Senior editors at the Star Tribune (Minneapolis-St. Paul) are standing by highly disturbing changes they made to an Associated Press story which ran in the newspaper on Sept. 25, headlined “Israelis retaliate in Gaza after Hamas rocket strike.”
Specifically, the Star Tribune shortened the AP story, removing key information so that readers were left with the misleading impression that Israel alone is blamed for a Sept. 23 explosion in Gaza that killed as many as 19 people, including children – an explosion that Palestinian eyewitnesses and even the Palestinian Authority blame on Hamas.
While the selective cuts themselves are disturbing, much more troubling is that the Reader Representative and the Editor defend this distortion of the original AP article. They are, in effect, arguing there is nothing wrong with changing a story so that it misleads readers on significant points.
Originally, AP’s Ibrahim Barzak wrote:
Hamas blamed Israel for that blast, claiming Israeli aircraft fired missiles into the crowd, and said its rocket attacks on Israeli towns were meant as retaliation. However, the Palestinian Authority held the Islamic militants responsible, saying they apparently mishandled explosives at the rally. Israel denied involvement. [emphasis added]
The Star Tribune excised the last two sentences of the above passage, relaying Hamas’ accusation that Israel fired missiles into a crowd but omitting the significant counterpoint by the Palestinian Authority and Israel.
When confronted about this misleading cut, the Reader Representative and the Editor at the newspaper defended the change, stating that the paper, following “common practice,” trimmed the story from the bottom to fit the space.
However, neither space considerations nor common practice should be used as an excuse for printing misleading information. And it is far from common practice to leave in a damning sentence while removing the subsequent passages which rebut the sentence, particularly since the two sentences make clear that in all likelihood, Hamas is fabricating a story.
The Reader Representative also argued that because a story which ran a day earlier (9/24) in the Star Tribune noted “Palestinians security officials said they believed mishandled homemade explosive in the truck may have ignited,” it was unnecessary to relay the PA and Israel’s position the following day.
This, too, is absurd. Even if an earlier story was accurate, this does not excuse a subsequent, misleading story. There are many who may not have read the earlier, more complete story but who did read the later, misleading story – all the more so when considering that the misleading story ran on Sunday, a day when the circulation of the newspaper is about 300,000 more than that of the earlier Saturday edition. Furthermore, readers and researchers will most certainly pull up the misleading copy on databases and the Web, without the benefit of having read the Saturday edition.