Keeping an eye on the curators of the news

Palestinian protestors prepare to fly a kite loaded with an incendiary during a demonstration along the Gaza-Israel border.

Palestinian protestors prepare to fly a kite loaded with an incendiary during a demonstration along the Gaza-Israel border.

On April 24th 2018, our local newspaper, the Rockford Register Star, hosted an event called "What's News? What's Noise?" Its purpose was to give us tools to discern real news from fake news, and featured a pretty impressive speaker panel from the Associated Press - the most widely read news service in the US, if not the world.

The panel included AP vice president and standards editor at large John Daniszewski, AP central news director Tom Berman, and Samantha Shotzbarger, fact checker; Rockford Register Star executive editor Mark Baldwin moderated. 

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After the presentation, my husband and I had a conversation with the VP/standards editor, John Daniszewski. This was several weeks into the Great March of Return, and I had a few comments about the Associated Press coverage. (Here and here are some of my previous pieces on If Americans Knew, critiquing AP coverage of the Palestinian issue; here is a more recent article that shows I don't only pick on AP.)

It was a nice chat. John admitted that Gazans are being overlooked or unfairly portrayed in the mainstream media much of the time, and that even AP might need to have a look at its own work. I was impressed with his humility. We exchanged email addresses, and I've been in touch with him ever since. 

I don't fancy myself to be a news reporter. It's not on me to tell a balanced story - I'm just doing my small part to offset some of the underreporting and misreporting that pervades mainstream media. I tell the truth, just the truth that's rarely heard, the truth that needs to be heard.

But AP is a news agency. It's their job to discover the whole story, not just one side.

Here is my most recent email to John. I think it might be instructive. It's important to be able to dissect news reporting, and to scrutinize not just what's in a news article, but also what's not. We need to be smart news consumers and hold news agencies to a high standard.

Hi John,

I've continued to monitor AP, and I still see the same troubling tendency to quote high up Israeli sources frequently, but rarely or never a word from Palestinian sources. Please have a look at a few examples from the past week:

June 17, 2018 Sunday 4:26 pm GMT "Israel strikes launchers of burning kites from Gaza Strip" 

The article included the following phrases:

The Israeli military on Sunday said

The army said

Israeli military says

Israel says

A parliamentary committee last week said

The military says

Cabinet Minister Naftali Bennett...said

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said

Israel's Shin Bet internal security agency announced

it [Shin Bet] said

The agency said

On the other hand, only one Palestinian comment was referenced:

according to Palestinian health officials

In addition, this statement is simply inaccurate:

The Islamic militant group Hamas, which rules Gaza, has led the protests.

It is an accepted fact that the Great March of Return is a grassroots movement, not a Hamas campaign. (For example, see this article in NYT.) Israel has continued to "blame Hamas" for every bullet that Israeli snipers have fired; AP is toeing the line for Netanyahu and his snipers by repeating this inaccuracy.

Even more egregious, in my opinion - I hope you will agree - are the content and bias of this article:

June 4, 2018 Monday 8:15 pm GMT "Israeli minister: Gaza casualties don't tell the story"

In this piece, AP is giving a platform to a senior Israeli Cabinet minister to rationalize an open-fire policy against unarmed protesters: 

Israel has come under heavy international criticism for shooting unarmed protesters, with rights groups accusing the military of acting illegally by using deadly force from a long distance when soldiers' lives are not immediately threatened.

"In the Second World War, 7.5 million Germans were killed and only 500,000 British. So who was the aggressor, the Germans or the British?" he asked. "The issue is not the numbers. The issue is who is doing what."

"The issue is who is doing what" - Israel is shooting, Gazans are protesting. Why is AP giving voice to such an outlandish, backwards position, a suggestion that Gazan protesters are like the Germans in World War Two - and devoting a whole article to such a topic?

The article goes on to more insupportable statements:

He said non-lethal means, such as rubber-coated bullets, have proven ineffective at stopping crowds from trying to break through the border fence...Gallant acknowledged that "mistakes" have happened, blaming the uneven terrain and crowded protests. Protesters often set tires on fire to make it difficult for Israeli snipers.

The author of this article knows well that the protesters have been shot while far from the border fence. And how is AP buying into the idea that sharpshooters have made, and should be absolved of, a whole slew of lethal "mistakes"? 

Also, why isn't AP standing up for its own people? You know that journalists have been targeted and killed. And you must have heard that US ambassador to Israel David Friedman told American reporters to "keep your mouths shut" rather than report on the facts of the Gaza killings.

The piece goes on to mention, in passing, some facts that really deserve a detailed article:

The protests have been fueled by widespread despair over an 11-year blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt. The blockade has devastated the economy, with unemployment now close to 50 percent, and made it virtually impossible for Gazans to travel abroad.

Instead, the author ended her article with a reminder of the "suffering" of Israelis, not Gazans:

Yair Lapid, head of the opposition Yesh Atid party, said residents of southern Israel were still suffering because the government had no long-term policy about what to do with Gaza besides "waiting for the next round and waiting for the next fire."

John, I sincerely hope to see better from Associated Press. I will keep watching and reporting.

Thank you again for your sincere interest in this subject. I hope to hear from you.

Kathryn Shihadah

for If Americans Knew

and Palestine Home