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Media Backspin

Thursday, January 6 2011

Gaza Youth Rages Against Hamastan

A group of Gaza youth chafing under Islamist restrictions exploded after Hamas forcibly shut down an internationally-financed youth group.

An angry manifesto and video is catching the Big Media's attention. Links, videos and more details at The Lede.


Wednesday, January 5 2011

New Mossad Chief Going to the Animals

Dr_dolittle You'll smile when you read why Tim Marshall of Sky News reports that the new Mossad chief is Dr. Dolittle.

If you thought Meir Dagan's replacement was Tamir Pardo, think again. Arab conspiracy theories make for animal house politics in the Mideast.

Personal Thoughts on 2010 Blogging

Doing research for the 2010 Dishonest Reporter awards had me going back on a year´s worth of blogging. With the benefit of hindsight, I looked at posts in terms of the issues and angles I raised (and didn´t) and the way I expressed myself (memo to me: use more first-person).

So I had to switch gears mentally when a long-time reader asked about my personal favorite posts. Off the top of my head, here they are in no particular order:

Little Girl Asks Big Question
While taking my kids to school the day after Yom HaZikaron, the remembrance day for fallen soldiers, my daughter asked if there was going to be a war during the summer. I found myself answering her at a bus stop across the street from -- of all places -- the Mt. Herzl military cemetery.

It's one thing to blog these kinds of questions, but responding to an eight year-old girl is completely different. Sharing the experience online required a different, more personal kind of writing, and the timing made it especially appropo.

"Complaints From Both Sides" Is No Rationalization for Lousy BBC Coverage
This was the best example of why I hate to write, but love having written. When BBC Director-General Mark Thompson rationalized the Beeb's lousy coverage by saying they get complaints from Jews and Palestinians, I couldn't let the fallacy of the comment pass.

I spent 45 minutes on the phone with HonestReporting's founding editor, Shraga Simmons making sure my logic was airtight. The resulting was a broader, more rewarding post than I anticipated, and the effort was worth it.

Dead Photojournalist Waiting to Happen
August's Lebanese border skirmish had me pumped for photo bias, and this post came after burning the midnight oil for a Case Study in Reuters Photography. The very next day, I spotted this Reuters photo. Karamallah Daher's access to the front from the Lebanese side was good -- too good. It's a wonder Daher wasn't mistaken for a sniper. This could've been her last photograph.


The image speaks volumes about the thin line Israeli soldiers walk trying to discern -- in split seconds -- between journalists and legitimate threats. In contrast to the lengthy case study, this post was remarkably brief, and I'm gratified that it was Backspin's most-read item.

Tel Aviv and AFP's Lousy "Synecdoche"
It gets my goat when journalists refer to Tel Aviv as Israel's capital, instead of Jerusalem in an indirect way like this AFP example:

The deterioration of diplomatic relations between Britain and Israel comes as historically strong US-Israeli ties are under strain over Tel Aviv's plans to build new settlements.

Learning of the grammatical concept of "synecdoche" helped me crack the subtle bias and articulate why the Tel Aviv reference was inappropriate.

It's a little geeky, but it's an example of the kinds of things you can learn from blogging.


Tuesday, January 4 2011

Palestinians Caught In Another Libel?

Did Jawaher Abu Rahma really die from inhaling tear gas or is this yet another Big Lie? It wouldn't be the first time Palestinian deaths blamed on the IDF have turned out to be, at best, mistaken, or worse, outright libels.

See HonestReporting's latest communique: Palestinians Caught In Another Libel?

January 4 Links

> Women Fighters Willing to Die For Gaza
> Visiting Dubai Journalist: PA Is Like Europe
> 2 At J'lem British Consulate Charged with Aiding Hamas
> Stanley Fischer on Israel's Brain Drain
> "How Can You Defend Israel?" Part II
> Israel Focuses Its Energy On Clean Technologies
> Palestinian Refugee Camp in Lebanon Less a Hotbed of Militancy
> Saudis Nab Israeli-Tagged Vulture for Being Mossad Spy
> Disney Park Planned for Haifa


Monday, January 3 2011

Thoughts On the Katsav Conviction

Moshe_katsav Sholto Byrnes of the New Statesman astounds me with his take on Moshe Katsav's conviction:

The conviction last week of the country's eighth president, Moshe Katsav, of rape, is described in today's Jerusalem Post as "staining the reputation of Israel and its citizens". But once one passes the initial reaction - of horror that so high and venerated an official could commit such a crime - I would say quite the opposite. As David Harris writes on the Huffington Post: "How many other countries in the Middle East - or beyond - would have tried and convicted an ex-president? This was the case, just last week, with Moshe Katsav, sending the message that no one is above the law - in a process, it should be noted, presided over by an Israeli Arab justice."

It is an astonishing case - terrible for those involved, yes, but one that conveys belief in a quite exceptional level of accountability. Could one really imagine such a charge ever being allowed near the courts in America or France? Wouldn't there be some behind-the-scenes fix to spare the establishment's blushes?

Let us not enter an argument about Orientalism or relativism here. We do hold Israel to a different standard, and we ought to admit it. So when Israel meets and exceeds that standards, we owe our applause. However dreadful the circumstances of this case, it is an example to the world when a country can state so clearly that no one, not even the highest, is protected from being brought low by justice.

Read the whole thing.

Israel-Tagged Content The Guardian Could've Done Without

A web site called British Views of the World published this map showing which countries got the most international coverage in The Guardian. Get a good look at Israel:


Benjamin Hennig, who created the map explains:

To understand how British people perceive the events on the globe, one can look at how frequently a country has been mentioned in major news stories. The following maps do exactly this by visualising the number of news items on the website of the British Newspaper The Guardian (data derived from their Data store).

CiF Watch, which first spotted British Views of the World, notes:

Quite interestingly, the Guardian helps us out quite a bit, by noting that stories tagged “Israel” represented the 5th highest of any country specific tag (other than the UK).

Here's my top ten list of Israel-tagged content The Guardian could've done without (in reverse chronological order):

  1. The problem with Israel's Jewish 'refugee' initiative
  2. Battery hens' reality on Israeli farm exposed by hidden webcam
  3. Architects against Israeli occupation
  4. Wikipedia editing courses launched by Zionist groups
  5. Ethnic cleansing in the Israeli Negev
  6. Mark Regev, Israel's master of public relations
  7. Israeli politician moves to limit the soaring price of popcorn
  8. Live blog: Britain expels Israeli diplomat
  9. Israeli embassy raises eyebrows with tennis tweet
  10. Avatar protest at West Bank barrier

Is The Guardian obsessed with Israel? You betcha.


Sunday, January 2 2011

Clicking the 'Like' Button: More Powerful Than Voting

HonestReporting's social media editor, Alex Margolin, contributes occasional posts on social media issues. He oversees HonestReporting on Facebook.

Like The New York Times recently reported that film reviews posted by movie-goers on social networks are now impacting decisions in Hollywood:

Studios are finally and fully conceding that moviegoers, armed with Facebook and other networking tools and concerned about escalating ticket prices, are holding them to higher standards. The product has to be good.

It’s not just the film industry that’s facing change from below. In a forum on the LinkedIn social network about social media and the music industry, many users said they used social media to find music they liked. As one poster wrote:

I have enjoyed discovering a wider range of independent artists that I might not have otherwise known. I get recommendations from friends, and friends share links to You Tube videos and streaming media that introduce me to new music.

In addition, thanks to social media I've had the opportunity to personally interact with musicians through taped Q&As, facebook, twitter and more! It's more fun to follow an artist's work when they are interacting with fans directly as much as possible.

In fact, every consumer product is likely to face public scrutiny by social media users. According to a Pew Research Center study, 58 percent of Americans have searched online for information on products or services they are considering buying, and 24 percent have posted some form of customer review online.

Social media is the perfect hub for consumer reviews because it channels the power of word-of-mouth. When someone posts a review on Facebook, it goes directly to that person’s personal network. Word-of-mouth is the most powerful form of marketing, and social media is virtually all word-of-mouth between friends and acquaintances.

Using social media to express one’s preferences is now so common that even Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon compared the phenomenon to the recent surge of countries expressing support for an independent Palestinian state. He was quoted in Haaretz saying that it was essentially the same as clicking “like” on Facebook.

Ayalon may be right about the diplomatic ramifications of support for a Palestinian state, but he should also consider the effect on public opinion. As more people go online to find out what other people think, clicking “like” on Facebook may soon have more power than a vote in a real election.

Previously in Alex's series: The Demise of Delicious and the Consolidation of Social Media


Thursday, December 30 2010

Journo Speaks Out: No Free Speech in PA

NoFreeSpeech I'm impressed that a newspaper outside of Israel has picked up on the story George Canavati. PA security forces incarcerated the Radio Bethlehem journalist for five days, because he dared to report on a power struggle between Mahmoud Abbas and Mohammed Dahlan.

Harriet Sherwood of The Guardian caught up with the just-released Canavati.

Asked if he believed the detention was intended to intimidate him, Canawati responded by twisting his ear between thumb and forefinger. "I didn't make a mistake [in my report]," he said. "I was professional to the true sense of the word. I will never take their pinch of ear into consideration."

The Palestinian Media Forum recently complained about other journalists detained by PA security forces. And a recent poll found that only 27 percent of the people in the West Bank believe they can criticize PA authorities without fear (down from 56 percent in 2007).

West Bank press freedom is an important story that hasn't broken into Big Media consciousness, and I'm glad Sherwood put it on the table. Read the whole story.


Wednesday, December 29 2010

No Time For Israel: An In-Depth Analysis

When Time magazine published its September cover story, "Why Israel Doesn't Care About Peace," we were stunned by the article's fundamental misrepresentation of Israeli attitudes. We wondered whether that article was a one-time failure of objectivity or if it represented a prevalent bias in Time’s reporting on Israel.

So HonestReporting reviewed Time’s reporting on Israel over an entire year November 2009 – November 2010. Click the image below to see the long-term study.


Reuters Distributing Press Releases in Editorial Feed

Thompson_reuters For as long as newspapers have accepted money to publish advertisements, there tension between the employees responsible for content (editors and the newsroom staff) and the staffers with bottom line concerns (that would be the advertising staff).

Usually, potential conflicts of interests are on the level of something like a restaurant owner pushing for a nice review in the local paper where he's a regular advertiser. The restauranteur will typically contact his advertising account person, push for a story, and only to be rebuffed.

"I don't handle content. You'll have to take it up with the appropriate editor," is the firm-but-polite reply many an ad salesman has made for years.

Which brings us to Reuters. According to the IR Web Report, Reuters recently began sticking client press releases into its news feed.

One of the five principles states: “That Thomson Reuters shall supply unbiased and reliable news services to newspapers, news agencies, broadcasters and other media subscribers and to businesses governments, institutions, individuals and others with whom Thomson Reuters has or may have contracts.”

However, the Reuters news feed delivered to Yahoo! Finance now includes complete, unedited press releases from Thomson Reuters’ corporate clients in amongst Reuters news articles. Press releases of non-Thomson Reuters clients are not being distributed to Yahoo! Finance. The press release headlines are virtually indistinguishable from the newswire’s editorial content.

By breaking down the separation between the editorial and business aspects, Reuters has opened the door to public scrutiny of its clients and ownership too. I already get enough emails asking about one never-say-die urban legend which has it that Reuters is controlled by Arab corporate interests.

Read more, see the screengrabs, and judge for yourself.

Hat tip: @mickwe

NGO Implicates Hamas In Organ Trafficking

An NGO called EveryOne issued a statement denouncing abuses against Eritrean refugees in the Sinai.

EveryOne implicates Hamas operatives in kidnapping, organ harvesting, torture, rape and running a concentration camp, with help from Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood. More details at Physicians for Human Rights (PHR). Today's YNet News condenses it all.

Donald Bostrom won our 2009 Dishonest Reporter award for his shoddy look at allegations of Israeli organ harvesting. Do you think the Swedish journalist will be interested in what the African refugees told PHR about their experiences in the hands of Hamas?


Tuesday, December 28 2010

Copy Editors Asleep At the Wheel

UPDATE December 29: Voice of America corrected the mistake. See VOA blogger Jessica Stahl's comment on this post.

* * *

Ali Akbar Siadat, an Iranian political prisoner, was hanged in Tehran's notorious Evin Prison, accused of spying for Israel. I don't know if Siadat was Jewish, but this Voice of America headline inexplicably thinks he was Israeli.

Wikileaks: Syria Orchestrated Mohammed Cartoons Riots

Arab rage over the 2006 Mohammed cartoons wasn't so spontaneous after all. This just in from Haaretz:

A US diplomatic cable published by Aftenposten said the Syrian premier had, "several days before the demonstrations, instructed the Grand Mufti Sheikh Hassoun to issue a strongly worded directive to the imams delivering Friday sermons in the mosques of Damascus."

The riots ended when Syria "felt that 'the message had been delivered'," the cable said, quoting a Sunni sheikh whose name was blacked out.

More than 100 people were killed in the flames of violence we now know were fanned by Syria.

The Holocaust's Boomerang Effect On Public Diplomacy

Obama_yadvashem I was never comfortable with the way Israel has over-emphasized the connection between the Holocaust and the founding of the state. Benny Levy's compelling commentary in YNet News strikes a chord with me:

When President Obama asserted in his Cairo speech that the aspirations for a Jewish homeland originated in our undeniably tragic history, many around here were insulted. “Why did he say that? After all, we’re not here because of the Holocaust.” Yet Obama is not at fault. After all, the Holocaust is the narrative presented by Israel itself to its guests (and to its own sons.)

. . .

The custom of bringing Israel’s guests to Yad Vashem first carries a loud message. It creates the impression that the Holocaust is the reason and justification for the state’s existence; it places Israel on a podium of victimization, refugees, and the quest for a shelter.

However, Israel’s pillars were laid dozens of years before the Holocaust. Its cornerstone is the Zionist idea. Israel is first and foremost a national revival enterprise. Israel is first and foremost a national revival enterprise. Historian Barbara Tuchman once wrote that Israel is the only nation in the world “that is governing itself in the same territory, under the same name, and with the same religion and same language as it did 3,000 years ago."

Indeed, plenty of Western journalists assume that Jewish connections to the Holy Land began only date back to 1917, 1948, even 1967.

There are connections between the Holocaust and Israel's founding. But years of over-emphasis are having a boomerang effect on Israel's public diplomacy.

Read the whole article.


Monday, December 27 2010

Post-Christmas Morning In Silwan

After seeing this AFP/Getty photo (via IsraellyCool), my first impression was that the photographer in the foreground was likely to get hit by a recoiling slingshot strap. Such is post-Christmas in Silwan.

But on closer look, the slingshot seems too small; the other kid clutching a rock in the background looks more likely to hit any Israeli policemen. At least the mask is an age-appropriate size.


A photographer take photos of Palestinian youth using a slingshot during minor clashes which erupt in the East Jerusalem's Silwan neighborhood on December 26, 2010, as Israeli police increased security in the area to avoid clashes following a municipality order to evict a Palestinian family from their house.

What kind of deliveries is Santa making in eastern Jerusalem?


Sunday, December 26 2010

Knesset Saves Foreign Journos From the Tax Man

ShekelsThe Knesset's allowing foreign journalists to keep their tax breaks.

According to the The Jerusalem Post, Treasury proposals were defeated primarily by Knesset ministers from an impressive spectrum of parties: MKs Nahman Shai (Kadima), Shelly Yacimovich (Labor), Tourism Minister Stas Meseznikov (Israel Beiteinu), Ze’ev Elkin (Likud) and MK Zevulun Orlev (Habayit Hayehudi).

Hebrew language papers also jumped in against the changes, as did Uri Helman, the new director of the Government Press Office.

Foreign journalists currently pay a flat rate tax of 25 percent for their first three years in Israel; afterwards, they pay the same taxes as every one else. Treasury officials wanted to end the special treatment.

But the drama and principles behind the opposing viewpoints were over-rated. Only 23 journalists would've been effected by the proposed changes. So we're not talking about tons of money for the government coffers; the likelihood of news agencies leaving Jerusalem to set up shop in Ramallah or Amman was near zero.

I do wonder, though, if the press corps will give these politicos and their parties some kind of kid-glove treatment. I hope not . . .


Thursday, December 23 2010

December 23 Links

> Hamas’s Charmless PR Offensive
The Boston Globe sees right through a Hamas PR campaign first described by AP

> Iran Recruiting Nuclear Scientists For Weapons Program
Former diplomat admits he personally recruited foreigners to achieve nuclear bomb capability and increase ballistic missile range.

> Assange Promises Info on Mabhouh, Lebanon War
Also denies rumors of Wikileaks deals with the the Mossad.


Wednesday, December 22 2010

Dishonest Reporter Award 2010

It's our annual recognition of the most skewed and biased 2010 coverage of the Mideast conflict.

HonestReporting readers showed they have a long memory of the year's coverage of Israel. Who did they choose? See Dishonest Reporter Award 2010.


Tuesday, December 21 2010

What Palestinian Public and Pundits Tell the Press

The LA Times picks up on a poll which finds that most Palestinians don't feel free to publicly criticize the Fatah and Hamas authorities they live under.

According to the study, by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PSR):

Findings also point out to a significant and continued deterioration in public perception of the level of freedoms enjoyed by citizens in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip since the split between these two areas in June 2007. For example, belief that citizens can criticize the authorities in the West Bank without fear retreated from 56% in September 2007 to 27% in this poll. Similarly a retreat occurred in the belief that citizens can criticize the authorities in the Gaza Strip without fear from 52% to 19% during the same period.

The Times also note the spillover effect on Palestinian press freedom:

Fear of criticizing the authority or reporting on something that would upset it prompted Palestinian journalists in the West Bank and Gaza Strip to exercise self censorship, which some organizations said limits creativity and hinders development of the Palestinian media.

Another "option" for Palestinians is to tell reporters what the ruling authorities want to hear. It's sad enough when the man on the street can't talk freely, but it's even more disturbing when more "talking heads" -- the academics, politicians, journalists, activists presented by Big Media as being more authoritative -- also don't tell the truth. Just yesterday, Memri flagged a clip of one such pundit, Al-Quds al-Arabi editor Abd Al-Bari Atwan, saying it's okay to say one thing in Arabic and another in English for Western audiences.

If his name rings a bell, it's because the London-based Atwan, who makes frequent appearances on BBC, CNN, and Sky News, once told Lebanese TV, "If the Iranian missiles strike Israel, by Allah, I will go to Trafalgar Square and dance with delight," which I'm sure caused no consternation in Ramallah or Gaza City.

It's not always possible to tell if a man on the street is telling you the truth, but reporters can and do mention the context: that people are afraid to speak the freely. Perhaps it's time to apply the same disclaimer to the MSM's regular go-to wonks from Fatahstan and Hamastan.


Monday, December 20 2010

MSM Still Using Casualty Figures Hamas Conceded Were Wrong

AFP picks up on the latest IDF air strike on a Gaza rocket squad. This background snippet is woefully off:

The strike was one of the most deadly since Israel's 22-day war against Gaza's Hamas rulers, dubbed Operation Cast Lead, which began at the end of December 2008 and cost the lives of 1,400 Palestinians, most of them civilians, and 13 Israelis, 10 of them soldiers.

Odd. Hamas already confirmed the civilian casualty figures had been inflated all along.

Palestinian Media Watch Still Gamed By YouTube

Dr Andre Oboler ( is the Director of the Community Internet Engagement Project at the Zionist Federation of Australia. He is global expert in social media and internet based antisemitism. HonestReporting asked him to bring our readers up to speed on the developing YouTube / PMW revelations.

Pmw On Sunday, YouTube acted to close a channel on their service run by Palestinian Media Watch. The explanation YouTube gave related to a video from 2006, originally taken from Hamas’s website, which shows a suicide terrorist says his goodbyes and boasting he will soon drink the blood of Jews.

“We won't leave you alone until we have quenched our thirst with your blood, and our children's thirst with your blood.” He says. (

After this video has been on the YouTube at this address since July, suddenly this exposure of terrorism and hate was a "violation of terms" and was promoting hate speech rather than exposing it. Instead of removing the video, as they had done before (without allowing an avenue for appeal or discussion), YouTube removed the entire channel. This seems to be based on a policy of banning accounts after 5 strikes against the Terms of Use. The mistakes, on YouTube’s part, build up until the account is disabled.

A day later, after coverage by myself in Jerusalem Post, and by Melanie Phillips in the Spectator, as well as an increasing volume of outrage on blogs and via Twitter, the PMW channel was reinstated, but the viewing counts seem conspicuously low.

The most viewed video was only up to 13,363 views. This was particularly odd when there are Palestinian Media Watch videos like “Gaza flotilla participants invoked killing of Jews” with over 200,000 views. It seems searching for “by palwatch” (no quotes) gives far better results than viewing the channel. In short the channel is now broken as a result of YouTube’s intervention.

The good news is that of the six complaints again Palestinian Media Watch, four of them have now been reversed. You can now, once again, see "Hamas suicide terrorist farewell video: Palestinians drink the blood of Jews," "PA cleric: Kill Jews, Allah will make Muslims masters over Jews," and "Hamas suicide farewell video: Jews monkeys and pigs; Maidens reward for killing Jews."

Three videos remain blocked. "Farewell video before suicide attack of Hamas suicide bomber Adham Ahmad Hujyla Abu Jandal" (formerly at, "Hamas TV teaches kids to kill Jews" formerly at, and "Jews are a virus like Aids" (formerly at

YouTube still needs to fix the indexing problem, and review their earlier mistakes. It seems only the most recent complaints have been reviewed and found to be invalid. The good news is that it seems this is a systematic flaw in Google’s system, not something they intended to do. But the problem is occurring with other pro-Israel accounts.

It seems someone, or some group of new media anti-Israel activists, are gaming the system. They are taking advantage of YouTube’s automated and semi-automated systems to push their agenda slowly through the system. First one complaint, then a second... until eventually the goal is achieved and the channel itself is shut down. Until YouTube can improve the system, and recognise when people are trying to “trick” the system into doing what they want, rather than what it is intended to do, we all have a serious problem. This isn’t helped when YouTube’s manual override is broken and leaves those who have been targeted in a worse position then they were to start with.

For now, YouTube need to find the accounts that are causing these problems and deactivate them. This problem is far greater than Palestinian Media Watch, though the damage done to them must be fixed, and an apology wouldn’t hurt either.

The Demise of Delicious and the Consolidation of Social Media

HonestReporting's social media editor, Alex Margolin, contributes occasional posts on social media issues. He oversees HonestReporting on Facebook.

Yahoo_delicious When social media sites began to gain traction on the Internet around 2006, it was unclear which ones would emerge as the leaders of the pack and which would be consigned to support roles in Internet culture.

By now, the winners have emerged. Facebook and Twitter have become virtually synonymous with social networking. The losers, however, have been much harder to pinpoint, since many social media sites have carved out their own niches on the Internet and continue to draw large numbers of users.

Last week, however, we witnessed one of the first major casualties. Social media pioneer Delicious, which allowed people to “bookmark” their favorite websites and find others who liked the same bookmarks, will be shut down by Internet giant Yahoo, which acquired the site in 2005.

The demise of Delicious (originally spelled essentially slams the door on the first age of social media. The first sites in the Web 2.0 era, which empowered users to create content on websites they did not own, essentially sought to crowdsource the massive number of Internet users to organize the web so that the best content could gain an audience.

Sites such as Digg and Reddit allowed people to post their favorite online content and let users vote on it. The content that received the most “diggs” was placed on the sites’ front pages – and exposure to their massive readership. Stumbleupon let people “stumble” through content others had tagged by subject.

Delicious took a different approach, allowing people to bookmark sites as they would on their own computers, except the Delicious bookmarks would be visible to the public. The site would also show who else bookmarked the same articles, and what else those users found of interest. The result was a novel way to share content and build communities around common interests.

While Digg and Delicious both gained millions of users, they pale in comparison to the hundreds of millions who use Facebook, which also allows people to share their favorite content as well as to connect with people in many other ways. As social media emerged from the margins of society to the mainstream, niche sites failed to keep pace. Although many content sharing sites maintain large and vibrant communities, they have little impact on the evolving Internet culture.

And now, with Delicious closing its doors, it is time to recognize that an era has ended. As Facebook and Twitter set the pace of social media, some of the groundbreakers are feeling the heat. Delicious may be one of the first to fall. Who will be next?

Previously in Alex's series: Has Social Media Become Part of the Media Establishment?


Sunday, December 19 2010

Yule Drool

Going to a fence protest dressed up as Santa is guaranteed to get you photographed.

Now what would it take for a picture of St. Nick protesting PA corruption or Hamas authoritarianism to hit the wires?

A Palestinian man dressed in a Santa Claus outfit and holding a Palestinian flag protests behind Israeli soldiers during a weekly demonstration against Israel's separation barrier in the West Bank village of Maasarah, near Bethlehem, Friday, Dec. 17, 2010. Israel says the barrier is necessary for security while Palestinians call it a land grab. (AP/Nasser Shiyoukhi)
Has Social Media Become Part of the Media Establishment?

HonestReporting's social media editor, Alex Margolin, contributes occasional posts on social media issues. He oversees HonestReporting on Facebook.

At the end of 2009, many media prognosticators predicted that 2010 would be the year social media would finally lose its outsider status and become part of “The Media” at large.

Did it happen? Well, people still refer to social media as something separate from the rest of media, but the signs indicate that the predictions weren't far from reality.


Look at the New York Times as a case-in-point. The paper of record began 2010 having recently hired a social media editor, Jennifer Preston, to serve as an advocate for social media among the Time’s staff and the public.

By the end of the year, the Times eliminated the position, saying social media was a shared responsibility among all staff. Preston, the soon-to-be former social media editor, said she believes everyone at the paper must work together to create more engagement with the public.

“Social media can’t belong to one person; it needs to be part of everyone’s job,” Preston said. “It has to be integrated into the existing editorial process and production process. I’m convinced that’s the only way we’re going to crack the engagement nut.”

By eliminating the position, the paper essentially acknowledges that there is no longer a need to push social media as a separate entity from its primary output, that social media channels have become part and parcel of delivering the timely news at the New York Times.

That may not be the full integration people predicted a year ago, but it’s a big sign that the integration is well underway. Maybe by the end of 2011, there will be one entity known as "the media" and it will refer to the New York Times and Facebook as valuable sources of information.

Previously in Alex's series: 2 Lessons from Hamas’s Facebook Fail


Thursday, December 16 2010

Australians Reward Shoddy Journalism

See HonestReporting's latest communiques:

• Biased and one-sided reporting of the Gaza flotilla earns one journalist a prestigious award despite the holes in his winning entry: Australians Reward Shoddy Journalism

• Why does the founder of Hezbollah deserve a fawning obituary in Time's People of the Year? Time Magazine's Fond Farewell to a Terrorist

• More than 200 participants joined a top lineup of speakers at HonestReporting's Jerusalem Conference. Find out who said what. First HR Conference: Be a History Maker and Not a Bystander

HonestReporting on Rusty Mike Radio

I'm listening to Simon Plosker on Rusty Mike Radio. They're discussing various Israel issues, as well as HonestReporting's conference.

Be sure to download the podcast and listen.

Israeli Treasury Hits Journos In Their Pockets

Shekels I wasn't aware of this, but foreign reporters in Israel get a tax-exemption for their first three years in the country. Treasury officials are likely to change that. Dominic Waghorn of Sky News makes a compelling case against changing the regulations.

He points out it would cause many reporters to move their base of of operations to Ramallah or Amman, and also spark more parachute journalism.

Instead of paying a flat rate of 25 percent for their first three years here, they will have the same deal as Israelis. It will make the government an extra few hundred thousand shekels a year . . .

What Israel needs to avoid at all costs is foreign paratroopers – journalists who land in the country for a few days, armed with a clutch of Wikipedia articles and the book they read on the plane.

You cannot ‘wing it’ if you want to report on this part of the world, although many try to get away with it. More often than not, when they do they take sides, because they think it helps them report the story better. Black and white is easier to communicate, but as we all know, the truth is usually in between.

Israel's one of the most heavily reported countries in the world, so one way or another, the Western press will continue covering developments. And foreign bureaus are disappearing anyway.

But I'm also concerned that the shrinking pool of foreign journalists in Israel will concentrate information among fewer people, which fertilizes the ground for media groupthink.


Wednesday, December 15 2010

Time's Fond Farewell For Fadlallah

It's that time of the year when magazines wish a "fond farewell" to the VIPs and celebrities who died in 2010. Mine are primarily for Leslie Nielsen, Gary Coleman and George Steinbrenner.

But the way Time magazine frames its two-paragraph obituary for Hezbollah's Ayatollah Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah is off the deep end. The man's final fatwa before dying authorized suicide bombers.

Here's a more appropo 14-character headline: Good Riddance.


A penny for Octavia Nasr's thoughts . . .

Lebanese Apartheid Against Palestinians: By the Numbers

Flags It's been known for years that Lebanon treats Palestinian refugees like dirt. A new study by the American University of Beirut and the UNRWA confirms the effects of "Lebanese apartheid."

The Daily Star and an AUB press release summarize the key findings:

425,000: Palestinian refugees registered as living in Lebanon.
260,000 - 270,000: Refugees actually living in Lebanon.
56 percent: Refugee jobless rate.
53,000: Refugees considered to have stable employment.
66.4: Percentage of refugees living on less than $6.00/day.
4.5: Average size of refugee family.
$700: Average monthly income for a refugee family.
35: Percentage of Lebanese nationals living below poverty line.
6: Percentage of Palestinians enrolled in Lebanese universities.
20: Percentage of Lebanese enrolled in Lebanese universities.
65: Percentage of refugees lacking a grade-9 education.

The full study is expected to be released at the end of the year. But here's the Daily Star's spoiler:

A large amount of blame is being placed on the perceived lack of opportunities, limited by state restrictions requiring Palestinians to obtain work permits and which, in spite of recent relaxations, still exclude Palestinians from certain professions, such as medicine.

Lebanon recently expanded job opportunities for Palestinians, but refugees were skeptical.

But it's only apartheid when Israel is accused of systematically limiting Palestinian job opportunities, right?

Morning Reading

> Bethlehem Tourism Swells as Violence Ebbs
A record year for Bethlehem tourism, and the Christmas surge is still to come.

> Stuxnet Virus Set Back Iran’s Nuclear Program By Two Years
Expert says the damage, without any fatalities, was more effective than a military strike.

> West Bank Shows There Is a Military Solution to Terror
"What produced this victory was the grunt work of counterterrorism: intelligence, arrests, interrogations, military operations, and, above all, enough boots on the ground long enough to make this possible."

> Jerusalem Marathon Runs Into Politics
Only in Israel . . .


Tuesday, December 14 2010

Radio Canada: 'Israel Bears No Resemblance to Iran and Sudan'

Simon_durivage It should be obvious that Israel has nothing in common with Iran and Sudan, but it wasn't the case with Radio-Canada's Simon Durivage.

Durivage apologized for inapporpriately equating the countries after HonestReporting Canada readers took action.

More importantly than the apology, however, the Radio-Canada ombudsman's review (pdf format) sets an important precedent:

"Radio-Canada acknowledged that it was inappropriate to use Iran and Sudan as examples to illustrate the dangers of Canada's unconditional support for Israel."

". . . by erroneously associating Israel with Iran and Sudan, Simon Durivage did not adhere to one of the central principles of CBC/Radio-Canada's Journalistic Standards and Practices, that of accuracy."

"Associating Israel with Iran and Sudan in this way constituted a journalistic error."

It's now on the record that drawing moral equivalence between Israel and rogue states like Iran, Sudan (add North Korea and Cuba to the list too) is inappropriate journalism.

See HonestReporting Canada for the relevant videos, links and info.


Monday, December 13 2010

Reuters Fails On Failed Terror

Reuters lists a few failed "militant" attacks in the last decade. Care to guess what two items are missing?

Firstly, the word "terror" doesn't appear anywhere. No surprise there. After 9/11, Reuters news chief Stephen Jukes wrote to his staff that

We all know that one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter and that Reuters upholds the principle that we do not use the word terrorist . . .

Also missing are freedom attacks terror attacks against Israel. This fact box isn't all-encompassing content, and failed attacks don't stick in our memory the sadly "successful" ones do. But Israel was and continues to be uniquely targeted.

The single most memorable failed terror attack against Israel was an attempt to blow up the Pi Glilot fuel depot near Tel Aviv. A bomb attached to a tanker truck was detonated by remote control, but an automatic sprinkler system and workers put out the fire, averting a catastrophic fireball. The NY Times wrote:

Another driver, Yaakov Karp, who was fueling his truck nearby, said it was lucky they were filling up with diesel fuel rather than gasoline, which is more volatile. Officials at the depot, named Pi Glilot, also said it was fortunate that the explosion did not take place near the above-ground fuel tanks, which sometimes hold as much as 3,000 tons of fuel. An explosion there could have set off a fireball destroying life and property over a wide area. A disaster drill at the depot three years ago called for the evacuation of 20,000 people in a radius of more than a mile.

Failed terror attacks only reflect an inability to cause harm, not a lack of intent. Try telling that to Reuters. We all know that one man's editor is another man's useful idiot.

'Not Quite the Affront to the Hard-Up American Taxpayer'

I had a hard time articulating what bothered me about Tom Friedman's take on the White House's incentives for a settlement freeze.

Whether or not you agree with the US offer, Jeffrey Golderg's take on Friedman strikes a chord on one important point:

One small note, or not so small -- Tom tends to frame the recent (and generally-speaking unwise) American offer of $3 billion in F-35 Joint Strike Fighters in exchange for a 90-day extension of the settlement freeze as a gift America could not afford to give. But he doesn't mention that military aid to Israel, even heavily subsidized military aid (and to other countries, of course) is a form of stimulus spending, since that $3 billion was going to be used to buy American-made products. You would not look at $3 billion in jet fighters as a costly giveaway if you happened to be one of the thousands of people building those planes. This doesn't change the fact that the offer was shortsighted (really, what were American negotiators thinking?) But it wasn't quite the affront to the hard-up American taxpayer that Friedman makes it out to be.
December 13 Links

> Iran Hardliners Threaten to Ruin Jewish Shrine
Queen Esther's tomb to be destroyed if Israel damages the Al-Aqsa mosque, say Islamist students.

> Wikileaks: Israel Offered to Cease Overflights for US Intel
Turns out the US was overflying Lebanese airspace too.

> The UN's 9/11 Insult
Why convene Durban III in NY next September? "To rub salt in the city’s wounds, to dance on the city’s graves."

> Krav-Maga: Israeli Self-Defense Goes Global
Krav-maga's international trendiness worries Israeli purists.

> Retreating From the World
What happened to all the foreign bureaus, and how does international news reach your local paper?


Sunday, December 12 2010

Stephen Colbert and the Mossad Shark Conspiracy

Stephen Colbert's too smart for the Mossad.

The Colbert Report Mon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Israel Shark Conspiracy
Colbert Report Full Episodes Political Humor & Satire Blog March to Keep Fear Alive



Hamas Freeloads Off Red Cross Jerusalem HQ

Three Hamas MPs are freeloading at a Red Cross office in eastern Jerusalem. The Jerusalem Post writes:

During their time at the Red Cross, the politicians have held regular Friday prayer services attended by large crowds of Jerusalem residents; greeted visiting dignitaries, including former American president Jimmy Carter and a Jordanian envoy; and held photo ops with various local Arab notables. Literature supporting their cause has been distributed from the Red Cross compound, and large signs with the legislators’ faces adorn the side of the building.

A Red Cross spokesman told the paper there's no safe haven and police can come arrest Ahmad Attoun, Khaled Abu- Arafa and Muhammad Totah anytime. But how does the IRC explain this?

The Red Cross has provided the politicians with a room inside the building where they can sleep and keep their belongings, a bathroom, electricity for their large protest tent, and a water cooler, it is understood . . .

Do you really think the Red Cross would give me the same privileges if I just showed up and refused to leave?

The real chutzpah is that even as Hamas enjoys the health organization's largesse, it still allows no Red Cross access to Gilad Shalit.

AP Stringer Calls Abbas's Bluff

UPDATE 1:25 p.m. I just spotted Maan News reporting a PA gag order on coverage.

Many Palestinian editors and journalists have been warned against making any public reference to the power struggle between President Mahmoud Abbas and Fatah leader Muhamad Dahlan, an Israeli newspaper reported Sunday.

The story in question is by the Jerusalem Post's Khaled Abu Toameh. I hope AP gives Mohammed Daraghmeh sufficient cover.

* * *

Ap_logo AP's Mohammed Daraghmeh examines the touchy question of who would succeed Mahmoud Abbas, should the PA president resign or become incapacitated.

The story's long overdue, and the PA chairman has threatened to quit so many times (Daled Amos lists them all) that this sort of article was bound to happen.

Days ago, Abbas got things rolling, saying he'd quit and dismantle the PA without another settlement freeze. Khaled Abu Toameh then raised the issue of succession, noting Abbas's frosty relations with younger generation Fatah leaders Mohammed Dahlan, Nasser al-Qidwa, and Ahmed Qurei. That led to a spat in the pages of the PA's Wafa News service, which AP describes from there.

Other possible contenders in the conversation are Marwan Barghouti, Saeb Erekat, Jibril Rajoub and Salam Fayyad.

Abbas's only leverage s to garner world sympathy with threatened resignations. But instead of feeling the world's love, the PA chairman and the rest of the West Bank are reading a story in the world's most extensive wire service -- by a Palestinian stringer, no less -- cautiously boosting Abbas's political rivals.

It's almost as if AP called Abbas's bluff. Might this be the last time he threatens to quit?


3 Reasons Why Paul McGeough's Flotilla Coverage Doesn't Deserve Prestigious Award

Walkley_awardSydney Morning Herald correpsondent Paul McGeough was aboard Challenger One, some 150 meters away from the Mavi Marmara when the Israeli navy intercepted the Gaza flotilla.

Now, his account of the incident has earned him a prestigious Walkley Award, the Australian equivalent of a Pulitzer Prize. The honor disturbs me for three reasons.

Two of the reasons deal with points of contention McGeough was in a unique position to clarify for history's first draft -- but he instead muddied the waters. The third reason has more to do with the language of his dispatch.

1. McGeough failed to shed light on the flotilla's radical Islamic organizers.

Most prominent among the convoy's organizers was the IHH, a radical Islamic relief fund based in Turkey. As Malam points out, the IHH is linked to Hamas,and "supported jihadist terrorist networks in Bosnia, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Chechnya." It is also has ties to Turkey's ruling party.

What did McGeough say about the organizers? Not much:

The flotilla drew on funds from NGOs in Turkey, Malaysia, Ireland, Algeria, Kuwait, Greece and Sweden.

With the paper's considerable resources, McGeough and his editors could have and should have been aware of the IHH's background before the correspondent even made his travel plans. If indeed they knew, it was irresponsible to not disclose this.

2. The flotilla was not a "humanitarian convoy."

The convoy's humanitarian veneer masked a political agenda to provoke an embarrassing confrontation with Israel. Some of the people aboard the ships were specifically recruited to attack Israeli soldiers. Among the items found aboard were bullet-proof vests, night vision equipment and rifle scopes, saws, knives, gas masks and slingshots.

Hardly humanitarian.

McGeough missed it.

If the critique ended here, you could reasonably conclude that McGeough was either sloppy,simply had the bad luck of being on the wrong boat while one of 2010's biggest stories unfolded meters away. But then there's my third concern.

3. Inflammatory language suggests sympathy for the flotilla.

This particular snippet rightly outraged the Jewish community, and called into question McGeough's impartiality:

Then, the tightening noose. Sneaking up and around every boat, there were bullet-shaped hulks which soon became impossible to hide as the moonlight made fluorescent tubes of their roiling wakes. First one, then two and maybe four could be seen sneaking in from the rear.

They hunted like hyenas – moving up and ahead on the flanks; pushing in, then peeling away; and finally, lagging before lunging.

Lest we forget, here's the headline, which sets a tone for the rest of the story:

Prayers, Tear Gas, and Terror

If there's terror, it's because there are terrorists. That's McGeough and the SMH's subtle, most damning stab at Israel.

You can't expect journalists to write be-all end-all stories. The descriptive language of his own voice suggests McGeough saw exactly what he wanted to see.

And that's not worthy of the honor conferred by the Walkley Foundation's award.


Saturday, December 11 2010

Turkish Premier is a Zionist Tool

Turkish PM Erdogan is a Zionist tool, according to the country's former premier. Necmettin Erbakan, told The Zaman:

The soured relationship with Israel and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's tough line with the Jewish state are all part of a façade to deceive the Turkish public, former Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan has claimed.

In an exclusive interview with Today's Zaman at his house in Balgat, Ankara, the 84-year-old leader of the Felicity Party (SP) criticized the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party), saying it is in the hands of the worldwide Zionist movement. He implied that the rise of the AK Party was helped by the international Jewish conspiracy and vowed that he will fight back to stem the Zionist grip on the neck of Turkey.

That's far more creative than Turkish claims that Israel engineered the Wikileaks, or the sillier Mossad shark attacks now pervading Arab chatter.


Thursday, December 9 2010

Shattered Lens: Part 3 - Putting Palestinians Behind Bars

What could be more symbolic of suffering and mistreatment than the image of small children behind bars? Particularly in reference to Gaza, which is regularly portrayed as a vast "open air prison."

HonestReporting looks at how the wire services use bars in their images to promote the Palestinian narrative of suffering and the impression of Palestinians as "prisoners" of Israeli brutality.

Shattered Lens: Part 3 - Putting Palestinians Behind Bars


Wikileaks: Syrian Human Shields Protect Hezbollah Facilities

The latest Wikileaks revelation comes from NaharNet:

If rockets were to rain down on Israeli civilians in Tel Aviv, Israel would still have powerful incentives, as it did in 2006, to keep Syria out of the conflict, but it might also face compelling reasons for targeting Hizbullah facilities in Syria, some of which are in and around populated areas," said the diplomat in the leaked cable, which is titled "Is now the time to raise Hizbullah with Syria?"

Good of Hezbollah to outsource their human shield corps to innocent Syrian civilians. During the Second Lebanon War, Australia's Sunday Herald-Sun published photos outing Hezbollah's suburban warriors.


Wednesday, December 8 2010

Wikileaks: Al-Manar TV Shareholders Targeted for Sanctions

The US embassy in Beirut recommended financial sanctions on 38 shareholders in Hezbollah's Al-Manar TV station. The Daily Star writes:

“Designating them now will reinforce our efforts to discredit Hizbullah and its institutions and deny Hizbullah supporters access to financing that goes through US institutions,” the cable said. “Moreover, the publicity that will greet designation will make other Lebanese think twice about being involved in Hizbullah-connected institutions. Some people may even become more cautious about appearing on Al-Manar programming, for fear of designation.”

It's a gutsy cable, but what about the free speech issue raised by Hezbollah's apologists?

As one US official told the Washington Times in 2006:

"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.
PA Journalists Support Western Wall 'Study': Why It Matters

Pal_journo_synd The Jerusalem Post's Khaled Abu Toameh reports that the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate has expressed its support for the PA's "study" denying any Jewish ties to the Western Wall.

The journalists’ syndicate, which is controlled by Fatah, rejected US and Israeli protests over the “scientific study.” . . . .

The syndicate added that Israel’s position toward the document “exposed its false claim to be democratic.”

Why does the syndicate's support matter? Its members are the very Palestinian stringers who write the articles you read about recent Western Wall developments.

The study claims, among other things, that the Western Wall is an integral part of the Al-Aqsa mosque, and that Jews never worshipped there the 1917 Balfour Declaration.

It was removed from the web site of the PA Ministy of Information, but resurfaced online at Wafa, the PA's official news service.


Tuesday, December 7 2010

Anti-Israel Diatribe in Teachers Federation Magazine

An anti-Israel diatribe published in the B.C. Teachers Federation Magazine inflames tensions, misleads peers, and brings prospects for peace to a dead-end.

See HonestReporting Canada's latest critique: Anti-Israel Diatribe in Teachers Federation Magazine

Just When You Thought It Was Safe to Go Into the Water

SharkI thought Israeli policy was to neither confirm nor deny alleged Mossad shark attacks. I'm willing to make an exception here:

Shark attacks not linked to Mossad says Israel

Meanwhile, Dominic Waghorn of Sky News points out:

Throwing up preposterous theories is not the only sign Egypt is panicking over the shark attacks.

Authorities seem to be relying on good old fashioned press obstruction too.

Colleagues in Cairo tell me they have been denied permission from the government to travel to Sharm to report on the shark.

Sharks, The Mossad and The Scotsman Make for Sexy Headlines

UPDATE 1:55 pm: See HonestReporting UK's response to the Scotsman:

Egyptian Shark Attack: Jews Not Jaws?

* * *

Newspapers are always treating wire articles as pulp content. It's accepted practice for editors to trim down stories and change headlines because of space limitations.

But once in awhile, I compare the original story with what was printed in a local paper, and wonder, Why did someone edit like this?

Case in point: Reuters, The Scotsman, and a deadly Red Sea shark attack.

Here we have an otherwise ordinary Reuters dispatch by Mohamed Zaki.


Now see what The Scotsman did:


Mentioning Mossad along with sharks makes for a pretty sexy headline, but why does The Scotsman give unwarranted credibility to one official's anti-Semitic allegation with a headline like that?


Monday, December 6 2010

Shattered Lens: Part 2 - Abusing Sport for Propaganda

In the second part of our major study of of how Reuters, AP and AFP/Getty misuse imagery to distort coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, we look at how the wire services cynically exploited the 2010 soccer World Cup to produce negative images of Israel.

Shattered Lens: Part 2 - Abusing Sport for Propaganda


Wikileaks: Al Jazeera a 'Bargaining Tool' of Qatari Foreign Policy

Aljazeera Here's a State Dept cable in The Guardian suggesting that Al Jazeera is a tool of the Qatari government.

We expect the trend in favor of using Al Jazeera as an informal tool of GOQ foreign policy to continue undiminished . . .

Over the coming 36 months - in a trend that has held steady over the past three off-sites - the regional Al Jazeera Arabic news channel will continue to be an instrument of Qatari influence, and continue to be an expression, however uncoordinated, of the nation's foreign policy. Qatar will continue to use Al Jazeera as a bargaining tool to repair relationships with other countries, particularly those soured by Al Jazeera's broadcasts, including the United States.

In a separate cable, US ambassador, Joseph LeBaron assesses:

Al-Jazeera's ability to influence public opinion throughout the region is a substantial source of leverage for Qatar, one which it is unlikely to relinquish. Moreover, the network can also be used as a chip to improve relations. For example, al-Jazeera's more favourable coverage of Saudi Arabia's royal family has facilitated Qatari-Saudi reconciliation over the past year . . .

Despite GOQ protestations to the contrary, al-Jazeera remains one of Qatar's most valuable political and diplomatic tools.

See further coverage here.

The network's credibility requires an outraged denial, so Al Jazeera has already rejected the cable.

Compared to other Arab state-controlled news agencies, Al Jazeera's product is more polished, its relationship with the ruling elites more sophisticated. But when you get right down to it, the Arab world has zero history of free press and in that regard, Al Jazeera is no different. A government leash is still a leash.


Sunday, December 5 2010

The Observer Gets With The Program . . .

The Observer boggles the mind. Describing Iran's nuclear weapons drive as an "energy programme" is as myopic as calling the Wikileaks info dump a "crowdsourcing event."


Spoiler alert: The people behind this increasingly sinister campaign most likely work for a secretive Israeli organization whose name begins with an M and rhymes with Possad.


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