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Journalism under pressure

In an article about the freelance photographer who was sacked by Reuters, Los Angeles Time columnist Tim Rutten wrote this a week ago:

Moreover, the obscenely anti-Israeli tenor of most of the European and world press means there’s an eager market for pictures of dead Lebanese babies.

It’s worth noting in this context that there is no similar flow of propagandistic images coming from the Israeli side of the border. That’s because one side — the democratically elected government of Israel — views death as a tragedy and the other — the Iranian financed terrorist organization Hezbollah — sees it as an opportunity. In this case, turning their own dead children into material creates an opportunity to cloud the fact that every Lebanese casualty, tragic as he or she is, was killed or injured as an unavoidable consequence of Israel’s pursuit of terrorists who use their own people as human shields. Every Israeli civilian killed or injured was the victim of a terrorist attack intended to harm civilians. That alone ought to wash away any blood-stained suggestion of moral equivalency.

That brings us to the most troubling of the possible explanations for these fraudulent photos, which is that some of the photojournalists involved are either intimidated by or sympathetic to the Hezbollah terrorists. It’s a possibility fraught with harsh implications, but it needs to be examined thoroughly and openly.

I only read this because Jeff Jarvis, who had also missed it, quoted part of the above in his Buzzmachine blog today. I thank him for that although I profoundly disagree with his view that it was a “rousing and right comment”.

Up to now I have steered clear of of the issue of motivation in the use of pictures and reporting of the conflict, simply recording the action of Reuters and mentioning a picture of small girls signing bombs in Israel which spread rapidly around Arab blogs.

Rutten’s words are a bigoted calumny: a picture of black and white without any shades of meaning. I have spent a decade teaching Israelis and Palestinians, Hindus and Christians, atheists and and agnostics in the same classroom and have never found student journalists so unaware of the sensibilities of others as Rutten.

His is the way of ensuring conflict continues, not of peace.

But it made me dig deeper. Jarvis also led me to the Huffington Post’s Eat the Press which reports that Washington Post executive editor Leonard Downie Jr. has rebuked star reporter and Fiasco author Thomas E. Ricks for suggesting on CNN’s “Reliable Sources” that Israel was intentionally leaving Hezbollah rockets in Lebanon “because as long as they’re being rocketed, they can continue to have a sort of moral equivalency in their operations.” Ricks attributed the theory to “some U.S. military analysts.”

The next two paragraphs read:

The comment prompted swift action from the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America, led by former New York City mayor Ed Koch, who pressed the Post on the issue. Downie replied to Koch, writing: “I have made clear to Tom Ricks that he should not have made those statements.”

Ricks, a Pulitzer-Prize winning reporter, told the Sun, “The comments were accurate: that I said I had been told this by people. I wish I hadn’t said them, and I intend from now on to keep my mouth shut about it.”

First, note that Ricks stands-by what he has written but has been shut up. And what is the Committee of Accuracy in Middle East Report in America (Eat the Press does not give its readers the explanation they deserve)? A visit to their site and a click on “About us” tells me:

Founded in 1982, the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America is a media-monitoring, research and membership organization devoted to promoting accurate and balanced coverage of Israel and the Middle East. CAMERA fosters rigorous reporting, while educating news consumers about Middle East issues and the role of the media. Because public opinion ultimately shapes public policy, distorted news coverage that misleads the public can be detrimental to sound policymaking. A non-partisan organization, CAMERA takes no position with regard to American or Israeli political issues or with regard to ultimate solutions to the Arab-Israeli conflict.

But while there are phone numbers and links to emails there are no names, nothing about funding and no physical address. Those are the warnings that should spell BEWARE in lights to the most junior reporter who goes near them.

An intro on the front page reads:

CAMERA has long criticized Reuters for providing a platform for terrorist propaganda—not only with the photographs they distribute, but with reports from the region as well. Reuters responded by pledging to reinforce editing safeguards. But now, following the war in Lebanon between the Hezbollah terrorist group and Israel, the pledge has apparently been forgotten.

An item in their Snapshots blog starts:

The cause of British disdain for Israel might be a mystery to some Americans. It would be less so, though, if Americans understood the severely anti-Israel media coverage to which many Britons are routinely exposed.

Based on yesterday’s BBC Radio podcast—a daily compilation of “program highlights from across BBC Radio News”—this is what people listening to BBC radio on Tuesday would have likely concluded:

1. “More than a thousand Lebanese civilians” have died. About 40 Israeli civilians and 100 Israeli soldiers have been killed. Apparently no Lebanese combatants have been killed during the four weeks of fighting, as BBC made no mention of Hezbollah in its summary of casualty figures.

Wikipedia has a carefully worded entry on CAMERA which says that it was was founded in 1982 by Charles Jacobs, president of The David Project Center for Jewish Leadership. It says: “CAMERA further describes itself as a “non-partisan organization” which “takes no position with regard to American or Israeli political issues or with regard to ultimate solutions to the Arab-Israeli conflict.”

I don’t blame people who spin their cause: all sides in a conflict do that. Most journalist report what they see fairly and honestly but it is a pity that there is journalism which is less careful with words than the co-operative effort of Wiipedia.


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  1. BuzzMachine » Blog Archive » Moral proportionalism says

    […] Wordblog » Blog Archive » Journalism under pressure Says: August 19th, 2006 at 4:50 pm […]