Gaza Flotilla Crisis Yields More Coverage, More Bias
By: Gilead IniMay 31, 2010
See Updates Below.
In the immediate aftermath of Israel’s operation to prevent pro-Palestinian radicals from violating the naval blockade on the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, during which passengers on the Mavi Marmara violentlyattacked Israeli soldiers boarding the ship and drew fatal Israeli fire, media organizations across the world are again focusing on Israel in a way reminiscent — both in quantity and quality — of the beginning of the second Palestinian “intifada.”
Much of the international media had reported with relative caution in the run up to the crisis. Unlike during previous voyages organized by the Free Gaza Movement, which is closely tied to the extremist International Solidarity Movement, reporters have avoided describing the passengers with the inaccurate designation “human rights activists,” and instead used the somewhat more accurate descriptor “pro-Palestinian.” (Notable exceptions are Wall Street Journal reporter Charles Levinson, who grossly misled readers by describing the passengers as “peace activists,” and Time Magazine‘s Tony Karon, who likewise failed to remain objective, opting to cast Israel’s statements, and not the words and deeds of the anti-Israel activists, as a “P.R. machine … gone into overdrive” which “few neutrals are likely to accept.”)
Now that blood has been shed, that media caution seems to be dissolving.
AP Story Buries Reference to Israeli “Claim” about Attack on its Soldiers
An Associated Press story by Selcan Hacaoglu and Lee Keathabout reactions to the incident virtually ignored Israel’s account of the situation, and avoided any mention of video evidence that seems to corroborate Israeli descriptions of frenzied attacks on its soldiers. AP’s “Israel boat raid sparks condemnations, protests,” opened by referring to “Israel’s deadly commando raid on ships [sic] taking humanitarian aid to the blockaded Gaza Strip,” without providing a hint of why the raid turned deadly until after quoting Israel’s critics charging the Jewish state with “inhumane state terrorism” and violations of international law. It was not until the eighth paragraph that the reporters bothered to point out that “Israel said the activists attacked its commandos as they boarded the six ships,” before quickly adding that “the flotilla’s organizers said the Israeli forces opened fire first.” (Accessed 5/31, 12:30 p.m.)
UPDATE, 5/31, 6:40 p.m.: The AP story described above was later modified somewhat.
The article also employed two different standards in describing groups involved in the story. Although it described an organization critical of Israel as “a group founded by Nelson Mandela that includes Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu and former President Jimmy Carter,” it didn’t bother with any such detail when it blandly described “a Turkish organization” that sponsored the flotilla, even though information about that organization, Insani Yardim Vakfi (or IHH), is by far more relevant and valuable for readers hoping to understand the situation.
Israel has outlawed IHH because of its fundraising activity for Hamas and its association with jihadist forces.
And according to the Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, there is reliable information indicating that in the past IHH had links with global jihad and Islamic terrorist elements in the Middle East. As part of its connections with the global jihad it supported jihadist terrorist networks in Bosnia, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Chechnya. IHH also served in the past as a cover for Al-Qaeda, acquiring forged documents, enlisting operatives and transferring weapons.
AFP Story Likewise Buries Reference to Israeli “Claim”
A similar story by Agence France Presse was hardly better, waiting until the ninth paragraph to point out that “Israel said its troops were attacked … and that both sides used live fire.” (Accessed 5/31, 12:30 p.m.)
L.A. Times Describes Israeli Accounts Early, Mis-Describes Video Evidence
The Los Angeles Times coverage was somewhat better. Its story “Israel criticized over Gaza flotilla attack,” published online on May 31, appropriately pointed out already in the second paragraph that Israel said “its soldiers were ambushed with knives and metal bars, as well as handguns wrested from the commandos.”
Unlike the stories mentioned above, it also referred to video of the raid. Here, however, the Times notably failed at an accurate depiction. According to the newspaper, “Video of the attack released by the Israeli military, Turkish television and other media sources depicted a dramatic high-seas brawl in which Israeli commandos rappelled from helicopters onto a ship and immediately clashed with activists on board.” But the video embedded above seems to clearly show Israeli troops descending from helicopters being assaulted, including with metal bars, even as they were landing on the ship. In other words, contrary to the LA Times framing of the story, the attacks on Israeli soldiers are not merely an Israeli claim, nor, as the newspaper insinuates,&nb
sp;were those attacks initiated by the soldiers.
Bungled Background Information
Stories ostensibly meant to provide context, too, in reality distorted understanding. The AP timeline “Gaza Strip scene of decades of unrest, conflict” begins with the following two entries:
1967: Israel seizes control of the Gaza Strip from Egypt during the 1967 Mideast war and begins to establish settlements there.
1971: Israel’s military conducts harsh campaign to pacify Gaza and defeat armed militants. (Accessed 5/31, 1:00 p.m.)
Contrary to the implication of the timeline, the “decades of unrest” in Gaza began well before 1967. For example, Jews living in Gaza prior to 1929 were forced to flee the territory that year in the face of anti-Jewish Arab rioting. And after 1948, Palestinians frequently infiltrated Israel from the Gaza Strip to violently attack Jews. Moreover, Israel didn’t “seize control” of the Strip from Egypt until after that country drove the region to war by massing its troops and threatening to annihilate the Jewish state.
Consistent with the media’s tendency to distort the facts with a false narrative of Israeli actions and Palestinian blamelessness is the timeline’s entry about 1971. Why did Gaza have to be “pacified?” Who were these “armed militants” and what were they doing? Were those militants “harsh”? Not according to the timeline, which seems to reserve such judgments for Israel.
UPDATE, 5/31, 6:40 p.m.: Improvement at AP
A separate AP story by Steven Gutkin, titled “Bloody Israeli raid on flotilla sparks crisis,” significantly improves on the earlier story by his colleagues. It wastes little time before pointing out that the activists were very much involved in the violence. “Bloodied passengers sprawled on the deck and troops dived into the sea to save themselves amid hand-to-hand fighting that injured dozens of activists and six soldiers,” the second paragraph reads. And while appropriately relaying angry statements by critics of Israel, the piece also described, as any ethical coverage of the incident must do, “testimony and evidence that its soldiers came under attack by activists armed with metal rods, knives, slingshots and two pistols snatched from the troops.” It elaborated that “Military footage showed activists swarming around the commandos as they rappelled from a helicopter one by one, hitting them with sticks until they fell to the deck, throwing one off the ship and hurling what the military said was a firebomb.”
UPDATE, 5/31, 7:30 p.m.: Reuters Fails Readers
A Reuters story published on Yahoo! News a few minutes ago referred in its lead paragraph to the killing of “activists,” but says nothing until its seventh paragraph about violence against the Israeli soldiers. Even then, it is described as an Israeli claim rather than a fact substantiated by video evidence. It is not until the thirteenth paragraph that Reuters mentions video footage, with the account, which is sanitized to the point of rendering the description, in effect, false:
Military night-vision video showed commandos being winched down, only to be surrounded. Some Israeli commentators asked why commanders put troops into a position where they were cornered.
True, the Israelis were surrounded. But equally true, and more important, is that they were then brutally clubbed, something the Reuters reporters, Jeffrey Heller and Alastair Macdonald, fail to mention.
UPDATE, 5/31, 11:59 p.m.: CNN Wildly Distorts with Descriptions of Video
In a surreal segment broadcast by CNN, a reporter and an analyst pore over video filmed by the Israeli army, but completely ignore the shocking images playing before them which clearly showing troops being attacked by gangs of passengers. As the video shows a soldier descended upon, pummeled and thrown off the boats upper deck, the two speak in generalities about the benefits of using helicopters to board ships. The casual conversation continues as the video shows other soldiers being struck by metal objects. Later in the segment, the CNN journalist, either ignorant of the footage before him or intentionally trying to mislead viewers, states:
Now the Israelis are saying of course that they were attacked, but the protesters are saying, well, that it was a bit of a one-sided fight…. How fair a fight is this, that the Israelis are saying that they were attacked, but it’s far from certain what they were attacked with at the moment.
The guest concurs, saying that with all the video that’s available, one can’t determ
ine who initiated the violence.
An online CNN article likewise claims, deceptively, that “The IDF released a video shot from above the ship that it said showed soldiers being attacked, though the distance from which it was shot precluded immediate confirmation.”
The original footage that CNN rebroadcast can be seen more clearly, with commentary, below:
It is not clear whether CNN ever broadcast on TV the close-up footage of rampaging passengers attacking Israeli troops.