BOSTON—In the wake of CNN’s high-profile retraction of a false report claiming the United States had used Sarin nerve gas against defecting American soldiers in Laos, CAMERA today called on the network also to come clean in its coverage of Israel and the Middle East. CAMERA Executive Director Andrea Levin said the Boston-based media monitoring organization had documented serious errors, distortions and omissions in CNN’s reporting on Israel. "Unfortunately, the same basic problems that permitted the spurious nerve gas story to get on the air are also at the root of misinformation broadcast about the Middle East."
Levin said the investigation by Floyd Abrams, the independent analyst hired by CNN who found the network’s accusations against the U.S. military "insupportable," mirrored CAMERA’s own assessments about coverage of Israel. "Abrams observed that CNN editors and reporters systematically ignored or minimized all ‘information…inconsistent with the [broadcast’s] underlying conclusions.’ This is precisely the dangerous approach we see with regard to Israel," said Levin.
According to CAMERA, CNN’s Jerusalem Bureau, led by Walter Rodgers, and including reporter Jerrold Kessel and local staff, as well as some officials in Atlanta, appear to embrace views sympathetic to Palestinian arguments and critical of Israel. Information inconsistent with such a viewpoint is regularly discounted and ignored.
Levin cited as one example the network’s broadcast of a blatantly false report about the status of Arab residents of Jerusalem. CNN claimed Arab population numbers were "dwindling" as a consequence of harsh Israeli policies. Despite CAMERA’s exhaustively documenting the falsity of the charge — the Arab population is growing four times faster than the Jewish population — the network refused to correct the error. "The false allegation fit the propagandistic depiction of Israel as a callous overlord driving out the Arabs. The fact that Arab communities have actually grown and prospered runs counter to CNN prejudices."
"Crucial information is regularly distorted or omitted," said Levin. The Israelis, for example, frequently protest anti-Israel and anti-Semitic incitement by the Palestinian Authority. Incendiary statements by PA officials, including Yasir Arafat, are clearly contrary to the Oslo Accords and newsworthy. But CNN is all but silent about such threats of violence and expressions of hatred.
In particular, Levin pointed to the lack of coverage of inflammatory television programs aired by the Palestinian Broadcast Corporation. "The Children’s Club," a popular Sesame Street style series for Palestinian children regularly inculcates in young viewers lessons of violence and self-destruction. The series extols suicide bombers and calls for war. But CNN ignores it.
Levin said the network’s distorted coverage of the Middle East has been a major concern of the organization because of CNN’s global reach. She also said the severity of the anti- Israel bias had begun to raise questions concerning the network’s ambitions for corporate expansion in the Arab world and potential conflicts of interest when reporting — or failing to report — stories unflattering to Arab states.
"If you want to open a bureau in Damascus, can you report candidly and openly on the Arab world? Can you be tough on Hafez al-Assad? Will you sacrifice access and opportunity by telling it like it is about Palestinian violations of Oslo, for example, or broadcasting an accurate picture of Assad’s regime? It looks to us as though CNN routinely pulls its punches."
In this regard Levin noted that CAMERA had also protested pervasive distortion and inaccuracy on CNN’s Website, including a whitewashed "Newsmaker Profile" of Assad that omitted any mention of the authoritarian nature of his government. The profile instead cast Assad as a benevolent, if stern, ruler seeking to improve trade and to democratize Syrian politics.
CNN relies heavily on Current Biography for information regarding the many world leaders profiled on its Website. When CAMERA pointed out to CNN that many of the erroneous and distorted statements on Assad are taken from an early, 1975 edition of the series, and that the recent 1992 edition contains more accurate data, CNN pulled the Assad biography off its site entirely. Mentioning Assad’s links to terrorism, his police-state rule and his killing of tens of thousands of Syrians in the city of Hama in 1982 might not ingratiate the network to the dictator.
CNN’s Website profile of Arafat similarly deviates from candor and fact. Only after considerable public protest have there been some modifications, but serious distortions remain. His terrorist record is minimized and obscured and his recent lauding of suicide bombers and calls for Jihad are ignored entirely.
Levin said the Sarin nerve gas story, with its strong undercurrent of hostility toward America and the American military, reveals a corporate culture at CNN that warrants public concern. She stressed that the same kind of hostility toward Israel produces a continuous stream of biased reporting on that nation.