Judgement, Accuracy and Accountability Lacking at Detroit News

Correcting the record is essential when a newspaper gets the facts wrong. Yet, the Detroit News is avoiding its obligation to do so.

On April 6, 2005, the newspaper published an op-ed by Hasan Newash and David Finkel. The column, entitled “Pulling investments in Israel will promote Mideast peace,” called for economic divestment from Israel, invoking numerous falsehoods to support its argument.

It is disturbing that the Detroit News found it appropriate to publish an opinion piece by David Finkel, presumably the same David Finkel who wrote that it is legitimate to murder Jewish civilians — men, women, and senior citizens — living in the West Bank and Gaza. “[A]ttacks on Israeli military targets [including suicide bombings, for that matter] are legitimate, and in my own opinion … so are attacks on the settlers,” he asserted (Solidarity Web site, April 11, 2002). One can only assume that editors at the newspaper were unaware of Finkel’s support for murder when they published him and described him as a “human rights activist.”

Such benefit of the doubt does not apply though when it comes to the newspaper’s refusal to correct egregious factual errors in the column. The editors know about these errors, because CAMERA has contacted them repeatedly on the matter.

Finkel and Newash erroneously claimed:

The completion of this wall — under the cover of the “peace process” — would leave less than half the West Bank (10 percent of historic Palestine) in Palestinian hands, divided into two disconnected mini-Bantustans, exactly along the model of apartheid.

Aside from the groundless and inflammatory comparison to South African apartheid, this sentence incorporates two errors. First, only 6-8 percent of the West Bank will lie on the “Israeli side” of the separation barrier. Second, the 92-94 percent of the West Bank on the other side of the fence will be not be “disconnected,” but rather one contiguous swath of land. (For details and maps, please see CAMERA’s “The Contiguity Double Standard” or Israel’s Ministry of Defence.)

Opinion page editor Richard Burr has known about these errors for over a month, yet has refused to correct them. (It should be noted that a less important error was corrected after CAMERA brought the problem to Mr. Burr’s attention.)

Publisher and Editor Mark Silverman has also been informed of the inaccuracies, but he too has stonewalled on corrected the errors.

Factual assertions in opinion pieces must meet the same standards of accuracy as factual assertions in news reports. See for example the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics, which states (emphasis added) that “Analysis and commentary should be labeled and not misrepresent fact or context,” or the American Society of Newspaper Editors Statement of Principles, which asserts that “Editorials, analytical articles and commentary should be held to the same standards of accuracy with respect to facts as news reports.”

But enforcing journalistic ethics is not the only compelling reason for the newspaper to correct this misinformation. These particular errors are among many appearing in the media that contribute to a pattern of demonizing Israel for every defensive measure the country enacts and severely exaggerating the effects of these measures on the Palestinians. (The writers of this column, for instance, use their false information to support an accusation of apartheid.)

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