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Media Analyses





MSNBC.com Soars in Ratings, Sinks in Accuracy


An in-depth Web site feature often displayed with Middle East news stories on MSNBC.com includes sloppy errors and bias.

Given MSNBC.com’s first place ranking on the Nielsen/Net Ratings of the top 20 Internet news sites, and the resources of owner NBC/Microsoft, one would think the Web site’s resource, “Israel and the Palestinians – A Conflict Guide,” would be well researched, well documented and free of bias. Think again.

An extensive feature with nearly 250 separate screens and a number of video feeds, the guide is a shoddy conglomeration of inaccurate, distorted and outdated assertions. Indicative of the skewing against Israel is the inclusion of an entire sub-section on “Israel’s Secret Arsenal.” Thirty separate Web pages cover the topic, including interviews with unidentified U.S. intelligence officials and nuclear experts. Although Syria harbors terrorists and is known to have built weapons of mass destruction, there is no section, for example, devoted to “Syria’s Secret Arsenal.”

The following are typical of the many problems on the MSNBC site but are by no means a comprehensive accounting.

Examples of Error

Error: “Up to 3 million Palestinians living outside Israel claim land or property inside the pre-1948 borders of the Jewish state. Most fled during the wars of independence, in 1967 and 1973.”

Fact: There was only one war of independence – in 1948 – not two in 1967 and 1973. The number of refugees is not 3 million; the number from 1948 is between 500,000 and 800,000 and the number of refugees from 1967 is approximately 350,000. Moreover, not once does the Guide mention the nearly 800,000 Jewish refugees from Arab countries, whose land was confiscated without compensation.

 

Error: “Egyptian control [of Gaza] from 1968 to 1967 does little to help the refugees.”

Fact: The Egyptians controlled the Gaza area beginning in 1948, not 1968. That the Egyptians did little to help the refugees is more than an understatement—it is wrong; in fact, the Egyptians, like many other Arab states, actively prevented assistance to the refugees, preferring instead to allow their conditions to worsen and to use them as a pawn against Israel.

 

Error:“ ... suicide bombings and military actions that began in September 2002.”

Fact: The escalation of violence and terrorism occured in 2000, not 2002.

Mangled History

The guide portrays Israel as the unprovoked aggressor in Middle East conflicts. In the audio introduction to the section “The Search for Peace,” subsection “The Conflicted Middle East—A Century of War,” a speaker states:

The wars that follow Israeli independence generally ended in Israeli occupation of more and more Arab territory.

The image of an ever-expanding Israel is false. First, in each war, Israel was defending itself from attack or threatened attack and second much of the land taken in self-defense was returned. Following the wars in 1956 and 1967 Israel returned the Sinai to Egypt. Israel has withdrawn from southern Lebanon, where it took territory to create a buffer against attack. Israel had also withdrawn from 40 percent of the West Bank prior to the September 2000 violence launched by Arafat. None of this is made clear by MSNBC.com.

U.N. Resolutions 242 and 338 are misrepresented. The guide claims that among the provisions is one that “asked for a solution to the Palestinian refugee problem ....” In fact, neither resolution refers explicitly to Palestinian refugees. Rather, 242 (reiterated by Resolution 338) cites “refugees” without naming them, to indicate Jewish as well as Arab refugees were an issue.

In addition, the guide states that Resolution 242 “called for all sides to renounce the acquisition of territory by war” and “for all sides to respect the sovereignty and independence of the others.” First, 242 does not refer to the rights of “the others” but to the rights of “every state.” Secondly, the MSNBC guide misleadingly omits wording in the Resolution that every state in the area has the right to “live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force.” This wording reflected Israel’s need for defensible borders in light of repeated threats and attacks by its neighbors. The Resolution called for the “withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict” but it did not require Israel to withdraw from all of the territories. Indeed, in the U.N. debate at the time the Soviet Union’s representative, Vasily Kuznetsov, by way of complaint, indicated the logical interpretation of the wording:

Kuznetsov: ... "secure and recognized boundaries". What does that mean? What boundaries are these? Secure, recognized—by whom, for what? Who is going to judge how secure they are? Who must recognize them? ... there is certainly much leeway for different interpretations which retain for Israel the right to establish new boundaries and to withdraw its troops only as far as the lines which it judges convenient." (U.N. document S/PV. 1373, p. 112, of 9.11.67)

Absent this accurate and contextual information about the U.N. resolutions, the guide distorts the meaning of the resolutions and Israel’s actions.

Completely ignored in the feature’s discussion of events during this period is reference to another resolution, the "three No’s" policy adopted by Arab states in Khartoum in September 1967: no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel and no negotiations with Israel.

A reference in the guide to events of the last decade further muddles cause and effect. In "Searching for Peace—Lingering Issues," in the subsection "West Bank Handovers—At Issue," the text reads:

The Oslo accords called for Israel to make three phased withdrawals from the West Bank, but the schedule collapsed during former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s tenure. Palestinians currently control 40 percent of the West Bank. Violent clashes that began in September 2000 led to a wave of reoccupations by Israeli forces and suicide bombings by Palestinians, severely threatening the peace process.

Even this brief reference to the essentials of Oslo and the cause of its breakdown is absurd. MSNBC.com notes only requirements of Israel – “three phased withdrawals”– ignoring the reciprocal obligations of the Palestinians, chief among these being the cessation of terror. Nor was Benjamin Netanyahu responsible for Oslo’s collapse; Palestinian terrorists were the cause, as the Guide notes obliquely in the section “Searching for Peace –War of Words,” subsection “Wye Memorandum.” A particularly devastating series of attacks in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Ashkelon in February/March 1996 during the tenure of Prime Minister Shimon Peres brought a halt to the planned handover of Hebron and its environs. A year later, after Netanyahu was elected, he ceded that territory. Yasir Arafat ended Oslo at the Camp David/Taba negotiations when he walked away from the offer of a state and launched a war of terror.

Moreover, Israel did not cause the Palestinian suicide bombings by re-entering the West Bank and Gaza. Rather, an upsurge of Palestinian suicide bombings prompted Israel to re-enter the territories—not to permanently reoccupy them but to root out the terrorism the Palestinian Authority supported. The most significant reoccupation came after the horrific March 29, 2002 Passover bombing that killed 29 civilian Israelis and wounded more than 100 in Netanya.

Biased Characterizations

The guide regularly refers to Israeli leaders in general, the Likud party, and Prime Ministers Sharon and Netanyahu in negative terms as “right wing,” “hawkish,” “right-wing hawk,” “hardliners,” “iron-willed” or “opponent of Mideast peace efforts.”

Yet the section on “Powerbrokers” presents Arafat positively, saying he “transformed himself in the 1990s into a peacemaker.” Hosni Mubarak, dictator of Egypt since 1981, is said to be “an honest broker” who plays “an active role in the peace process.” Hezbollah’s Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah is said to have a “charismatic personality” and a “gift for oratory.” There is no mention that Hezbollah is considered by some the most dangerous terrorist group in the world.

Water Use Distortions

The “Lingering Issues” section claims:

Palestinians complain Israel is unwilling to share water sources and in some parts of the Gaza Strip, tap water is unfit for human consumption.

Palestinians may “complain” about Israel not sharing water, but MSNBC should report the facts. Israel has supplied, from its own sources, large amounts of water to Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, to the Kingdom of Jordan, and to a number of villages in South Lebanon. Gaza, for example, receives 5 million cubic meters of water from Israel’s National Water Carrier. The guide also fails to point out that Israel transferred civilian administration of water facilities to the PA in the mid-1990s under Oslo. In numerous cases, the PA failed to comply with its obligations to connect water sources, repair deteriorating pipes and dig wells.

This section also errs by stating:

... the Golan Heights, now held by Israel, provides nearly one-third of Israel’s water. Returning the Heights to Syria opens up the question of how to replace that resource.

However, Israel had rights to, and used the same downstream waters before acquisition of the Golan Heights in 1967. Under international norms, priority is given to past and existing use of resources (Eyal Benvenisti, “International Law and the Mountain Aquifer,” in Water and Peace in the Middle East, Jad Isaac and Hillel Shuval, eds., 1994). The same guidelines have been invoked by Egypt regarding the waters of the Nile, by Iraq and Syria regarding the waters of the Tigris and the Euphrates and by Jordan regarding the waters of the Yarmuk River (Arnon Sofer, Rivers of Fire: The Conflict Over Water in the Middle East, Rowman and Littlefield, 1999).

Flawed Report on Suicide Bombings

Until recently, there was little current and accurate information in the guide about Palestinian terrorism. However, MSNBC has added a section entitled, “Suicide Attacks Take Toll,” comprised of approximately 40 screens, which provides information about some of the suicide bombings in the current round of violence. Remarkably, despite listing on a series of interactive maps the long grievous list of attacks, MSNBC never uses the word terror or terrorism in this section. MSNBC also let stand the outdated and flawed references to Palestinian attacks elsewhere in the guide and failed to include information about the decades of terrorism Israel had endured previously.

The new section itself is flawed. It reports that on March 29, 2002 a male bomber was involved when in fact the bomber was female (Ayat Al-Akhrass); in 10 of the events it fails to report the number of people wounded; in four of the events it reports the number of wounded incorrectly; in eight instances it reports the number killed incorrectly and in reporting on at least one event it reports the date incorrectly (using the guide’s description of the event that reportedly occurred on March 20, 2002, it appears to have occurred on March 9).

Ignoring Official Sources of Terror

MSNBC devotes 40 screens of the nearly 250 screens of the Guide to exploring the “Roots of Rage,” referring to Islamic attitudes, yet the section substantially misses the mark. With one brief exception, the feature fails to mention the pervasive, officially sponsored anti-Israel and anti-Semitic incitement in PA and Arab states’ media, religious events and schools that are a direct cause of terrorism.

Nielsen/Net ratings may rank MSNBC #1 for Internet news but readers looking for accurate, unbiased information on the Middle East must look elsewhere.


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