ABC News Broadcasts Error and Distortion

On March 20, 2002, ABC’s Peter Jennings reported: “In northern Israel today, a suicide bomber blew himself up on a bus. Seven people died, most of them Israeli Arabs.” Jennings’ statement was inaccurate. In fact, none of those murdered by the Islamic Jihad member who detonated himself on the crowded Egged bus traveling from Tel Aviv to Nazareth were Arabs. All were Israeli Jews. Those murdered were: Sgt. Michael Altfiro, 19; St.-Sgt. Shimon Edri, 20; SWO Meir Fahima, 40; Cpl. Aharon Revivo, 19; Alon Goldenberg, 28; Mogus Mahento, 75; and Bella Schneider, 53. There were, among the 30 wounded, some Israeli Arabs.

CAMERA wrote to the network shortly after the broadcast alerting executives to the error and urging that a correction be aired. Despite repeated contacts, ABC declined to issue a correction of the inaccurate report, arguing their (inaccurate) information was drawn from Israeli news broadcasts and other sources that initially misstated the casualties.

The fact that ABC’s report aired some 15 hours after the terrorist attack and that no other network was misreporting the victims’ identity at that point is only one problem with this response. The more obvious question is — what difference does it make why the error was made? It should be corrected. How can viewers ever trust a network that refuses to correct an outright error on the grounds that reporters received false information?

[Note: After more letters and calls from CAMERA members, ABC eventually did correct this error. For more on this, see “Jenning’s World.”]

2) Still More Error

On Saturday, May 11, 2002, World News Tonight’s Elizabeth Vargas reported on a Peace Now rally that took place in Tel Aviv. She referred to Tel Aviv as “Israel’s capital.”

CAMERA has contacted ABC urging a correction, but none has yet been forthcoming.

3) ABC Distorts Roots of Terrorism

On January 30, 2002, World News Tonight devoted a segment to the factors that motivated Wafa Idris, the first female suicide bomber, to blow herself up and kill an Israeli civilian. The report repeated Palestinian charges that Israeli abuses are the sole cause of the actions of Wafa Idris and future female bombers, while completely ignoring the role of Palestinian media, schools, clerics and political leaders in inciting an entire generation of young Palestinians to become “martyrs.”

CAMERA contacted ABC suggesting that future reports about the roots of suicide bombing among Palestinians include the pervasive societal and media indoctrination of young children to become so-called “martyrs.” Examples were given of the Sesame Street-type children’s series, “The Children’s Club,” which featured Palestinian children singing in praise of martyrdom and jihad; of Palestinian television broadcasts urging children to drop their toys and pick up rocks to follow Palestinian shooting victim Muhammed al-Dura to the hereafter which is portrayed as a green, sunlit meadow where young children play; of a Palestinian University exhibit celebrating violence against Israelis with a re-enactment of a suicide bombing in a pizzeria that killed 15 Israeli civilians, mostly women and children; of the public rallies and pageantry with Hamas members marching through the streets dressed as suicide bombers; and of the religious sermons broadcast live on Palestinian TV on Fridays which often include calls to martyrdom. ABC staff suggested that they would consider this angle.

Yet, a report by Jim Wooten on Palestinian children in Gaza that aired Sunday, May 12, 2002, again ignored the violent incitement pervasive in Palestinian society that perversely steers young people into destruction of life. Instead, Israel alone was blamed for the plight of Gaza’s children. Wooten tells viewers that these are “the children of the children of the children whose parents once lived in a place called Palestine, now called Israel. This is the fourth generation born here with no country, no passports, no place to call home except this place, where it’s awfully hard these days just to be a kid…”

It is “awfully hard these days just to be a kid” in a society that urges its children to devote themselves to hatred and killing.

Nor is there mention by Wooten of the Palestinians’ own repeated rejection of Israel’s rightful national existence, or of the rejection of compromise and division of the area or of the multiple wars Arabs launched against Israel. There is no mention of the Arab role in creating the refugees and keeping them in squalid conditions — merely the implication that Israel displaced these people.

ABC’s skewed, inaccurate and hostile presentation of events in Israel once again place it among the most troubling American media outlets in coverage of the Middle East.

[ACTION ITEMS: In the original alert, action items and contact information were listed here.]

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