[See Jeffrey Heller's response to this communique, posted below.]
President Bush’s landmark statement of support yesterday (Apr. 14) for Ariel Sharon’s disengagement plan triggered heavy media coverage ? some of it highly unbalanced and defamatory.
One reporter in particular, Reuters’ Jeffrey Heller, revealed blatant bias in his report, ‘Bush Mideast Policy Shift Causes Palestinian Outrage’. Consider this description:
Sharon will fly home on Thursday armed with what he came to Washington for ? U.S. “guarantees” he can flaunt in the face of opponents of his proposal to uproot all Gaza settlements and four of the 120 in the West Bank.
‘Flaunt in the face of opponents’? A neutral reporter would never portray a democratic national leader as such a caricatured, vindictive figure. Heller continues:
Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qurie, seeing the sum of all his people’s fears realized, immediately denounced the statement as unacceptable.
‘The sum of all [Palestinians'] fears’? Bush’s statement was a setback to the PA, but the loss of US support for the ‘right of return’ and American acceptance of Israeli settlement blocks are certainly not the ‘sum of all Palestinian fears.’ If the UN, EU, and United States withdrew all financial and political support for a Palestinian state ? that might constitute ‘the sum of all Palestinian fears.’ Heller’s distortion of Bush’s statement is journalistic hyperbole at its worst, turning this major news story into a cheap melodrama.
This was the second consecutive day of dishonest reporting from Reuters’ Heller ? on Wednesday (Apr. 13) Heller’s dispatch was factually inaccurate regarding Sharon’s Likud party:
Sharon, who in the late 1970s emerged as the architect of a plan to vastly expand the settlements, heads a right-wing party that views the West Bank as part of the Biblical territories of Judea and Samaria, given by God to the Jews.
While many believe that Israeli rights to the land derive from the Bible, this is not a Likud position. Likud is a mostly secular party that recognizes Israel’s right to the land based on historical claims. The official Likud platform describes their position on the West Bank with no explicit mention of God or the Bible:
The Jewish communities in Judea, Samaria and Gaza are the realization of Zionist values. Settlement of the land is a clear expression of the unassailable right of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel and constitutes an important asset in the defense of the vital interests of the State of Israel.
Jeffrey Heller, who has lived in Israel since age 14, certainly knows the elementary fact that Likud is not a Bible-based party. So we wonder, why does Heller falsely represent Sharon’s party in these terms?
The combined effect of Heller’s two reports is to portray the Israeli Prime Minister as an antagonist and his Palestinian counterparts as maltreated. This, from the world’s second-largest ‘news’ agency, whose own editorial policy claims its reporters ‘do not offer subjective opinion,’ but intend merely ‘to enable readers and viewers to form their own judgement.’
Does your local paper carry Reuters articles on the Mideast conflict? If so, HonestReporting encourages writing to your local editor to raise awareness of Reuters’ pattern of bias, and to express your preference that Reuters’ Mideast articles no longer be carried.
UPDATE (4/21): Jeffrey Heller responded to this HonestReporting communique with this letter:
Thank you for your comments on my Washington-datelined article.
I am sorry you misconstrued my use of the phrase “flaunt in the face of opponents”. I had no intention of portraying Prime Minister Sharon as a caricatured, vindictive figure, as you suggested. Remember the Brannif Airlines commercial of 1969 ? “If you’ve got it, flaunt it?” It was meant in that spirit, following what was hailed in Israel as a major diplomatic triumph by the Israeli leader. But it’s our job as journalists to keep it simple, and if you couldn’t understand it, then perhaps I could have said it better.
As for the “sum of all (Palestinian) fears”: Forget the expressions of Palestinian outrage over a significant shift in policy by the United States, the world’s only superpower and the main sponsor of Middle East peace efforts. How about an official in Sharon’s own entourage who remarked to me about the “shock and awe” President Bush’s statement was causing among Palestinians and in the Arab world? Bush’s public recognition that Israel could not be expected to part with all of the West Bank or take in Palestinian refugees was far from a mere setback for the Palestinian Authority.
And finally, the Likud platform’s reference to the “unassailable right of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel”: If that’s not rooted in the Bible, then I guess I read the wrong book before immigrating to Israel and making the Jewish biblical homeland my home.
Editor in charge
Thank you for your ongoing involvement in the battle against media bias.