AP’s Barzak Does Damage Control for Arafat

The Associated Press (AP) calls itself “the largest and oldest news organization in the world, serving as a source of news, photos, graphics, audio and video for more than one billion people a day.” Its self-declared mission is “to be the essential global news network, providing distinctive news services of the highest quality, reliability and objectivity with reports that are accurate, balanced and informed.”

Why then does it allow its reporters to interpret the news according to their own agenda instead of reporting the straight facts? Take the following example:

On Saturday, May 15, 2004, Yasir Arafat delivered a televised speech against Israel from his headquarters in Ramallah on the occasion of the anniversary of the creation of the State of Israel. He ended his speech defiantly with the following quote from the Koran and a call to march on to Jerusalem.

“In confronting them, prepare your strength with all your might — including (horses) of war — to strike terror in the hearts of God’s enemies and your enemies — as well as others you may not know, but whom are known to God. But if they are wiling to have peace, then you should also be willing to have peace and trust God” (quote from Koran)

We will continue our march until a free Palestine with its capital in holy Jerusalem is created — whether or not anyone else likes it. An hour of patience will bring victory. Oh mountain, you will not be moved by the wind. May God’s peace and blessings be with you.

Most media outlets, and, indeed, even some AP articles reported without comment Arafat’s use of this Koranic verse. For example, an early AP report by Aaron Keith Harris stated:

In his televised speech from the West Bank town of Ramallah, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat urged his people to remain steadfast, sending a mixed message of defiance and a readiness for peace talks.

“Find what strength you have to terrorize your enemy and the enemy of God,” he said, quoting the Quran. “And if they want peace, then let’s have peace.”

AP’s Ibrahim Barzak, however, quickly sought to explain away the fierce quote (one which US Secretary of State Colin Powell later faulted for “making it exceptionally difficult to move forward” ), by inserting the following editorial comment:

Arafat, whom Israel accuses of supporting militant groups, did not appear to be calling for new attacks on Israel. The phrase from Islam’s holy book, the Quran, is frequently invoked by Islamic leaders today to encourage strength in times of conflict.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Arafat associates swiftly sought to explain his reference to “terrorizing the enemy” as a traditional Koranic verse that did not necessarily constitute a call to arms. (“Israelis Rally for Gaza Withdrawal” by Laura King, May 16, 2004)

It is to be expected that a leader’s aides would rush to exercise damage control. The question is why a supposedly objective AP reporter is behaving as one of Arafat’s associates?

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