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Middle East Issues





Luke Baker Suggests Okay for Hamas, but not Israel, to Detain Journalists


According to Luke Baker, the Reuters bureau chief in Jerusalem, it is "wholly unacceptable" for Israeli security forces to briefly detain a journalist. But when Hamas did the same, Baker discussed the incident as if it was nothing more than a fascinating field trip.

Baker has been criticized recently for partisan journalism, inaccurate statements, and unprofessional behavior. For example: His bureau is responsible for headlines that described attacks against Israelis as if they were attacks by Israelis; in a discussion about the media's spate of bad headlines, though, he cast Reuters as basically blameless; and when CAMERA pointed out that Baker was incorrect on this point and raised additional substantive concerns about his reporting, he responded by tweeting the salary of a senior executive at CAMERA.

On Feb. 16, Israeli border police guards in Jerusalem briefly detained an individual for questioning, after a passerby was convinced he may have been involved in fomenting a disruption. The detained man turned out to be Washington Post reporter William Booth, who was apparently doing nothing more than interviewing people in the area. He was quickly released, and Israel expressed regret for the misunderstanding.

On Twitter, Baker slammed the incident as "wholly unacceptable" and retweeted a colleague who described the incident as "harassment" by Israel. Booth was "arrested," Baker insisted, although Israel maintains he was "not arrested."

Just over a week later, on Feb. 25, Baker was in the Gaza Strip for a press conference by a leader of Hamas, the avowedly anti-Semitic and violent Islamist group that rules the territory. While walking down the street, the Reuters reporter was detained by Hamas security. This time, though, he took pains to exculpate Hamas.
 
"Briefly taken in for polite questions by Hamas security forces in Gaze today," he gently explained on Twitter, before making sure to explain that he was not reporting at the time, was not escorted by anyone with guns, and was given coffee and tea by the regime's security officers.
 
This time, it was not an arrest, nor unacceptable, nor harassment. Indeed, the most noteworthy thing about the incident, Baker pleaded, was the décor in the Hamas security headquarters. 
 
The double standards extend to Reuters news coverage. In a piece by Baker and co-author Nidal al-Mughrabi, the reporters described Mahmoud Zahar, the Hamas leader whose press conference brought Baker to the Gaza Strip, as "a medical doctor seen by many as a hardliner."
 
So a leader of the hardline terror organization Hamas — a man who a few years ago insisted Jews had deserved to be expelled from Medieval France because they "sucked the blood of the French," deserved to be slaughtered in England because "the criminality of these people," the Jews, who stole from and murdered Englishmen, deserved to be expelled from Hungary in the 14th century, deserved the Spanish inquisition, and would likewise be expelled from Israel and annihilated because, he explained, "these hungry dogs and wild beasts … have no future among the nations of the world"  — is not necessarily a hardliner, but merely sometimes seen as one.
 
One might think Reuters withheld judgment due to some reasonable policy of avoiding loaded characterizations. But one would be wrong. In recent years, a Reuters reporter used the term "hardline" (as opposed to "seen as" hardline) to describe Benjamin Netanyahu; another used the term to describe legislator Miri Regev; and Luke Baker used the term to describe Netanyahu's government.
 
So why does Baker leave room for doubt about whether the anti-Semitic Mahmoud Zahar is actually a hardliner, while Reuters make clear it has no such doubts about the incomparably more moderate Netanyahu and Regev?
 
Perhaps it is for the same reason Baker seems to believe it is okay for Hamas to detain journalists but not for Israel to do the same, and for the same reason he insists there have been virtually no bad headlines about Palestinian violence despite plentiful evidence to the contrary, and for the same reason he responds to criticism with unprofessional attacks on his critics.

More on Booth and Baker

Baker isn't the only journalist to sternly pounce on the detention of William Booth while giving a pass to Hamas for its detention.
 
The Foreign Press Association in Israel, which Baker heads, released a strongly worded statement slamming the detention of Booth. As of this writing, eight hours after Baker was detained, it has said nothing about the latter detention. PRI's David Beard commented on Twitter about the detention of Booth but not of Baker. So did ABC's Jon Williams. And so did the Washington Post's Liz Sly (though this might be excused by the fact that Sly is Booth's co-worker).

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