The 2015 Dishonest Reporting Awards

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The year began with Islamic terror in Paris, but was dominated by the Iranian nuclear talks and strained US-Israeli ties. A wave of Palestinian stabbing and car-ramming attacks began with the Jewish new year. As 2015 draws to a close, Islamic terror has struck the West again, with Paris suffering even more bloodshed.

The 2015 Dishonest Reporting Awards

1. Best Reason to Handle Palestinian Sources With Care: The Gaza Flood Libel

2. Most Bigoted Journalist: Kitty Holland

3. Worst Abuse of Anonymous Sources: Haaretz

4. Smear of the Year: Fareed Zakaria

5. Most Unholy Row: New York Times

6. Great Moments in Self-Embellishing: Brian Williams

7. Dumbest Twitter Rant: Jim Clancy

8. Most Maddening Map Misrepresentation: MSNBC

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And who is the overall Dishonest Reporter of 2015? We’ll announce that next week, so stay tuned! Click here to find out why the BBC won. Without further ado, here are the runner-up winners.

 

DRA-silhouette-25x2531. Best Reason to Handle Palestinian Sources With Care: The Gaza Flood Libel

 

Following heavy February storms, Palestinians accused Israel of flooding Gaza by opening southern dams. The allegations appeared in a number of media outlets including AFP, Al-Jazeera, Russia Today, Xinhua, and the Palestinian Maan News.

Sources for this charge included the chief of the Strip’s Hamas-run civil defense agency, Brigadier General Said Al-Saudi, while Russia Today wrote that “Almost every year without prior notice, Israel opens the floodgates to their dams in the direction of Gaza to discharge massive quantities of excessive water that accumulated during heavy rains or snowfall in the Naqab region.”

There was one major problem with the story however – there are no dams in southern Israel! Gaza’s flooding was simply due to heavy rain and poor drainage. When this became clear, AFP, as the one mainstream and purportedly credible media outlet removed its video of the story. Al Jazeera retracted its article, even issuing an apology.

However, the Daily Mail didn’t get the memo and republished the story.

1-DailyMailBig

After a lengthy email exchange with HonestReporting, the Mail Online made a somewhat pathetic attempt to clean up the article, changing the headline and removing Palestinian quotes and incriminating photo captions, before finally conceding the story was bogus.

An earlier version of this article stated that Israel had opened river dams in the south of the country, causing flooding in the Gaza strip. In fact, there are no dams in southern Israel and the flooding was caused by rain and drainage issues. We are happy to clarify this.

DRA-silhouette-25x2532. Most Bigoted Journalist: Kitty Holland

 

When notified of an error in their story, some journalists will say thank you and make a correction. Others will politely disagree.

But after HonestReporting’s managing editor, Simon Plosker started a Twitter conversation with Irish Times journalist Kitty Holland, things turned ugly.

Instead of addressing a genuine issue concerning her questionable report on an Amnesty International charge that Israel had committed “war crimes,” Holland tweeted:

Holland’s appalling tweet speaks volumes about her attitude not only towards Israel but also the majority of Jews who consider themselves to be Zionists. But how could the Irish Times find this acceptable? The answer came a few months later in an email response to HonestReporting from the newspaper’s editor, Kevin O’Sullivan, concerning other articles biased against Israel:

The Irish Times has always been, and remains, committed to unbiased reporting and the correction where appropriate of factual errors. We are delighted normally to engage in a dialogue with our readers to that end, but I draw the line at dealing with an organization whose website provides a platform for racist, Islamophobic, and sexist material . . .

Yet again, someone from the Irish Times preferred to dismiss any valid criticism as an illegitimate product of “Zionists” or, in the latter case, an organization the editor clearly doesn’t like.

DRA-silhouette-25x2533. Worst Abuse of Anonymous Sources: Haaretz

 

Erasmus

Desiderius Erasmus

A famous comment by the Dutch Renaissance philosopher, Erasmus, subsequently adopted by many blues musicians, applies to anonymous news sources too: Can’t live with them, can’t live without them.

Journalists need anonymous sources because their information provides reporters a better understanding of events. But when readers don’t know who the unidentified speaker is, news consumers have to make a leap of faith that the source is credible and doesn’t have an agenda of his or her own.

Because the public discourse can’t live with or without anonymous sources, journalism has adopted ethical guidelines. Two guidelines were blatantly violated by Haaretz when it based a story on two “senior administration officials in Washington” who smeared Israeli objections to the Iranian nuclear accord.

  1. Reports must contain at least one identified source. No story should ever be pegged solely on anonymous figures.
  2. Care must be given when quoting an unidentified individual’s opinions, rather than facts. It’s unethical to allow someone to attack another behind a shield of anonymity.

Inappropriate use of anonymous sources like this can only fuel public mistrust of the news industry. What would Erasmus and blues musicians say about that?

DRA-silhouette-25x2534. Smear of the Year: Fareed Zakaria

 

As divisive as it was for American Jewry, there were plenty of valid reasons to argue for and against the Iranian nuclear accord. While personal, partisan attacks are an unfortunate part of the public discourse, it’s even more regrettable when news personalities descend into the mudslinging.

One example that especially stood out was when CNN analyst Fareed Zakaria unfairly smeared critics of the nuclear deal with the dual loyalty charge. Here’s what Zakaria said to presenter Brooke Baldwin (you can skip ahead to the 1:36 mark).

To which a Tablet staff-ed responded:

What we increasingly can’t stomach—and feel obliged to speak out about right now—is the use of Jew-baiting and other blatant and retrograde forms of racial and ethnic prejudice as tools to sell a political deal, or to smear those who oppose it. Accusing Senator Schumer of loyalty to a foreign government is bigotry, pure and simple. Accusing Senators and Congressmen whose misgivings about the Iran deal are shared by a majority of the U.S. electorate of being agents of a foreign power, or of selling their votes to shadowy lobbyists, or of acting contrary to the best interests of the United States, is the kind of naked appeal to bigotry and prejudice that would be familiar in the politics of the pre-Civil Rights Era South.

 

This use of anti-Jewish incitement as a political tool is a sickening new development in American political discourse, and we have heard too much of it lately—some coming, ominously, from our own White House and its representatives. Let’s not mince words: Murmuring about “money” and “lobbying” and “foreign interests” who seek to drag America into war is a direct attempt to play the dual-loyalty card. It’s the kind of dark, nasty stuff we might expect to hear at a white power rally, not from the President of the United States—and it’s gotten so blatant that even many of us who are generally sympathetic to the administration, and even this deal, have been shaken by it.

DRA-silhouette-25x2535. Most Unholy Row: New York Times

 

When the Palestinian Authority accused Israel of altering the status-quo arrangements on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, the New York Times weighed in with an article questioning whether the ancient Jewish Temples were located in the contested area. The Times ignored the consensus among leading historians that the Temple Mount was indeed the location (hence the current name “Temple Mount,”) for these structures, but seemed oblivious to the damage that the inaccurate article’s timing would cause.

With Arabs denying Jewish connections to the hilltop esplanade and heavy Jewish criticism, the Times first ran a small correction to try and fix the damage, then published an unrelated second correction about the Islamic Waqf, which administers the Temple Mount.

But even one historian quoted in the original article, Jodi Magness, ended up writing a letter to the Times complaining that her words were taken out of context and clarifying that the Jewish Temples were indeed located at the site. This prompted the Times to issue an editorial statement making clear that the article as originally worded was incorrect — and that no credible historian doubts either the existence of the Temples in that location, or that the area is considered Judaism’s holiest site.

NYTtemplemount

DRA-silhouette-25x2536. Great Moments in Self-Embellishing: Brian Williams

 

NBC News anchor Brian Williams lost credibility and his prestigious anchor chair when he bragged on air about being on a US Army helicopter in Iraq that had been shot down. After he took himself off the air to allow NBC executives to investigate, a other examples of exaggerated self-promotion came to light.

Williams’ tales sounded dramatic, but, among other things, it turned out he didn’t see dead bodies floating by his hotel room in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina, and his story of a Hezbollah Katyusha flying underneath an Israeli helicopter he was riding in wasn’t so dramatic either, with the rocket being quite a distance from the aircraft.

Having served out a six month suspension, Williams adjusting to his new role with MSNBC while Lester Holt has taken over the NBC Nightly News anchor chair. Has Williams learned his lesson? Only time will tell.

DRA-silhouette-25x2537. Dumbest Twitter Rant: Jim Clancy

 

Thanks to social media, people can tell the world what they really think. And that seems to be exactly what CNN anchor Jim Clancy did in a bizarre rant on Twitter in January. It cost Clancy his job and his credibility, and left untold numbers of readers feeling liked they just witnessed a particularly gruesome highway accident.

It began innocently enough. Clancy tweeted his take on the shocking terror attack on the Paris office of Charlie Hebdo. He was challenged by Oren Kessler, a commentator on Israel affairs. And then the floodgates opened . . .

 

 

Clancy’s first tweet back to Kessler simply said, “Hasbara?” – as though any comment from an expert on Israel is nothing more than an effort to promote Israel. The news veteran then dug in his heels and, in a series of tweets – some of which were subsequently removed – lashed out at anyone who disagreed with him. Amazingly, he even lumped together the pro-Israel blogger Elder of Ziyon with the anti-Semitic Jews Making News Twitter account as part of the “Hasbara team.”

As HonestReporting’s Simon Plosker noted:

Twitter often exposes the real thoughts of prominent users, including media personalities. Jim Clancy has given us a window into his worldview and it isn’t pleasant. Nor is it appropriate for a CNN anchorman.

CNN must have agreed. Ten days later, the news network announced it was ending its 30-year relationship with Clancy. While no direct reason for the anchor’s departure was announced, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that his outrageous and inappropriate Twitter outburst had something to do with Clancy’s dismissal.

DRA-silhouette-25x2538. Most Maddening Map Misrepresentation: MSNBC

 

As the Palestinian wave of violence picked up momentum in October, the media suddenly found itself in need of a plausible perspective to “explain” the stabbings, car rammings, and shootings.

MSNBC found a novel way to present wanton Palestinian aggression as reasonable and appropriate – by leaning on outright pro-Palestinian propaganda in the form of a series of maps distorting the region’s history.

Even a small amount of research would have revealed the maps’ distortions, so it wasn’t long before MSNBC apologized on the air.

But the lesson of this episode, however, if far more insidious: Media outlets care more about artificial “balance” in their coverage of attacks on Israel than on giving readers or viewers a clear picture of what’s going on.

Of course, if journalists wanted to depict Palestinian intentions with a map, they could easily find one that erases Israel entirely. Now that would show what’s really at the heart of the current wave of violence.

 

Image of Temple Mount CC BY-NC flickr/marielinden4, flickr/Jeremy Piehler and CC BY-SA-NC HonestReporting

 

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