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May 24, 2002
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Europeans, Jenin and bad journalism

United Press International (www.upi.com) has published a three part analysis on the media's reporting of the Jenin massacre myth.

The articles show why the European media cannot be trusted, particularly the British leftist publications. America's National Public Radio also acted irresponsibly and continues to give a one-sided description of any events occurring in Israel or the Middle East.

"Alon Ben-David, veteran military correspondent of the Israel Broadcasting Authority and currently a media fellow at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard told United Press International: "A large part of the European media regards itself as not just reporters but as ideological crusaders. They are in the business of journalism not just for the business. They want to do good in the world. They have agendas."

It was also a blow to those who would like to expand National Public Radio's small-scale radio news operation in the United States into a radio-TV news empire on the lines of the BBC or other European outlets. The reporters and editors of NPR appeared far more prone to swallow the wild allegations about Jenin than most of their U.S. media colleagues did.

But the small scale in casualties in Jenin, ultimately confirmed by the PA itself, underlined the remarkable loss in perspective across the European media in both reporting what was happening and then analyzing it. The initial decision of the Israelis to keep the media out of Jenin while the fighting raged does not account for this. The most hysterical and inaccurate accounts and the wildest, unsubstantiated claims came not while the international media was barred from Jenin but after it was allowed in."

For NPR's twisted coverage of the Middle East, click here.
For a response I wrote to Max from Finland who didn't understand why Israel delayed the UN Jenin "fact finding" mission, click here.

I copy the full article below.

Part One: Documenting the Myth
By Martin Sieff - 5/20/2002 7:02 PM
http://www.upi.com/view.cfm?StoryID=20052002-032952-3644r

WASHINGTON, May 20 (UPI) -- After the Israeli Army launched its retaliatory strike into the Palestinian Authority-ruled West Bank in early April, the international media was filled with reports that the Israelis had possibly or probably killed hundreds, even thousands, of Palestinian civilians. The reports were later disproved and even the PA itself revised its own official figure for Palestinans killed in the fierce fighting down to only 56.

Here, United Press International traces the course of this "media myth" and the reasons it became so influential and was so widely believed.

--

The U.S. and Western European media coverage of the Battle of Jenin last month raises troubling and far-reaching questions about the reliability of the modern mass media and press in conflict situations. And the answers to them are both complex and surprising.

After the Israeli Army attacked the West Bank Palestinian city of Jenin on April 2, the Western European media fell for the "Massacre Myth" in Jenin in a big way. Even though the final Palestinian Authority figure acknowledged only 56 dead in Jenin, media coverage in major Western European nations gave credence to early claims by the PA's top officials that as many as 3,000 civilians had been killed in the fighting there.

Israel's own actions led credence to the myth. The Israeli army barred the international media from Jenin as its forces drove into the city. The only sources that the media then had for what was going on there were from the Palestinians themselves. And in the inevitable confusion of battle, what the great 19th century military theoretician Carl von Clausewitz called "the fog of war" applied. At the time, both the Israeli and Palestinian authorities appeared unclear what was actually happening on the ground.

However, even allowing for these factors, the Western media coverage of Jenin, espically in the Western European press and broadcast media, largely proved to be factually wildly inaccurate in the light of what later emerged. And there was also a hysterical tone to many of them.

What made these unreliable and misleading reports all the more remarkable was that many of the worst of them emerged in the most respected and influential organizations in the British media. The British Broadcasting Corporation and three of the four so-called "quality" daily newspapers -- The Times, The Independent and The Guardian -- fell for the "Massacre Myth" hook, line and sinker. Even the more cautious and -- as it proved -- reliable "Daily Telegraph" was not entirely immune either.

On April 17, the left wing "Guardian" in an editorial drew a moral equivalence between the Israeli drive on Jenin -- which itself was in response to an unprecedented series of suicide bomb massacres of Israeli civilians -- and the mega-terrorist attacks on the United States of Sept. 11. The Israeli retaliatory operation was "every bit as repellent" as the hijacked airliner attacks that killed nearly 3,000 Americans in New York City, the Guardian proclaimed.

Janine di Giovanni, the "Times" of London's correspondent in Jenin, reported on April 16, "Rarely in more than a decade of war reporting from Bosnia, Chechnya, Sierra Leone, Kosovo have I have seen such deliberate destruction, such disrespect for human life." In terms of what was later confirmed to have actually happened, this amounted to a whopper of mis-reporting comparable to Walter Duranty's claim in The New York Times that there was no famine in the Ukraine from 1929 to 1932. In fact, 10 million Ukrainian peasants starved to death then. Duranty won a Pulitzer Prize for his (mis-)reporting.

Di Giovanni's comparison also inevitably called into question what she had actually seen in Chechnya, Bosnia and Sierra Leone if she really imagined that the death toll in Jenin was worse than any of them. At least 100,000 people are believed to have died in Russia's two wars of 1994-96 and of 1999 to the present to crush Chechen separatists. As many as 250,000 people were killed in the 1991-95 Bosnia war and many mass graves of slaughtered entire towns and villages have been discovered and excavated. Scores of thousands died in the chaotic civil wars of Sierra Leone. Yet the documented death toll in Jenin was soon established as being literally one thousand times smaller than in Bosnia and Chechnya.

Other British papers shared in the hysteria. Phil Reeves in the London Independent compared Jenin to the Killing Fields of Pol Pot's Cambodia where between 1 million to 3 million people were slaughtered from 1975 to 1978. Analysts later noted that many of these reports were openly one-sided. Reeves did not cite or quote a single Israeli source in his story. Other claims, such as the one that hundreds of Palestinian victims were buried by an Israeli bulldozer in mass grave, later proved to have no validity or verification whatsoever.

The BBC uncritically swallowed the Massacre Myth. BBC News headlined a report on April 18 as "Jenin 'Massacre' Evidence Growing," and the Guardian newspaper's headline on a May 6 analysis piece as "How Jenin Battle Became a Massacre." The BBC report said an Amnesty International investigation "has only just begun, but Palestinian claims of a massacre were gaining foundation."

The claim that Israel had committed war crimes proved to be a popular one. Reeves' story in The Independent on April 16 was headlined "Amid the Ruins, the Grisly Evidence of a War Crime," and he wrote: "A monstrous war crime that Israel has tried to cover up for a fortnight has finally been exposed." The Guardian on April 17 zeroed in on Gerald Kaufman, a Labor member of Parliament and a prominent leader in the British Jewish community, calling Ariel Sharon a "war criminal" and accusing the Israeli prime minister of "ordering his troops to use methods of barbarism against the Palestinians."

However, by the end of April, the hysteria was dying down in the British press as U.S. media reporting established that the earlier wild accusations and accounts had no validity. On April 29, the BBC interviewed military expert David Holley who concluded on the basis of the evidence by then available: "It just appears there was no wholesale killing." Holley went on to conclude, "I think massacre is a word that is too often used in these situations and it doesn't really help."

In Italy, while coverage of Jenin was still widely distorted, the hysteria and inaccuracy proved far less sweeping than in London. Instead, it broke down much more predictably along left-wing party lines, reflecting each newspaper's editorial stance and political leanings.

Il Manifesto, a left-wing newspaper and the former mouthpiece of the Italian Communist Party, said in a special Jenin-related package in its May 4 edition that the United Nations was "frightened of taking a stand in Jenin" and that Israel's actions in Jenin could be taken as war crimes.

Similarly, La Repubblica, the main center-left paper, had covered the topic with a general anti-Israel stance. That was criticized by the May 7 issue of Il Foglio, a small but powerful intellectual paper on the right that is edited by an ally of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

Il Foglio ran a whole issue blasting La Repubblica's coverage, saying the paper gave a "twisted view of reality," especially taking issue with a banner headline La Repubblica ran on April 10 reading "Massacre in Jenin." In several issues, La Repubblica made the events in Jenin sound Holocaust-like, using words like "apocalyptic" and "historical." One story on April 28 that discussed the U.N. fact-finding mission, for example, was buried inside, while scathing stories blasting the Israelis were on the front.

The pro-business newspaper Il Sole/24 Ore proved much more evenhanded and reserved in its dealings with the subject than the left wing ones. For example, on April 7, the paper said in an editorial that it is impossible to get accurate news from Jenin but that "circumstantial evidence ... (seemed) to indicate a potential massacre."

Another story on April 9 quoted conflicting witnesses who said that the victims numbered in the hundreds and those who said there were around three dozen. In May, the paper ran at least two editorials complaining about "irresponsible" media coverage.

Although there was exaggerated and inaccurate reporting in the French press, serious newspapers tended to keep more of a balance than their opposite numbers in London.

The respected daily Le Monde on April 13 reported that the Israeli army had acknowledged that hundreds of people were "wounded and killed" in the Jenin refugee camp. It also reported that at least 23 Israeli soldiers had been apparently killed.

Three days later, on April 16, Le Monde again refused to be swept away by the mounting hysteria. The paper concluded, "It was still impossible Monday to confirm or deny Palestinian accusations that Tsahal (the Israeli Defense Forces) committed a 'massacre' in the camp of 15,000 refugees." On May 5, the paper stated in an editorial, "Nothing permits thinking that the Israeli army perpetuated massacres in Jenin." However it did then echo Human Rights Watch and other groups in suggesting Israel had committed war crimes there.

Even the leftist newspaper Liberation in an editorial on April 16 advised caution in dealing with the allegations.

"Up till now, nothing proves the existence of such crimes. One cannot brush (such accusations) aside - Israel is blocking all serious inquiries. [But] that is not a reason to decree them a-priori," the newspaper commented.

Liberation then recommended a lesson many other major Western European news organizations and even governments would have done well to emulate: "It is a sad diplomacy that can't distinguish facts from propaganda, even in a region where this mix is a sort of rule."

--

This report was based on the reporting of Al Webb in London, Elizabeth Bryant in Paris and Eric Lyman in Rome

Analysis: Why Europeans bought Jenin myth
By Martin Sieff - 5/21/2002 3:14 PM
http://www.upi.com/view.cfm?StoryID=21052002-123835-3473r

WASHINGTON, May 21 (UPI) -- After the Israeli Army launched its retaliatory strike into the Palestinian Authority-ruled West Bank in early April, the international media was filled with reports that the Israelis had possibly or probably killed hundreds, even thousands, of Palestinian civilians. The reports were later disproved and even the Palestinian Authority itself revised its own official figure for Palestinians killed in the fierce fighting down to 56.

Here, United Press International traces the course of this "media myth" and the reasons it became so influential and was so widely believed.

-0-

Most of the major press and broadcasting outlets in Western Europe uncritically gobbled up the Jenin Massacre Myth with self-indulgent abandon. Their record contrasted particularly unfavorably -- and even, it might be argued, contemptibly -- with the remarkable balance and restraint the U.S. broadcast and print media showed after Sept. 11.

The mega-terrorist attacks that destroyed the World Trade Center towers and mauled the Pentagon killed around 3,000 Americans in New York City and Washington. Yet U.S. media coverage and reaction was remarkable for its balance and restraint. There was no effort to scapegoat the Muslim population of the United States -- estimates of its size run from 1.7 million to 7 million but it appears to be between 2 million to 3 million.

Careful distinctions were drawn repeatedly between the small number of terrorists who had actually planned and executed the attacks and the vast majority of law-abiding Muslim Americans.

By contrast, the Israeli strikes into the West Bank did not threaten French, British or other Western Europeans directly. Yet much of the coverage was exaggerated, wildly inaccurate and reflected a sweeping rush to judgment against an entire nation and the ethic group that identified with it.

Alon Ben-David, veteran military correspondent of the Israel Broadcasting Authority and currently a media fellow at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard told United Press International: "A large part of the European media regards itself as not just reporters but as ideological crusaders. They are in the business of journalism not just for the business. They want to do good in the world. They have agendas."

And in the case of the initial massacre accusations, many of these Western European reporters "had no way of verifying the allegations they heard yet they reported them as fact, or as factually credible. That bothers me," Ben-David said.

Why were reporters and news editors of so many of the biggest and most prestigious Western European newspapers and broadcasting networks ready to believe that the Israeli Army had committed a massacre in the Palestinian West Bank city of Jenin when no massacre had in fact occurred? The reasons were many.

First, everyone was prepared to believe the worst, because the worst had already happened. It was all too credible to believe that hundreds, if not thousands, of Palestinians had been massacred in Jenin because they had been massacred before. The 20-year-old shadow of Sabra and Shatila lay across the international media's initial perceptions of Jenin.

In 1982, Lebanese Christian Falangist forces allied to the invading Israeli army massacred at least hundreds, possibly thousands, of Palestinian civilians in the refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila outside Beirut. Large numbers of women and children were among the dead. The Israeli forces did not commit the massacre or even encourage it, but a later major national inquiry in Israel issued devastating criticism of Israel's then-minister of defense, Ariel Sharon. It concluded that Sharon had not taken the precautionary action required by the warning signs and circumstances to prevent the massacre. It recommended that he never again be allowed to serve as defense minister of Israel.

The effect of Sabra and Shatila on the journalists covering it was profound. Its impact through them on the Western world, especially in Europe, was even greater. From Israel's war of independence in 1947-48 for more than 30 years through the 1967 Six Day War, the 1973 Yom Kippur War and the 1976 Entebbe rescue operation, Israel enjoyed enormous sympathy and support among the Western European media elite. Reporters, editors and their readers alike all saw it as a Jewish David struggling to survive against an Arab Goliath.

But after Sabra and Shatila, all that changed. Then, the first Palestinian uprising, or Intifada, of 1987-92 reinforced the Sabra and Shatila image that the Palestinians had replaced the Jews as an "eternally suffering" people. That image and stereotype remained, though somewhat submerged, during the hopeful years from the start of the Oslo Peace Process in 1993 to its collapse at the Camp David II summit in July 2000.

Because Sabra and Shatila had actually happened, it appeared credible that it could happen again. Because Ariel Sharon had failed to prevent Sabra and Shatila, it was easy to imagine that he had approved a second version of it on a large scale. These preconceptions proved critical in the willingness of media elites to accept the Palestinian allegations that a massacre was taking place.

Second, the Israelis haplessly and inadvertently dug a public relations trap for themselves and then promptly fell into it. They prevented the international media from covering what was certainly extremely fierce fighting in the refugee camp and streets of Jenin.

As a result, international media reporters could not see with their own eyes that a massacre in fact was not taking place. But they were receiving claims from the Palestinians that it was. And since the Israeli military were preventing the international media from going into Jenin and seeing what was happening with their own eyes, it was only too easy and obvious to conclude that they were covering up the truth of the Palestinian allegations.

Third, even when the worst fighting was over and the Israelis finally allowed reporters into Jenin, a "rat pack" psychology, even hysteria, appears to have taken hold. People saw what they wanted to see and they mutually reinforced each other in their perceptions. Thus it was that an astonishing number of reports of alleged massacres and atrocities in the different "quality" newspapers of the British press alike cited the same single Palestinian eyewitness for their allegations.

Fourth, almost none of those present had covered serious urban conflicts in Lebanon and Northern Ireland during their worst phases in the 1970s and early 1980s. Almost none of them were old enough to have experienced full-scale battle reporting first-hand in Vietnam. This led them to vastly exaggerate the scale of destruction and death they were seeing. One British reporter wrote evocatively of the stench of hundreds of dead bodies buried beneath the rubble when the Palestinian Authority, which had earlier claimed thousands had died, had revised its own official figures of those killed to less than 60.

Janine di Giovanni writing in the London Times even claimed the devastation was on a worse scale than anything she had seen in Bosnia, Chechnya or Sierra Leone, where scores, even hundreds, of thousands of people had died. The reactions of veteran reporters of real wars like Ernie Pyle or Marguerite Higgins to that kind of hyperbole would likely have been derisive laughter.

The reaction of the Western European media differed profoundly in its nature from that of U.S. newspapers and broadcasting news outlets. The allegations were equally widely reported in the United States. However, the U.S. broadcast media proved far more resistant to anti-Israeli and even anti-Semitic hysteria than that in Western European. This appears to have been the case precisely because no single state-funded or state-approved corporation dominated broadcast news in the United States, as is the case in Britain and France.

In those and other smaller countries, a well-entrenched left-wing media elite has been hostile to Israel and its policies for decades. And they have long enjoyed a cozy, unchallenged bureaucratic dominance in the state broadcasting news organizations that to a large degree set the braking news and analysis for the entire print press.

Therefore, entire echelons of editors and executives in these organizations were willing to accept uncritically the fierce unsubstantiated and hysterical reports coming out of their correspondents in Jenin. And even when individual newspapers like Le Monde in Paris or Il Foglio in Rome expressed caution or skepticism about the initial massacre claims, their warnings were drowned out in the broadcast media din. In the United States, by contrast, there is no single state-owned or subsidized national broadcasting service to set the tone.

There are four main national television networks, each one corporately or privately owned and three of them also run quasi-independent cable news networks. And there is also CNN. The cable Fox News Channel in particular seeks to position itself as relatively conservative in tone and counter-channel to the other, more liberal, "establishment" ones. With this diversity of broadcast voices, it is therefore not possible for a single network to dominate the coverage. Coverage perceived as being slavishly biased in favor of -- or against -- either Israel or the Palestinians tends to provoke strong outcries from public pressure groups and on other parts of the media.

In addition to all this, the raw material being reported from the field tended to be far more partisan and sympathetic to the Palestinian initial claims of massacre in Western Europe than in the United States. For the tradition of the practice of journalism in Europe remains far more partisan and unashamedly subjective than in the United States. The reasons for the European media's "rush to judgment" over Jenin were many, but one conclusion was inescapable: The "rush to judgment" was an "hour of shame."


How Europe's media lost out
By Martin Sieff - 5/22/2002 10:00 AM
http://www.upi.com/view.cfm?StoryID=22052002-085307-9694r

WASHINGTON, May 22 (UPI) -- After the Israeli army launched its retaliatory strike into the Palestinian Authority-ruled West Bank in early April, the international media was filled with reports that the Israelis had possibly killed hundreds, even thousands, of Palestinian civilians. The reports were disproved and even the PA revised its official figure for Palestinians killed in the fierce fighting to 56. Here, United Press International traces the course of this "media myth" and the reasons it became so influential and was so widely believed.


Third of three parts


The U.S and Western European media covered the Jenin "Massacre That Wasn't" in radically different ways over the past month. The American media came out way on top and the European media, especially state-run broadcasting outlets, came out by far the losers.

This was not an anticipated outcome on either side of the Atlantic. It was, in fact, a further humiliation for Western European governments and left-leaning media leaders. They were already reeling from the humiliations of seeing a virtual fascist make the last two in France's presidential election and the assassination of radical political leader Pim Fortuyn in The Netherlands. That was the kind of violent political outburst that most Western Europeans have long comfortably believed could only happen in America, not to them.

Not every press or news organizations in Western Europe came out badly from the controversy over what the Israeli army did or did not do in Jenin. Media outlets like the London Sunday Times, Il Foglio in Rome and Le Monde in Paris that refused to be swept away by the hysteria gained in credibility greatly.

Even other media outlets like The Guardian of London newspaper or the Associated Press in the United States that at first reported the exaggerated claims, but then took care to present the counter evidence when it came in, showed their basic integrity. Papers like the London Times and Independent, which did not do remotely as much as The Guardian in running pieces documenting their own, and others, factual failings, fared far less well.

The affair of the Jenin "Massacre Myth" did not debunk the basic credibility of the Western media. The truth emerged at the end of the day. But the U.S. media overall were winners by far at the expense of the Western European ones.

Time magazine's in-depth reporting, for example, proved to be by the end of the day a model of how to reconstruct complex events far away under the pressure of intensely tight bylines. Its May 13 reconstruction of the battle of Jenin is likely to prove a major resource for future historians

The credibility of state-run or supported national broadcasting organizations took a huge hit. The principle of having a free market in broadcasting as well as print media outlets in order to ensure more fair and balanced overall coverage got a big boost. This was humiliating to the Europeans, who have long sneered in their dominant broadcast media culture at what they regard as the crass commercialism and vulgar pursuit of profits of competing U.S. broadcasting networks.

It was also a blow to those who would like to expand National Public Radio's small-scale radio news operation in the United States into a radio-TV news empire on the lines of the BBC or other European outlets. The reporters and editors of NPR appeared far more prone to swallow the wild allegations about Jenin than most of their U.S. media colleagues did.

The controversy also underlined the value of having widely read and circulated columnists who can act in the media like the Senate does in Congress or other "upper" houses of parliament do in Western Europe and Japan. Such columnists at their best can act like deliberative parliamentary chambers not subject to the pressures of repeated re-election campaigns. They can take a longer term view of things. They can act as cautious, more thoughtful voices expressing caution or doubt about emotional hysteria sweeping the news pages. William F. Buckley's May 4 editorial "Did the Israelis Do It?" serves as a model for this kind of writing.

Some European columnists did not do nearly so well. A.N. Wilson's willingness in the London Evening Standard to accuse the Israelis, without any credible evidence, of poisoning Palestinian water supplies showed the way columnists could break every restraint of decency and common sense. Wilson's article would have been at home in the pages of the Nazi propaganda sheet "Der Sturmer."

The U.S. and Western European media coverage of the Jenin Massacre Myth raises troubling and far-reaching questions about the reliability of mass media and press in conflict situations.

The practice of war reporting is a dirty, complicated business at the best of times. War, as wise figures from Carl Von Clausewitz to the fictional Capt. James T. Kirk of "Star Trek" have repeatedly noted, is a messy, unsure business. War is chaos incarnate both for those who wage it and for those who cover them. Military history flourishes, and no doubt always will do, by reflecting at leisure on events imperfectly understood when they were being experienced.

But even allowing for this inherent condition of uncertainty and chaos -- what Clausewitz called the inevitable and unavoidable "friction" of war -- Western media coverage of Jenin, especially in Western European newspapers, stood out for its wild and remarkably uniform hysteria. An overwhelming number of reports were published or broadcast in outlets, more especially of the left but also of the right, appearing to document in great detail the massacre of hundreds, possibly thousands of Palestinians at the hands of the Israeli Army.

Official spokesmen of the Palestinian Authority supported and confirmed these estimates and fed these reports, yet PA spokesmen themselves later heavily revised these estimates downwards and eventually acknowledge that no massacre at all had taken place. The PA's final estimate of Palestinians killed in the Battle of Jenin was 66, while Israel said that 23 of its own troops were killed.

Given the disparity in firepower involved, the Palestinians understandably hailed this as a great morale-boosting victory for their cause, even though attacking forces normally suffer far higher casualties than defending ones in such intense street fighting.

But the small scale in casualties in Jenin, ultimately confirmed by the PA itself, underlined the remarkable loss in perspective across the European media in both reporting what was happening and then analyzing it. The initial decision of the Israelis to keep the media out of Jenin while the fighting raged does not account for this. The most hysterical and inaccurate accounts and the wildest, unsubstantiated claims came not while the international media was barred from Jenin but after it was allowed in.

Yet, compared with conflicts of the past half-century, and even of merely the past 10 years, the death toll on both sides, including Palestinians, in Jenin was tiny. Scores of thousands of people were killed largely at the hands of Bosnian Serb paramilitary groups from 1991 to 1995. The total death toll of that conflict, unquestionably Europe's bloodiest since 1945, has been estimated as at high as 250,000.

While it was ranging, 1 million people were killed in less than a month when majority Hutus slaughtered the generally more educated and more prosperous Tutsi minority in Rwanda in 1994. The killings were deliberately coordinated. The death squads usually had no heavier weapons than machetes but it ranks behind only the Cambodian Killing Fields of Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge in 1975-78 as the biggest genuine genocide of the past half-century. And it was carried out without any advanced weapons or technology -- even machineguns -- at a rate of slaughter comparable to the operations of the Auschwitz gas chambers during the Nazi annihilation of 6 million Jews during World War II.

In each of these cases, the Western media were remarkably fast to record indications of what was going on, but Western opinion lagged far behind. The Clinton administration in the United States proved exceptionally indecisive, slow and inadequate to act in any decisive diplomatic or military way to deter the slaughters in either Bosnia or Rwanda, even though it could easily have done so.

The United Nations far from preventing either of the slaughters taking place, actually magnified them by the egocentric insistence of its officials in the region on approving deterrent military or rescue operations in Bosnia, most notably at Sebrenica.

They also catastrophically underrated the imminence and scale of the danger in Rwanda. Indeed, the U.N. official most criticized for his alleged incompetence in failing to prevent the Rwanda horror was one of the most outspoken critics of Israel in the case of The Massacre That Wasn't -- current U.N. Secretary-General and Nobel Peace Prize winner Kofi Annan.

When these genuine massacres took place, there were certainly no mass rallies or protests across Western Europe and certainly no retaliatory physical attacks on Serb or Rwandan residents in Britain, France or Germany.

Yet media reports teemed in those countries with -- as it turned out -- highly exaggerated or just plain wrong descriptions of the violence allegedly inflicted by the Israelis on the Palestinians in Jenin. And as these reports ran, they were quickly followed by attacks -- largely, it appears, from young immigrant Muslim gangs -- on easily identifiable Orthodox Jews in both Britain and France.

Press reporting is far from a precise science and experienced reporters, especially war correspondents, have a universal contempt for pressure groups of both the left and the right that claim they are always inherently biased, corrupt, incompetent and just plain wrong. More often than not, the accusations of media bias made by such groups are discounted because they are either the result of unavoidable human error, insufficient data available, or the accusations themselves are just plain wrong.

Even when they are right, the multiplicity of media organizations with dozens, sometimes hundreds, of reporters competing to get the edge on each other on the same story has long been comfortably -- and usually correctly -- taken as the free media's equivalent of the free market. That competition serves as a healthy leveling mechanism in which self-interest serves as the motivation to expose incompetence or direct dishonesty on the part of others. But as this series has documented, it did not work that way in Jenin. And we have explored the reasons why this was so.

In an ideal world, the appropriate lessons would immediately be learned. But in practice, things may well go on very much as before. That is, as the legendary London Daily Telegraph columnist Michael Wharton, writing as Peter Simple, might have put it, "The Way of the World."

The already worrying gaps in politics, diplomacy and mutual perceptions between the United States and its old European allies is likely to grow in the media field as well. The common media culture and dialogue across the Atlantic may be another loser of the Jenin Massacre Myth.

Posted by David Melle at May 24, 2002 08:47 AM
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