's opinion of the information it provided rather than an objective term".

Truth in advertising now refers to the advertiser's opinion of the information it provided? I can hear Iranian spinmeisters already laughing.

December 3 Links

The Illegal Settlements Myth
"The analysis underlying the conclusion that the settlements violate international law depends entirely on an acceptance of the Palestinian narrative."

Is Lebanon Becoming a Terrorist State?
Government recognizes Hezbollah's right to maintain arms and wage war independently of the state.

Building Palestine Without Obama's Interference
West Bank economy flourishes as Israel quietly assists nation-building efforts.

Why Israel Doesn't Talk Borders With Hamas
Dealing with Hamas for prisoner swap isn't the same as formally negotiating with the terror group.

Iranian Crackdown Goes Global
Regime harasses ex-pats posting dissent on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and blogs.

Stop the Spread of the Swedish Blood Libel

The false accusations of organ harvesting continue to spread. See HonestReporting's latest communique: Stop the Spread of the Swedish Blood Libel

Swedish Blood Libel Poisons Ukrainian Election Campaign

The Swedish blood libel continues to rear its ugly head: From Haaretz:

Stories appearing on several Ukrainian Web sites claim Israel has brought around some 25,000 Ukrainian children into the country over the past two years in order to harvest their organs.

The claim, which was made by a Ukrainian philosophy professor and author at a pseudo-academic conference in Kiev five days ago, is the latest expression of a wave of anti-Semitism in the country. It comes a few months after a Swedish tabloid ran an article alleging that Israel Defense Forces soldiers have killed Palestinian civilians for their organs.

Jews, Israel and anti-Semitism have become a major motif of the presidential election campaign in Ukraine, with some figures making anti-Semitic statements and others condemning them.

And according to Palestinian Media Watch, Israeli doctors were barred from an Egyptian medical conference over the same libel. Donald Bostrom's irresponsible journalism has a longer half-life than Iran's uranium stockpile, and is just as radioactive.


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