The 2016 Dishonest Reporting Awards

The year began amid a wave of Palestinian car-ramming, stabbing and shooting attacks. But Israel was largely a peripheral part of the year’s biggest stories: Donald Trump, Brexit, Russia’s rise, violence in Syria, and Islamic terror attacks in Europe.

We thank our readers for their nominations and thoughts on 2016. Here are the runner-up winners. As for the overall Dishonest Reporter of 2016 chosen by HR readers, we’ll announce that next week, so stay tuned!, see Why Headline Writers Won, along with Why Headlines Matter.

The 2016 Dishonest Reporting Runner-Up Awards

1. Most Distrusted Reporter: Luke Baker, Reuters

2. Most Malicious Media Outlet: The Independent

3. Most Anti-Semitic Editor: Leila Hatoum, Newsweek Middle East

4. Worst Celebrations of Special Days: AFP

5. Best Example of a Blood Libel’s Half Life: Sydney Morning Herald

6. Best Glimmer of Hope: National Public Radio

 

DRA-silhouette-25x253Most Distrusted Reporter: Luke Baker

Luke Baker (Source: Twitter)As Reuters bureau chief in Jerusalem, Luke Baker was already on HonestReporting’s radar. But Baker really came to the fore in 2016.

At the height of the wave of Palestinian terror attacks and the resulting rash of appalling headlines and faulty news reports, Baker — in his capacity as then head of Israel’s Foreign Press Association (FPA) — was invited (not forced) to give testimony to a sub-committee meeting of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee examining the impact of media bias.

Baker termed the meeting a “witch-hunt,” though an FPA statement acknowledged the role of watchdog organizations, mentioning HonestReporting by name, saying “these groups are very active and foreign media editors take very seriously any errors brought to their attention. Corrections are frequently issued.”

But after touting HonestReporting as the very reason why Knesset oversight is not needed, Baker went on to:

  1. Tell Globes that mistakes are corrected “as soon as possible,” and that “claims of bias in reporting are annoying.”
  2. Block HonestReporting on Twitter;
  3. Refer to HonestReporting’s work as “laughable” and “strangely one sided“;
  4. Call HonestReporting a “pressure group

 

laughable crop

 

Moreover, throughout the year, Baker repeatedly tweeted his disdain for Israel. Targets of derision included Israeli security as “idiocy,” political groups he called “Jewish nutjobs.” Veteran Arab-Israeli journalist Khaled Abu Toameh’s serious criticism of the media was dismissed as a “a joke” and “comprised of silly anecdote[s].” And the Jerusalem bureau chief’s defense of a flawed report on Palestinian Olympic swimmers only reinforced his reputation as thin-skinned to criticism.

As a result of HonestReporting’s mounting body of evidence, investigative journalist Richard Behar wrote a detailed and damning expose of Baker, quoting journalism professor and former editor Gene Foreman’s concern that Baker was making a mistake to be “indulging in commentary” at the risk of “undermining his credibility.”

Mr. Baker’s editor should talk with him about the tweets. I envision this as a respectful conversation between serious journalists. The editor should emphasize that certain of his tweets might be damaging his own reporting and that of his Reuters colleagues. The editor should hear him out, but ultimately he would be expected to observe Reuters policy on impartial reporting in all media.

 

DRA-silhouette-25x253Most Malicious Media Outlet: The Independent

indylogoHonestReporting prompted more corrections from The Independent than any other media outlet during 2016. Many of these corrections were factual errors that could be put down to poor fact-checking or carelessness. But a look at the Israeli stories they chose as well as the errors the paper refused to correct point to a far deeper problem.

The Independent currently has one dedicated reporter for the region, Bethan McKernan, who has primarily covered the violence in Syria from her base in Beirut. Most of the paper’s Israel stories this year were written by desk journalists back in the UK who scan other sources on the lookout for juicy stories to rehash that will appeal to The Independent’s readership. Unfortunately, the paper’s readers aren’t fans of Israel.

Thus, editors judged that readers needed to know about pedophiles finding a haven in Israel. The story legitimately originated in the Times of Israel because the issue is part of domestic Israeli debate. But The Independent’s interest is the journalistic equivalent of gawking out of morbid curiosity — and clickbait.

And another story made an unnecessarily big deal about the Knesset banning miniskirts from the parliament building — despite the fact that the UK parliament has its own standards of attire too.

However, there’s a difference between disproportionate attention on Israel’s warts and republishing blatantly false stories. When Al-Jazeera published a story, based on uncorroborated Palestinian sources, accusing Israel of cutting off the water supplies to Palestinian villages in the West Bank, The Independent was quick to jump on the bandwagon.

 

independent headline

 

But when confronted with the reality that the drop in water pressure had been caused by a burst water pipe along with poor maintenance on the part of the Palestinians themselves, The Independent stood its ground and simply altered the sub-header to indicate Israel’s denials.

In March, the search for incriminating news also led to this dramatic charge:

 

independent080316

 

While a Pew survey painted a concerning picture of some parts of the country’s society, The Independent didn’t bother to offer any real context. Even Haaretz, which has very few limits when it comes to criticizing Israel, offered some expert criticism of the vague wording of the key question, and other flaws.

Other standout errors corrected following HR’s intervention:

  • Referring to or implying Tel Aviv as Israel’s capital not once but three times.
  • Stating that the 1949 armistice line (or Green Line) was agreed between Israel and a non-existent “Palestine.”
  • Publishing a graphic attributing a British World War II pilot’s birthplace as “Palestine” along with a Palestinian flag (the territory was then under the British Mandate).
  • Wrongly stating that Hamas took over Gaza after winning local elections. (Hamas violently seized the Strip from the PA in 2007.)
  • Despite historical and archaeological facts to back it up, stating that Israel merely “claims” that Jews have been living in the region for thousands of years.

Last but not least, columnists Robert Fisk and Rupert Cornwell launched vicious posthumous attacks on Shimon Peres and Elie Wiesel respectively.

Shimon Peres and Elie Wiesel

Shimon Peres and Elie Wiesel

 

DRA-silhouette-25x253Most Anti-Semitic Editor: Leila Hatoum, Newsweek Middle East

When Newsweek Middle East’s Senior Deputy Editor Leila Hatoum tweeted the extremist anti-Israel site Electronic Intifada to promote a Palestinian propaganda video created by Newsweek Middle East, it was clear that she had a serious problem with Israel. But when she was called out on Twitter, responses like these demonstrated a far more disturbing attitude.

hatoum-tweets

The Israellycool blog took a further look back at Hatoum’s Twitter feed and found some more blatantly anti-Semitic tweets that made it crystal clear that Leila Hatoum has a problem with Jews:

leila5

 

leila4

 

Newsweek Middle East is an affiliate of the parent Newsweek magazine; when HonestReporting brought Hatoum’s indiscretions to the attention of her higher ups in the US, the reaction was . . . complete silence.

It’s rare to find a media personality behaving in such a blatant manner on social media. Leila Hatoum’s award is richly deserved.

 

DRA-silhouette-25x253Worst Celebrations of Special Days: AFP

afp-logoYou’d think that International Women’s Day would be a time to celebrate the accomplishments of women. But for AFP, March 8 is a day to commemorate terrorism against Israelis.

Of course not all terrorism: just terrorism against Israelis. In an emotionally charged article, the wire service lamented the hardships of Palestinian women whose husbands are held in Israeli jails. While doing so, AFP covered up that the husbands were in jail for carrying out notorious acts of murder, and covered up the salaries these wives collect from the Palestinian government as a reward for terror.

Don’t think AFP’s just a one-hit-wonder. The wire service noted World Press Freedom Day on May 3 lamenting Israel’s arrest of “journalist” Omar Nazzal. His journalistic bona fides? Heading a Palestinian Islamic Jihad-affiliated TV station while dabbling in other activities for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. What AFP seemed to forget that terrorists wielding cameras and microphones are practicing propaganda, not journalism.

There’s plenty of other UN-designated days in 2017 for AFP to bash Israel.

 

DRA-silhouette-25x253Best Example of Blood Libel’s Half Life: Sydney Morning Herald

The Palestinian political, religious and media echelons provide more than enough online anti-Semitism and incitement. It’s bad enough can trawl the internet; even worse is that they can sometime scavenge vile images from mainstream news services too.

A case in point was in September, when Fatah ripped off a disgraceful cartoon originally published in the Sydney Morning Herald during the 2014 Gaza war. (There’s a complicated train wreck of a backstory to Glenn LeLievre’s cartoon: Besides the fact the SMH apologized for the cartoon, the columnist whose commentary it illustrated ultimately quit.)

 

Sydney Morning Herald

Editors noted in the SMH apology that “in using the Star of David and the kippah in the cartoon, the newspaper invoked an inappropriate element of religion, rather than nationhood, and made a serious error of judgment,” adding, “It was wrong to publish the cartoon in its original form.”

As HonestReporting noted after Fatah resurrected the cartoon:

Anti-Semitic images like this have long lives on the internet, usually in the darker corners of the world wide web. That’s why mainstream editors have a special responsibility not to give such anti-Semitic illustrations legitimacy or legs.

 

DRA-silhouette-25x253Best Glimmer of Hope: National Public Radio

Looking back, 2016 wasn’t all gloomy. A faulty map illustrating a story for National Public Radio led to a perfect storm of grassroots effort getting results. It all started when a woman we’ll call “Olivia” alerted us to an NPR feature entitled What Are You Afraid Of In 2016? Globetrotters Share Their Fears. An illustrative map included every Middle East and wider regional state — except for Israel, which was replaced with “Palestine.”

npr240116

 

HonestReporting suggested that unless NPR was trying to depict the entire Muslim world as something to be afraid of in 2016, it should include Israel in the map, or remove the image in its entirety.

Following reader complaints and our own correspondence with ombudsman Elizabeth Jensen, NPR removed the map, and Jensen published an explanation taking “responsibility for these errors because of our failure to check the map carefully,” and crediting HonestReporting readers for speaking up.

From beginning to end, this was a case study in how readers and HonestReporting got results by working together.

While we hope the media improves its coverage in 2017, we also look forward to working with our readers to have more successes like this.

 

Next week, we’ll announce our readers’ choice for the overall Dishonest Reporter of 2016.

 

Featured image: Vectors by Vecteezy.com; Peres CC BY-NC-SA World Economic Forum; Wiesel CC BY Wikimedia Commons/David Shankbone;

 

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