by Yated Ne'eman Staff
Dishonest Reporting Awards of 2002
The worldwide media have much to be embarrassed about this
past year. Disturbingly, the problems noted here do not seem
to be driven by incompetence, but rather by ideology.
HonestReporting, an independent media watch organization that
claims 55,000 members, has again awarded its Dishonest
Reporting Award of 2002. The winner was selected from
hundreds of entries of bad reporting about Israel and the
current conflict with the Palestinians.
HonestReporting says that it took many factors into account:
Was there a policy of deliberate bias? Were reports based on
unreliable sources or no sources at all? Did the reporter or
publication refuse to admit its errors? The organization took
nominations from all its members.
The winner of the Dishonest Reporting Award 2002 is the
British media for its coverage of the fighting in Jenin.
A huge number of nominations expressed alarm over media
coverage of the Jenin battle in April. Most notably, the
British media reported "facts" of IDF massacres, atrocities,
summary executions, and mass graves -- which in the end were
shown by United Nations and Human Rights Watch reports to
have been fabricated by "overzealous" Palestinian
Here are a few examples of how the British media reported on
* "We are talking here of massacre, and a cover-up, of
genocide . . . " -- London Evening Standard
* "Rarely, in more than a decade of war reporting from
Bosnia, Chechnya, Sierra Leone, Kosovo, have I seen such
deliberate destruction, such disrespect for human life." --
The Times of London
* Israel's actions in Jenin were "every bit as repellent" as
Osama bin Laden's attack on New York on September 11. --
* "Hundreds of victims `were buried by bulldozer in a mass
grave.' " -- Daily Telegraph
Why the overzealous reaction based on spurious evidence?
Alon Ben-David, a veteran military correspondent for the
Israeli Broadcasting Authority (and currently at Harvard),
told UPI (which did a thorough investigation of the problems
soon after the fact): "A large part of the European media
regards itself as not just reporters but as ideological
crusaders. They are in the business of journalism not just
for the business. They want to do good in the world. They
This bad reporting has had consequences as well. Looking
back, the alarmist Jenin coverage has since impacted the
Mideast conflict in three key respects:
1) Palestinian Mythology
By allowing unfounded rumors to be reported as factual, the
media has helped create a false Palestinian mythology over
the battle of Jenin: the few fought the many and bravely
chose to die in battle rather than surrender. Just as plenty
of people are willing to believe that the Israeli Mossad was
somehow behind September 11, plenty are willing to believe
that the IDF got away with murder in Jenin, too.
This slipshod coverage adds fuel to the fire of those who
falsely accuse the IDF of using excessive force. In reality,
by using ground troops instead of an aerial assault, IDF
troops put themselves in danger in order to spare Palestinian
casualties -- and lost 23 soldiers in Jenin.
Since these myths are now part of Palestinian lore, true
reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians becomes more
difficult. Palestinians will resurrect and spuriously compare
Jenin to Sabra and Shatilla (where Christian Phalangists
indeed massacred hundreds of Palestinian refugees), proving
how poor media coverage of events can further widen the
2) Residual References
Even after the allegations of a "massacre" were proven false,
some of the media can't seem to let go. In August, Peter Cave
of Australia's ABC insisted:
"I personally saw 30 Palestinian corpses at the hospital on
April the 20th, and with dozens of other foreign reporters,
watched them being buried at a mass grave just up the road
from the hospital... Just as in Tiananmen Square, the power
of the gun and the tank ensured there was no proper body
count or accounting. Just as happened in Tiananmen Square,
the uninformed and those with their own agenda, are now
claiming there was no massacre. There was a massacre, a
considerable number of human beings were indiscriminately and
unnecessarily slaughtered . . . "
The media continues to trump up the Jenin charges in other
ways. In November, when former IDF chief of staff Shaul Mofaz
was appointed Defense Minister, the BBC reported that Mofaz
"directed some of Israel's most controversial operations in
the West Bank earlier this year, including Jenin -- where
Palestinians claim a massacre took place -- and Ramallah."
After HonestReporting complaints, the BBC subsequently
changed the wording to "Jenin -- where a Palestinian refugee
camp was all but demolished . . . "
This, too, is biased wording, as fighting only took place in
a 200-square-meter area -- no more than about 6 percent of
the total area of the camp.
3) Credibility of Palestinian Spokesmen
HonestReporting has encouraged the media to challenge
specious and inaccurate claims made by Palestinian spokesmen,
particularly the charges of massacres. On April 14, Saeb
Erekat was challenged by CNN's Bill Hemmer: "You said
specifically, and others said, 500 in Jenin . . . Where are
you getting evidence that shows 500 people were killed there?
. . . 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?"
(We're still waiting.)
With so many Palestinian spokesmen issuing false accusations
about Jenin, this calls into question the general
advisability of the media relying on Palestinian claims.
In April, Palestinian spokesman Nabil Sha'ath went on CNN to
report that 30 Palestinian women died in labor at Israeli
checkpoints. The canard joins other Palestinian claims of
Israel using radioactive ammunition, Nazi tactics, and nerve
gas, along with the charges that Jewish settlers tortured
Palestinians (though investigations later revealed they had
actually died in traffic accidents or were executed by
Palestinians as "collaborators").
Also in April, Palestinian spokesmen claimed that documents
confiscated from Arafat's compound in Ramallah detailing
Arafat's senior advisors' involvement in suicide bombings and
terrorism, were fraudulent forgeries. Abdel Rahman told CNN:
"This is a fraud by the Israeli intelligence, sir. The
Israelis have a department that specializes in putting out
lies." And Nasser Al-Kidwa (Palestinian representative to the
UN) told CNN: " . . . some kind of James Bond activities . .
. bits and pieces of rumors and unsubstantiated claims."
If Palestinian spokespeople repeatedly use the media as a
platform to promote outright lies, doesn't the media have a
responsibility to ban that spokesperson, and to generally be
wary of unquestionably swallowing Palestinian claims?
It may take years for the Jenin dust to settle. But one thing
we have learned: The British media will not hesitate to
promote a biased anti-Israel agenda, whether or not the facts
are there to back it up.
We recall how the global chorus of condemnation prompted UN
Secretary General Kofi Annan to call on Israel to halt its
military operations. "Can the whole world be wrong?" he
In fact, the whole world was wrong. Phil Reeves of The
Independent, known as a frequent critic of Israel, wrote
of Jenin: "Even journalists have to admit they're wrong
But it was too little, too late. The damage had been done.
And for that, the British media deserves the Dishonest
Reporting Award 2002.
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