Innocents Abroad – Or Bias Afoot?


Dear HonestReporting Member,

Last month, 17 American journalists visited Israel and the Palestinian territories on a tour organized by the National Conference of Editorial Writers (NCEW). In recent weeks, their impressions and opinions have found their way onto newspaper pages in Denver, Phoenix, Minneapolis, Miami and Detroit.

Some of these reports exhibit strong anti-Israel bias, including fawning over an interview with Yasser Arafat, and distortions as a result of overexposure to fringe Israeli spokesmen.

One Israeli is Jeff Halper, who publishes a magazine critical of Israeli policy, and coordinates a “Committee Against House Demolitions.” Halper briefed the journalists, and helped arrange visits to Beit Jala, Bethlehem and Hebron. It is little wonder that some of the writers returned home calling for the dismantling of settlements, for the introduction of American observers in the territories, and for the internationalization of holy sites.

On the other hand, HonestReporting found some of the articles unbiased and perceptive, giving equal time to all sides. In some cases, the writers were critical of Palestinian violence and Arafat’s rejection of the Camp David proposals offered by Ehud Barak.

Below are some of the writers who were on the tour, with e-mail addresses and links to their articles. (If a URL does not fit onto one line of this e-mail, paste the parts into your browser, and remove any spaces that appear in the URL address field.)

Kathleen Ingley – Arizona Republic (Phoenix)

Linda Seebach – Rocky Mountain News (Denver)

Lisa Hoff – Minneapolis Star Tribune”

HonestReporting encourages members to read these articles and to watch for other tour participants writing in your local paper.

HonestReporting also encourages members to write to the National Conference of Editorial Writers. We do not question the good intentions and impartialness of the Conference, but we believe they should publish a full list of participants, and full disclosure of the tour’s itinerary, organizers, facilitators and guides.

(Note: Following a swarm of e-mails from HonestReporting, the NCEW eventually did publish)

Write to:
National Conference of Editorial Writers
6223 Executive Boulevard, Rockville, MD 20852
TEL: (301) 984-3015
FAX: (301) 231-0026

======== CHARMING YASSER ========

Finally, we turn our attention to delegation leader Dave Hage — editorial writer of the Minneapolis Star Tribune and chair of the NCEW’s International Affairs committee. Here are two of Hage’s articles:

“Occupation makes daily life an ordeal for Palestinians”
HonestReporting members in Minneapolis reacted sharply to another column by Hage, a fawning tribute to “charming” Arafat, entitled “Palestinians don’t hate U.S., they see it as their best hope.” Following is an excerpt:

“I’ve been in Israel and the neighboring Palestinian territories for five days with a group of American journalists. Our Palestinian hosts have given us dinner in Ramallah, buttermilk in Hebron, a walking tour of Bethlehem and hours of patient interviews. They have been warm and gracious in a way that makes us feel like clumsy Americans… In an 80-minute interview, Arafat castigated Israel for occupying Palestinian communities, cast himself as a peacemaker and bridled when asked if he is doing enough to stop Palestinian terrorists. But mostly he was charming.”

They say you can tell a man’s stand by where his column sits, and this particular column appears, significantly, on the Palestinian Authority website.

Respond to Hage’s columns by writing to:
Editorial Department – Star Tribune
425 Portland Av., Minneapolis, MN 55488

The most effective method is to write a letter in your own words. For ideas, read the following actual reader letters, printed in the Star Tribune.

Thank you for your ongoing involvement in the battle against media bias.

==== Letters printed in Minneapolis Star Tribune ======

> From Jeremy Edes Pierotti, Minneapolis — Contrary to Dave Hage’s assessment, Yasser Arafat is not “charming” or a “peacemaker.” Arafat harbors terrorists.

Fact: On Sept. 21, Palestinian Authority TV (controlled by Arafat) broadcast its weekly sermon. After accusing Jewish leaders of orchestrating the Holocaust, the sermon insisted that “this war, between us and the Jews, will continue to escalate until we vanquish the Jews and enter Jerusalem as conquerors.”

Fact: Arafat’s Palestinian Authority continues to teach its schoolchildren that Israel has no right to exist. Palestinian textbooks do not even show Israel on a map of the Middle East.

Fact: Arafat has not arrested Palestinian militants. On Oct. 21, the New York Times reported that although the Palestinian Authority claimed to have arrested a terrorist from Bethlehem on Israel’s most-wanted list, he was instead “driving a stolen Mitsubishi sport utility vehicle.”

If Arafat wants to eliminate “despair in the Palestinian towns,” he should use his police force of 50,000 to arrest terrorist leaders and outlaw terrorist groups. Then Arafat should accept the peace proposal offered last year by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and President Bill Clinton, a proposal that gives Palestinians a state, over half of Jerusalem and 95 percent of the Gaza Strip and West Bank.

If Arafat truly wants peace, this is where he should s
tart. Actions speak louder than words.


From JoAnn Magnuson, Lakeville — Reading Dave Hage’s assessment of the situation in Israel and the Palestinian territories left me with the feeling that I had been paging through Mark Twain’s “Innocents Abroad.” Hage’s account of his five days in the region is embarrassingly naive.

Hage’s only statements verging on insight are attributed to a rhetorical skeptic who wonders why gracious Arafat, who wants only peace, rejected the generous Camp David offer of 2000, and a rhetorical cynic who suggests that Arafat may be courting U.S. favor only out of fear of being branded a terrorist.

Hage dismisses the skeptic and cynic, suggesting that Arafat should be trusted because Hage heard the same message “from every other Palestinian.” Is this Hage’s first visit to a totalitarian society? When a society is ruled by corrupt public officials who never run for their offices in serious elections, one should not be surprised to hear the identical message again and again. It is known as the “party line.” Rather than consider the questions raised by his straw-man cynic and skeptic, Hage tells how charming Arafat was and says that being with Arafat and the Palestinians in Gaza “feels like a place full of friends who are counting on them [the Americans].”

Five days of interviewing people who have everything to gain by making a good impression on him, a dinner, a drink and a walking tour, and Hage has found lasting friendship. If that works for him, that’s fine. But don’t foist this foolishness upon your readership.


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