Updated: New York Times: Journalism of Few Facts

Is the Holy Land uniquely exempt from the laws of the universe, a supernatural place where things like facts are not applicable? So suggests the title of an upcoming lecture by New York Times Jerusalem bureau chief Jodi Rudoren at Northeastern University in Boston: “Journalism in a land of few facts.”

Indeed, her article today, “The Dueling Narratives of the Arab-Israeli Conflict” reinforces the bizarre notion that few facts can be found in the intractable Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Rudoren writes:

The conflict is one of dueling narratives that can obscure concrete debates over dividing territory or determining the fate of the contested Old City compound at the center of the current crises. These narratives have devolved further in the latest uprising, fueled by incendiary material swirling around social networks and harsh rhetoric from leaders on both sides.

To illustrate her thesis, Rudoren focuses on competing “he said/she said” narratives surrounding two specific Palestinian attacks against Israelis, and eschews hard evidence which does confirm the facts about these events.

The most jarring indication that Rudoren buried the facts under a pile of Israeli and Palestinian claims, the latter of which are unfounded in light of the evidence which she ignores, is her treatment of an Oct. 14 incident outside the Old City’s Damascus Gate. She writes:

After yet another attack at the Damascus Gate to the Old City the other day, a crowd of angry men and boys gathered behind the police barricades, eager to tell what they had seen: A Palestinian teenager [sic], wearing fatigues, who fled from his father after a fight only to be felled in a hail of 20 bullets, or 40.

Many people said they heard the loud argument, but none could say what it was about. “The father was yelling at him big time, ‘Go home, stop, go home,'” one said. Maybe the youth had said he was going to stab an Israeli, and the father tried to prevent what was has increasingly become suicide by cop?

“He was not carrying a knife, I saw everything,” a witness insisted. “If they show a knife, they planted it.”

The Israeli police soon published a photo of a pocketknife, the kind Boy Scouts use, next to the slain teenager.

At a news conference a few days later, Hanan Ashrawi, a leader of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, twice raised the possibility that the police had planted knives. Asked whether she believed officers were actually doing this — or had any evidence — Ms. Ashrawi ignored the first question and said: “I don’t have any evidence as to what’s happening because we have no access to the scene of any event.” (Emphases added.)

In this case, access to the crime scene was not necessary to determine whether the assailant, Basel Sider of Hebron, was carrying a knife, or whether the police planted a knife. Anyone with a television, computer or smart phone could watch footage of the fatigue-clad Basel Sider running with a knife in his hand. The footage (still shot at left) was captured by MSNBC, though the network’s own correspondent, Ayman Moyeldin denied that Sider was armed, and host Jose Diaz-Balart commendably called his colleague out for this, stating:

But in the video that we have, that you have, that is, as you say — I don’t think anybody else has this video — we can clearly see the man in camouflage T-shirt and pants with what appears to be, at least in his right hand, a knife. And take a look at this video right here…like at least a five-inch or longer black blade…

How could the police “plant” a knife which Sider clearly carried with his own hand?

In short, Rudoren mentions a witness’s denial that the assailant had a knife, she notes the fact that Israeli police published an image of the knife next to the body of the slain “teenager” [sic], and she reports Ashrawi’s allegation that the police planted the knife. All of the above are tantamount to a series of claims and counter-claims.

But The New York Times journalist, whose job it is to deliver the facts, does not mention the evidence which blows Palestinian alleged witness claims out of the water and which also belies Ashrawi’s unfounded allegation: the televised footage of Sider running with the knife.

While Rudoren ignores footage which appeared on national television confirming Israeli police accounts that Sider was wielding a knife, she does cite footage said to substantiate a Palestinian “narrative.” But here’s the rub: Not only was the footage in question not featured as prominently as the footage of Sider on national television, but there’s no evidence that the footage existed at all.

Here’s what she wrote about the alleged footage substantiating Palestinian claims concerning the second case she highlights, the Oct. 7 stabbing attack on Hagai Street in Jerusalem’s Old City:

“The story of Shorouq here is not the same story the Israelis tell.”

Mr. Abu Hamed, interviewed for a recent article about Arab East Jerusalem, was talking about Shorouq Dweiyat, the 18-year-old from Sur Baher who was shot and wounded in the Old City on Oct. 7 by an Israeli Jews she had stabbed in the back. . . .

“The story of Shorouq” in Sur Baher is of a devout girl harassed by Jews after praying at the compound’s Al Aqsa Mosque; many people told me they watched with outrage footage that showed men tearing at her veil and long cloak, though the video has disappeared from public sites.

This is not the first time that Rudoren has referred to the bizarrely “disappeared” footage allegedly showing Dweiyat being harassed. Earlier this month, she reported: “The videos have been removed from social networks, but many Palestinians said Israelis were seen yanking at Ms. Dweiyat’s veil and long coat before the alleged attack.”

How and why does footage disappear from social networks and public sites? Where is Rudoren’s sense of journalistic skepticism when it com
es to such tenuous Palestinian claims? It is remarkable that Rudoren repeatedly cites footage said to document Palestinian claims of Israeli abuse despite the fact that she cannot possibly view and check the alleged footage, while at the same time she ignores footage seen by millions on national television which completely confirms Israeli accounts of Palestinian belligerence. How is that for burying the facts in favor of supposedly equally valid “he said/she said” claims?

Indeed, it is sad commentary that Northeastern’s journalism school is hosting a lecture with a journalist who abdicates her basic professional responsibility to find the facts. Ultimately, the issue is more of a “journalism with few facts” and not so much a “land with few facts.” 

UPDATE: Rudoren’s Excuses Do Not Hold Up to Scrutiny

In response to CAMERA’s request for an explanation as to why the article failed to mention the footage clearly showing the fatigue-clad Sidr running with a knife in his hand, Jodi Rudoren answered:

The answer is: space. This monthly “Letter from the Middle East” column has a very strict 700-word limit. The incident was mentioned not for the facts of the matter, but as an example of “the story” Palestinians told themselves and each other about this and other events this month, as set up by the article’s lead. The piece noted that “Palestinians pass around clips not of the attacks but of their aftermath,” the description of the Damascus Gate was clearly presented as what the crowd “was eager to tell what they had seen,” not some full accounting of the event.

Space?  In 10 words, Rudoren could have included the fact that “video broadcast by MSNBC shows the man holding the knife.” In fact, she might have  substituted this for the less pertinent fact that “The Israeli police soon published a photo of a pocket knife…next to the slain teenager.” Better yet,  she could have saved even more space by eliminating the absurdly bogus descriptor that the knife was “the kind Boy Scouts use.” 

Information about the incriminating video was similarly concealed by Rudoren  in 1600+-word article about the attack, making it clear that her decision not to provide a “full accounting”  or the “facts of the matter” was not limited by space, but rather was an effort to include only information, substantiated or not, to support the Palestinian narrative.  

(See also: “NBC Can’t Be Sure, Assailant Ahmed Manasrah, 13, Could Be Innocent“)

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