The Associate Press: When bad journalism becomes routine

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The majority of intelligent observers of what Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has been up to, lately and for the past few decades, have easily been able to see right through the true intentions behind his dogged pursuit of the so-called ‘separation wall’: the wall is Mr. Sharon’s latest instrument in his most favorite pursuit — the establishment of ‘facts on the ground’. No one really believes that Mr. Sharon is building the wall to ‘stop suicide bombers’, just as no one believes him when he says that he is building settlements only to ensure ‘Israel’s security’. No one who opposes him believes it, and no one who supports him believes it.

But the Associated Press, whose stated mission is ‘to provide state, national and international news, photos, graphics, broadcast and online services of the highest quality, reliability and objectivity’,[1] clearly cannot be counted among the majority of intelligent observers. The Associated Press seems not only be willing to believe Mr. Sharon and to take his word at face value, but regularly goes so far as to straight out report what he and other Israeli officials say as simple fact!

And so, as a September 30, 2003 piece by Jason Keyser — a typical AP dispatch on the conflict — illustrates, we read opening paragraphs such as: ‘Prime Minister Ariel Sharon wants to shield several large Jewish settlements by extending Israel’s security barrier deep into the West Bank’.

Question: how does Mr. Keyser know that Mr. Sharon’s intentions are grandfatherly and that he just wants ‘to shield several large Jewish settlements,’ and not what the majority of the world believes, which is the appropriation of more Palestinian land? And more importantly, why does Mr. Keyser feel that it is necessary for him to state Mr. Sharon’s intentions as obvious fact?

Another example from the same dispatch: ‘in its bid to stop Palestinian suicide bombers and other attackers, Israel has already built almost 100 miles of the barrier.’

Question: how does Mr. Keyser know that the Israeli bid is to stop Palestinian suicide bombers and not what the rest of the world believes, which is the physical dismemberment of Palestinian land in the quest of killing Palestinian national identity? How does Mr. Keyser have any access to the intentions of Israel?

The frustrating thing about such glaringly sub-standard journalism is that it is totally gratuitous(assuming of course good intentions on the part of the reporters and their editors). One can easily write about the wall and communicate all the essential elements of what is taking place on the ground, without having to adopt the perspective of any one side. For example, one could just as easily write about the wall the way Reuters did in an October 3, 2003, story: ‘Israel says the barrier, which is mostly an electronic sensor fence but in a few parts a huge concrete wall, isneeded to stop suicide bombers who have killed hundreds of Israelis.'[2] And yet, even this minimal threshold seems to be too much to expect from the Associated Press.

Another example — glaring only because it is representative of the quality of your run-of-the-millAssociated Press dispatch: an April 20, 2003, piece by Justin Huggler and Severin Carrell from the British Independent on the killing of a cameraman for Associated Press Television News gave the crucial details that, ‘Mr. Darwazeh [the cameraman] was wearing a bright yellow vest clearly marked ‘Press” when he was shot, that, according to Hassan al-Titi, a Palestinian cameraman for Reuters news agency who was standing beside Mr Darwazeh, ‘a soldier got out of an armoured car and knelt beside the tank. ‘We shouted at him in Hebrew that we were journalists. Nazeh shouted and then I shouted.’ But the soldier fired a single shot into the group of reporters’, and that, also from Mr. al-Titi, ‘I looked and saw that [Nazeh’s] head was damaged severely. His brain was hanging out of his skull.'[3]

By contrast, the story from the Associated Press, written by Karin Laub, gives the typical tame and equivocal AP depiction: Mr. Darwazeh ‘was killed while filming a confrontation between Israeli soldiers and Palestinians throwing stones and firebombs. Witnesses said Darwazeh was shot by an Israeli soldier taking cover behind an armored vehicle in an alley. The military insisted there were also Palestinian gunmen in the alley.'[4]

The fact that Mr. Darwazeh was killed by a single shot fired from a sniper, that the shot ended in the head of the journalist, that the victim was wearing a bright yellow jacket — incredibly, none of these basic facts made it to the AP story! Not only that, but nowhere in the AP story was any active attribution ever given to anyone for the killing of the journalist. Mr. Darwazeh ‘met his death’ and ‘was killed while filming’. The contrast with the Independent’s ‘he was shot in the head by an Israeli soldier’ could not be more stark.

With over 1,700 newspaper clients in the US alone, the Associated Press is responsible for writing an enormous share of the news we read every day. What the Associated Press posts as ‘news’ generally appears, verbatim, in hundreds of newspapers nationwide each day. No wonder the quality of US media coverage of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is so shockingly abysmal. And no wonder the US public is so misinformed and so uninformed.

Notes:

[1] http://www.ap.org/pages/history/mission.htm
[2] Oct. 3, 2003 — Hamas Says Israeli Barrier Won’t Stop Attacks, Reuters, Nidal al-Mughrabi

[3] http://www.pmwatch.org/pmw/mediocrity/displayCall.asp?essayID=137

[4] http://www.pmwatch.org/pmw/mediocrity/displayCall.asp?essayID=137

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