2012 Dishonest Reporting Awards

The 2012 Dishonest Reporting Awards

Photo Editors Asleep At the Wheel Award: SABC

The status of African migrants in Israel was certainly contentious in 2012. So when South African Broadcasting Corp. News searched for a photo to illustrate one such update, the obvious image of choice taken from the wires should’ve been one of the plentiful images of the Africans themselves, or of Israeli protesters.

Instead, the SABC chose an image that  A) featured a monkey B) labeled as Jewish C) on a placard calling Israel a terrorist state D) at an Indonesian protest for the Mavi Marmara E) two years ago. The photo was not only irrelevant, it was anti-Semitic too.

Screengrab of the SABC's original illustration.

SABC removed the photo, replacing it with map equally useless to the story.

Biggest Twit (USA): Anthony De Rosa, Reuters

During the Gaza war, Anthony De Rosa of Reuters took a swipe at at Israel on Twitter. The twitterverse reaction was massive and furious. One response in particular, by Robbie Guy even went viral. De Rosa — the news service’s social media editor — removed the tweet. But the memorable exchange was preserved in screengrabs.

The DeRosa and Guy tweets.

Biggest Twit (UK): Jon Donnison, BBC

Early into the Operation of Pillar of Defense, Palestinian journalist/activist Hazem Balousha tweeted a moving a photo of a girl lying in a hospital gurney, purportedly injured in an Israeli air strike.

BBC reporter Jon Donnison was touched and retweeted it. However, activists discovered that the photo was actually taken in Syria a month before the war. Donnison tweeted an apology for not carefully verifying the image before sharing it. After the war, at a formal Government Press Office hearing, Donnison was given a warning, while HonestReporting made him the first inductee in the Media War Hall of Shame.

And what of Balousha? Two days after Donnison’s apology, Balousha co-authored a Deutsche Welle article about the social media war. He gallingly addressed false photo tweets without disclosing he did the very same thing:

False information about the current war is also being spread via Twitter and Facebook – pictures of dead children, for example, that are actually from Syria. That angers Ebaa. “We have to stick to the truth, or no one is going to believe us any more.” Ulla Papajak also believes that pictures and information need to be verified for accuracy – even if he also understands that there is no time to do so.

 The real photo + Donnison's retweet.

Biggest Twit (UN): Khulood Badawi, OCHA

Khulood Badawi, an Israeli Arab foreshadowed Donnison’s screw-up when Israel launched air strikes on Gaza in March. She posted this photo:

Badawi Tweet

Badawi’s tweet set in motion this chain of events:

  1. Bloggers discovered the photo originated in 2006.
  2. HonestReporting discovered that Badawi was an information and media coordinator for a UN agency, the Jerusalem-based Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
  3. Israel’s ambassador to the UN demanded Badawi’s dismissal.
  4.  The UN launched an inquiry.
  5. HonestReporting delivered a petition to OCHA — with 15,000 signatures —  calling for Badawi’s removal.
  6. The UN completed its probe, but didn’t release its findings.

Badawi and OCHA remained silent, so it’s not known how she came to post that image, or her current UN status. Badawi may have ended the chapter where it all began by closing her Twitter account.

Dumbest Conspiracy Theory: Geneive Abdo

Geneive Abdo

Geneive Abdo

Terror targeted Israeli diplomats in Bangkok, New Delhi, and Tbilisi over two days in February, and there was enough evidence to implicate Iran. Yet one pundit, Genieve Abdo, had the audacity to suggest Israel attacked its own envoys.

In an Australian radio interview, Abdo said:

ELEANOR HALL: Iran’s leadership says it’s sheer lies that it’s behind the attacks and that the Israelis have planted the bombs themselves to discredit Iran?

GENEIVE ABDO: Well I think that’s entirely possible. I mean, if you consider what the Israelis did for many years in Lebanon and other parts of the Middle East, that theory is not so farfetched.

. . .

Well, you know, there are many theories. I mean theory one is that the Iranians did it in retaliation for attacks on their own nuclear scientists. Theory two is that the Israelis have carried out this attack as a pretext to attack Iran. I mean the Israelis are seriously considering now launching a war against Iran. So that also has to be taken as a possible motivation for these assassinations.

You’d think a charge like that is beneath Abdo, a former journalist with a successful academic career. She heads the Iran program at the Middle East Institute, authored two books, and received a prestigious fellowship. But ivory tower honorifics add no credibility to brainless conspiracy theories.

 Worst Ambush Interview: Mishal Husain, BBC

What initially looked like a standard news segment about Operation Pillar of Defense featuring Jerusalem Post reporter Gil Hoffman turned out to be one of the most biased episodes of “news” broadcast during the conflict. 

After several tough but fair questions about the conflict, BBC interviewer Mishal Husain began pressing Hoffman to answer a question about how many Israelis had been killed by rocket attacks from Gaza before the conflict began.

Hoffman insisted that the number of people killed didn’t matter because the intention of every rocket was to kill as many as people as possible. Husain, however, pressed on, ultimately revealing a less-than-hidden agenda to her question.

“Well, that’s your view, but we’re trying to bring this story to our audiences around the world,” she declared, and then proceeded to answer her own question, citing figures published in another publication, which she had prepared ahead of time.

Unfortunately for those audiences around the world, Husain’s idea of “bringing the story” meant feeding them her own view – that the number of Israelis killed by Hamas rockets was strangely low – rather than exposing them to the views of the person actually being interviewed.

Most Specious Statistic to Bash Israel: Justin Martin, Columbia Journalism Review

Columbia Journalism ReviewAfter the Committee to Protect Journalists published a census of imprisoned journalists, one blogger used it to create a new statistic: jailed journalists per capita. Justin Martin explained in the Columbia Journalism Review:

These data are very helpful, but I think we can consider them under a new lamp by taking into account each country’s size. China and Eritrea, for example, have about the same number of journalists rotting in prison, 27 and 28 respectively. But the population of China is over 250 times that of the small dictatorship.

It’s a flawed statistic because there’s no relationship between a country’s general population and the number of reporters it imprisons. It’s no more valid than tying the number of jailed journalists to a country’s population of, say, penguins.

According to Martin’s metrics, Israel and Eritrea were the world’s worst proverbial press predators, ahead of countries like Syria, Iran, and China, who systematically suppress free speech and imprison journalists who run afoul of the ruling regimes:

Eritrea attracts few tourists that it otherwise might need to satisfy with a better human rights record, and the regime has done little more than yawn at outsiders’ objections to its brutality.

Israel, though, wants to be called a modern democracy and gets cranky when critics point out that it is not.

The blowback prompted this CJR followup by Iranian born journalist Sohrab Ahmari:

Allowing Mr. Martin to skewer the Jewish state using faulty statistics undermines CJR’s role as professional watchdog. But the harm done extends beyond journalistic standards. The ultimate impact of pieces like Mr. Martin’s is a softening of the reading public’s moral intuitions and sensitivities. By placing Israel on the same plane as the likes of Iran and Syria, Mr. Martin minimized the threats faced by journalists working under genuine authoritarianisms—not to mention the broader human rights catastrophes underway in these societies.

Postscript: At year’s end, the Committee to Protect Journalists issued a special report on jailed reporters. Turkey was cited as the world’s leading jailer of journos; Israel didn’t even make the CPJ’s top 10 list.

Most Anti-Semitic-Themed Cartoon: Steve Bell, The Guardian

World-dominating Jews controlling puppet-like leaders is a well-known and unfortunately common theme of anti-Semitic art. So when The Guardian’s Steve Bell drew this cartoon of Benjamin Netanyahu controlling hand puppets Tony Blair and William Hague, he should have known he was touching a nerve.

Steve Bell 16/12/2012

Indeed he did. Responding to complaints, readers’ editor Chris Elliott agreed that the cartoon showed poor judgment on Bell’s part:

I don’t believe that Bell is an antisemite, nor do I think it was his intention to draw an antisemitic cartoon. However, using the image of a puppeteer when drawing a Jewish politician inevitably echoes past antisemitic usage of such imagery, no matter the intent.

The Holocaust and its causes are still within living memory. While journalists and cartoonists should be free to express an opinion that Netanyahu is opportunistic and manipulative, in my view they should not use the language – including the visual language – of antisemitic stereotypes.

* * *

We covered a lot of ground in 2012.

Thanks to our readers for the spirited Dishonest Reporter discussion on our web site, Facebook, and emails.

With our community’s help, we’ll continue to monitor and hold the media to account in 2013.

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