Reporting from a violent conflict zone is a risky and difficult task, not only in terms of personal safety but from an ethical perspective as well. This is especially complicated when reporting from a civil war zone, where journalists must resist the impulse to impose simplistic interpretations on complex issues. The journalist’s responsibility to deliver accurate information from a war zone is all the more heightened because skewed coverage clouds readers’ understanding of the crucial issues and forces at play and may adversely influence public policy.
The Society of Professional Journalists offers guidance on resolving such ethical considerations in war zones, which includes a call to assess the reliability of information – for example, by evaluating how reliable the sources are, determining whether the journalist is being used to further someone else’s impression or agenda, and having an editor at the news organization step back to make these assessments.
This is especially good advice for reporter David Kirkpatrick and his editors. His Sept. 10th article from Egypt, “Visiting Republicans Laud Egypt’s Force,” which was presented as a straightforward news report – as opposed to a news analysis – read more like an opinion piece advocating for the Muslim Brotherhood.
The article discusses expressions of support for Egypt’s military leaders and criticism of the Muslim brotherhood by U.S. Republican congress members, portraying some of those comments as “wrong” and “ill-informed.” Such evaluation of the veracity of controversial claims is unusual in a New York Times news article. For example, the newspaper did not hesitate to quote a series false charges against Israel by a pro-Palestinian organization, without any challenge. But here, the reporter criticizes the Congress members for praising Egypt’s military regime while “overlook[ing] the new government’s mass shootings of hundreds of mostly unarmed protesters, its sweeping roundup of thousands of political opponents and its suspension of all legal protection against arbitrary arrest on other police abuse.”
In his zeal to refute the members of Congress, the reporter takes sides in the country’s internal conflict, defending the Muslim Brotherhood not only by credulously repeating the group’s rhetoric but also by underscoring it in his own words. In this sense, it is Kirkpatrick who “overlooks” the Muslim Brotherhood’s own violence and human rights violations. He writes:
Brotherhood leaders say the group has denounced the use of violence as a political tool in Egypt for a half-century. It condemned the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, which were, in fact, carried out by Al Qaeda. The Brotherhood has explicitly opposed the theology and tactics of violent Islamist groups like Al Qaeda for decades, and Al Qaeda scorns the Brotherhood for its commitment to nonviolence, elections and gradual change.
But according to Daniel Williams of Human Rights Watch, under the Muslim Brotherhood’s governance, journalists were prosecuted; demonstrators were beaten by pro-Brotherhood gangs; and unjust laws were passed. Williams also accuses Brotherhood leaders of blaming Christians for Morsi’s ouster and inciting pro-Brotherhood mobs in several towns and cities to attack Christians and burn their churches.
While the Muslim Brotherhood officially denies its role in the attacks on Christians, the victims are not buying it. And they are not the only ones who exhibit less credulity than Kirkpatrick when appraising the Islamist organization. Political analyst and former Democratic Party consultant Kirsten Powers recently dismissed the Brotherhood’s renunciation of violence, detailing its less than peaceful activities:
The Muslim Brotherhood is showing the world its true colors.
The group that “renounced violence” in an effort to gain political power is engaged in a full-scale campaign of terror against Egypt’s Christian minority. Brotherhood leaders have incited their followers to attack Christian homes, shops, schools and churches throughout the country. Samuel Tadros, an Egyptian scholar with the Hudson Institute, told me these attacks are the worst violence against the Coptic Church since the 14th century. (Kirsten Powers, “The Muslim Brotherhood’s War Against Coptic Christians,” Daily Beast, Aug. 22, 2013)
As for Kirkpatrick’s comment on the Muslim Brotherhood’s “opposition to the theology and tactics of other violent Islamist groups,” this is misleading. Hamas, known as “the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood,” is a violent Islamist group founded on and adhering to the tenet of political, violent jihad. Its tactics include suicide bombings, rocketing civilians and other forms of violent terrorism. Far from distancing himself from Hamas’ violent tactics, Mohammed Morsi has been accused of collaborating with Hamas in 2011 to attack police stations and storm prisons.
Kirkpatrick’s defense of the Muslim Brotherhood is oddly reminiscent of his previous description of the Egyptian theologian Yusef Qaradawi as being committed to pluralism and democracy. In a piece published on Feb. 18, 2011, Kirkpatrick wrote that themes of “democracy and pluralism” were “long hallmarks of [Qaradawi’s] writing and preaching” and that “Scholars who have studied his work say Sheik Qaradawi has long argued that Islamic law supports the idea of a pluralistic, multiparty civil democracy.”
As a previous CAMERA analysis revealed, this is absurd. Qaradawi is no democrat, nor is he a supporter of pluralism or civil society. Qaradawi endorsed the fatwa calling for the murder of Salman Rushdie, called for a “day of rage” in response to cartoons of Mohammed being published in European newspapers, and has stated that Muslims who leave their religion and criticize their former faith should be killed. The sheikh also expressed support for female genital mutilation and stated that Hitler was a “divine tool” sent to punish the Jewish people for their sins. “Allah willing, the next time will be at the hand of the believers,” he said. (Al-Jazeera TV, January 30, 2009)
itors at The New York Times would do well to heed the Society of Professional Journalists’ advice on wartime reporting. They should step back to ensure reporting is objective and accurate and question whether their journalist in Egypt is being used to further one side’s agenda.