CNN Falls Victim to Internet Smear

CNN itself responded to the allegations with a boiler plate denial, later updated with more details, possibly as a result of HonestReporting’s questions:

To counter misinformation reported on various websites, the company has confirmed:

“CNN currently has seven employees working in CNN’s Jerusalem bureau, four of whom are Jewish. There is no basis in fact for these reports.”

“Some website reports also state that CNN’s Jerusalem bureau chief is Arab, which is also untrue.”

“CNN strongly rejects any suggestion that the reorganization in the Jerusalem bureau is in any way based on the small number of contract employees concerned being Israeli, particularly given CNN’s long history of working with locals in the region.”

Indeed, anyone with any cursory knowledge of media operations in Israel would know that Kevin Flower, whom we personally contacted concerning this story, is the CNN bureau chief.

In addition, we spoke directly with representatives of CNN who told us:

There is further incorrect speculation that the Jewish employees we have are in low level positions. The highest level positions after the bureau chief are our two producers, one of whom is an Israeli Jew.

This obviously contradicts the Internet rumor that only Arab staff remained after the downsizing.

We do know that at least one of CNN’s former employees has taken legal counsel, which would imply that someone believes that CNN may have wrongly dismissed some of its staff.

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This, however, raises a possibility that some bloggers have failed to consider. In Israel, the rights of contract workers (or lack of) have recently come to the fore. In any downsizing of an organization or company, it is the higher paid workers who may be most at risk. It is entirely possible that CNN’s Jewish employees were on higher salaries than their Arab co-workers.

This raises other issues of inequality within Israel, which is a genuine problem – but not the one that CNN is accused of.

HonestReporting holds the media to account when it promotes stories based on hearsay, speculation or faulty analysis that fits a preconceived framework. Faced with the evidence that we have seen and our own conversations with media professionals based in Jerusalem, we have concluded that the charges laid at CNN’s door are speculative at best.

This doesn’t mean that we are giving CNN a free pass. As always, we will continue to shine a spotlight on any journalistic indiscretions committed by CNN and others. We will, however, do so by sticking to our own guiding principles and values and the same high standards that we hold the media to.

Update: Making sense of the numbers

A number of readers have raised valid points concerning the balance of the CNN bureau following the downsizing so, based on CNN’s information, we’ve done the math.

  • There were originally 11 members of staff, 8 of whom were Israeli Jews.
  • There are now 4 Israeli Jews left in addition to the non-Jewish bureau chief Kevin Flower out of a total staff of 7.
  •  Based on these numbers there are potentially only two Arab members of staff – the same number that existed before the downsizing.

We have previously called out CNN for hiring unreliable Palestinian activists as freelancers and stringers who would not be considered as permanent bureau staff. This, rather than the ethnic makeup of the bureau may explain issues with CNN’s reporting that evidently existed even when the majority of the bureau staff were Jewish.

It may very well be that CNN was reluctant to openly state in its defense that only two employees at the bureau were Arabs as this would have left the organization open to accusations of bias or racism from the other side.

It may be that CNN’s reporting will be unchanged by recent staff turnover. If there are cases of bias against Israel, HonestReporting will make sure CNN is held to account.

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