Twice within a few days, the Philadelphia Inquirer published skewed stories on Israel which spurn journalistic evenhandedness by ignoring – or cutting out – Israel’s postion.
Israeli viewpoints shunned
Construction of Israel’s security barrier will soon begin in the Jerusalem area, and will keep Rachael’s Tomb, Judaism’s third holiest site, on the “Israeli side” of the security barrier. In a May 20, 2005 article (“Raising a barrier and disputes in Israeli plan to shield tomb, Arabs allege a landgrab”), correspondent Michael Matza’s showed how to turn this news into a model example of one-sided reporting, promoting the Palestinian viewpoint while virtually ignoring Israel’s position.
Out of the story’s 26 paragraphs, ten exclusively present viewpoints critical of Israel. Eight of those include direct quotations by critics of Israel, including charges that Israel will “imprison” Palestinians, and that the country “wants to grab land and never give it back.” Nothing seems off limits, as Matza allows a Palestinian critic to suggest that the Israel cabinet exploited the first anniversary of 9/11 to slyly decide to fence in the tomb.
By contrast, only two paragraphs are devoted to Israel’s position. Instead of presenting direct quotes from Israelis, Matza provides impersonal, generic comments:
• “Israel insists the placement of the barrier is a security necessity …”
• “Israel says the barrier can be dismantled …”
Matza allows Palestinians to respond directly to these bland statements, even quoting a PA minister retorting, “That is a lot of blah-blah.”
The only quote by anyone representing Israel’s position – a month-old comment by Ariel Sharon about Israel’s settlement building since 1967 – was out of context, seemed out of place, and did not temper the overall anti-Israeli tenor of either the paragraph or the story.
(Menachem Klein, an Israeli on the board of B’tselem and Peace Now, is quoted in the article; but Klein is a critic of Israeli policy and does not in any way represent the Israeli government’s position.)
Matza’s own comments follow the Palestinian narrative as well.
Without explaining why, Matza states that the encirclement of Rachel’s Tomb would be another step in “Israel’s drive to sever Arab East Jerusalem from its West Bank hinterland.” He later repeats that the barrier will “sever” eastern Jerusalem “from its West Bank core.”
These statements cater to the Palestinian view that eastern Jerusalem belongs to the Palestinians and is part of the West Bank, while disregarding Israel’s view that the most holy Jewish city should remain united despite the desire of some Palestinians to “sever” half of the city from the other half.
Matza’s use of the phrase “Arab East Jerusalem” is also extremely problematic. As noted in CAMERA’s Dictionary of Bias:
This term is demographically and historically misleading. Demographically, the eastern part of the city is about evenly divided between Arabs and Jews. The entire Old City of Jerusalem, including the Temple Mount (where the Jewish First and Second Temples once stood) and the Western Wall, is within eastern Jerusalem. Statistical data from many sources, only some of them Jewish, confirm that there were many Jewish residents, institutions and holy sites throughout Jerusalem, including the eastern portion, until 1948 when Jordan gained control of that part of the city. Jordan killed or expelled all the Jewish residents there, and, in an effort to erase evidence of centuries of Jewish presence, destroyed all 58 synagogues. Also in eastern Jerusalem are Hebrew University (built in 1925), the Jewish National and University Library (built in 1930), and Hadassah Hospital (built in 1938).
Inquirer editors cut out Israeli comments
On May 23, a shortened Associated Press story ran in the Inquirer which similarly excised any Israeli viewpoint.
The original story as dispatched by the AP cited vows by Israeli cabinet minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian cabinet minister Mohammed Dahlan. The story then noted Olmert’s skepticism of Dahlan’s vow, and also editorialized that Olmert’s pledge “appeared shallow” for various reasons. The AP pressed Olmert for specifics regarding his pledge, but did not similarly press Dahlan for specifics on how Dahlan planned to carry out his own promise.
The Inquirer took this already problematic AP story, retained criticism of the Israeli pledge, but cut out the criticism of the Palestinian pledge.
Similarly, the Inquirer included criticisms of Israel by the World Bank which were cited in the original AP story, but cut comments by Olmert responding to those criticisms.
(This is not the first time the Inquirer cut extremely relevant details from an AP story at the expense of Israel’s position. On April 15, the newspaper published an AP story which reported the killing of a Palestinian Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade member. Editors at the newspaper relayed Mahmoud Abbas’ accusation that the killing was a “violation of a cease-fire,” but cut from the original AP story Israel’s assertion that the Palestinian opened fire on Israeli troops who were seeking to arrest him. The troops returned fire only after they were attacked.)
While it is understandable that a newspaper may need to edit wire stories to better fit the day’s edition, this must be done in a way that does not erase only one side’s position in a controversial dispute.