We thank all the members of HonestReporting for sending recommendations for this year’s Dishonest Reporting ‘Award’. There were many candidates for the ignominious honor, and we distilled the list down to the worst offenders.
HonestReporting took many factors into account: Was there a policy of deliberate bias? Did a reporter base reports on unreliable sources or no sources at all? Did the reporter or publication refuse to admit its errors?
So now, without further ado, we regretfully present the Dishonest Reporting “Award” 2001. There were many fine candidates, but only one winner. The “dishonorable mentions” (in alphabetical order) are followed by the bias champion. URLs have been included where available. And we hope that next year, this list will be much, much shorter.
- Associated Press
- Robert Fisk – The Independent (UK)
- Suzanne Goldenberg – The Guardian (UK)
- Joshua Hammer – Newsweek
- Chris Hedges – Harpers
- Lee Hockstader – The Washington Post
- Deborah Sontag – The New York Times
- The Winner: BBC
In March 2001, a Palestinian sniper looked through the crosshairs of his scope and murdered Shalhevet Pass, a 10-month old Jewish baby in Hebron. AP’s headline writers declared: “Jewish Toddler Dies In West Bank.”
AP made no mention of who perpetrated the murder, and there is no indication of the ghastly nature of the crime. According to AP, the baby just “died” — as if from natural causes or an accident. More accurately, Shalhevet Pass was murdered, shot, gunned down, or assassinated — by a killer, gunman, terrorist, or sniper.
More AP bias appeared in June, following the heinous suicide bombing at a Tel Aviv disco. AP published the headline: “Explosion Kills Bomber in Tel Aviv.”
This was an early AP report, when the final death toll was not available, but at that point it was already known that there were scores of Israeli casualties. So why did AP downplay this bestial act as an “explosion,” and focus on the suffering — not of innocent teens — but of the evil bomber?
In November, when a Palestinian terrorist sprayed machine-gun fire at a bus in Jerusalem, killing two teenagers and wounding 40, AP reported: “On Sunday, a Palestinian shooting attack on a bus in a disputed section of Jerusalem killed two teen-agers, one of them a U.S.-born settler.”
The American citizen, 16-year-old Shoshana Ben-Yishai, is described by AP as a “settler.” But she was murdered in Jerusalem. To add insult to injury, another AP report refers to the heroic Israeli civilian who killed the terrorist as, you guessed it, “a West Bank settler.”
Associated Press boasts some 8,500 client newspapers around the world. No other news agency wields so much clout. Therefore, no news agency bears as much responsibility for honest reporting.
Early in the Intifada, HonestReporting conducted a comprehensive study of CNN, analyzing all 133 lead articles in the Mideast section of CNN.com during October 2000, the first month of violence.
In these 133 articles, CNN depicted Arabs in 128 photos, while Israelis were depicted in 60 photos. Photos are important in building reader sympathies with one side or the other, and on this case, CNN’s bias was skewed more than double in favor of the Palestinians.
In those same 133 CNN articles, 68 accusations by Arab spokespeople were allowed to stand unchallenged. By comparison, only 28 Israeli quotes were left unchallenged — a CNN bias skewed more than double in favor of the Palestinians.
CNN bias during 2001 was typified by its coverage of a rally of 250,000 Israelis gathered outside the Old City walls in support of Jerusalem. The early edition of CNN devoted a paltry 5 sentences to the event. In the later edition, when many more details were available, the rally was not mentioned in the headline at all — and CNN did not give details of the rally until paragraph #14.
The later CNN article, published after all the speeches had been made, did not offer even one quote from any of the quarter-million attendees. The lone CNN quote came from Muslim Waqf Adnan Husseini, who called the rally “provocative.” Were no Jews available for comment?!
In the same article, CNN gravely diminished the Jewish connection. There was no mention of the Temple Mount as Judaism’s holiest site, nor to Jerusalem as the capital of the Jewish people (as it has been for over 3,000 years — 1,500 years before Islam ever existed). CNN’s description: “The site is known to Jews as Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary, the third-holiest site in the Islamic world.”
Further, in a bizarre reference, CNN says the site of the rally was: “Jaffa Gate, or Bab al-Khalil, the main western entrance to the walled city.” “Jaffa Gate” is the standard reference in any encyclopedia, university textbook, diplomatic document, media style guide, or any other acceptable Western source. So why does CNN go out of its way — particularly in the context of reporting a Jewish rally — to dredge up Bab al-Khalil, an obscure Arabic reference?
For more than two decades, Robert Fisk has used his correspondent card to proudly become a crusader for Arab and Palestinian causes. In the 1970s, Fisk reported from Beirut for the London Times. And now, writing for the Independent (UK), Fisk blames Israel for all the Palestinians’ ills, and blames the West for all Muslim disgruntlement.
The day after the September 11 attacks, Fisk defied the civilized world and blamed Israel, America, and even the defeat of the Ottoman Empire for the WTC terrorist attack. Fisk proclaimed:
“…This is not the war of democracy versus terror that the world will be asked to believe in the coming days. It is also about American missiles smashing into Palestinian homes and US helicopters firing missiles into a Lebanese ambulance in 1996 and American shells crashing into a village called Qana and about a Lebanese militia paid and uniformed by America’s Israeli ally hacking and raping and murdering their way through refugee camps.”
Fisk claimed that there would be an “immoral” attempt to “obscure the historical wrongs and the injustices that lie behind yesterday’s firestorms.”
Even as T
aliban supporters in Afghanistan beat him to a pulp last month, Fisk rationalized: “I couldn’t blame them for what they were doing. In fact, if I were the Afghan refugees of Kila Abdullah, close to the Afghan-Pakistan border, I would have done just the same to Robert Fisk.”
Fisk is overt in his anti-Israel crusade, and portrays any reporter not willing to criticize Israel as a coward: “Our gutlessness, our refusal to tell the truth, our fear of being slandered as ‘anti-Semites’ — the most loathsome of libels against any journalist — means that we are aiding and abetting terrible deeds in the Middle East.”
Suzanne Goldenberg’s coverage consistently whitewashed Palestinian terrorist activity and painted Israeli reaction as aggression. In February 2001, when a Palestinian driver plowed his bus into a bus stop, killing eight Israeli civilians, Goldenberg was quick to defend him:
“Far from being… a dedicated terrorist,” she wrote, he was a “man who has been taking medication for depression for two years… That Wednesday morning he added antihistamines and antibiotics to the pharmaceutical cocktail. Both can cause drowsiness, according to the pharmacist.” This is even after the bus driver admitted to Israeli General Security Service investigators that the attack was intentional and premeditated.
Incredibly, Goldenberg has won several journalism awards this year from British institutions. The London Press Club said her coverage was a display of “courageous and objective journalism.” At another award ceremony, Goldenberg was lauded: “This journalist has been subjected to a campaign of vilification” — in reference to criticism levied by HonestReporting.
The Guardian waged its own campaign of vilification against Israelis. In February 2001, in reference to Ariel Sharon’s visit to the Western Wall (the standard Israeli custom after all elections), The Guardian carried the headline, “Sharon Twists Knife in Muslim Wounds.” The Guardian also ran a cartoon that obscenely depicted Sharon’s bloody handprints on the Western Wall. The cartoon desecrated the holiest Jewish site and encroached on brash anti-Semitism.
In February 2001, the Guardian published an editorial column entitled “Media Manipulators,” chronicling HonestReporting’s criticism of the Guardian. Yet the Guardian ignored the message and attacked the messenger — calling HonestReporting e-mails “bizarre… inconvenient… scary… harassment,” and referred to some HonestReporting members as “shadowy… extremists.”
The Guardian outdid itself in January 2001 when it ran an opinion piece entitled, “Israel Simply Has No Right To Exist.” With such blatant anti-Israel bias, what else is there to say?
In May 2001, Newsweek’s bureau chief in Israel, Joshua Hammer and his photographer, conducted an interview with Palestinian leaders in Gaza. As the interview was completed, the Palestinians informed Hammer and the photographer they were being held captive. After four hours, they were released. One would expect a kidnap victim to be traumatized and angry. But Hammer had only compliments for his Palestinian captors, as described in Newsweek:
“…Hammer says he never feared his captors would hurt him or Knight. ‘They never threatened us or pointed their guns at us,’ Hammer says. ‘They actually fed us one of the best meals I’ve eaten in Gaza.’”
In another report, Hammer wrote that most “Palestinians have given up hope of real political progress” as long as Sharon is in power. He questions if the Palestinians have the patience to wait for a “more moderate Israeli leader.” The fact is that Palestinians have already rejected far-reaching compromises offered by “a more moderate leader,” Ehud Barak.
In December, Newsweek presented “A Tale of Two Enemies,” a side-by-side comparison of Arafat and Sharon. Arafat is described glowingly as a “revolutionary,” a “civil engineer,” and a trailblazing diplomat who was the first to be accorded special status at the United Nations. Yet nowhere is Arafat described as a founder of a terrorist organization, nor is there any mention of his connection to terror acts.
In the October edition of Harpers, Chris Hedges wrote his sensationalized “Gaza Diary: Scenes from the Palestinian Uprising.” The entire article is a diatribe against Israel without any response by Israeli spokesmen. The climax is a section in which Hedges accuses Israeli soldiers in Gaza of goading Palestinian children to their death: “I have never before watched soldiers entice children like mice into a trap and murder them for sport.”
Hedges offers no corroborating evidence — no photos, no videos, no outside verification. Hedges never even saw or heard the shots of the alleged crime. He wrote that the Palestinian youth “descend out of sight behind a sandbank in front of me. There are no sounds of gunfire. The soldiers shoot with silencers.”
In preparing his slander, Hedges apparently was unaware that silencers do not exist in the Israeli arsenal, and it is difficult — if not impossible — to outfit an M-16 high velocity rifle with a silencer. Hedges apparently confused “silencers” with canisters of rubber projectiles — a non-lethal alternative used by the IDF soldiers on the end of their M-16s.
In July 2001, Hockstader presented a shocking 1,300-word defense of Aziz Salha, the Palestinian who proudly waved his bloody hands out of the window of a Ramallah police station after the brutal lynching of two Israelis. Hockstader provided a sympathetic psychoanalysis of the murderer:
“The young man was very ill when he was a baby, he stuttered, he was shy… maybe it really wasn’t him photographed in the window… people’s emotions were boiling over because of Palestinians teens shot by Israeli soldiers… Israel’s settlements and occupation were on Salha’s mind… he was a calm, good-natured and athletic kid…”
In August, Hockstader filed “Palestinians Find Heroes in Hamas,” a profile of the terrorist organization that dispatches suicide bombers against Israeli targets. Hockstader paints the organization in moderate shades:
“The group’s goal is an independent homeland in at least the West Bank and Gaza Strip — and, Israelis fear, on the territory of the Jewish state.”
But Hockstader has been around long enough to know that the destruction of Israel is one of Hamas’ main tenets and not just a figment of “Israeli fears.” The Hamas covenant clearly states, “There is no solution to the Palestinian problem except by Jihad.” The U.S. State Department’s annual terrorism report defines Hamas’ goal as “establishing an Islamic Palestinian state in place of Israel.”
Dishonorable mention goes to Washington Post ombudsman Mike Getler, who in March 2001, unhappy by the flood of HonestReporting e-mails, complained at having been “smeared by your robot-like members [who] responded in knee-jerk fashion.”
Reuters set new standards of inappropriate “even-handedness,” by refusing to refer to Palestinian suicide bombers — or even the September 11 attackers — as “terrorists.” Steven Jukes, Reuters’ global head of news, said:
“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… To be frank, it adds little to call the attack on the World Trade Center a terrorist attack.”
Even-handedness characterized Reuters coverage throughout the year. In April, a Reuters report on the 1948 War of Independence stated: “Palestinians mark the birth of Israel on May 15, 1948, as their ‘Nakba’ or catastrophe, which led to the loss of 78 percent of historic Palestine. Some 700,000 Palestinians left or were forced to flee their homes in the fighting that accompanied the declaration of the Jewish state.”
Reuters made no mention of the fact that Israel was invaded by 5 Arab armies, and no mention that Israel lost key parcels of land including the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem and towns in Gaza and the West Bank. And Reuters made no mention of the 650,000 Jewish refugees from Arab countries who similarly “left or were forced to flee their homes.”
Reuters’ Israel correspondent Christine Hauser delivered her own unique form of “even-handed” bias. In a report on Israel actions in the Arab town of Beit Jala, Hauser ignored the fact that Israeli troops were responding to Palestinian salvoes and snipers shooting at Gilo.
Hauser mimicked the Palestinian line, saying that “Gilo is a settlement,” without presenting the other view of Gilo as a mainstream Jewish neighborhood within Jerusalem’s municipal boundaries. According to Hauser, the Palestinians were “fighting for an end to Jewish settlements and the Israeli occupation.”
In the same report, Hauser exhibited either ignorance or propaganda when she wrote: “All of the [Beit Jala residents] have ashtrays brimming with collected spent bullet casings.” Sorry, Christine. Spent bullet casings are found at the point of origin of the shooting, not at the target.
In December, when terrorists attacked a busload of Israeli civilians near Emmanuel, killing 10, Reuters offered justification for the murder spree: “Most of the Israeli dead were settlers, whom [Palestinian] militants consider targets as occupiers of Palestinian land.”
Deborah Sontag thankfully left Israel in July, but before leaving she took a parting shot at Israel in a front-page, 6,000-word tome entitled, “Quest for Mideast Peace: How and Why It Failed.” Sontag took great pains to defend Yasser Arafat: “[M]any diplomats and officials believe that the dynamic was far more complex and that Mr. Arafat does not bear sole responsibility for the breakdown of the peace effort.”
Sontag’s article has many serious flaws, but one stands out as particularly glaring and biased: She quoted extensively from various Palestinian and American negotiators, but totally ignored the comments made one week earlier in a major policy address by Israel’s chief negotiator, Prime Minister Ehud Barak, who outlined Arafat’s culpability.
In April, Sontag portrayed 10-moth-old Shalhevet Pass, murdered by a Palestinian sniper, as a despised settler: “Many Israelis have long considered the Hebron settlers to be extremists, living in a world apart. But they rallied behind the community after Shalhevet was killed; newspaper headlines referred to the killing of an Israeli baby and not a “settler baby.”
Sontag made the outrageous implication that Jews might normally disregard the ruthless murder of another Jew, simply because they don’t share the same political views. Is the average Israeli so cold-hearted? No. But perhaps Sontag is.
In February 2001, Sontag and the Guardian’s Goldenberg engaged in classic “pack journalism” by filing nearly identical stories about a Ramallah “martyrs” museum. Both Sontag and Goldenberg used the uncommon word “totem” and then delivered this identical (plagiarized?) one-two bias punch, using the “critics would say” technique of assigning words to a hypothetical Israeli — had the reporters bothered to ask.
Sontag: “Israeli critics would say that the exhibit, ’100 Martyrs – 100 Lives,’ glorifies death and encourages the cult of the shaheed, or martyr.”
Goldenberg: “Israeli critics would argue that the exhibit glorifies violent death, and promotes a cult of martyrdom.”
If two university students had handed these in as term papers, the professor probably would have tossed one or both of them back at the students for cheating.
The ignoble winner of the Dishonest Reporting “Award” 2001 is the BBC, for consistently demonstrating fierce anti-Israel bias.
In May 2001, BBC fabricated a film clip in an attempt to show Israeli brutality. When Israelis struck a Palestinian base in Gaza, there were no pictures of victims — since Israel struck at empty buildings. But BBC editors inserted a film clip of Israeli victims of Palestinian terror arriving at an Israeli hospital, to suggest that these were victims of Israeli attack. The newsreader in London, a former BBC correspondent in Israel herself, ended the segment with “These are the pictures from Gaza.”
In June 2001, BBC’s flagship “Panorama” program
(http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/static/audio_video/programmes/panorama/transcripts/transcript_17_06_01.txt) tried to portray Ariel Sharon as a war criminal, in connection with the Lebanese Christian massacre of Palestinians in Sabra and Shatilla in 1982. An Israeli commission of inquiry decided
that Sharon was not responsible for any direct involvement, but BBC asked: “In the light of developments in international war crimes prosecutions… [should] the evidence lead to indictments for what happened in the camps.”
Much of BBC’s case rested on the view of War Crimes Judge Richard Goldstone, who subsequently accused the BBC of badly distorting the context of his words: “I agreed to speak to [the BBC] as an expert on the law in general, on command responsibility, but I said I would not in any way comment on any liability, criminal or civil, of Ariel Sharon and I didn’t do so. I haven’t yet seen the program, but if it comes across that way it’s incorrect… I certainly didn’t comment on the responsibility of Sharon.” (Jerusalem Post)
Further, BBC’s duplicity in handling the Israeli-Arab conflict was evident in its refusal to label Palestinian atrocities against Israeli civilians as “terrorism.” In correspondence with HonestReporting, BBC admitted to a double standard, saying:
“It has long been the policy of the [BBC] domestic service to refer to terrorists in Northern Ireland of any religious persuasion as [terrorists], but the policy of the World Service is not to refer to anyone in those terms.”
BBC’s coverage was so outrageous that it came under attack by a leading British politician, Iain Duncan Smith, head of the Tory party. “Surely it is time that our national broadcasters, not just, but including the BBC, stopped describing Hamas and Jihad with such euphemisms as radical and militant,” Smith declared. “Let us call things what they are: they are terrorist organizations. Such fudging of what Hamas or Islamic Jihad are confers some sort of legitimacy on people who are terrorists.”
BBC’s bias is perhaps summed up best by one of its own employees, Fayad Abu Shamala, the BBC correspondent in Gaza for the past 10 years. Speaking at a Hamas rally on May 6, 2001, he declared:
“Journalists and media organizations [are] waging the campaign shoulder-to-shoulder together with the Palestinian people.”
In the face of this blatant violation of journalistic ethics, BBC mustered a pathetic response: “Fayad’s remarks were made in a private capacity. His reports have always matched the best standards of balance required by the BBC.”
If that is the standards of balance required by the BBC, then there is no doubt: BBC has justly earned the Dishonest Reporting “Award” 2001.