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Tuesday, March 12, 2013

What a real reporter would do

Here's Soccer Dad's Middle East Media Sampler for Tuesday, March 12.
Mendacious Max Beyond Iron Dome
Max Fisher, the blogger for the Washington Post who publicized the picture of Jihad Mishrawi has now responded to a new United Nations report that concluded that the rocket that killed Mishrawi's son was likely fired by Hamas. Originally he was reticent to follow up with the new information available.
.@max_fisher A real reporter would ask the UN. Oh, wait: one did .freebeacon.com/u-n-hamas-rock… MT "not sure UN report is talking about Mishrawi"
— ElderOfZiyon (@elderofziyon) March 11, 2013
Unfortunately, Fisher's followup is full of evasions. In United Nations report suggests Hamas may have killed Palestinian infant Omar Mishrawi, Fisher writes:
But it turns out that, according to a new United Nations draft report from the office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the explosive that killed Omar Mishrawi may have actually been fired by the Gaza-based militant group Hamas, which has a reputation for missing. Though the initial report was less than clear on the matter (more on this below), the Associated Press now reports that a representative from the UN says the explosion “appeared to be attributable to a Palestinian rocket.” If true, this would be a significant shift in our understanding of Mishrawi’s death, which became a symbol of that month’s conflict.
I returned from vacation this morning with more than a few reader notes alerting me to the UN report and asking me to append my earlier post. I held off because the draft report was a bit sketchy, as draft reports can sometimes be. It does not name Mishrawi or his family, stating only, “On 14 November, a woman, her 11-month-old infant, and an 18-year-old adult in Al-Zaitoun were killed by what appeared to be a Palestinian rocket that fell short of Israel.” That’s the right time and location, but the wrong family relationship: Omar’s aunt, not his mother, was killed in the strike. While it was reasonable to wonder if this might still refer to the strike that killed Mishrawi, this single sentence was far from conclusive. The citation, which reads only “Case monitored by OHCHR,” didn’t offer many clues.
What's wrong with this? 
1) The word "suggests" in the title.
2) Hamas is called a "militant" group, not a terrorist group.
3) Fisher here is concerned with minutiae. The relationship of the woman is one of those things that gets misreported. Initially there were doubts that the damage to Mishrawi's house was consistent with an Israeli missile, but that didn't lead Fisher (or anyone) to raise the doubts then.
And of course, instead of writing "the evidence strongly suggests that it wasn't an Israeli missile," Fisher cites the BBC's Jon Donnison:
A BBC story expresses some doubt about the UN report. The BBC’s Jon Donnison writes, “The Israeli military made no comment at the time of the incident but never denied carrying out the strike. Privately, military officials briefed journalists that they had been targeting a militant who was in the building.” Donnison adds, “The Israeli military had reported no rockets being fired out of Gaza so soon after the start of the conflict.”
Donnison is from the BBC, not exactly known for its objectivity concerning Israel. Furthermore the person involved is an employee of BBC so questions of objectivity come up. (After the death, the BBC editor for the Middle East said, "We are all one team...") Fisher accepts Donnison's claim about the IDF not reporting any rockets so early in the conflict is dubious. Check the timestamps on the following tweets.
The IDF has embarked on Operation Pillar of Defense.
— IDF (@IDFSpokesperson) November 14, 2012
Initial reports indicate that the Iron Dome has intercepted a number of rockets above a major Israeli city. #Gaza #PillarOfDefense
— IDF (@IDFSpokesperson) November 14, 2012
Within three hours the IDF had already reported a number of rockets had been fired into Israel. Why is this important? Fisher was initially skeptical of the UN report because it misidentified one of the dead. Then when Jon Donnison made an easily verified (or disproved) claim, Fisher accepted it uncritically. This is a microcosm of the problem of Middle East reporting: claims that blame Israel are accepted by purportedly objective journalists without any checking, but claims that exonerate Israel are treated with the utmost skepticism if they aren't ignored altogether. Consider what was reported at the time, by Fisher.
An Israeli round hit Misharawi’s four-room home in Gaza Wednesday, killing his son, according to BBC Middle East bureau chief Paul Danahar, who arrived in Gaza earlier Thursday. Misharawi’s sister-in-law was also killed, and his brother wounded. Misharawi told Danahar that, when the round landed, there was no fighting in his residential neighborhood. “We’re all one team in Gaza,” Danahar told me, saying that Misharawi is a BBC video and photo editor. After spending a “few hours” with his grieving colleague, he wrote on Twitter, ”Questioned asked here is: if Israel can kill a man riding on a moving motorbike (as they did last month) how did Jihad’s son get killed.”
There was no fighting in the neighborhood. Israel, unlike Hamas, doesn't target civilians. Israel, of course, makes mistakes. However the fact that there was no fighting, means that there was no reason for Israel to target that neighborhood. Instead the absence of fighting was used by Fisher's interlocutors as a reason to suggest that Israel had targeted innocents. (If they could pick out a specific terrorist, how could they miss so badly and kill an innocent?) Fisher was taking the BBC and Mishrawi family's attitudes and using those attitudes to frame the story. Now he steps back and tells us:
The question of which “side” bears responsibility for Mishrawi’s death is of course important, if at the moment not fully known, in its own right. It’s also, in some ways, part of a larger battler over symbolism and narrative in the Israel-Palestine conflict. As I wrote at the time, the much-circulated photo of Mishrawi was championed by critics of Israel’s policies toward the Palestinian territories, held up as a microcosm of what they argued was an unjust conflict that disproportionately affected Palestinians. A small but troubling minorities of those critics suggested the Israeli military does not care about, or even willfully targeted, Palestinian children.
Meanwhile, some observers sympathetic to the Israeli strikes pointed out, with what may have been prescience, that Hamas rockets often miss and might have landed on Mishrawi’s house. They argued, as they are again arguing today, that the media attention on the photo underscores their suspicion that the world does not give Israel a fair shake.
Blame was an important part of his original narrative. While attributing part of the argument to "critics of Israel's policies toward the Palestinian territories," it appears that Fisher himself agrees with said "critics." (He validates the general "critics" by noting "small but troubling minorities" of that group. Of course, he quoted Paul Danahar one of that smaller group, uncritically.)
In 2012, prior to Pillar of Defense, rockets were fired into Israel every month. Most months it was more than ten rockets and in three of them it was more than 100 rockets. In November (including Pillar of Defense) over 1000 rockets were fired into Israel.
When assigning blame, this was not part of Fisher's calculus. Hundreds of thousands of Israeli civilians were under threat of attack. Many thousands were regularly attacked and Israel refrained from any major response.
Fisher poses as an objective observer; one above taking sides. Clearly, the tragedies of the Middle East, to Fisher, are caused by both sides.
So one side is a liberal Western style democracy; the other is a terrorist organization running an increasingly oppressive religious society.
One side deliberately targets civilians; the other does its best to avoid them.
One side declares its genocidal aims; the other has made significant, concrete concession to advance the cause of peace. (That's right Hamas came to power after Israel disengaged from Gaza.)
One side seeks to kill the other; the other side, despite threats, attempts to keep up humanitarian aid to its enemies.
The problem with Fisher's dispassionate even-handedness is that it is applied to a manifestly uneven situation. Rather than helping people understand the Middle East, Fisher's efforts effectively perpetuate the grievances that fuel the conflict.
His efforts to play down the UN report stand in contrast to the way he hyped the story. Let me ask the question I asked yesterday again:
If it had been known for certain at the time of Omar Mishrawi’s death that he had been killed by a Hamas rocket, would it have been front page news?
Reading Max Fisher's belated equivocations, I can only conclude that it was the apparent culpability of Israel that made the picture newsworthy.

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At 10:03 PM, Blogger Captain.H said...

The use of the word "militant" to describe terrorists is an amoral way of pretending to be "journalistically neutral". IMO, it's a manifestation of moral cowardice.

Mohandis Gandhi was a "militant". Martin Luther King was a "militant". Yasser Arafat was a terrorist. Ahmed Yassin was a terrorist. The difference is blatantly obvious to any objective thinking person.


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