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Media Analyses





CAMERA Column: The LA Times Swerves Off the 'High Road'


This column appeared in the May 21-27, 2004 edition of The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles.

As word of Los Angeles Times Editor John S. Carroll’s address on journalistic ethics spread across the Internet, critics were riled by his assertion that the Times is committed to taking the “high road” in comparison to other media outlets nationwide, which are engaging in “pseudo-journalism.”

Carroll faulted newsrooms that he said have ended up “in the gutter,” and the Oregon Daily Emerald described him as having lambasted talk show hosts who “did not fit into the long legacy of journalists who got their facts right and respected and cared for their audiences” (May 11).

What so incensed Carroll’s detractors is the abundant evidence that the Los Angeles Times itself is derelict in getting the facts right, as well as in correcting factual errors.

When it comes to the paper’s treatment of the Arab-Israeli conflict, the paper only erratically corrects misinformation, at times contorting itself with justifications for not setting the record straight. Such was the case in a May 2 error by correspondent Laura King, who wrote: “If the withdrawal [from Gaza proposed by Ariel Sharon] takes place, it would be only the second time in Israel’s history that the nation voluntarily gave up lands seized in the 1967 Middle East War — the first being Israel’s withdrawal from settlements in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula.”

This statement is deceptive on multiple counts. It seriously misrepresents the extent of the Sinai withdrawal, which was not limited to relinquishing settlements but included withdrawal from the entire Sinai Peninsula, including vital installations such as air bases, mountain passes and oil fields.

Moreover, the peninsula’s area is so vast that it accounts for 91 percent of the area that Israel gained in 1967.

But the Sinai reference is only part of the error. Omitted entirely is reference to Israel’s historic withdrawals from the West Bank and Gaza during the Oslo years. Israel withdrew from major Palestinian population areas, including Ramallah, Kalkilya, Jenin, Nablus, most of Hebron, Gaza City and Jericho, totaling 40 percent of the West Bank and much of Gaza.

The paper’s response to the complaint about this?:

“The article you cite was about whether Israel is going to give up the Gaza settlements; that is why it mentions the precedent of withdrawal from the Sinai settlements. I don’t think readers are misled regarding the details of the pullout, which would of course include other Israeli facilities there,” wrote readers’ representative Jamie Gold, through whom all feedback concerning the paper’s coverage is funneled.

Of course, King’s statement did not specify withdrawal from “settlements,” but the giving up of “lands.”

Likewise, regarding Israel’s large-scale territorial withdrawals under Oslo, the readers’ representative refused again to correct, this time arguing: “While there was a military pullback from major Palestinian population centers, it was not a formal territorial hand-over but a temporary change of administrative control. And Israel did not withdraw Jewish settlers living in around [sic] all those cities.”

Again, King did not specify what kind of withdrawal or how complete but spoke generally of times “in Israel’s history that the nation voluntarily gave up lands seized in the 1967 Middle East War.”

In other cases, the paper simply ignores requests for corrections on blatant factual errors, such as guest opinion writer George Bisharat’s Jan. 25 allegation that Israeli Arabs “have restricted access to land (most real property in Israel is owned by the state or the Jewish National Fund and is leased to Jews only).”

CAMERA provided the Times with documentation showing that legally and practically, Israeli Arabs have equal access to state land. Indeed, there is even an affirmative-action-type program in place providing Arabs with access to state-owned land at a lesser cost than that charged Jewish citizens. However, no correction or response was forthcoming.

Only after providing extensive documentation was CAMERA able to elicit a correction on another Bisharat falsehood — that Israeli Arabs may not serve in the army. Efforts included sending multiple e-mails with documentation from the Los Angeles Times’ own pages substantiating that Arabs serve and die for Israel.

In another journalistic abuse, King reported in an April 24 article: “Israel staged a series of raids in the West Bank that the army described as hunts for wanted Palestinian militants.”

But a check with the army spokesman’s office revealed that the army described the raids as hunts for wanted Palestinian “terrorists,” not “militants.”

Gold’s defense this time?: The characterization does not appear as a direct quotation.

Oddly enough, National Public Radio, hardly known for pristine coverage of Israel, has corrected this very same error three times since last August.

Which leaves rightly outraged readers to wonder: Who exactly has ended up “in the gutter?”

Tamar Sternthal is senior research analyst at CAMERA (Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America) in Boston. A complete record of the Los Angeles’ Times errors and corrections is available at www.camera.org.


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