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The PJ Tatler

by
Michael Widlanski

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November 29, 2012 - 9:20 am

Middle East Wars kill people, but they add life to the careers of journalists who substitute their own prejudices  for fact-based analysis.

The Wednesday War (eight days from Wednesday to Wednesday) against Hamas terror is a good example. It spurred sloppy reporting and idiotic analysis masquerading as expertise.

Here are a few classic cases:

  • David Carr, media reporter of The New York Times, writing from New York, accused Israel of murdering journalists in The Wednesday War in Gaza. There are several problems with the story:

Carr was not on the scene. He never got any closer to Gaza than the Waldorf Astoria, where he was covering a conference of journalists. Second, Carr, never did any reporting close to the event or any serious research after the event. Carr relied on unsubstantiated charges which he said came from other journalistic sources.

“Journalists who dig into murky and dangerous corners of the world have become accustomed to being threatened and sometimes hunted by drug lords and gangsters, but now some governments have decided shooting the messenger is a viable option,” wrote Carr, citing Israel as an example of a regime  that regularly kills the messenger.

When pressed by critics, Carr insisted that news organizations had reported that Israel killed journalists. He did not mention that the reports came out of Gaza, which is controlled by Hamas, a terror organization that, like Hizballah and the PLO, has frequently falsified “evidence” and frequently intimidated journalists deliberately.

 Arab terror groups often accuse Israel of killing “journalists” or “doctors,” but some of the “journalists”  and “doctors” work for Hamas-Hizballah-PLO, even using ambulances  to ferry terrorists. For example, Wafa Idris, the first Palestinian suicide bomber, snuck into Jerusalem in an ambulance.

Those familiar with the way The New York Times has covered the Middle East for many years will not be surprised by Carr’s story. John Kifner and Thomas. Friedman covered Beirut for The Times in the 1980′s the same way, as  defense attorneys for the PLO, often near-blind to Syrian atrocities, but always ready to  accuse Israel.

Kifner was among five reporters who were abducted by a Palestinian terror group which threatened and intimidated them. The terrorists even pretended to carry out phony executions. Kifner did not write the story, avoiding the truth until an Israeli official embarrassed the Times into writing an account.

When the somewhat trepidatious account was accidentally published in the International Herald Tribune—which was sold in Beirut—Kifner, who saw himself as an intrepid war reporter in a flak jacket, hopped the first plane out of town.

Kifner, the brave war correspondent, returned to Beirut  only after his colleague, NYT correspondent Henry Tanner, made a tour of several Arab countries and got promises from several governments and branches of the PLO that the NY Times brave correspondent could safely correspond.

Kifner and Friedman avoided writing about PLO intimidation of the press, or  Syrian involvement in killing several Western and Arab reporters. Friedman only really addressed these subjects in a book written after he left Beirut. While in Beirut, both Friedman and Kifner even suggested that the PLO protected journalists.

Friedman was not in Beirut at the time of the Sabra and Chatilla massacres in 1982, but he won a Pulitzer Prize for articles based on charges that Israel itself and its Christian militia ally, the South Lebanese Army Maj. Saad Haddad were responsible for the murders. He not only got the story wrong, but he willfully ignored the truth

As someone who worked for the Times, I was at an interview where Haddad denied the charges to Friedman’s face, but Friedman ignored the material, preferring to use the charges relayed by other reporters. [For a deeper review of these and other examples of terrorists exploiting reporters see my book on terror, Battle for Our Minds: Western Elites and the Terror Threat.]

  • Here’s another classic example of journalists in service to terror:

Bloomberg News just published its own  advocacy analysis entitled, “To Bolster Palestinian Moderates, Let Abbas Win at the UN.”

“A few weeks ago, the U.S. and Israel were painting Mahmoud Abbas, leader of the Palestinian faction Fatah, as an extremist” for going to the UN to bypass Israeli-PLO treaties, asserted Bloomberg News. But, said Bloomberg, mere PLO violation of treaties is nothing compared to Hamas actually attacking Israel with rockets.

Therefore, reasoned Bloomberg News, Israel and the US should reward the PLO-Fatah for being somewhat less hateful.

This is a bit like a judge who has tried both a serial mass murderer and a recidivist rapist giving the murderer a life term in jail while giving a prize to the rapist.

Aside for the glaring errors in basic logic,  Bloomberg News makes several mistakes: It accepts that Abbas and the PLO are moderate, that  Abbas wants peace, that letting the PLO win at the UN will somehow appease Arab enmity to Israel.

None of this is even close to being true. The PLO under Abbas has repeatedly violated the terms of its treaties with Israel by inviting boycotts of Israel, encouraging violence against Israel through its radio and TV outlets and by honoring those who continue to carry out terror against Israel.

Abbas may be more dangerous than Yasser Arafat because he has been accepted as a moderate, because he wears a suit and is a trained professional propagandist who got a doctorate at the KGB’s Patrice Lumumba University for Third World leaders. Abbas is so effective that some Israelis insist on calling him  by the affectionate kunya (nickname in Arabic) “Abu Mazen.” But there is nothing to be affectionate about.

Anyone who follows Abbas’s statements in Arabic to his people on Palestinian TV and radio or his interviews in the Arab press knows that Abbas is as tough or tougher than Arafat in rejecting the very idea of Israel as a Jewish state. In a public speech in 2005 Abbas called on Hamas to turn its rifles on Israel.

Abbas, not Arafat, cut off talks with Israel. Rewarding such behavior is foolish.

The best way for the press to deal with Abbas and Hamas is by studying them hard and up close, not by wishful thinking or by looking at them with someone else’s eyes.

The Middle East is a strategically important part of the world, and the Western press has an obligation to examine terrorist organizations without fear or favor.

Dr. Michael Widlanski is the author of Battle for Our Minds: Western Elites and the Terror Threat. He is a former reporter, correspondent, and editor respectively at the New York Times, Cox Newspapers, and the Jerusalem Post. He was Strategic Affairs Advisor in Israel's Ministry of Public Security, and now teaches at Bar Ilan University.
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