- The Washington Times - Friday, July 5, 2002

In the last few weeks, CNN has suffered a series of embarrassing incidents calling into question its news judgment and ability to meet the most basic standards of fairness in reporting on Israel. CNN boss Ted Turner made the following statement about the ongoing war between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. "I would make the case that both sides are engaged in terrorism," he told the Guardian newspaper. Although Mr. Turner subsequently apologized for suggesting that Israel was behaving this way, the damage had been done.
Then, a few days later, Eason Jordan, CNN's president of newsgathering, admitted that the network had made a "mistake" by giving more prominence to the suffering of the family of a Palestinian suicide bomber than it had to a relative of one of his victims, who included a one-year-old boy. Mr. Jordan said CNN had put into place a new system in which it would refuse to air any statements or videotape distributed by suicide bombers unless there was an "extraordinarily compelling" reason to do so. He said that the network hadn't done "enough" to show what the victims of terror are forced to endure.
If CNN actually follows through on Mr. Jordan's promise, it could be a major step in the right direction. During Operation Defensive Shield the five-week-long military campaign Israel launched March 29 in response to a devastating series of suicide bombings by Palestinian terrorists operating out of areas controlled by Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority CNN and other major news organs in the United States consistently portrayed Israel's actions in the most malevolent light possible while ignoring serious misconduct from the Palestinian side.
During one CNN broadcast, for example, anchor Carol Lin demanded to know why the United States should press Mr. Arafat to rein in terrorist violence without simultaneously demanding that Israel agree to the creation of a Palestinian state. "What sense does that make?" Mrs. Lin indignantly demanded. Apparently, she didn't know that opposing terrorism was something Mr. Arafat had repeatedly promised to do since signing the Oslo peace agreement with Israel in 1993, only to renege again and again. Mrs. Lin also seemed ignorant of the fact that Israel had offered Mr. Arafat such a state 20 months earlier at Camp David, but he rejected the offer and launched a wave of terror. Mrs. Lin's on-air broadcast partner, Tony Karon of Time, warned darkly that any effort to halt Palestinian violence would fail "unless it's linked to a political process" (i.e., concessions to Mr. Arafat which, in effect, would have rewarded his terrorist campaign).
CNN had plenty of company when it came to getting the story wrong. On NBC's "Today" Show, Katie Couric, ignoring the fact that Israel would never have launched a military offensive in the West Bank if it hadn't been attacked by suicide bombers, unsuccessfully attempted to goad British Prime Minister Tony Blair into placing the lion's share of the blame for the violence on Israel. On MSNBC, Martin Fletcher allowed suicide bombers and their defenders to argue without challenge that suicide bombings were a purely defensive response to unprovoked Israeli attacks.
The Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA), a media watchdog group, noted that one day after a member of the terrorist group Hamas killed 29 people at a seder in a Netanya hotel, ABC's "Nightline" ran a report on suicide bombings, during which it failed to interview any Israeli survivors of the bloodbath. Dan Harris of "Nightline" did, however, find time to talk to a few of the tiny percentage of Israeli Jews who were opposed to military action against Palestinian terrorists. Host Chris Bury spent close to six minutes lobbing softball questions to Saudi Arabian spokesman Adel al-Jubeir, who suggested that Israeli soldiers who targeted terrorists were morally equivalent to suicide bombers. On the Fox News Channel, correspondent Geraldo Rivera suggested that Israel was "not fighting terrorism" but "inflicting terrorism" by attacking terrorists operating out of densely populated civilian areas.
When it came to the print media, The Washington Post seemed to specialize in portraying Israeli actions in Ramallah in the darkest possible light, and Mr. Arafat's behavior in the most bizarrely positive way. One article was headlined "Israeli Tanks Enter Ramallah After Arafat Calls for Cease-fire." For emphasis, The Post's story was accompanied by a Reuters photo of an Israeli soldier with his gun aimed at women and children.
In their reporting on the siege at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and its aftermath, the Times and The Post gave virtually no attention to the fact (which was reported on the front page of The Washington Times) that clergymen and other personnel were in effect held against their will by a local Palestinian gang known as the Abayat family, who terrorized local Christians, desecrated the church and hoarded food intended for the clergymen hostages there. All too often, the only news fit to print seemed to be that which portrayed Israel in the darkest possible light.

Joel Himelfarb is assistant editor of the editorial page for The Washington Times.

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