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Media Analyses





UPDATED: (Some) Media Backtrack After “Dead” Palestinian Teen Emerges Alive


April 9, 2010 Update: After CAMERA alerted the news organizations discussed below to Muhammed Faramawi's actual fate, some published follow-up pieces. CNN's This Just In blog informed its readers on April 7 about the boy's actual fate. The Ottawa Citizen did likewise on April 8.
 
Al Jazeera, the Independent and the Washington Post have yet to inform readers that earlier reports were incorrect.
  
 
April 7, 2010 – A Palestinian teenager, reported to have been shot "by Israeli forces" and "left bleeding for hours" before Israel allowed paramedics to evacuate him, has emerged, alive and (more or less) unharmed.

The discovery that the boy, Muhammed Faramawi, was in fact held by Egyptian police after entering Egypt through a tunnel from Gaza forced a number of news outlets, including the BBC and New York Times, to backtrack from earlier reports about the "killing." But disturbingly, other mainstream news organizations that reported the boy had died have failed thus far to update readers.

News Sources that Backtracked

The BBC led a March 31 story with the allegation that Israel killed the boy:

A Palestinian teenager has been shot dead close to southern Gaza's border, Palestinians say, as at least five other Gazans were wounded elsewhere.
Muhammad al-Faramawi, 15, was killed on Tuesday by Israeli fire near Rafah, the Hamas-run health ministry said.

Three days later, a BBC headline announced: "Gaza boy reported killed returns home alive."

The New York Times, too, reported that although it was unclear who actually killed the boy, "Palestinian officials said the youth, Muhammad al-Farmawi, was killed by Israeli soldiers close to his home in the southern Gaza town of Rafah."

The March 30 story added:

By nightfall Tuesday, Palestinian ambulances were still waiting to coordinate their entry into the border area with Israel in order to retrieve the boy’s body, according to Dr. Muawiya Hassanein, director of emergency medical services in Gaza.

And by Saturday morning, the Times updated its readers:

A 14-year-old boy thought to have been killed either by Israeli gunfire or from internal Palestinian violence last week turned up unharmed at his family’s house after trying to sneak into Egypt via smuggler tunnels and being held by Egyptian security officials, his parents said Saturday.

Same with AFP, which reported that "Gaza medics and witnesses said [al-Faramawi] was killed by Israeli forces," and subsequently updated its readers with news of the boy’s arrest and release.

Even partisans, such as the Palestinian Ma’an media agency and anti-Israel activist Nigel Parry, later backtracked from their greatly exaggerated reports of the boy’s death.

News Sources that Failed to Update Readers

Al Jazeera’s English Web site, however, seemingly never bothered to alert its readers to the facts after telling them that "a 15-year-old Palestinian boy has been killed ... after Israeli troops opened fire at Israeli Arabs and Palestinians protesters marking the ‘Land day.’"

But it was hardly only Al Jazeera that so dramatically disregarded the tenets of professional journalism. Some Western news outlets, too, told readers of the "death" and never looked back.

The Independent, whose coverage of the Middle East conflict might very well be more partisan than that of Al Jazeera, reported, as fact, that "a Palestinian teenager was killed and 12 wounded when Israeli soldiers opened fire on demonstrators near Gaza" (3/31/10, World in Brief, Pg. 32).

A March 31 brief in the Washington Post noted that "the head of emergency medical services in Gaza said" the boy was killed.

CNN’s online breaking news blog, This Just In, reported on March 30:

[A] 15-year-old boy was reported shot to death at the Rafah airport in Gaza, said Muawiya Hassanein, director of ambulance and emergency services in Gaza. Additional information about the reported death was not immediately available.

And a brief in the Ottowa Citizen cited "medics and witnesses" who claimed Israel was responsible for killing the boy.

Apparently none of these news sources published corrections or follow up stories, leaving their audience to believe misinformation about Israel shooting dead the Palestinian teenager.
 
Muawiya Hassanein
 
Muawiya Hassanein, the head of emergency services in Gaza, who has long been a cited in the Western media as a source of information on Palestinian casualties, was clearly a central figure in spreading the false allegations. But in the days after it became clear that Hassanein disseminated false information, Western media outlets continue to unquestioningly cite Hassanein's claims about other incidents.
 
Meanwhile, none of the news organizations that backtracked from their early reports of the supposed killing bothered to (publicly) examine how and why they were misled, with the possible exception of the BBC, which quoted Hassanein as explaining, "We were getting wrong reports from the officer in the field and we announced later in the day that we did not find the body." 

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