The Atlanta Journal Constitution Stonewalls

A feature article in the News for Kids section of the Atlanta Journal Constitution entitled “Two people, one land” (August 19) by Larry Kaplow ostensibly explained the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict to young readers. The piece also has an accompanying lesson plan that teachers download from the Internet.

However, instead of providing a balanced presentation of the facts “for kids,” the article was one-sided, contained factual errors and omitted key information. (See CAMERA Alert.) In response, many readers contacted the paper and CAMERA also sent a detailed letter raising specific concerns about the column’s content. The Atlanta Journal Constitution‘s reply to CAMERA was that their “experts” reviewed the article and confirmed that the piece was “accurate” and “complete.” (A copy of the form letter appears below)

Among the inaccuracies that did not trouble their “experts” was the statement that:

Anger between the two groups [Israelis and Arabs] goes way back. King David, who was Jewish and is famous in a Bible story for killing the giant Goliath with a slingshot, based his kingdom in Jerusalem 3,000 years ago.

Goliath, of course, was neither Muslim nor Arab; the Arab-Israeli conflict emerged only in modern times. In addition, Jewish presence in Israel predates the Arab/Muslim arrival there by more than a thousand years. When challenged about such misinformation, the Atlanta Journal Constitution maintained their “experts” considered the piece to be “accurate.” Pressed as to which experts believed Goliath was an Arab or Muslim and that the Arab-Israeli conflict is a continuation of the David and Goliath story, the public editor refused to reveal the names of the experts or to address the question.

The Atlanta Journal Constitution “experts” also agree that “both sides [Israeli and Palestinian] opposed the peace deal” put forward by Barak and Clinton in 2000.  Apparently, it is logical to the newspaper that Israel opposed its own  proffered proposals.

Kaplow’s description of the Six Day War and its aftermath is also indicative of the misleading nature of the piece.

In 1967, Israel won a war against the Arab nations in just six days. The Israeli army conquered wide areas where Palestinians lived. Israelis said they needed the extra land to protect them from future attacks. So they built settlements and moved thousands of Israelis there. Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip came under the control of the Israeli army. Troops patrolled the streets and could arrest Palestinians in their homes.

The summary omits the most basic detail that the Arabs instigated the war. Moreover, Kaplow’s description misleadingly characterizes Israel as actively belligerent and Palestinians as passively bearing the brunt of the hostilities.

Also, Kaplow’s piece omits any mention that the Palestinians were twice offered a state, a fact that is especially deceptive considering the article’s conclusion that:

Any plan for peace would have to start with Israeli troops withdrawing from Palestinian areas — and Palestinians would have to quit attacking Israelis.

Then they would have to divide the land, with both sides agreeing to settle for less than they want. Palestinians would have to show they are willing to accept having Israel next door. The Israelis would have to accept a new Palestinian country next to them.

Israel has already proven its willingness to “accept a new Palestinian state,” most recently with the Clinton-Barak offer in 2000. And Israel has already tried “withdrawing from Palestinian areas.”

But the Palestinians have failed to “quit attacking” and they have shown themselves unwilling to “accept having Israel next door.”

The accompanying lesson plan compounds the problem of the piece’s skewed presentation by encouraging teachers to ask leading and unsuitable questions. For example, the worksheet suggests that teachers ask their students:

Palestinians are using suicide bombings to kill Israelis. Would you be willing to kill yourself or others for your country or your religion? Explain your feelings about this?

In sum, students being instructed about the Middle East using Kaplow’s article will now wrongly believe that the conflict has persisted since Biblical times. They will be unaware that the Palestinians were repeatedly offered their own state and chose war instead — since all that information was considered irrelevant by “experts.” Likewise, Kaplow’s failure to make clear that Arabs instigated the Six Day War will prompt students to believe that the militarily powerful Israel which “won a war against the Arabs nations in just six days” initiated that war to “conquer wide areas where Palestinians lived.”

The following form letter was sent in response to CAMERA’s complaints:

After going over the content of the story with the reporter and editors involved we believe the background provided to children was not only accurate, but complete enough for them to hold a meaningful discussion with their teachers or parents about the conflict. The space limitations of the News for Kids format, as well as the age and education level of the target audience for which the weekly feature is written, necessitated reporting at an obviously broad level the background of the conflict and the current status of the continued violence. The test of that reporting is whether information that is omitted makes the story unclear, unfair or misleading. We appreciate your views to the contrary, but we believe that was not the case with the News for Kids article in question.

CAMERA considered the reply insufficient and challenged the public editor to address the specific issues raised in the letter. While continuing to assert that the editorial board’s “experts” disagreed with CAMERA’s criticism, the editor refused to reveal the names of the newspaper’s “experts” or their responses to the specific concerns raised. The editor also declined CAMERA’s offer to contact the “experts” directly to discuss the organization’s concerns.

After reviewing the lesson plan, the Atlanta Journal Constitution made only a few insignificant revisions.

Despite the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics which requires jounralists to be “accountable to their readers,” the Atlanta Journal Constitution  continues to ston ewall.

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