Special Report on CNN

The last time HonestReporting took on CNN was in February, when we pointed out the depth of problems in CNN’s reporting in failing to call suicide bombings “terrorism,” and for failing to put a “name and face” on Israeli victims — while personalizing the bomber by mentioning his name, age and hometown.

Why did HonestReporting wait so long to analyze CNN’s reporting again?

Frankly, your massive response in February so overwhelmed CNN — Eason Jordan, the chief news executive of CNN, said he could find up to 6,000 e-mail messages protesting coverage in his in-box in a single day — that HonestReporting was invited to enter into dialogue with CNN executives. (Since anti-Israel activists monitor HonestReporting columns, we will not divulge details.)

The good news: Through discussions and ongoing analysis, we found a genuine sensitivity to HonestReporting’s concerns at CNN’s Atlanta-based headquarters.

The bad news: We find a “different story” in the reports filed by Mike Hanna, Jerrold Kessel, Christiane Amanpour, Rula Amin and other CNN correspondents in the region. For example, Sheila MacVicar’s first report from last week’s Gilo bombing, as the burnt bodies were being removed from the bus, noted that Palestinians consider Gilo an “illegal settlement.”

(In fact, the blast didn’t take place in Gilo, but rather within pre-1967 Jerusalem, or at least in “no-man’s land.” But either way, MacVicar’s reference to “illegal settlement” gives an element of legitimacy to this mass murder.)

We suspect that CNN policy is often driven by the foreign bureaus, rather than by CNN’s headquarters. As senior CNN executives visit Israel this week, we hope and expect that to change.

The following are some recent actions taken by CNN-Atlanta to challenge or correct reporting from its Mideast reporters:

— In response to the complaints in February, CNN posted a profile of Keren Shatsky, one of the Israeli terror victims, as well as an interview with the girl’s mother.

— Subsequently, the term “Palestinian terror” has begin to show up regularly on CNN.com (prepared in Atlanta). Meanwhile, the term “terrorist” is rarely if ever uttered by the CNN correspondents, even when reporting from the gory epicenter of terrorist carnage.

— In April, when Palestinian spokesman Saeb Erekat claimed that 500 Palestinians were massacred in Jenin, Atlanta-based anchor Bill Hemmer demanded to see proof, and challenged him: If [Israel’s] numbers are right and your initial numbers are wrong, will you come back here on our network and retract what you said?”

Erekat replied: “Absolutely.” (Though we are still waiting for that public retraction on CNN.)

— On April 16, the height of the media frenzy in Jenin, CNN’s U.S.-based anchors repeatedly challenged CNN correspondent Rula Amin and a UN official, reminding them that no proof had been presented of a massacre.

CNN’s Daryn Kagan, for example, told Rula Amin: “Clearly what we are looking at is a different perception here. Rula, I am sure, as we can see from the pictures, a number of homes have been destroyed. But the Israelis would point out that they believe there were gunman and fighters holing out in those houses, and that’s why they had to be attacked so fiercely.”

— On April 9, New York-based anchor, Paula Zahn, interrupted Rula Amin’s report: “All right, Rula, by the same token, the Israelis argue there’s a very good reason why they went into Jenin in the first place, that they know that men who are very active in the Palestinian Authority’s violence against Israel are located there.”

— In late May, CNN interviewed Chen Keinan, whose mother and daughter were killed by terrorists. To the Keinan family’s shock, CNN International broadcast something else. “We sat down to watch the special interview with us,” Chen later said, “and instead, to our amazement, we got only the interview with the mother of the terrorist who carried out the terror attack in which my daughter and mother were murdered.”

Within days, CNN broadcast the Keinan interview in full and issued this statement: “CNN deeply regrets any extra anguish the Keinan family has suffered as a result of CNN’s broadcast Friday night.” Walter Isaacson, CNN’s chairman, admitted in an email, “Yes, it was a mistake not to air the full international version of the interview immediately on Friday night. It was a technical mess-up not an editorial decision.”

CNN subsequently aired extensively the interview with the Keinan family. A partial transcript is online at:

CNN has now gone one step further to rectify the problem, and has announced that, barring an “extraordinarily compelling situation,” CNN will refuse to air any videotape or statements of suicide bombers or their families.

— In response to Ted Turner’s recent interview with The Guardian equating Israeli actions with Palestinian terrorism, CNN issued a statement, saying that Turner “has no operational or editorial oversight of CNN” and was speaking for himself. Without excusing the stupidity of Turner’s comments, CNN noted that his comments were made two months ago, at the height of the Jenin media frenzy, and Turner has since backtracked.

[The Guardian, by the way, should be taken for task for misreporting on June 18 when the Turner interview took place: “Ted Turner, the billionaire founder of CNN, accuses Israel today (sic) of engaging in ‘terrorism’ against the Palestinians.”]

— CNN’s Wolf Blitzer is in Israel this week doing special reports on Israeli victims of terror. The reports are running on primetime on CNN International every evening, and will be excerpted on Blitzer’s show in the U.S.

The first special report included a sensitive bedside interview with Penina Eisenman, a young mother who lost her daughter and mother last week. The second half contained a roundtable discussion led by Blitzer with three survivors of terrorism.

— CNN.com has launched a special section devoted to Israeli victims of terror. It features victims’ names, bios and description of the attack, a timeline of terror attacks, a chart featuring the equivalent death ratios in other countries, and interviews with a victim’s family.

* * *

Positive signs abound of a shift in public attitudes. President Bush’s speech placed the blame for the region’s ills squarely on the shoulders of Arafat and the PA. (Bush: “Today, Palestinian authorities are encouraging, not opposing terrorism.”)

We believe that CNN, too, has begun to “wake up” from its long slumber. Eason Jordan, CNN’s Chief News Executive, says he has issued a directive ordering staff to “go to extremes” to avoid any impression the company sees moral equivalence between terror victims and their attackers.

Yet CNN still has a long way to go to restore the trust of the consumer public. CNN’s coverage has already led many viewers to switch to competitors
, and in Israel, the local cable company announced last week that it will begin carrying Fox News.

And there are more unresolved problems. For example, CNN’s bio of Yasser Arafat woefully under-reports his history of terror. “I am one of the victims,” CNN quotes Arafat as saying.

Recommendation to HonestReporting members:

  1. Continue monitoring CNN’s coverage.
  2. Watch for differences between CNN’s U.S.-based coverage and the coverage coming from its bureaus and correspondents overseas.
  3. Monitor the coverage from CNN’s star correspondents who don their safari jacket, parachute into the conflict, and begin their broadcasts.
  4. Monitor CNN’s website and compare the Internet coverage to the broadcast coverage.
  5. Discuss CNN’s coverage with your local cable station directors and advertisers.
  6. Email POLITE criticism and comments to CNN. Praise as well as complain, when appropriate.

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



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