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Media Analyses





The Economist's Descent


An article in the Fall 1995 Media Report critical of The Economist's Middle East coverage touched off a storm of protest from Stephen Hugh-Jones, International Editor of the prestigious British magazine. Hugh-Jones contacted CAMERA directly and phoned, faxed and wrote to numerous CAMERA letter-writers to register his indignation at being criticized. A five-part series in the Jerusalem Post's Eye on the Media column expanded the controversy.

Prolific (and colorful) as the Economist editor was in denouncing his critics, he nevertheless thoroughly evaded CAMERA's key complaints as presented in the Media Report and subsequent correspondence. CAMERA analyses had concluded that Israeli security concerns are systematically and consistently minimized, that unabashedly partisan language reflects a pervasive pro-Arab bias, and that stories essential to providing an accurate picture are omitted.

Kurdish "terrorists" and Hamas "guerillas"

CAMERA faulted The Economist for failing to report terrorism against Israeli innocents in a manner that accurately reflects its character and ferocity. Symptomatic of the downplaying of violence against Israelis has been the use of sanitized language, including avoidance of the words "terrorist" and "terrorism" to characterize the killers of Israelis.

Hugh-Jones took strong exception to this criticism, but also stressed that The Economist does "not think...'terrorism' is the right word for each and every incident of armed resistance to military occupation..." It is instructive to note in which cases the publication does deem terrorist "the right word." Between the spring of 1994 and the fall of 1995 (the period of CAMERA's initial analysis of The Economist) the magazine referred at least fifteen times to "IRA terrorists." The publication also wrote of Peru's "Shining Path terrorists," "Kurdish terrorists," and "Basque terrorists." However, during this same span, when Israel was experiencing more terrorist losses than during any comparable period since the founding of the state, there is not a single characterization of those groups murdering Jews as "Hamas terrorists," "Islamic Jihad terrorists" or "Arab terrorists." (The only use of "Palestinian terrorists" is a passing reference in a column about the World Cup to the murder of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics.)

As CAMERA charged, The Economist has been "reluctant" to characterize politically-motivated Arab murderers of Jews as terrorists and such circumvention of the truth is in sharp contrast to the ready attachment of the term "terrorist" to other groups, such as the IRA. (Apparently, the spilling of British blood deserves such an appellation but the spilling of Jewish blood doesn't!)

Instead, The Economist's preferred terms for the killers are "Islamists," "activists," "guerillas," " suicide-bombers," "militants," "fighters" and "rejectionists." Thus, an egregiously deceptive column on October 15, 1994 described an attack by Hamas on civilians at a Jerusalem cafe that killed two and maimed others as a "burst of militarism" carried out by "Hamas guerillas."

As refutation of CAMERA's criticism Hugh-Jones cited The Economist's coverage of the October, 1994, Tel Aviv bus bombing. That report, however, only confirms CAMERA's point. Though the bombing was at the time the worst terrorist assault in decades in Israel, The Economist conveys none of this. The only mention of terror occurred in the first line: "In a brief pause between terrorist attacks, Israel made peace with Jordan."

The reporter provided no detail of the horrific assault that killed twenty-two, turning instead to the anger of the populace. Ezer Weizman was called the "hot-blooded president" for expressing outrage over the atrocity and Israelis were reminded not to cause the Arabs "hardship and frustration" by closing the borders for protection.

The report on the Afula terror attack in April, 1994, that killed seven and maimed dozens spoke only of "bus terrorism." In the ten-paragraph article only one concerned the murders; the remainder were devoted to the aftermath of the Hebron massacre and the "revealed rot" in the IDF that permitted it. No "rot" was similarly perceived in Arafat's Palestinian Authority that allowed Hamas to wage a systematic terror campaign against Jews from training bases in Gaza.

The Hadera bus bombing by Hamas that killed five and wounded dozens a week later contained no mention at all of terrorism or terrorists. The murder of two Israelis on May 17 by Hamas was, again, not terrorism in the magazine's lexicon but rather the action of "Islamic gunmen." The April 15, 1995, Economist report on the bombing murders of Israelis in Gaza once again attached no blame to terrorists, and reiterated a relentless theme of the magazine—that Israeli settlements are the root cause of difficulties between Palestinians and Jews. A young American tourist was among the victims of what The Economist called a "resistance movement."

Readers were reminded here, as repeatedly elsewhere by the magazine, that "what Israel calls terrorists many Palestinians call resistance fighters." (CAMERA has requested that Hugh-Jones supply the citations for all those times The Economist has also reminded readers that the Irish Republican Army is viewed by some people as a resistance movement. CAMERA has yet to receive those citations.)

A July 18, 1995 murder of two Israeli hikers in Wadi Kelt by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine was described as the action of "militants," not terrorists. Other Israelis were stabbed, shot, strangled and axed to death by Hamas, Fatah, and the PFLP during this same period without The Economist acknowledging the terrorist intent of the killers.

A July 29, 1995 report was the only one that contained the straightforward assertion that a bombing, again on a Tel Aviv bus, "was pure terrorism."

Even a March 1996 Economist special report devoted to the whole issue of terrorism was, as the Jerusalem Post wrote, "yet another exercise in 'moral equivalence.'" Propagating "euphemisms which would shame Soviet propagandists, it refers to airline hijackings and the Munich, Ma'alot and coastal road massacres as 'PLO campaigns.'"

Furious salvos from Hugh-Jones denouncing critics of the magazine's coverage of terrorism reveal a sensitivity to criticism, but whether the magazine will rectify its blatant double standard is dubious. Again, a comparison of the coverage of recent IRA terrorist bombings in Britain with Arab terrorist attacks in Israel is striking. An IRA bombing in Manchester, England in June 1996 that injured many but caused no fatalities prompted a somber cover story headlined "The Mirage Of Peace." A blunt lead editorial (June 22, 1996) referred six times to IRA or loyalist "terrorists."

The writer excoriated both the Irish Republican Army for causing the violence and Sinn Fein, the political wing of the IRA, for failing to repudiate it. The Economist demanded that the British government break off any negotiations with the IRA because the bombings had made the "hard truth finally sink home. Peace has gone. Welcome back to war." The writer further warned the British not to engage in talks with Sin Fein without that group's repudiating the bombing and cautioned that it would be "a fatal mistake" to offer "new concessions" in an attempt to appease any faction.

The Economist issued a reminder to the people of Northern Ireland that if British troops return to patrol the streets of their cities it "must be made plain that it was the IRA" that caused their return.

Economist comment (March 9, 1996) on the four suicide-bombings in Israel in late February and early March, 1996 that killed 59 and injured hundreds is of a different order. Although there were references to "terrorism" and "terrorist mayhem" as well as passages describing the bombings and the public fear they engendered, there is a striking refusal to name the killers directly as Hamas terrorists or Palestinian terrorists, or to hold Arafat responsible.

Where the Economist writer was unequivocal about a tough stance against all factions in the Irish case, he detected numerous splits and nuances in the groupings around Arafat and Hamas that required Israel to be understanding. Whereas Sinn Fein was ordered to sever its connection to the IRA, Israel was advised to understand why Arafat must "keep his lines open to Hamas's political leaders."

Although Israel had just suffered fatalities whose number would equal in proportion the loss of 600 Britons, the magazine lapsed into its familiar ugly language about Israeli self-defense. Israeli army action, described as "swarming into West Bank villages," is said to have "the vengeful smell of collective punishment."

Yet again obscuring the victims and the killers, The Economist concludes its comment on the carnage of February and March with the wish that "...Israelis and Palestinians reflect clear-eyed on the choices before them. For this they need a period of calm. Let us hope they get one." They?? Does the writer suggest Palestinians too were the target of Hamas's bombs and Arafat's complicity?

Until The Economist can render the same firm judgment about right and wrong it sees so clearly in relation to the killers of Englishmen it will undoubtedly continue to purvey the distorted coverage of Israel that it does now.

The West Bank as "Palestine"

The Economists' sanitized depictions of Palestinian terror reflect a broader bias and an explicit political agenda which is neither secret nor subtle. Hugh-Jones is frankly in favor of creation of a Palestinian state, as he has informed CAMERA, and editorial advocacy of the Palestinian position is unabashed and continuous.

Yet, when reproached for using the term "Palestine" in his news magazine to designate an existing national entity where none exists, the International Editor protested innocence. He claimed the publication only used the terminology in subheadings ("flytitles"), not in the text of articles "...so far as I can recall..." He added that, in any case, "many European papers use 'Palestine' and much more freely" than The Economist, and he demanded to know whether his critics would also accuse him of inventing a state called the West Bank when his magazine employed that phrase.

Setting aside the non-sequiturs about other publications and about inventing a state called the West Bank, Hugh-Jones was factually wrong about what has appeared in his publication. The Economist has used the term "Palestine" in the text of reports to denote an Arab political entity at least twenty times since the Oslo signings. There are repeated references to "Arafat's return to Palestine" as well as references to "liberated Palestine," "occupied Palestine" and "Palestine's rebirth."

In an exchange of letters Hugh-Jones subsequently backed away from denying the magazine's use of the term. He had discoered that "an electronic search for the word 'Palestine'... turns up more uses than I expected" for the year 1995. But he tried to dismiss all but four of these twenty-four references to Palestine. He was correct obviously in excluding "Palestine" where it was part of the term "Palestine Liberation Organization." He was obfuscating, however, when he omitted such uses as that in, "many of the most hawkish [young Arab men] are members of the Muslim Brotherhood living outside Palestine."

CAMERA did the same database search over the same time period and got different results. There were not four but sixteen occurrences in the text where the use of "Palestine" entailed a current, political meaning. This excluded all those cases where the word was part of the phrase "Palestine Liberation Organization" or "Palestine Mandate" or referred to the Mandate period.

While Hugh-Jones has never conceded The Economists' misuse of "Palestine" there have been some apparent changes. The magazine seems to have abandoned using "Palestine" in its sub-headings to indicate the West Bank and Gaza. (Similarly, The Economist no longer refers to the "Palestinian National Authority" instead of the accurate "Palestinian Authority.")

The magazine still, however, lapses into misuse of "Palestine" within the text of reports. Readers found an April 20th reference to "Palestine's Hamas" and repeated references to "embryonic Palestine."

Promoting Arab Views

In addition to advocating Palestinian statehood, as in its references to "Palestine," The Economist skews its coverage toward Arab perspectives in many other ways. Thus:

  • Israel has been rebuked repeatedly for closing her borders in the aftermath of terror attacks, this defensive measure being deemed unfair to the Arab workers. The victims of terror have been accorded little attention or sympathy.

  • Editorials have regularly forecast doom for peace talks—and blamed Israel. Israeli calls for Arafat to prevent terror assaults have been termed a "delaying device."

  • Throughout Economist coverage, the central tenets of the Oslo Accords requiring Arab cessation of terror have been ignored.

  • The Economist has emphatically supported cooperation between Hamas and Arafat, indifferent to the illegal and dangerous contradictions inherent in such a collaboration. The Economist avers that "agreement between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas is as integral to the peace process as Israel's redeployment of troops" and laments that if Mr. Arafat acts against the group it could become an "even more murderous organization."

  • However inconsistent, The Economist has also applauded Arafat's supposed crackdown on Hamas, commenting that "for nearly a year, the Palestinian leader has been acting forcefully against Islamist activists." The "crackdown" by Arafat came only in the weeks prior to the Israeli elections. In the previous year, as has been widely reported, Arafat's efforts were a fiction—involving publicized arrests of militants followed by unobtrusive releases shortly thereafter. No attempt was made to dismantle the infrastructure of Hamas. But none of this information reached Economist readers.

  • Arafat's intensifying brtality toward his own people was finally reported by The Economist, but predictably the magazine blamed—Israel. The January 20th issue observed, "Though he is criticized by his own people for creating the elements of a police-state, he has been pushed that way by Israel's insistence that his priority must be to root out terrorism."

Sins of Omission

CAMERA has also protested The Economist's omission of stories crucial to a full understanding of events, such as its lax coverage of Palestinian violations of the Oslo Accords chronicled by Peace Watch, an independent agency monitoring Israeli and Palestinian compliance. The group has published detailed information about such violations as the PA's failure to extradite a single Arab involved in violence against Israelis and the repeated illegal attempts by the PA to establish nationalist institutions in Jerusalem.

CAMERA noted the absence of any stories detailing Arafat's diversion of funds from infrastructure and job development into creation of competing security services. The true status of PLO finances has received no scrutiny by The Economist though the magazine has frequently lamented the difficult economic straits in which Arafat finds himself. Where was the story on Britain's National Criminal Intelligence Service briefing which stated that the PLO is "the richest of all terrorist groups"? Was it ignored because this and the United States General Accounting Office report revealing $8-10 billion in PLO assets conflict with the magazine's characterizations of a poverty-stricken Arafat?

Where are the stories about the chilling record of abduction, torture and repression in Arafat's autonomous areas as reported by Bassam Eid, the Arab field director of the human rights organization B'Tselem? Where the report on Palestinian human rights activist Dr. Iyad Sarraj, initially arrested for telling The New York Times' Anthony Lewis that "during the Israeli occupation I was 100 times freer" and rearrested on trumped-up drug charges? Sarraj got one sentence in The Economist after a two-week imprisonment.

International Editor Stephen Hugh-Jones' response to the methodically-documented evidence of bias in The Economist? As the Jerusalem Post wrote, "Hugh-Jones is obviously sorely irritated...But it is astonishing to find a senior editor of the leading British news magazine referring to factual, carefully researched criticism as a "farrago of nonsense," "cod-swallop," "a set of libels," and "rubbish," announcing that "life is too short to answer all [the] charges," and calling his critics "Propagandists...whose job is to distort [the truth]," and "a bunch of self-appointed guardians of morals."

"I could rebut sundry other...statements, but frankly life is too short," Hugh-Jones wrote. So short apparently that The Economist has time neither to present a complete and balanced view of the region, nor to answer critics substantively when confronted on the shoddiness of its reporting.



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