Despite Some Improvement, AP Misreporting Persists

The Associated Press might be the single most influential news organization in the United States if numbers are the measure. The agency serves 1,700 newspapers and 5,000 radio and television stations nationally. Worldwide, over one billion people a day obtain news from the AP, according to the organization.

In light of its broad reach, it is particularly important that the wire service be “fair, accurate, honest, responsible, independent and decent,” as called for in AP’s own code of ethics.

This has not always been the case. As previously documented by CAMERA, the AP has had ongoing problems in recent years with fair and accurate reporting of the Middle East conflict. Since publication of the Spring 2005 Media Report, which highlighted the AP’s downplaying of anti-Israel terror and the organization’s refusal to correct serious factual errors, the wire service’s record has been mixed.

On the one hand, it has been somewhat more responsive, promptly revising erroneous and misleading passages as a consequence of CAMERA communication. Such same-day revisions are especially valuable, as they keep the problematic passages from being re-circulated by newspapers the following morning.

So for example, when the AP stated that U.N. Security Council Resolution 242 called on Israel to withdraw from “all land seized in the six-day war of 1967” an incorrect description which has in the past been published and left uncorrected by the AP–the news organization this time updated the story the same day, shortly after being contacted by CAMERA. The updated story made clear that this view of 242 was simply an “Arab interpretation” of the resolution.

Similarly, the false assertion in an AP dispatch that Egypt has received $2 billion in aid from the U.S. since 1979–in fact, the country receives about $2 billion per year–never made it into print because the AP updated the story with the correct information the same day.

However, AP’s misreporting on the Middle East does persist.

The wire service continues to downplay attacks against Israel, as epitomized by its refusal to refer to attacks on Israeli civilians as “terrorism.” This refusal, it is important to note, is not because the AP avoids the word in principle. For example, the July 7 terror attacks in London were repeatedly described by the AP with the word “terror” or “terrorist.”

One dispatch from the day of the attack was assigned the headline: “At least 37 dead in terror strike on London transit; al-Qaida is implicated.” The article stated that “Terror struck in the heart of London on Thursday …. Authorities initially blamed a power surge but realized it was a terror attack after the bus bombing near the British Museum ….” (Emphasis added.)

AP coverage of the London attack also referred back to bombings in Bali, Madrid, and Casablanca, describing them, too, as “terrorist bombings” or “terror attacks.”

By contrast, when a suicide bomber killed five Israelis outside a shopping mall in the city of Netanya just five days after the London attack, the AP again reverted to its typical pattern of describing terror against Israel: “suicide bomber” replaced “terrorist,” “bomb blast” replaced “terror attack,” and “militant group” replaced “terrorist group.”

One typical AP dispatch covering the Netanya attack did not include the word “terror” even once; neither in the headline “Suicide bomber strikes near shopping mall in Israeli city, killing two” nor in the body, which read:

A suicide bomber blew himself up among a group of teens near a shopping mall in the seaside city of Netanya on Tuesday …. in the second such attack since a truce was declared five months ago. … police said the militant Islamic Jihad was behind the bombing. … The bombing in Netanya was the first suicide bombing in Israel since Feb. 25, when a bomber blew himself up in Tel Aviv, killing five Israelis. (July 12, 2005)

(Other news agencies, including the BBC and New York Times, were also guilty of referring to the attack on Britons as “terrorism” but shunning the word when describing the later attack on Israelis.)

A similar downplaying of anti-Israel activity was evident in AP’s coverage of would-be suicide bomber Wafa al-Biss. Al-Biss, a 21-year-old Palestinian woman was arrested at an Israeli checkpoint with about 20 pounds of explosives hidden under her pants. She had a permit to enter Israel for medical care–Israeli doctors were treating severe burns al-Biss suffered in a cooking accidentand indeed, was on her way to a hospital. But that day, al-Biss was not going for treatment. Her goal, in her own words, was to blow herself up at a hospital “to kill 20, 50 Jews … Yes, even babies and children” (Telegraph [U.K], June 26, 2005).

Noticing al-Biss walking strangely, Israeli soldiers at the checkpoint stopped her. At that point she decided to detonate her explosives, but they failed to discharge and al-Biss was arrested.

While these details were being reported by other news agencies, numerous AP dispatches omitted the fact that the bomber’s target was a hospital in Israel. Instead, they stated only that al-Biss “tried to blow herself up at a Gaza crossing.” While technically true, this description denies readers key information in not reporting her intended target.

Other problematic AP dispatches described Islamic Jihad as a group merely “blamed” for killing Israelis, even though the group openly proclaims its murder of Israelis.

While downplaying Palestinian violence, the Associated Press often magnified Israeli actions.

After a week in which a Netanya suicide bombing killed five Israelis and more than 100 mortars and rockets were fired at Israeli towns, Israel ended its policy of relative restraint and, as reported by the AP, “launched an airstrike Friday on a van carrying Hamas militants and a cache of homemade rockets in a Gaza City street.”

Yet, it was Israel’s retaliatory strike on a terrorist target, and not the Palestinian suicide bombing and incessant rocket and mortar attacks, which the AP dramatically described as “the most serious blow” to a Palestinian “truce”:

The Israeli military launched an airstrike Friday on a van carrying Hamas militants and a cache of homemade rockets in a Gaza City street, killing four people in what may be the most serious blow to a 5-month-old truce. (“Israeli airstrike targets van carrying Hamas militants, killing four,” July 15, 2005)

Creating a blatantly false moral equivalence is another way in which the AP has downplayed Palestinian terrorism while overstating Israeli actions.

One particularly striking example can be found in a June 30, 2005 story about an Israeli operation to remove Jewish anti-disengagement activists squatting in an abandoned hotel. AP’s Gavin Rabinovitz reported: “The showdown was an early test of Israel’s ability to rein in its own militants after pressuring the Palestinians to do the same.”

With this rhetoric, Rabinowitz presents the idea that there is an equivalence between Israeli protesterswhom he describes in the article as “settlers repeatedly arrested for harassing Palestinians and soldiers” and Palestinian members of Hamas, Islamic Jihad, et al who have murdered hundreds of Israeli civilians with bombs, rockets, mortars, and gunfire.

These and all too many other examples of skewed AP coverage demonstrate that the wire service still has a considerable distance to go before living up to its goal of being “fair, accurate, honest, responsible, independent and decent.”

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