UPDATED CAMERA ALERT: Partisan Editing Skews San Francisco Chronicle Article on Teen Bomber

The San Francisco Chronicle published an edited version of a March 25 New York Times article entitled “Israeli Soldiers Thwart a Boy’s Suicide Bombing Attempt.” The article, about the capture of a Palestinian teenage bomber at an Israeli checkpoint, offers an object lesson in how to editorialize the news. The Chronicle version, published the same day, selectively uses the New York Times report, including only those sections that give the impression of an Israeli military that is callous and unfeeling toward a young boy, and omitting all the portions that deal with Palestinian culpability.

The Chronicle‘s own headline for the piece gives the reader a taste of what is to come.  It reads:

Israelis block teen wearing suicide bomb at gateway/Soldiers take cover, order 16-year-old to remove bomb vest   (SF Chronicle)

And indeed, the Chronicle‘s much abridged article focuses almost exclusively on the conduct of the soldiers who apprehended the Palestinian boy. By contrast, the original headline from the Times more objectively reports the news, and reads:

Israeli Soldiers Thwart a Boy’s Suicide Bombing Attempt (New York Times)

In the edited version, we read of the Israeli soldiers’ “guns pointed” at a “froze(n)” Palestinian youth. The soldiers “retreat behind large concrete barricades for safety,” unwilling to help the boy remove his bomb-laden vest. This scene is followed by yet more orders “shout(ed)” at the youth as soldiers, once again, “remained in their fortified positions.” One sentence is cut off in the middle to read, “He (the boy) was seized by the soldiers.” The original sentence was: “He was seized by the soldiers, who later detonated the bomb in a controlled explosion,” a phrase that emphasizes the potential deadliness of this thwarted attack (emphasis added).

The edited version then has the Palestinian boy “strip to his underwear,” again “ordered” to do so by the faceless soldiers. Tellingly omitted is a statement by an Israeli official that demonstrated their concern for the boy: “‘He’s a frightened little boy,’ said Maj. Sharon Feingold, a military spokeswoman. ‘Our interest right now is to find out who sent him.'” 

The entirety of the Times‘ discussion of Palestinian responsibility in the affair is edited out, and the article concludes with a statement by the boy’s mother, “This is shocking. To use a child like this is irresponsible, forbidden.”

The palpable irony is that the reader might be led to think the mother is speaking here of the “shocking” conduct of the Israeli army in its handling of her son–the only thing detailed in this article–whereas in the actual New York Times piece, it is clear the mother is referring to the unconscionable use of children by Palestinian terrorists to carry out attacks against Israelis.

Greg Myre’s New York Times report commendably includes comments on “‘the Palestinians’ cynical use of innocent children, turning their kids into human time bombs'” and notes that the “the Palestinian leadership and the factions responsible for the bombings are generally reluctant to comment on the issue.” Myre offers key context, observing, “Throughout the conflict a solid majority of Palestinians has backed suicide bombings as a means for fighting Israel …, and some Palestinians have spoken out against the use of teenagers.”

Though newspapers routinely edit articles in the interest of space, the Chronicle‘s headline and selective use of material appear to be highly partisan. The question is, who did the partisan editing?  Was it the NY Times that provided the edited version to the Chronicle or was it the Chronicle whose editing skewed the article?

Update: Follow Up from the Chronicle

In our alert, we pointed out that we were not certain whether the numerous edits to the March 25th New York Times article were made by the Times‘ syndication service or the San Francisco Chronicle. Andrew Ross, Executive Foreign and National Editor of the San Francisco Chronicle, informs CAMERA that it was the Chronicle that made the edits. He also informs us that a second NY Times story on the topic of the 16 year old bomber was published on March 26 in the San Francisco Chronicle and that it was more in-depth.  http://tinyurl.com/2fk48
We urged Mr. Ross to assign a reporter to continue exploring the context that was omitted in the March 25th report and hinted at but not directly addressed in the March 26th NY Times article: the widespread support among Palestinians for terror against Israelis and the escalating use of children to wage terror.  We also encouraged him to publish reports on the even more important context of the pervasive incitement and hate indoctrination that has radicalized an entire generation of Palestinian youth, making them believe that they are honor-bound to kill Jews and destroy Israel.  How is it manifested in schools, textbooks, sermons, camps, newspapers, music videos, movies, soccer team names…? What can be done to reverse the escalating glorification of hatred and murder of Jews? What will it take for teachers and imams to foster co-existence and respect for Israel’s rights and permanence, rather than “death to the  Jews”? Are there any Palestinian moderates who are willing to condemn the killing of Jews, not because it’s counter-productive, but because it is morally wrong?


Below is the original article as it appeared in the New York Times, with the parts deleted by the San Francisco Chronicle  highlighted in red.

The New York Times
Copyright 2004 

March 25, 2004 

Israeli Soldiers Thwart a Boy’s Suicide Bombing Attempt

by Greg Myre

HAWARA CHECKPOINT, West Bank, March 24 –When the Palestinian teenager in a red sweater and blue jeans reached the front of the long line and began approaching the Israeli soldiers at this West Bank checkpoint on Wednesday, he immediately aroused suspicion.

The soldiers were on high alert. Just last week, troops at this same checkpoint, on a main road leading south from the chaotic city of Nablus, captured an 11-year-old boy with a bomb hidden in his bag.

On Wednesday, the soldiers suspected that the youth had something under his sweater and responded immediately, pointing their automatic rifles at Hussam Abdo, who later gave his age as 14, while his family said he was 16.

Palestinian teenagers have taken part in attacks against Israelis throughout the three and a half years of fighting. The youngest suicide bomber to date was a 16-year-old fro m Nablus.

In the propaganda battle that is always a component of the Middle East conflict, Israel is swift to highlight the Palestinian use of youths barely in their teens. In this case much of the drama was recorded by an Associated Press Television News cameraman, a Palestinian, who was among those waiting to cross the checkpoint.

With the soldiers’ guns pointed, Hussam froze, raising his hands above his head. The soldiers retreated behind large concrete barricades for safety, according to accounts by Israeli military officers at the scene.

Hussam was then ordered to remove his sweater, which revealed a gray vest with explosives packed inside, the kind that is standard issue for Palestinian suicide bombers, the military officers said.

As the rest of the story unfolded, it was captured on tape by the cameraman.

The military sent a small yellow robot toward Hussam, delivering cutters to remove the vest. But the weight of the vest and the explosives, estimated at 15 to 20 pounds, made it awkward for him to bend over, reach the scissors and cut away the straps of the vest.

A wire believed to be a detonator cord dangled in front of his chest. Hussam called for soldiers to help, saying he did not want to blow himself up. But they remained in their fortified positions, shouting orders.

Hussam struggled but eventually freed himself from the vest and dropped it on the road. The soldiers then ordered him to strip to his underwear to make sure he had no other weapons. He was seized by the soldiers, who later detonated the bomb in a controlled explosion.

Israeli military and government officials immediately invited journalists to the scene and then placed Hussam on display for several minutes.

“This is another example of the Palestinians’ cynical use of innocent children, turning their kids into human time bombs,” said David Baker, an official in the office of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. “Palestinian terrorists are ready to sacrifice their own children for the express purpose of inflicting terror upon Israelis.”

Throughout the conflict a solid majority of Palestinians has backed suicide bombings as a means for fighting Israel. The level of support has declined a bit as the fighting grinds on, and some Palestinians have spoken out against the use of teenagers.

The Palestinian leadership and the factions responsible for the bombings are generally reluctant to comment on the issue, which usually receives only limited coverage in the Palestinian news media. No Palestinian officials made statements on Wednesday about Hussam’s attempted bombing.

The past month has produced several cases involving attempted attacks by teens or even preteens.

Last month the Israeli police arrested three boys, ages 13, 14 and 15, and said the youths had homemade firearms and were on their way to attack in the northern Israeli town of Afula. The youths left a note in their home village expressing anger at the separation barrier Israel is building in the West Bank.

On March 16, Israeli soldiers stopped the 11-year-old boy at the Hawara checkpoint with a bomb in his bag, though the Israelis believed that he had had no knowledge of it.

The youth worked as a porter and carried many bags back and forth across the checkpoint without checking the contents. The boy and Palestinians disputed the Israeli accusation that he had had a bomb, saying he only carried auto parts.

On Wednesday, Hussam said he knew what he was doing.

After he was detained, Hussam was taken out of the back of an Israeli military jeep and presented to journalists. He gave his name and said he was 14 and in eighth grade. In size and appearance he looked that age, possibly even younger.

When asked if he knew he had been carrying a bomb, he said, “Yes.”

Military officers then intervened and prevented further questioning, and declined to give details of their investigation.

Wearing an oversized olive jacket provided by the military, Hussam was escorted by a soldier back to the Nablus side of the checkpoint.

“He’s a frightened little boy,” said Maj. Sharon Feingold, a military spokeswoman. “Our interest right now is to find out who sent him.”

At the family home in Nablus, Hussam’s parents said he was 16 and in 10th grade. They described him as a poor student who often skipped school and was a bit slow mentally.

“Hussam left home this morning to school, and this was the first we heard of what happened,” his mother, Tamam Abdo, told Reuters. “This is shocking. To use a child like this is irresponsible, forbidden.”

Many Palestinian parents have praised their sons and daughters for carrying out suicide attacks, hailing them as heroes and martyrs. But in several instances in the last year, parents of teenage bombers have expressed anger at the factions that had armed their children.

Some neighbors said Hussam was a member of a militant group, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. His parents said he attended rallies held by various factions but did not belong to any of them.  

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