October 22, 2014

Mideast Media Sampler 11/27/12


1) Pexton supporting Hamas

After the Jayson Blair scandal the New York Times and other newspapers introduced a “public editor.” Other newspapers, such as the Washington Post (which calls its public editor an “ombudsman”) have had them for longer. The idea behind the public editor is to have someone who outside of the newsroom or editorial offices of the newspaper act as its in-house critic. Presumably someone outside of the newspaper’s culture with a non-renewable contract can be a better critic of a newspaper than someone from within.
But public editors are usually taken from the ranks of other newspapers. While they may not be part of a given paper’s culture, they are still usually taken from newsrooms and editorial offices and are very much a part of the journalistic culture. So rather than representing the public in any meaningful way, they are more likely to explain to the uninformed public why the editors and reporters have much better judgment than their critics. One of the worst and most partisan of these public editors is the current ombudsman of the Washington Post, Patrick Pexton. On Sunday he wrote, Photo of dead baby in Gaza holds part of the ‘truth’:

A photograph may be worth a thousand words, but even at its most revealing it never tells an entire story. It is the capture of a single moment, a split-second version of the truth. But if it is an effective photograph, it moves the viewer toward a larger truth.
That’s certainly the case for a front-page photographp ublished Nov. 15, an image of a man’s anguish as he held the shrouded body of his 11-month-old son, who was killed in a bomb strike on the man’s house in Gaza.

According to the  witness account, the house was not hit by a bomb, but by shrapnel.

That the man is Palestinian — not a terrorist but a journalist — and that the bomb was dropped by Israelis, to my mind, is almost beside the point. This photo depicted loss and pain, the horrific cost to innocents on both sides of the violence in the Middle East.
But many Post readers saw it differently. Jewish groups and American Jews in large numbers wrote to the ombudsman and to Post editors, protesting the photo as biased.

Here’s Pexton marginalizing the criticism. Who objects? Jews. I would agree that the photo itself isn’t biased, but without providing greater context it is certainly misleading. Note too how Pexton slyly suggested that an innocent man was targeted by Israel.

Post staff then authenticated and verified the facts behind the Associated Press photo. The dead baby was real. The bombing was real.
Many readers asked why The Post didn’t balance the photo of the grieving father with one of Israelis who had lost a loved one from the Gaza rocket fire. That’s a valid question.
The answer is that The Post cannot publish photographs that don’t exist. No Israeli civilian had been killed by Gaza rocket fire since Oct. 29, 2011, more than a year earlier. The first Israeli civilian deaths from Gaza rocket fire in 2012 did not take place until Nov. 15, when Hamas, the group that controls Gaza, began firing more accurate and deadly missiles in response to the Israeli offensive that had begun the day before. There were no recent photos of Israeli casualties to be had on the night of Nov. 14.

Again, it wasn’t a bombing. Pexton then misdirects his readers. For years residents of southern Israel have been under rocket attack. Never has the Post cared enough to focus on the fear that Israelis live with. When Israel strikes back and there’s collateral damage (though it’s far from clear that Israel was responsible for the blast that killed the baby) that’s when the Post does a story. For people not following the news from Israel, the emphasis on the dead baby might well prompt questions as to why Israel would take an action that would have such severe consequences.

I think we can all agree that the Gaza rocket fire is reprehensible and is aimed at terrorizing Israeli civilians. It’s disruptive and traumatic. But let’s be clear: The overwhelming majority of rockets fired from Gaza are like bee stings on the Israeli bear’s behind.
These rockets are unguided and erratic, and they carry very small explosive payloads; they generally fall in open areas, causing little damage and fewer injuries.

In response, Petra Marquadt-Bigman wrote in the Algemeiner (h/t Ron M):

You can safely bet the ranch on it: When a Washington Post writer dismisses thousands of rockets as not much more than “bee stings” on a “bear’s behind,” the country that is targeted with these rockets is Israel.
The callous dismissal of the roughly 12 000 rockets and mortars that have been raining down on Israel’s south and its 1 million residents in the past 12 years – yes, on average a thousand attacks a year – is all the more outrageous when you consider that it comes from the Washington Post’s ombudsman Patrick Pexton. Officially, Pexton “represents readers who have concerns or complaints on topics including accuracy, fairness, ethics and the news-gathering process. He also serves as The Post’s internal critic and strives to promote public understanding of the newspaper, its Web site and journalism more generally.”
With his response to criticism of a recent front page photograph showing a grief-stricken father from Gaza holding the shrouded body of his infant son, Pexton certainly succeeded in giving the public a glimpse of the multiple biases that apparently guide his own work when it comes to Israel’s efforts to defend its citizens against bombs and terrorism.

“Reprehensible,” “disruptive” and “traumatic” are just words. Pexton can’t bring himself to use the word “evil.” Pexton’s blind eye, of course, distracts from the larger truth. Hamas is a terrorist organization that targets innocents. It places its rocket batteries near civilians hoping for collateral damage. If Pexton wants a picture that tells the truth, what about the marked aerial photographs showing  how Hamas places its military assets in civilian areas?

Pexton is simply a partisan hack who has no patience for criticism of the Washington Post’s editorial process. The real problem is that Hamas bases its operations near civilians in the hopes of collateral damage that will distract from Hamas’s terrorism. By publishing a dramatic picture of the collateral damage and providing no context, the Washington Post helped promote Hamas’s media strategy.

2) Carr supporting Hamas

The Washington Post hasn’t been as bad as the New York Times. The Times using not only its news pages but its opinion pages too, has been leading a campaign against Israel for years. (Pro-Israel opinion articles are outnumbered by anti-Israel opinion articles by a ratio of 4:1.)

So I guess it was only a matter of time before the New York Times media critic would get involved. Yesterday David Carr wrote Using War as Cover to Target Journalists:

On the same day as the Waldorf event, three employees of news organizations were killed in Gaza by Israeli missiles. Rather than suggesting it was a mistake, or denying responsibility, an Israeli Defense Forces spokeswoman, Lt. Col. Avital Leibovich, told The Associated Press, “The targets are people who have relevance to terror activity.”
So it has come to this: killing members of the news media can be justified by a phrase as amorphous as “relevance to terror activity.”

Mahmoud al-Kumi and Hussam Salama worked as cameramen for Al-Aqsa TV, which is run by Hamas and whose reporting frequently reflects that affiliation. They were covering events in central Gaza when a missile struck their car, which, according to Al-Aqsa, was clearly marked with the letters “TV.” (The car just in front of them was carrying a translator and driver for The New York Times, so the execution hit close to our organization.) And Mohamed Abu Aisha, director of the private Al-Quds Educational Radio, was also in a car when it was hit by a missile.

The problem is as Elder of Ziyon documented two of the “journalists” he cited were terrorists.

In the case of Mohamed Abu Aisha, he clearly was a uniform-wearing member of Islamic Jihad…
Islamic Jihad doesn’t describe him as a journalist, but as an instructor for the Mujahideen of Al-Quds Brigades in Deir al-Balah Battalion Brigade.
Similarly, Hamas message boards refer to Hussam Salama as a “mujahid.” That is not a word used to describe civilians.

(More on Abu Aisha here. )

The Free Beacon adds:

Yet al-Kumi and Salama were not journalists—in fact, they had spray-painted “TV” on their car in an attempt to disguise themselves as journalists and thereby prevent the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) from firing on them. The disguise didn’t fool anyone except for David Carr and the New York Times. Who in fact were they?

Brian of London points out that when NATO targeted a Serbian TV station in 1999, there was no such outrage. As Mark Jacobs tweeted:

@brianoflondon “The propag machine is prolonging the war and it’s a legitimate target.”Clare Short on NATO bombing RTS bit.ly/bEPkjw

Similarly Alana Goodman observed:

Should Israel be expected to let any militant who paints “TV” on his car drive by under the radar? Samir Khan was the editor of al-Qaeda’s Inspire magazine until he was killed in a CIA drone strike, but the New York Times has yet to accuse the Obama administration of “using war as cover to target journalists.” Apparently, Israel is the only country that’s expected to treat terrorists-posing-as-reporters the same way it treats actual reporters.

Israel MatzavHonest Reporting and others have also critqued Carr.

How did Carr respond to the criticism? He tweeted that one crank had threatened him. He told BuzzFeed:

“I ran my column by reporters and editors at our shop familiar with current events in the region before I printed it,” Carr said. “And I don’t believe that an ID made by the IDF is dispostive or obviates what the others said. Doesn’t mean that I could not have gotten it wrong, only that the evidence so far suggests that they were journalists, however partisan.”

First of all he makes clear that he trusts Hamas more than he trusts the IDF. His casual “Doesn’t mean that I couldn’t have gotten it wrong” belies the sensationalism of his charges. He knew his column would be controversial; he should have made sure of his facts. (For a media critic with access to the internet checking with reporters and editors is awfully lazy. Elder of Ziyon and others found that Islamic Jihad and Hamas bragged about these men.) Finally “partisan” is an odd way to describe terrorists. The men Israel targeted were devoted to terrorizing or killing Israelis. They were legitimate targets.

Carr, like Pexton, decided to use his forum to further Hamas’s message.